Category Archives: Fringe

Season Finale: Fringe – “There’s More Than One of Everything”

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“There’s More Than One of Everything”

May 12th, 2009

I wrote a piece a while back about the ways in which Fringe sits between the procedural and the serial, with episodes that feel heavily formulaic and others that are heavily serialized and almost feel like a different show. “There’s More Than One of Everything,” as a finale, sits as the latter, an engaging with huge ideas, long-gestating character reveals, and the central “reality” that the show has been dealing with.

But what makes this episode work is that it didn’t come after a string of your run of the mill procedural episodes: by spending more or less the entirety of the post-hiatus period, which I haven’t been blogging about as I’ve been forced to play catchup more than once, balancing these two elements more effectively than in the first part of the season, the show has found its footing and was capable of delivering this finale without feeling as if this was an out of the blue burst of serialized interest to a show that too often falls on its procedural elements.

So when the scene eventually arrives when all of the individual cases suddenly tie together to help Olivia solve the true motivations of the infamous Mr. Jones, it doesn’t feel like the hackneyed scene it could have. The show doesn’t quite feel as natural as, say, Lost within this particular environment of the big event episode, but the show quite adequately and quite subtlely put itself into position for this finale over the past few weeks, and it was much more effective as a result.

As for whether it’s right up there with Abrams’ other shows in terms of finales, well, that’s a different story…but not an unpleasant one for the creator.

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Fringe – “Ability”

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“Ability”

February 10th, 2009

If there was ever any question about which J.J. Abrams show Fringe was trying to be, “Ability” sealed the deal.

For those who didn’t have the pleasure of seeing Abrams’ second major foray into television, Alias, this episode played out much like that series. At a certain point, Sydney Bristow walked into a residence during a mission (serving as a spy) and saw a puzzle lying scattered on a table. Within a few seconds, she was suddenly (and subconsciously) completing the puzzle before her, instinctively creating the tower that the pieces created. While I won’t spoil the actual reason why Sydney was able to complete the task, let’s just say that it was some sort of test project, and that there was a reason why she became a spy.

Ultimately, “Ability” is trying to do the same for Olivia Dunham, giving her a reason to be so intricately linked to this mysterious scientific conspiracy that is currently unfolding. Catapulting the mysterious and creepy Mr. Jones back into our main narrative, we learn some very important things in this episode, things that will go a very long way to allowing the series (upon its return in April) to expand into ideas that have laid dormant since the pilot or have yet to even be uncovered. The result is, if not the cleanest episode since the show first entered into this type of territory with “The Arrival,” then certainly the one that has felt the most expansive.

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Fringe – “Bound”

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“Bound”

January 20th, 2009

When it takes four people to write an episode of television, it is easy to become suspicious: there is nothing about “Bound” that screams as if it needs to have so many cooks in the kitchen, and the show has enough trouble keeping a consistent tone as it is without having so many independent voices in the writer’s room.

But this is a huge episode for Fringe: it is the first to air behind American Idol, the biggest lead-in in television and, as a result, a real test of the show’s ability to draw in new viewers. As a result, I can see why four writers had enough of a hand in this episode: it has to introduce potentially new viewers to the universe while at the same time dealing with the fall finale of sorts which left Olivia Dunham in the hands of some dangerous people.

What “Bound” becomes is a prime example of why these types of mid-season reboots for the purpose of drawing in new viewers are inherently dangerous, if not why they are an entirely bad idea: the episode is not a complete disaster by any means, and its back to basics approach will probably help it draw in some of the post-Idol audience for a few weeks at the very least.

But the problem lies in the fact that they bring to head a long gestating question of double agency in an episode where they are treading carefully with serialized elements: it’s hard to feel the sense of finality or build-up we should have felt when everything felt too clean due to the episode’s lack of time to really get dirty. There was something about the episode that just felt a bit too clean, mouth slugs be damned, and while I get the reasoning I can’t help but feel it’s nonetheless a step back in terms of momentum.

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Fringe – “Safe”

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“Safe”

December 2nd, 2008

I wrote a piece a few weeks ago wherein I talked about the gradual serialization that was causing some viewers of one of the season’s successful demo hits; Fringe may be from J.J. Abrams, but it was taking a lot longer to feel like it was capable of rising to the scale of the shows we most often associate with Abrams (Alias, Lost). I argued at the time that this was part of the appeal, that it was designed (as will be Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse) to appeal to two different sectors of viewers.

Well, I’d tend to argue that between last week’s solid “The Dreamscape” and the quite eventful and entertaining “The Safe,” Fringe has officially entered into the next phase of its serialization. Picking up, really, where “The Equation” left off, this episode felt like vintage Alias. It put together pieces that we didn’t know were pieces, brought various recurring characters into one central location, and revealed that our charisma-less heroine is more central to the series’ biggest questions than we realized.

What we got, finally, is an episode that felt meaningful: where the science was being used not to terrorize but to disrupt, and where both our characters and the conspiracy took on new roles that will lead to a better series once the show returns in January.

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Fringe – “The Equation”

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“The Equation”

November 18th, 2008

In a burst of inspiration over the weekend, I wrote a piece about the sort of transitional state of Fringe, a procedural series that people expect to offer heavily serialized content; it appears to have various states of being, and the confusion between them has kept me (to this point) from really becoming a fan of the show. Yes, there have been high points (“The Observer” has got to be on everyone’s list), but the uneven nature of the show’s opening episodes have made falling in love with Fringe a problematic scenario.

No longer, however – “The Equation” was maybe the show’s best episode yet, one which felt less contrived (if not entirely organic) and infinitely more personal than most of what we’ve seen so far. Much as “The Observer” delved deeper into Walter and Peter’s personal lives in search of an answer to a question about the Pattern and how it operates, “The Equation” takes Walter back to his time at St. Claire’s Hospital and it send us on a creepy and atmospheric journey into a quest to solve the end of an unsolvable equation.

Yes, the show still feels a bit like a low stakes Alias at points, but this episode combined some of the most interesting qualities of Alias’ mythology while focusing on the dramatic pathos of the right character at the right time. I’m not quite ready to see it as a trend, perhaps, but I was enraptured and hooked on tonight’s episode and, well, might just now call myself a fan.

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In the World of J.J. Abrams, Fringe Watches You: Gradual Serialization and the Active Audience

[As part of an ongoing personal experiment designed to assist in deciding my academic future, it is my goal to complete short (by my standards) essays from a television studies perspective. If you find these more interesting than my usual writings, you can find a great online journal devoted to such efforts at the University of Texas at Austin’s FlowTV.]

fringetitle2In the World of J.J. Abrams, Fringe Watches You:

Gradual Serialization and the Active Audience

When Lost exploded out of the gate with a surprising amount of success in 2004, it created a domino effect on both sides of the screen. For the networks, it created a renewed interest in highly serialized television, spawning numerous shows that offered deep mythologies, interconnected stories, and science fiction-like premises. For the audience, meanwhile, it spawned new forms of what is often referred to as “active audience,” producing large fan communities speculating on the answers to questions and the keys to mysteries.

In 2008, however, the landscape is quite different. Prison Break, a much-hyped serialized drama, is in danger of cancellation, absent from FOX’s January schedule. Heroes, once NBC’s flagship drama series, has fired two executive producers amidst falling ratings and dwindling fan interest. Meanwhile, CBS recently tripled its ratings performance in a Friday night timeslot by replacing new drama ‘The Ex List’ with a repeat of crime procedural ‘NCIS,’ now one of their highest rated performers. Where serial dramas seem to be losing viewers every week, procedural dramas seem to be picking up steam at every interval.

And yet, there is still an emphasis in terms of the networks of searching and promoting for active audience: whether through online ARGs (Alternate Reality Games), message boards, or through online webisodes or comic books that fill in gaps in continuity or add extra bits of character information. In “A Specter is Haunting Television Studies,” Jeffrey Sconce of Northwestern University questions not the effectiveness of these tactics but rather their impact on the medium as a whole. He writes that “we should be compelled to ask if these “activities” actually serve us, or if they instead actively expand the demands and desires of television itself, the most seductive point-man in the overall ‘system of objects’ that wants us to continue serving as the Petri dishes in which it cultivates its own future sustenance.”

While Sconce is speaking specifically to those who practice television studies, as well as those who consume media, a question exists here about the people who create the shows themselves. For J.J. Abrams, who developed highly serialized shows such as Lost and Alias, there is an expectation that what he produces will follow their example, particularly amongst these types of active viewers. When FOX debuted Fringe, however, this expectation was thrown for a loop. This is a show that viewers jumped into expecting to find deep mythology, complex theories and scientific phenomenon of unknown origin – what they found instead was a highly formulaic if stylized procedural that, at a glacial pace, is introducing an overarching mythology.

It’s a new structure that requires viewers to relearn how to watch a show with Abrams’ name attached to it; and, if Abrams gets his way, he and his writing staff might be the ones to teach them.

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Fringe – “In Which We Meet Mr. Jones”

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“In Which We Meet Mr. Jones”

November 11th, 2008

I don’t think that anyone could actually be addicted to Fringe at this point, to be honest: while Abrams’ last show, Lost, became this massive sensation, there is nothing sensational about Fringe, as evidenced by this week’s episode, the first new one in three weeks. This is not to say that this episode is bad – on the contrary, it was actually one of the more memorable episodes for a few characters – but rather that it feels as if it is operating at a near glacial pace.

The episode is one of the most expansive: when Fringe science pops up on the FBI’s doorstep, solving this individual mystery unlocks the secret to something much bigger, opening up this world to new scientific terror cells organized as “ZFT.” Really, this is nothing new for a procedural: you take what you’ve been doing all along, solving crazy scientific mysteries like this week’s pirahna plant organism eating away the FBI agent’s insides, and suddenly make solving them about more than an individual life and more about driving our heroes to search out new questions, new answers.

But the show has, honestly, been extremely slow with answers: we might only be 7 episodes in, but things like character dynamics and organizational terror-like cells are the types of things that might have been useful earlier. There were questions early about whether or not the show could last very long, but they insisted they had a plan: is there plan, however, just to move really slowly in opening up this world? This wasn’t a bad episode in execution or in design, but there was a point where Broyles was ranting about Olivia being stubborn in wanting to control what can’t be controlled, contained what can’t be contained that stuck with me. It felt like Abrams was telling me not to ask questions, not to want more out of this show.

And while I’m willing to be patient, I do think that the eponymous Mr. Jones has some potential, and forgive me for hoping that we’ll see it sooner rather than later.

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