“The Day We Died”
May 6th, 2011
While I intended on writing something following the Fringe finale all week, I expected it to be a piece about how my general distance from the series made the finale less satisfying than it may have been for its hardcore fans. As the anticipation has been building online, I found myself with absolutely no investment in the series or its characters: while John Noble continues to give a really tremendous performance, the entire back end of the season has squandered a lot of the engagement I had with the series. I wasn’t looking forward to explaining why, to be honest: I don’t think there’s a simple answer, and I don’t exactly wear my inability to be a “fan” of this show as some sort of badge of honor.
However, it turns out that my lack of attachment is maybe the only thing keeping me from feeling outright ripped off by this awkward, poorly written, and yet unquestionably ballsy finale. In the final moments of “The Day We Died,” the show throws a hail mary that is designed to have fans both panicking and frantically revisiting previous episodes to discover either a loophole or some sort of reasoning for such a drastic turn of events.
For me, meanwhile, it’s the one breath of life in an episode which created too many problems for itself to properly tap into any of the pathos introduced earlier in the season, returning instead to vague generalities mapped onto poorly defined MacGuffins of little import or value. And, thankfully, I didn’t care enough to be outraged about it.
May 6th, 2010
I didn’t necessarily need to go back to review last week’s episode of Fringe, considering that I saw it quite a few days late and it wasn’t particularly spectacular, but there was some interesting conversation about the show on Twitter that I wanted to comment on. Alan Sepinwall, having moved to his new home at HitFix was asked on Twitter about why he wasn’t writing about Fringe at the new site, and he responded by noting that the show had fallen out of his rotation before the move, and it just wasn’t compelling to him at this point. This resulted in responses begging Alan to reconsider, as the episodes since the Spring hiatus have been particularly strong and no one could understand why he remained unmoved.
I was more compelled by the show’s Spring episodes than Alan, but watching “Northwest Passage” I found myself thinking back to his commentary – while there are some fun elements of this episode, there is a manipulative quality to the episode which keeps me at a distance from the story at hand. The conclusion is big and bombastic, but it ends up having nothing to do with the episode itself, and I find the show at its most frustrating when it creates moments which seek to overpower, rather than crystallize, earlier elements in each episode. It’s the sort of crass serialization that got Abrams in trouble on Alias, and I think the show needs to be wary of it.
“The Man from the Other Side”
April 22nd, 2010
In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have been caught up in thesis edits last week, as I thought “White Tulip” was such a pitch-perfect installment of Fringe that it deserved some sort of mention. The episode had a twisty narrative which was meant to be disorienting rather than confusing, a standalone emotional struggle which echoed the serialized emotional struggle that Walter is dealing with, and Peter Weller in a really enjoyable guest turn which built to that absolutely fantastic penultimate scene which was so poetic that I didn’t really know how to react. It is without a question the show’s most arresting standalone story, and the kind of episode that both rewards long-term viewers (in providing another chapter to Walter’s struggles with his darkest secret) and crafts a compelling science fiction narrative in its own right.
I’ve written in the past about how I don’t necessarily think that this show is that much better when it becomes “serialized,” and that those kinds of standalone installments are just as capable of tapping into the emotional core of this series. “The Man from the Other Side” further demonstrates this point, to my mind: while effectively creepy and emotional in its own right, the clear return to serialization makes the episode actually feel more procedural than “White Tulip” was. It’s a solid episode, certainly another in a string of successful hours since the show returned from its hiatus, but I think I prefer a subtle nod towards the show’s serialized story than a traditional mystery surrounding the two universes.
September 30th, 2008
I was busy finishing off an assignment for Wednesday on Tuesday evening, and as a result delayed the watching of my (ridiculous number) of Tuesday night shows. So while I’ll be covering the rest in a bit of Cultural Catchup likely spread out over the weekend, I believe it is in the best interest of everyone who’s been following Fringe to get their two cents in on the first episode of the series that seems to actually be unquestionably interesting.
Now, I say interesting instead of good because the jury is still out on the latter: the show received its full season order after good stability airing behind House, but the actual trajectory of the series was fairly unclear. But “The Arrival” marks, well, the arrival of some very interesting things that deserve our attention, and I believe the attention of most viewers. Co-written by J.J. Abrams and Jeff Pinkner, Alias alum both, the episode introduced the first signs of a serialized narrative that isn’t entirely related to Massive Dynamic, ended on the show’s most successful cliffhanger yet, and made great strides in making both the series’ male and female leads more interesting characters in terms of their relationship with The Pattern.
In other words, it has taken the series from “Curiousity” to “Compelling” in one fell swoop…for me, at least.
September 9th, 2008
One of the fascinating things about Fringe is that, at its core, it is many things we normally associate with lesser television series. It’s blindly derivative of The X-Files, is a procedural in an era where the term is a dirty word, and J.J. Abrams’ creative influence feels like a simplified version of Alias. Combine with a rather outrageous sense of psuedoscience that takes some time to get into, and there’s plenty of reasons why Fringe could have been a disappointment.
But it’s not: from the opening scene, Fringe raises a central question that begs an answer, a scientific mystery that is caught up in something very large and, most importantly, something very real. I don’t mean real in the sense that this exists within our own universe, but that it is not some conspiracy trapped within pure shadows: yes, there is definite mystery, but the actual structure of the series represents a clear and, at least generally speaking, easy to follow setup in which these questions can be answered.
While this does mean that the show will not be quite the action-based and serialized rollercoaster that Lost or Alias were on occasion, it more importantly allows the show to focus on other things. In particular, there is some very strong character work throughout the episode, with strong performances and good scripting creating both interpersonal relationships and personal motivations that drive the action forward. While the result is a pilot that lacks the same punch as Abrams’ previous projects, it might actually be a better pilot at foregoing a few twists and turns (not that the ones in the episode are poor) in favour of building a sustainable foundation for the future.
Plus: that dude’s jaw totally just melted off.
Fall 2008 Pilot Preview
[As per pilot screener regulations, this is a preview and not a review. The content of the series may change between now and the show’s official airing, so all thoughts are of a preliminary nature pending said changes. For a full review, tune in for the show’s September premiere.]
When Fringe debuts in September, there are going to be a lot of comparisons made: to the past work of producer J.J. Abrams, to television’s last prominent science fiction procedural, and also to the rest of the pilots coming to the networks this fall. In all three cases, the show will play well – in its current form, Fringe is a tight series with a compelling cast, a winning premise and (most of all) the mythological underpinnings that drive any great piece of Abrams drama.
[Warning: The review will not feature any major spoilers, but there could be a few light ones as I make some comparisons to other series, so tread lightly if you’re worried about learning a single piece of the show’s plot.]