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Season Premiere: Fringe – “A New Day in the Old Town”

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“A New Day in the Old Town”

September 17th, 2009

From the very beginning, I’ve said that Fringe is a cross between Alias and The X-Files, two shows that were pretty similar to begin with. While The X-Files leaned more towards the blatantly supernatural, both shows dealt with elements of prophecy which linked investigators with the events transpiring, and each dealt with the impact of bureaucracy on such investigations. So when J.J. Abrams created Fringe, in some ways it was an example of a creator taking an element of one of his earlier shows and simply expanding it into a new arena. There is not a huge leap between Rambaldi and the Pattern, and at various point in Fringe’s first season you could see Abrams (along with Orci, Kurtzman, etc.) tweaking the formula in an effort to avoid what happened to Alias, where serialized storytelling overran any chance of the show maintaining a procedural structure.

But at the end of the first season, Fringe truly came into its own. Once the show started more carefully considering the impact of the pattern and really indulging in its serialized side of things, the show picked up a new head of steam. Early complaints about Anna Torv’s performance mostly melted away, and the show should some skill in how it handled the conclusion of Mark Valley’s time on the show and eventually how it introduced the fairly huge development of an alternate universe. By linking said alternate universe both to Peter’s sense of identity and to Walter’s damaged mental state, and by placing the mystery of William Bell directly within it, it became part of the fabric of the show as opposed to tearing it all apart. When we panned out and discovered the Twin Towers still standing in said universe, it was a shocking moment that showed a series very much in control of its own destiny, and not just a collection of leftover ideas from Alias or The X-Files.

And to be honest, I think “A New Day in the Old Town” is probably a far better episode than I’m about to give it credit for, as its ‘big twist’ fundamentally took me out of the episode and right back into feeling as if this is Alias: Part Two for Abrams, in some respects. While parts of the episode really felt like the show that I came to really enjoy at the end of last season, there were other parts which were designed to capture new viewers and to trick unsuspecting viewers into feeling sad, or concerned, or anything else. It’s a trap that is often considered necessary for procedurals (which Fringe technically is), but by delaying the resolution to last season’s cliffhanger and providing a simulation of conflict it felt as if the episode was all about that big twist at the end…and when that was Abrams blatantly ripping himself off, I guess I’m just not as excited about this episode as I expected myself to be back in May.

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Lost in “The Incident” Part One: The Ramifications of Jacob

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Lost in “The Incident” Part One:

The Ramifications of Jacob

Every good season finale should do two things: it should place into context the actions of the previous episodes, and it should in some way hint or infer what might happen in the future. Of course, there is no exact science on how to do these things: there doesn’t need to be a distinct cliffhanger in order to excite viewers about what might take place in future episodes, and at the same time there doesn’t need to be a tidy conclusion to the action of the season for it to feel as if it has all come together.

One day out from “The Incident,” Lost’s fifth season finale, what I find most interesting is how the events of the episode manage to tie up absolutely nothing, end things on a cliffhanger with almost no evidence upon which to base hypotheses (which I’ll get to in Part Two over the weekend), and yet forced viewers to rewrite their opinions of the entire season thus far whether in regards to character motivations, theories of time travel, or even something as simple as the allegiance of an entire faction.

While the show has often used flashbacks and flashforwards as a way to alter the very fabric of the show, for the most part that was either illuminating a new plot point (people leaving the island), an individual character, or a macro-level showrunning decision that’s impact within the narrative itself was fairly limited. In this instance, what the show delivered was the installation of an idea so gut-bustingly radical that it does all of these things, introducing new plot elements and giving new depth to characters and their allegiances, while taking the usual show-running involvement and building it into the show itself.

In some ways, the two characters that we meet at the beginning of “The Incident” are the showrunners within the show, those who are there to pull some strings, to set into action events, and to watch as they unfold. However, there are obvious limitations to their abilities, and two very different philosophies behind them. Their identities, and the potential influences that inspired them, are the most important factor heading into the show’s sixth and final season, and the one that I’m going to try to wrap my head around here.

Because, in my view, the past, present and future of this island, these people, and this series all depend on them…or, more accurately, on their action or inaction. And so, in today’s first of two posts trying to figure out just what the finale’s events mean for the seasons that have come before and the show’s final season, let’s take a gander at the biggest revelation at all: the existence of two men who (arguably) rule them all.

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