Saturday, February 23, 2013

White Tulip: Fringe (2008-2013)

Fringe is an ambitious series. Full of wormholes, resets and alternate universes it's the kind of ongoing plot that can make an Observer's head collapse in on itself like a dying star. The basic premise is this: superstar FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) is recruited to work in the Fringe division of the bureau, solving unexplainable cases. The pilot episode requires her to get mad scientist Walter Bishop (John Noble) out of the loony bin with the help of his estranged son Peter (Joshua "Pacey" Jackson). The first season skips on with the team solving monster-of-the-week type cases, not too dissmilar to the first season of The X Files. The end of season one teases the larger idea of alternate universes that exist paralell to our own and in the later seasons, different timelines emerge and lapse in on themselves. And this is where Fringe became Fringe.

Fringe only aired its series finale about a month ago and I've watched the entire series in that month. At the recommendation of my older brother (in between calling me "Short Bus") and my sister-in-law I started watching the series on a whim. And by the end I was completely won over by Anna Torv. I think it's hard to strong and tough interestingly but she does and I really enjoyed watching her fill out the role. By the second episode John Noble had completely won me over as the bumbling mad and potentially evil Walter. I agree with critics of the show who become frustrated with the notion that Walter has the perfect weapon and/or answer to every conundrum. At some points the series does devolve into the Bishops' Bag of Magical Answers. But Fringe has a lot of heart and humour and I think it successfully merges the two within a sci-fi/horror series and uses science fiction to explore the mysteries of family and love.

While the show invested a significant amount of time into developing its own mythology (the glyphs,  Walternate/Faulivia, Observers, ambering) its main thrust was the relationship between its characters. I think this was most clearly seen with Astrid (aka Astro, Ashcan, Advil) who's character developed from office assistant to full on team member. While it is primarily Olivia, Peter and Walter's show the larger team blended with the core to create a true family dynamic. While Fringe delved into the darkest recesses of science it balances out with a lighter, humourous touch. My main problem with the series is the same as any American length series (appx 22 episodes a season) a lot of it becomes filler between main plot threads and in doing so the plot becomes convoluted and confusing. Had Fringe been forced into a 6-12 episode season (a la British series) I think we would have denser episodes an overall clearer more focused vision of their universe. In the space that Fringe did fill, the show took a lot of chances in tone and style, most notably in their film noir/musical episode, an extended animation sequence and, my favourite, Walter's Monty Python inspired LSD trip.


While Fringe did falter, it did emotional drama better than any of its peers (X Files, Battlestar etc) and I say that, because that was the element that kept me watching and even in that it could go overboard in its sentimentality. For me, Fringe is a show best watched through an avenue like Netflix because it allows you to become engrossed in a show without the stagnant week to week wait. (I know some people like that, but I'm impatient) It also meant that when it came to the series finale I cried. Twice. Both times because of John Noble, because he is amazing and can take wonky dialogue and turn it into something near transcendence. He was able to convey the confusion and all consuming nature of being a parent with a lot of subtlety and intelligence. His performance as Walter Bishop (and Walternate in the alternate universe) is astounding and unparalleled in genre television, and hell, in most television.

Fringe is a flawed show, but it is a show about our humanity. One that posists its characters against the highest levels of science and asks, why is our humanity important if we can achieve all this? Can love conquer all? How far would you go to save your family and is it worth it? All while maintaining a pretty impressive sense of humour. In all the mythology and science created within the show there is a sense of hope that prevails through the makeshift family dynamic of the Fringe team. And it surprisingly more affecting than one would think, perhaps proving that we've needed a show like Fringe for a long time.



  1. Not sure I could dedicate the time to watching a new TV series. I still haven't seen all of 'Twin Peaks' or 'Lexx' or even the single season of 'Legend' starring Richard Dean Anderson as a sci-fi cowboy! The only show I can claim to having watched every episode is 'Forever Knight', because I have a weakness for Canadian vampire cops.

    1. Loving Canadian vampire cops isn't a weakness, it's common sense.