Welcome once again to an all new, all different (not different at all) Stay Tooned Sundays. This week we will be getting our science fiction on with the best sci-fi show on TV today, Fringe. Just a warning, Fringe is a very complicated show to explain (not complicated to watch, though), and when you add in how great of quality everything is and how many aspects of the show deserve to be touched upon, you end up with a long review. Fear not, if you have yet to see the show, my review is not very spoilerish at all, and if you have seen the show leave your thoughts about the show in the comments below.
The best way to describe Fringe is to have you imagine that they took everything that is great about the Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, The X-Files, and Lost and mixed them together to create one show. Fringe is all of this and more! As J.J. Abrams’s follow up series to Lost, he was able to use all the stuff that worked in Lost and fix all the stuff that didn’t. What you end up with is a great serialized show, where the audience doesn’t have to wait years and years to get answers, but instead each new answer opens up a whole new batch of questions. While this is a science fiction program, at its heart it’s very much a character driven drama.
Our introduction into the Fringe universe begins when FBI agent Olivia Dunham(Anna Torv) and her partner/secret lover, John Scott (Mark Valley), are called in to investigate a very bizarre plane accident. During the investigation John is severely injured in an explosion of some unique chemicals. Olivia’s research into saving John’s life leads her to a Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), who was a brilliant scientist that worked on all kinds of experimental science projects for the government back in the 70s and 80s. The only problem is that Dr. Bishop has since gone a bit off his rocker after a lab accident that resulted in the death of his lab assistant. To make matters worse, Walter is being held in an insane asylum and can only be contacted by the outside world through a blood family member. Enter Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), Walter’s son, who also happens to have a genius intellect, which he uses to deal with some unscrupulous individuals in his various shady endeavors.
Olivia tracks Peter down in Iraq and soon discovers that gaining Peter’s help is not going to be easy as he is not Walter’s biggest fan. With the man she loves’ life on the line, she does what any good FBI agent would do in this situation and blackmails Peter into helping her. Once the trio are finally assembled, Walter insists that the only way he can help is if he is released from the insane asylum, a task only Peter can do, and only if his original lab at Harvard is reconstructed. Olivia agrees and Peter does as well (reluctantly), and they get right to work. During this case, Olivia catches the interest of Homeland Security special agent Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick). Broyles recruits Olivia to join his special “Fringe Division” of the FBI. The Fringe Division takes on all cases of a scientific nature that seem unexplainable and/or unbelievable. After having her world rocked by the things she learns on this case, Olivia realizes that she can’t go back and agrees to join the Fringe team under one condition. Her one demand is that Broyles allows her to bring along her own team consisting of Dr. Walter Bishop, Peter Bishop, FBI junior agent Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole), and eventually Charlie Francis (Kirk Acevido), Olivia’s FBI partner.
Once assembled the group begins investigating the grossest and strangest cases imaginable. It soon becomes clear that most of these cases are somehow linked to the experiments that Walter did back in the day; the only problem is that Walter’s memory is spotty at best and he usually has to piece it all together as he studies the problems in his lab. Olivia and her crew also discover that nearly all of these cases seem to be connected to one of the world’s largest, most powerful companies, Massive Dynamic. This multi-billion dollar company is owned and was created by the very enigmatic William Bell (Leonard Nimoy). Bell, who is a brilliant scientist in his own right, happens to be the former lab partner of Dr. Bishop. As Mr. Bell is said to be a very busy man, the Fringe division is often forced to work through Bell’s right hand woman, Nina Sharp (Blair Brown). Nina, who runs the day to day operations of Massive Dynamic, is so deeply entrenched with Bell and the company that part of her own body is literally made of Massive Dynamic technology, in the form of a highly sophisticated cybernetic arm. While on the surface Nina is always helpful and cooperative with the Fringe team, underneath that exterior she always knows more then she’s telling and no one can ever be certain of her and William Bell’s true intentions. Are they allies trying to help save the world, or are they the ones responsible for all of these bizarre events?
As the Fringe gang gets deeper and deeper into this strange new world, they find that all of these fringe events are tied to one another in a phenomenon known as “the Pattern.” This “Pattern” refers to a secret group of scientists that do the most extreme experiments and use the world as their petri dish. One such group is a terrorist cell know as the ZFT. The ZFT is led by the nefarious David Robert Jones (Jarred Haris), the man who seems to have all the answers, but who is very difficult to reach and only reveals what he wants to. Jones and ZFT’s true agenda and who they are really working for remain a mystery. Another prominent character linked to “the Pattern” is the extremely mysterious Observer (Michael Serveris). The Observer is the most peculiar and just downright perplexing character; in a show that is filled with strange and bizarre people, that’s saying something. The Observer, much like the Watcher from Marvel comics, seems only allowed to observe events but not interfere, for the most part. After his discovery by the Fringe team, they soon realize that he has been present at each “Pattern” event, and also that he apparently has had some past relationship with Walter.
I see the first season of Fringe as a syllabus to the show. It introduces you to all the main players of the game, and lays the foundation for the relationships of these characters and for the entire Fringe universe as well. I will say that because of this season-long origin, the first part of the season may not hook you right away, but stick with it because the show starts off slow but really picks up steam as it approaches the season finale. By the time you reach the final episode of season 1, you will fully understand the brilliance of this show. Not only does the finale finally introduce us to William Bell in the flesh, but it also has two unexpected, jaw dropping reveals that change everything and will leave you desperate for season 2. What’s more, even though you won’t think it possible, each successive season gets exponentially better than the one before. Fringe is definitely a show that works in layers, and as each new layer is formed in, your mind, just like the minds of the characters, will be blown away.
Besides the ingenious writing, what makes Fringe so great is the amazing acting. There is not one actor in the primary cast or even in the reoccurring cast that isn’t at the top of their game. Most notably, of course, is John Noble as the multifaceted Walter Bishop. Noble, who deserves multiple Emmys for this role, brings to life one of the most unique and beloved characters that has been seen on TV in a long time. Much like the plot line of the show, Walter’s personality has so many levels and he is so many things all at the same time. Walter is the brilliant scientist, the crazy madman, the bumbling buffoon, the Dr. Frankenstein, the comedy relief, and John Nobel portrays all of this brilliantly, while always at his core displaying Walter’s giant heart. It is because of this endearing quality that Noble brings to this character, that no matter what horrible things we learn that Walter has done, we can never stop caring about him or even stop liking him for an instant. In fact, many of you will wish that you had a crazy uncle like Walter in your life, and that is a testament to the greatness that is John Noble.
I know that this has been a very long winded review, but I can’t encourage people enough to watch this show. Fringe is a funny, scary, gross, emotional, and action packed program. With each new mystery that unfolds you will find yourself being drawn deeper and deeper into this universe, just as the characters find themselves being drawn deeper and deeper into “the Pattern,” only to realize how much more personally involved they are in what is happening than they ever imagined. Fringe will surprise you, shock you, gross you out, make you laugh, make you cry, and often times all in the same episode. If you are looking for a great sci-fi show with heart, this is it, you will find no better.