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Clock Strikes Midnight on "Fringe," Plus First Look at Leonard Nimoy as William Bell

I'm really enjoying Fringe more and more these days, although some of my earlier complaints about the series still continue to irk me, even as we race towards the freshman season finale. (Don't even get me started on Astrid or how poor Lance Reddick is given so little to do each week.)

This week's episode of Fringe ("Midnight"), written by J.H. Wyman and Andrew Krisberg, offered a pretty gruesome case involving a woman dosed with an extinct strand of syphilis that also contained a pretty twisted virus that turned her into a spinal fluid-craving monster capable of chomping through her male victims' spines to sate her hunger. It also dovetailed quite nicely with the team's investigation of bioterrorist group Z.F.T., who were responsible for the experiment in the first place, a warning to a pioneering scientist whose wife ended up the unwitting guinea pig in this latest demonstration of Z.F.T.'s power.

While I won't go into much detail about the episode, I do want to address the episode's ending, clearly intended to shock the audience with its reveal about who is funding the Z.F.T.... had it actually been at least somewhat of a surprise. (Guess what: it wasn't.)

First off, I want to say that I thought that "Midnight" was an edge-of-your seat thrill ride. I loved the opening, in which we were given a bait-and-switch worthy of the opening scene of the pilot to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in which a female victim turns the tables on her would-be attacker by chomping on him with some massive teeth.

It was a nice surprise that was clearly at odds with the less-than-shocking reveal at the episode's end, which stated that Massive Dynamic's William Bell was responsible for funding the bioterrorist organization Z.F.T. Now I don't know about you but I believed that this was fairly a given. After all, Massive Dynamic has proved themselves to be involved, at least tangentially, with many of the cases investigated by the Fringe Division and while Bell's right-hand Nina Sharp has proved herself willing to assist in several of the FBI's investigations, they haven't exactly been forthcoming with intelligence on any of The Pattern's major players.

We know that Bell shared a lab with Walter Bishop and that the Z.F.T. manifesto was typed on an ancient typewriter still in Walter's possession. Walter and Bell discussed many things during their time together and one or both of them wrote the manifesto itself. Adding to this that Massive Dynamic is one of the world's biggest companies and a major player on the scientific fringe and it seems a foregone conclusion since the pilot that Massive was involved with The Pattern, if not directly behind it.

For a second, I thought that Nicholas Boone (Jefferson Mays) had given Olivia the name of someone we knew who was involved with ZFT: say, Charlie, Astrid, or even Broyles himself. Something that would resonate and actually be shocking or have long-term consequences for the series. But to make the big reveal be about the oft-mentioned-but-never-seen William Bell seemed like a bit of a cop out given that I've always assumed he was the bankroller for Z.F.T. in the first place. (I hate feeling like I am one or ten steps ahead of a series' characters.)

Am I alone in feeling really quite underwhelmed about this "big" reveal? Did you also assume that Bell was involved with Z.F.T. and then think that Olivia and Broyles were absolutely naive for not thinking he was involved in the first place?

Meanwhile, here's your first look at Star Trek's Leonard Nimoy as the elusive William Bell, the founder of Massive Dynamic, in the May 12th season finale of Fringe, entitled "There's More Than One of Everything":

Next week on Fringe ("The Road Not Taken"), Olivia experiences “awake dreams,” seeing elaborate visions of things not really there and explores her unexplained visions further; the team investigates the case of a woman who seemingly spontaneously combusted; Walter discusses key information about the Z.F.T. manifesto; Peter reveals a secret that yields unexpected results in the case.


Page48 said…
I'm going to plagiarize myself from another blog:

I think the ‘biggest secret of the season’ was that Broyles is a divorcee with 2 kids.

This was back to monster of the week. It could have been 1.2 or 1.5 or 1.7 or 2.6. More than enough grisly autopsies to make up for not having any last week. The subject of syphilis inserted to give viewers a break from penis-chat. Peak Freans inserted to give viewers a break from cotton candy or cinnamon coffee. This was back to pure template “Fringe” with a not too surprising surprise at the end.

The Singles Together better be extremely important down the road, otherwise they participated in the most boring 3 minutes in TV history, Olivia must have been thinking “WTF are these people doing in my house?”. I know I was.

Peter has a buddy for every situation. Need a ZFT manual? Check with Peter’s buddy. Need a wiped GPS from a stolen, stripped down car? Check with another of Peter’s buddies. Need an egg salad sandwich? I bet Peter knows a guy. It’s the weekly formula. It’s the trap that writers fall into when they don’t want to do serial TV. It’s straight out of the Jerry Bruckheimer school of cookie cutter TV.

We’re almost at the end of S1 and the action and intrigue should be ramped way out of proportion in preparation for the cliffhanger, but JJ’s boys are rolling out the same type of episode they dished out in November. Well, not exactly the same, Peter got to drive this week.
I've yet to see a scene in 18 episodes of "Fringe" that resulted in any undue wear and tear to the edge of my seat. It sure ain't "Alias".
CL said…
Peter's past, as discussed in the pilot, is so checkered and erratic that I think it's fair to say he's done pretty much everything. Add that to the fact that he's got a genius intellect, and you've got yourself an extremely versatile "Go-to" guy. The writers knew what they were doing when they gave us a quick glimpse at Peter's work history and I.Q. level. And we - the audience - pretty much just accepted it, so I don't think it's fair to blame them for taking advantage of it. I predict that we'll see a lot more of this "Peter knows a guy who knows a guy" routine down the road. My only complaint on the matter is the 'show don't tell' rule. It's nice to be told all of the things Peter can do, but I'd really like to see them more often.

I pretty much enjoyed this episode. I agree that the big William Bell reveal fell kind of flat. It's not hard to be underwhelmed when we've never even met the man. What I found more interesting was the fact that Robert Jones wasn't in the list of names. So it's fair to say that Jones and Bell are not on the same team...or perhaps their relationship is like that of Benjamin Linus' and Charles Widmore's on Lost? And they both want Olivia for their own team?

Other notes:

The Observer definitely stands out in a night club.

Astrid's name in this episode was "Aspirin".
Merc13 said…
Jace, I suppose you're right, I actually agree that the reveal wasn't surprising, but did it really bother you that much? To me, it didn't seem like a plot point that's quality hinged so much on surprise, but more on it's impact as a statment - as in, "things are starting to ramp up and this is a formal announcement of such." Generally, I'm also curious - are you judging different shows by different criteria? I mean, are you judging Fringe on how well it can surprise you? As opposed to, say, Chuck. Because the last two episodes of Chuck, regardless of how enjoyable they were, contained plot points that could be seen coming a mile away.

And to Page48, you may not like "formula," but this was Abrams intention. He wanted to make a serial/episodic hybrid show, that had the serial appeal of a a show like "Lost," but was much more accessible to the average viewer. This episode, for instance, goes back to the "formula" established in the first half of season 1's run, but uses it to segue into the serial nature of the show, just like (if not as well as) last week's outstanding episode. I think it's actually a pretty smart way to do business, something that Whedon is also trying to do with Dollhouse, but not as successfully. And as for "formula, it's something that all non-serial shows have, and even a lot of semi-serial shows like Chuck or Burn Notice have, so I don't think Fringe can be criticized for laziness in that regard, unless you're insisting that Fringe is a 100% serialized show which it's not intended to be.
rockauteur said…
Lance Reddick has more to do on Lost than on Fringe... and he was killed off of on Lost!

Whatever happened to that mysterious boardroom scene from many episodes ago where Lance Reddick's character was briefing a whole slew of people (including Nina Sharp) on The Pattern updates?

The writers are really drawing out the big Rachel reveal, whatever that may be... Her storyline is the least interesting part, but at least they're actually shooting scenes together, unlike earlier in the season where obvious stand in's were used, since they were never in the same frame together.
Jace Lacob said…

Not judging Fringe on how well it can surprise me but by a number of criteria. In this case, the ending seemed to be intended to surprise and shock the viewer. Otherwise, there was no reason to place this "reveal" at the very end of an installment. It was meant to be a cliffhanger, to establish the tension and danger of the next few episodes, and on that front it failed. A unsurprising ending can't surprise by its very nature.

In fact, I enjoyed the episode until the ending. We had been teased by the knowledge that Boone had information about the Z.F.T. and was going to give it to Olivia if she helped him, which he followed through on. That said information contained a bunch of names including Bell--which I'd assumed all along--felt a little bit of a cop out.
Merc13 said…
Well, I can see that. If you view the entire episode as leading up to the information Dunham was after, which boiled down to William Bell's name, then it's fair to call the revelation a disappointment. And objectively, it was designed that way. I guess I didn't quite feel like they were leading up to an urgent plot reveal, since they were layering information throughout the episode.
Bella Spruce said…
I agree that they set the ending up to be a cliffhanger. If the William Bell reveal had been done in a more subtle way, I wouldn't have minded it. Otherwise, a good episode, although I do agree with "Chris" that it would be nice to see Peter in action more. I like that he knows everything and everyone but I do think that the Peter "knowing a guy" routine will get old soon.
Tempest said…
And how great was Peter's glee at getting to turn on the siren? It's a nice echo Walter's excitement at the clap-on light he ordered.
TxGowan said…
Overall, I enjoyed the episode, although like many here, I thought the "reveal" at the end was a letdown.

I, too, thought that William Bell's involvement was pretty much a given and expected one of the names to be someone we didn't suspect.

As much as I liked Peter driving the truck with the siren and all, putting the dangerous, spine-cracking murderess in the back seat unrestrained seemed unwise.

Random thoughts:

What kind of cookie was it that Walter offered the paramedics?

Does anyone else get Massive Dynamic and Veridian Dynamics confused in their head?

Walter didn't seem to forget Astrid's name as much. He called her Agent Farnsworth several times.

Last non-Spock live-action role for Leonard Nimoy? A 2001 guest-spot on Becker.
kip said…
I love this show. I'd like to see it avoid the pitfalls of the Rimbaldi alias that we all saw in later seasons.
That being: Peter having a guy = Marshall able to hack or build a mechanical device for everything = Walter having some sort of tool that he built 20 years ago in a lab at Harvard. Let's not try for quick solutions but multi episodic projects. 1 problem per episode with minor hints at back story and series discussion are lame.

Heroes having faults make them even better characters and more watchable. We already faulted them as being too pretty let's not turn this into a beer commercial with sci fi thrown in.
Unknown said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said…
I was kind of hoping that Astrid would be the name he mentioned as being part of ZFT.
kip said…
I'd love to see more on Astrid. I almost would like to see an episode of just Astrid and the other FBI agents. She has to have some good FBI forensic skills in order to be assigned to the team. Making her a mole for Massive Dynamics would also be a great plot twist.

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