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The Darkness Underground: An Advance Review of Tonight's "Fringe"

Throughout its freshman season run, Fringe has been an interesting case study of what happens when creators who thrive on the intricacies of serialized storytelling are shoehorned into creating a procedural drama. The result has often been a high-wire act in which the story has often threatened to fall down due to lack of characterization and a slow burn plot that focused more on case-of-the-week than the overarching story.

When we last saw Fringe, which seems like almost a season ago (it was actually early February), the series had finally kicked into high gear after a slow start. Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) had gained a sister and a niece... and, quite possibly, some paranormal abilities of her own, Walter (John Noble) came to terms with the fact that he himself may have written the eerie ZFT manifesto, and Peter (Joshua Jackson) discovered that his past was beginning to catch up to him. (Jasika Nicole's Astrid, meanwhile, still didn't have much to do but that's not changing any time soon, it seems.)

Fringe returns tonight with a fantastic and enthralling brand-new installment ("Inner Child"), written by Brad Caleb Kane, the first of six new episodes this season. I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised by this sensational episode, which kept up the energy and potential seen in the last installment, "Ability," and offered a pitch perfect blend of self-contained storytelling and mythology which dovetail very nicely in the side-by-side mysteries of a serial killer and a child discovered underneath the ruins of an abandoned building.

SPOILER ALERT! How do these two seemingly unrelated mysteries connect? Well, that would be telling. But suffice it to say that the child discovered deep underneath that abandoned building in Boston is Very Important. So important that he not only holds the key to unmasking serial killer The Artist, who sedates his victims, kills them, and then makes them over into grotesque tableaux, but also plays a vital role in one of the central points of the series' mythology to date.

The killing rampage of The Artist does a few things within the framework of this episode. First, it very nicely establishes a past for Olivia and Charlie and sets up the killer as The One Who Got Away, a deadly murderer with a signature style whom this duo were unable to stop three years ago. Secondly, it creates a nice throughline in the episode; the search for the killer as he continues to take the lives of his female victims propels the plot forward and keeps Olivia and the team racing to stop him.

While they can concentrate on this development-- with some nice behind-the-scenes moments between Olivia and her sister Rachel (Ari Graynor) and her niece Ella (Lily Pilblad)--there's a nice undertow of the mythological as well in the form of the unnamed boy found underground. A boy who, thanks to lack of human contact, oxygen, and nutrients, is pale and bald and seemingly has some sort of empathic abilities. He also forms a bond with Olivia that seems to transcend spoken language and, well, space itself. It's a bond that Walter seeks to use via a technological gizmo that turns up for the second time this season and one that could allow them to capture The Artist himself.

Wondering just what this boy is and how it ties into Fringe's overarching and shadowy mythology? No worries as you'll get a distinct answer to that question in the final minutes of the episode, which point to a very interesting development and a tantalizing reveal. If you've been asking yourselves the right questions during this episode (and pick up on some interesting clues), the ending will point to what promises to be a intriguing subplot bubbling under the surface.

This episode also gives the much-neglected Lance Reddick a chance to shine as Broyles. I won't say what it is but his relationship--typically strained at best--with Olivia takes a surprising turn along the way. I haven't been thrilled with how the series' writers have utilized Reddick to date; it's slightly sad that such an amazing actor should be stuck in what has been so far a rather thankless role as exposition-recounter, rather than as a three-dimensional character. I am hoping that his actions in this week's episode point towards some much needed development for Broyles.

Best line of the evening: "Don't be such a prude. I am sure Agent Dunham knows what a penis looks like!" - Walter

All in all, "Inner Child" is a fantastic installment that I hope presages what's to come in the next six or so episodes of Fringe: taut storytelling that delves head-first into the core mythology while also offering fascinating self-contained crimes that connect to The Pattern as well, solid scripts that balance scares and laughs, and gripping tension both between the characters and inside them as well. It's a formula that even mad scientist Walter could get behind.

Fringe returns with six all-new episodes beginning tonight at 9 pm ET/PT on FOX.


Hadley said…
Thanks for the advance review. I enjoyed the last couple episodes of Fringe and am happy to hear that things are continuing to escalate. This show has so much potential. I think they just have to find their rhythm and allow the mythology to surface more often.
Anonymous said…
I was really enjoying this episode until I missed the last few minutes. My DVR had 5 minutes of American Idol at the beginning of the recording and it cut off when she was chasing the artist. How did it end?
Anonymous said…
How did it end?

Turns out 'The Artist' was Simon Cowell. It was a crossover episode.
ted23 said…
Loved this ep. Definitely my fave so far this year, beside "Ability." It was awesome that the child was in fact another Observer and that they shared that connection at the end. Very creepy and very interesting.

@Jace You always have the best titles, BTW. Does this one come from anywhere specific?
Jace Lacob said…
Thanks, ted23! It actually comes from a William James quotation that I thought was especially apropos here:

"Our lives are like islands in the sea, or like trees in the forest, which co- mingle their roots in the darkness underground."
Don said…
Wondering if you plan to write up the 4/14 episode of "Fringe".

I really enjoyed the character development for Walter in this ep.

And it was nice to see Charlie move a little more to the center of the stage. Though a while back, Nina Sharp made a comment to Olivia about being able to trust those closest to her, and I had to wonder if there isn't more to Charlie's story, since he is one of her closest co-workers. Perhaps we'll see more?

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