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Magic Old Man Baby: (Not the) Same Old Story on "Fringe"

I was extremely excited to see the second episode of Fringe ("Same Old Story"), which aired last night on FOX.

After all, I was thrilled by the potential of the pilot episode and relished watching something that clearly set out to blend together the serialized mystery of the week element of The X-Files with the overarching mythology of Lost. (Plus, how kick-ass is the Remote Free TV aspect of Fringe? 53 minutes of story with limited commercial interruption? I am so there.)

This week's episode featured just the right amount of exposition at the start, reintroducing our three main characters for a room of shadowy Fringe Division council members, including one Nina Sharp (Blair Brown)... an interesting reveal that clarifies her position in the pilot episode, when she is surprised to discover that her security clearance (at the time anyway) exceeded that of Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv). We now know that she is working with Broyles (Lance Reddick) vis-a-vis this shadowy council though Broyles clearly doesn't trust her and doesn't want Olivia sharing any information with her.

Broyles briefs his council on his three operatives as Olivia pores over old case files that she shared with her dead partner/lover Agent John Scott (Mark Valley), who is seen is a series of quick flashbacks to the pilot as he dies in her arms. (We also learn that the last time Olivia and John were intimate, they weren't safe, which causes Olivia to distubingly fantasize about what he might have done to her.) It's just the right amount of exposition to get the newbies up to date without boring the die-hard viewers by recycling last week's storylines.

No, Fringe moves full-steam ahead this week with a bizarro murder plot in which a serial killer named Christopher (Push, Nevada's Derek Cecil, whom I remember best from Pasadena) paralyzes his female victims and then removes their pituity gland, all in an attempt to stave off his rapid aging as he is the result of an experiment worked on by Walter Bishop and Claus Penrose, a colleague of his from 30 years ago. Add to this the fact that Christopher accidentally impregnates a stripper... and she quickly conceives and births a child in the span of an hour. And that child quickly ages to an elderly man and dies within minutes. Freaky? You betcha.

This week's installment also makes better use of Joshua Jackson's Peter Bishop; while we're told in the pilot episode that one of his many skills is his ability to "read" people, we get to see it in action here as he accompanies Olivia into the field to question a scientist about the serial killer and he quickly knows that the man is lying. (He, of course, turns out to be right about that theory.) We also later learn that the genius Peter also has the ability to fix anything electrical and see him adust to being his father's nursemaid and babysitter, discovering Walter (John Noble) in the closet of their hotel room and later talking in his sleep. Unlike his behavior in the pilot (when he might have been more likely to smother Walter with a pillow), he sings his father to sleep with "Row Your Boat."

So just what is the mystery of Peter Bishop? What secret about Peter's medical history did Walter not want Olivia to tell Peter about? What was that flash at the end of the episode, in which the viewer is treated to a look inside Walter's head, a view that includes some sort of lab hook up with two men inside incubation chambers and one man lying between them. Just what did Walter do to Peter during his childhood... or prior to his conception? Like Christopher, is Peter the result of one of Walter's experiments? And just what exactly does that make him?

It's a lot of questions for the second episode but I am already hooked and trying to figure out the answers to unraveling Peter's history. I'm glad that the episode's writers--J.J. Abrams, Jeff Pinkner, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci--have kept the suspense and drama of the pilot episode, cranked up the creepy factor to 11, and yet also wisely kept the focus on the shifting relationship between Olivia, Peter, and Walter as they adjust to their new roles within Fringe Division.

I absolutely loved the scenes between Olivia and Nina Sharp as Nina tries to lure Olivia from "public service" to the private sector, offering her a job at Massive Dynamics, a multi-national behemoth that sounds like it has rights and priviledges usually accorded to independent countries. Nina's willingness to help Olivia and Broyles--even after secretly reanimating Olivia's lover John to question him about The Pattern--makes her seem like an ally but Broyles (even dream Broyles though he may be) is right when he says that these things are typically always quid pro quo, so Olivia should ready herself to be asked to perform a major favor for Massive Dynamics. (Though keeping their name out of the press after the airplane incident may have smoothed matters as well.)

Is Massive Dynamics inherently evil? I hope not but when Nina last week said that technology is growing at such a rapid pace that the government can no longer control or govern it, I couldn't help but think that multi-nationals are the same beast. It's clear that there's shared history between Nina and Broyles (and possibly Olivia and Nina, given the, er, maternal way she looks at her) and I cannot wait to see how this relationship continues to twist and grow. Much like magic old man baby, in fact.

Best line of the night: "Even condoms are not 100 percent effective... You two should be aware of this.. " - Walter to Olivia and Peter.

All in all, a fantastic episode that better set up what Fringe will be week to week and one that hooked me with a winning combination of creepy science-based mystery, dramatic stakes, and character development.

Next week on Fringe ("The Ghost Network"), the team investigates the death of bus commuters, whose bodies are frozen like insects in amber, and encounters a man who may have a psychic connection to The Pattern. Plus, Walter requests a piano for the lab. Yes, a piano.

Comments

The first episode was good but the second episode had so much momentum. I was entranced from start to end. If they are able to keep up the pace, this will definitely be my new favorite show.
Anonymous said…
Is it just me or does Walter's lab remind you of some warped, dark version of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory? Maybe they should rename it Wonky Walter's Fringe Factory?

Loved the episode. Creepy. Funny. Fascinating. And the extended time with limited commercial interruption is brilliant!
Page48 said…
I would be interested to know how Nina ended up in possession of Agent Scott's body in order to question him. I'm assuming the questioning took place at Massive Dynamic?? Was the ambulance hijacked from Boston to NY?

I'm disappointed by JJ's decision to reward the 3-episode-per-year viewer with self-contained episodes that require no particular loyalty. I much prefer the serial style of "Alias" and "Lost".

"X-Files" was was a great example of a show which achieved a delicate balance between investigation of the week and ongoing conspiracy yarn. I hope "Fringe" can manage to do as good a job of bringing in the casual viewer, while not depriving the full time follower.

I could do with a tad less goofiness from Walter ("I pissed myself" and the spot about the bum-warmer in 1.2) and a tad less smart-ass from Peter.
Anonymous said…
Um, it wasn't JJ's decision to go self-contained. I think you'll find that the network was behind that rather than the creators. There's no way a broadcast network would develop much less air anything as serialized as Lost or Alias these days. I think it's cool that they are using self-contained plots AND a mythology because let's face it non-serialized is the only way these shows are getting made any more.
Jon88 said…
I didn't catch that the final image was inside Walter's head, but it may be because I got focused on the three lab subjects, all of whom appeared to be Derek Cecil.

For what it's worth, there seems to be an awful lot of post-post-production going on here. There were several instances when the heard dialogue didn't match the captioning, and at least once some audio got lost in the process. Towards the end, Walter's "Peter told me about my former colleague and his son" was heard only from "about."
Anonymous said…
Most exciting thing about that episode (which I enjoyed very much)? Darin Morgan was listed as a producer! If he's in the writers room I am very excited. His episodes of The X-Files and Millennium were awesome but he's been such a JD Salinger-esque recluse since then. Fingers crossed he writes an episode soon.
Anonymous said…
I also thought that the 3 men at the end were additional Dereks, implying that, although one had been allowed to "mature", there were always more for future killing sprees.
Unknown said…
Yes, the three clones at the end were three Dereks, telling the viewer that the case wasn't really solved--just like The X-Files. Bo. Ring. And oh so unsatisfying--just like The X-Files.

Another stupid comment from Walter, another nail in the coffin of Fringe. I'm sure the writers giggled themselves off their high chairs because they said "ass" on network TV.

I'm surprised you felt the exposition was "just right." I felt every single blow from The Hammer of Exposition, and it was insulting. I watched this two weeks after the pilot, and I was still able to remember people's names and what they did. Do the writers think every viewer is brain damaged?

They must because the idea that a muscle relaxant would slow down (or stop!) the chemical reactions in the optic nerve is laugh-out-loud absurd. Not to mention the suggestion that the retina and a TV set work on the same principles. Ugh. And how would an incision along the gum line and cranking open the mouth facilitate access to the nasal cavity? Why not just go straight through the nose? Please come up with better pseudo-science.

The network's low opinion of the average viewer is even more evident by the self-contained nature of every episode. Yeah, we've got The Pattern--oooh--but at the heart, it's another procedural. CSI: Fringe.

I'd celebrate 53 minutes of story if this were Pushing Daisies or Chuck, but since it's Fringe, it's just more time to cringe.

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