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Same Old Scene: A Tear in the Veil on the Season Premiere of FOX's "Fringe"

Oh, Fringe, I've missed you.

I've had a sometimes thwarted love affair with FOX's sci-fi drama Fringe over the course of its bumpy first season but last night's second season premiere ("A New Day in the Old Town"), written by J.J. Abrams and Akiva Goldsman and directed by Akiva Goldsman, points to a new direction for the series and a better use of some of its underutilized characters. (You can read my advance review of the second season opener here.)

While some of the twists were somewhat predictable and one in particular extremely far-fetched (more on that in a bit), the episode did feature one of the very best cold opens on the series to date and tantalizingly set up a new story arc for Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) while keeping the exact nature of her discussion with the shadowy William Bell (Leonard Nimoy) a mystery for another day.

Now that the episode has aired, we can discuss specifics about the plot, so let's get to it.

Loved the opening sequence with the idling car and Olivia suddenly getting propelled out of nowhere through the windshield. Very suspenseful and unexpected, given the last time we saw her she was standing with William Bell in the parallel world's version of the Twin Towers. Exactly the sort of way I want to start the season of Fringe.

Nice bait-and-switch with Olivia as well. I began to think for a few minutes that this wasn't our Olivia Dunham at all but the one from the parallel world and that she would actually die right in front of us and the Fringe Division would be forced to mourn her death, even as she's actually alive in the other world. (It could have been a nice parallel to Walter kidnapping that world's Peter.)

But instead, just as Olivia's life support is about to be switched off, she regains consciousness, chanting in Greek and speaking about the mission that "He" gave her. But the details are hazy and unclear. Just what did William Bell tell Olivia in their meeting? Hmmm...

I'm thrilled that the writers have wisely given Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) more to do. For far too long and despite the ability of Jackson, Peter has remained more or less one-dimensional, the go-to guy for clandestine hook-ups and calming down Walter (John Noble) during his tantrums but little else. No more. In just a few minutes, Peter has shifted from lone wolf to team leader, saving Broyles' skin during a sub-committee investigation of the Fringe Division and possibly saving all of them with a last-ditch effort to prove that their methods have yielded results.

But he's also quick to point out (thankfully) that the team has been way too reactive, has sat back and watched The Pattern unfold and responded to phenomena, rather than getting out there and trying to prevent these horrific occurrences from happening in the first place. Yes, there's a place for investigation and research, but I too want to see Olivia and Co. being more aggressive and dogged. There's a time and place to sit by and let things happen around you and a time for action. I'm glad that the writers opted to give this charge to Peter, enabling him to take a leap of maturity and leadership and landing him with a new responsibility among the group. "From now on, we’re calling the shots," says Peter. "We’re done reacting." Well done.

Likewise, we've finally gotten some further characterization for Broyles (the uber-talented Lance Reddick) who had been reduced in Season One to being the group's exposition dump, informing the team (and the audience) about the Pattern's latest case in a way that was clunky and frustrating for long-time viewers. (Sadly, however, we still have to contend with being hit over the head with exposition in the season opener with the subtlety of an anvil by Meghan Markle's newbie Agent Jessup.)

I'm extremely intrigued by the kiss that passes between Broyles and Blair Brown's Nina Sharp. It clearly points to some romantic entanglement between the two in the past and I hope that it's a subplot that crops up more and more throughout the season. Broyles and Sharp have been two of the more mysterious characters but they've also been largely tangential to the plot, existing only to further the action at the expense of characterization. Let's hope that the writers see the need to deepen their respective roles and give Reddick and Brown a real chance to shine.

Speaking of Markle's Jessup, I'm not in love with the character. She comes across as a little too eager and gifted and the writers still haven't fleshed out Jasika Nicole's Astrid Farnsworth enough to give us yet another supremely gifted junior agent. Not sure what to make of her use of the Bible, either.

The shapeshifter this week was extremely creepy, given the way that he was able (with a nightmare device) to smoosh his face into that of another person. Loved the typewriter scene where our shifter was able to send and receive messages to the other world. It was exactly the type of scene that we should see more of on Fringe, expressing a heightened sense of dread and horrific possibility. (Kudos to Goldsman for staging it so deftly.)

Still, one of the real head-scratchers of the episode was the reveal that the shifter had, amid the chaos of Olivia's attempted assassination, taken the place of Agent Charlie Francis (Kirk Acevedo). I get that this guy is a quick-witted hit man with an array of skills and abilities from a dangerous world but I couldn't buy that he just happened to have stashed the murdered nurse's body in the same room as where he jumps Charlie and was able to (A) kill Charlie, (B) remove his clothes, (C) put on Charlie's clothes, and (D) conceal Charlie's corpse in the amount of time it took Peter to run down that hallway. I'm all for a willing suspension of disbelief but this was way too jagged a pill to swallow, even for Fringe. (Shades of Alias' Freplicate, no?)

I'm going to miss Charlie. Acevedo had precious little to do in the role but I did like the camaraderie he shared with Olivia. It is pretty obvious that the story he recounts to Olivia--about his near-death experience with a lunatic assault victim that resulted in the death of his partner--will come into play as Olivia slowly realizes that the person claiming to be Charlie Francis isn't her old friend but a stranger.

While the subplot about Walter making custard for Peter's birthday could have been a throwaway one, Noble imbues the action with a real poignancy for what's been lost, forgetting that this Peter never grew up liking custard at all. It's a series of small moments that pay off in that final understanding going on inside Walter's head as he "remembers" just what he's done and the price he's had to pay. I'm glad that we are seeing more of this storyline come to fruition.

And that Greek phrase Olivia chanted earlier? Well, it turns out that it's something that Peter's mother used to say to him when he was younger ("Be a better man than your father"). The identity of Peter's mother has been shrouded in mystery since the beginning of the series and this plot twist points to something very interesting developing between the Bishops. Could it be that Bell knows about Walter's sin and that this message is intended for Peter? We'll have to wait and see...

What did you think of last night's season premiere? Were you impressed by Fringe's new direction and an infusion of proactive energy into the plot? Will you miss Acevedo's Charlie? Just what does Bell want from Olivia? And how far will his enemies go to prevent Olivia from recounting this information? Discuss.

Next week on Fringe ("Night of Desirable Objects"), a highway construction worker in rural Pennsylvania goes missing when he is mysteriously drawn into an underground tunnel filled with human remains; Walter explores the possibility of simulating travel between realities on frogs; the team travels to the crime scene to unearth evidence when it becomes clear this is not an isolated incident.

Comments

RachelZ said…
This was a great season two opener. I was thrilled that they gave Peter more to do and hope that will continue.

I also wasn't that crazy about Agent Jessup but, otherwise, I like the direction they're taking the show in and it looks to be a promising season.
Sam said…
The thing that got me about that twist with Charlie was that the dead nurse had identical bullet wounds to the shapeshifter. And wouldn't it be immediately obvious, at least to Peter, that the nurse's body was drained of its fluids like all the other shape-stolen bodies?

I loved last night's episode, but I really didn't think that twist was earned.
Anonymous said…
Love!!! I'm so happy Fringe is back.

I also loved when Olivia came out of the car like that, and don't forget that Walter knew what was about to happen.

The typewriter was a good twist and more Fringe than the use of a computer.

But the thing with the X-Files on the TV and agent Mulder and Scully watching the shapeshifter become the new person LOL. Priceless!!!!

I didn't like the new agent and my questions is: Why not sent Astrid (who is a junior agent) to cover the accident now that the Fringe division is no longer working (FBI approved).

The Bible thing. We have to remember they are always talking about a war. So she make the parallels Kingdom against Kingdom, ect. The only thing, she makes those parallels way to fast after learning about the division and getting to read the files for the first time.

JP
rockauteur said…
Definitely a great episode... As much as I loved the series last year, this was the first pulse-pounding edge of the seat episode ever. Kudos to Akiva!

Definitely thought at first it was the other world Olivia, but was pleased that it wasn't. Definitely agree on the Charlie twist, especially since I was expecting something to happen, it definitely wasn't enough time to do all that work to get rid of the body. Weird.

I liked the new agent though... No one else?
CrazyCris said…
hmm.. that impersonating a beloved colleague reminded of the series opener of Stargate SG1 when a Goaould took over O'Neill's friend... took them a couple of episodes to figure it out. We'll see if Fringe Division is any quicker on the uptake.

Otherwise, LOVED IT! :o)
Amanda P. said…
Ok - why couldn't it have been:

1) Kill Charlie silently
2) Undress (as nurse)
3) Shapechange into Charlie
4) Re-dress nurse
5) Dress as Charlie
6) Shoot (dead) nurse to get everyone's attention

The only problem I have is that the "nurse's" (shifter's) body should have 2 holes in the back from the shooting during "her" jump out the window. Wouldn't someone notice those as missing in the post-mortem?
Harley said…
Love this show, but I'm concerned as to where it's headed. You pointed out two of the big problems in the episode. Newbie agent Jessup is poorly written and at the moment, poorly performed. It's like a bad network note come to life. I'd heard that they wanted to give a Acevedo a better way out, and this isn't bad conceptually -- but it was completely unbelievable that the shape-shifter would be able to pull this off, as you noted. But there's more. If the shape shifter became a nurse, and they killed the shape shifter while posing as a nurse -- then where's the body of the original nurse?? Seems like somebody should think of that.

I blame Akiva Goldsman, who both directed the episode and co-wrote it with Abrams. Now a consulting producer on the show, I'm here to tell you that he is a greater threat to our Fringe team than any virus or killer from an alternate reality.

And he'll get paid well to do the job.
Page48 said…
Yup, the replacement Charlie situation smacks hard of the Evil Francie switcheroo in "Alias", although we were allowed to witness Francie's murder and understand how the switch took place. I have to believe that viewers will get a much needed flashback at some point to clarify. Charlie deserves that much, not to mention the rest of us.

Now, I wonder if Olivia has any coffee flavoured ice cream in her fridge.
Jon88 said…
"Redressing the nurse" was my itchiest headscratcher. Dead bodies are notoriously hard to clothe. And yes, there will surely be an autopsy on her corpse; alarm bells should be ringing. I guess it would have turned the entire season into a miniseries had Peter come onto the scene and said, "Charlie, good to see you. Would you mind if I took a quick look at your soft palate?"
B said…
Agent jessup was originally planned as a series regular and replacement for Charlie, but producers aren't happy with her and she shouldn't be appearing in too many more episodes.

Loved the episode--very excited for the new season!
OldDarth said…
The typewriter scene was way cool. As was Olivia's sudden appearance.

The nurse and Francis switches were so clunky. Especially in light of how long the first transformation took place.

The main thing is, as pointed out, the new show direction. That looks very promising. Hoping Nimoy shows up soon - I know he has 2 episodes in the can.
Jimi said…
I too think this was a great episode, one of the very best of Fringe! I loved the thing with The X-files on the TV XD

And I think the new agent was good too, I can't say I have any problem with her!

I think this will be a great season which will put Fringe on the map as one of the best sci-fi shows of all time!
Unknown said…
I agree with you jace that was a fantastic episode.
Did anyone else notice how agent Jessup's clothes were basically the same as what Olivia usually wears??
I'm not sure if it is a coincidence or if it is related to one of the episodes from the first season where they talked about dark or gray clothes that the soldiers wear (at least I think it was the soldiers)

Anyone else have some other ideas about this?

Looking forward to the rest of the season!

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