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The Shape of Things to Come: An Advance Review of the Season Two Premiere of FOX's "Fringe"

FOX's science-driven procedural thriller Fringe started off with a bang in its first season but then found itself bogged down in self-contained episodes while keeping the overarching plot treading water more than a little bit. That changed with the last few episodes of Season One, which ratcheted up the tension, suspense, and action into overdrive while also shifting its trio of leading characters into the forefront of the story.

And then there was Bell. The first season finale offered a stunning cliffhanger in which Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) finally came face to face with the elusive and enigmatic William Bell (guest star Leonard Nimoy), the former partner of mad scientist Walter Bishop (John Noble) and the founder of the multi-national corporation Massive Dynamic. That this meeting should occur in Bell's office in the still-standing World Trade Center in a parallel universe was just the icing on the cake, really.

It not only offered the producers a stunning visual but also significantly altered the fabric of the series itself, giving the writers a vast new panoply of canvases to work with and enabling them to build out the series in new and unexpected ways.

I had the opportunity the other day to watch the fantastic and gripping Season Two premiere of Fringe ("A New Day in the Old Town") which presents an intriguing new direction for the series and forces its leads to take a much more proactive role in the action.

While I won't say much about the episode's many plot twists and turns (and there are some particularly stunning ones along with a major one that I called ahead of time), I will say that the opening sequence of the season premiere might just be one of the very best--if not the best--openings in Fringe's short history. There's a shocking moment where the viewer is not only reminded of how utterly creepy and terrifying Fringe can be but also that with these first few minutes, we're being drawn back into this shadowy world where anything and everything is possible.

That action involves Olivia Dunham and what follows was shocking, exciting, and a little bit terrifying. It also draws in our other major characters, namely the Bishops: as Walter and Peter (Joshua Jackson) are called in to investigate a strange anomaly (as if there's any other kind) and wind up crossing paths with the preternaturally curious junior FBI Agent Jessup (90210's Megan Markle), clearly intended to be the replacement liaison between Fringe Division and the FBI for Kirk Acevedo's Charlie Francis. (Rest assured, however: Acevedo appears in the season opener and plays a vital role in the plot.)

While I'm not quite sold on Markle's character just yet (she seems, in this initial outing anyway, rather flat and lacking in charisma), she serves to not only shake things up with the members of the Fringe Division but also pose some questions that newer viewers might have about what's going on or refresh those faithful followers whose memories of Season One events are a bit wonky. (For those viewers who do however remember quite clearly what Fringe Division does and who these characters are, these scenes feel a little too on the nose in terms of blatant exposition.)

Viewers wondering what exactly happened in that other world between Olivia and William Bell are going to have to wait a little while to learn the truth as we're not privy to what played out between the characters and the producers have wisely (and rather coyly) managed to keep the scene between them a mystery to be solved another day. Suffice it to say, however, that something of major import went down between Olivia and Bell and that conversation will be a huge throughline for Season Two.

Peter, meanwhile, had been criticized by many (including this critic) of being way too reactive and tangential to the overarching plot in the first season. Viewers will be pleasantly surprised to see the younger Bishop take an authoritative and proactive role in this first episode, cleverly shifting the role that the Fringe Division plays in investigating the Pattern and coming to the assistance of none other than Broyles (Lance Reddick) himself. I won't say just what sort of trouble Broyles is in other than that it affects the existence of the team itself and that it will take Peter's ingenuity and craftiness to extricate Broyles from one hell of a mess. (And keep an eye out for a very interesting plot twist involving Broyles.)

Additionally, the writers are tightening the focus as it were on the interpersonal dynamics between the members of the Fringe Division and pointing a spotlight onto their pasts. The storyline introduced in Season One about Peter Bishop not being the Peter of his universe remains front and center and is most definitely on Walter's mind as he makes a cake and custard for Peter's birthday. Just how this will play out remains to be seen but there's a tantalizing poignancy to these mini-revelations, which play out in Walter's mind without Peter's knowledge.

Sadly, Astrid (Jasika Nicole) still seems to have little to do and I'm praying that this changes as the season goes on. Once again, she's reduced to little more than brainy lab help and unofficial nursemaid for Walter Bishop and I'm hoping that the writers develop her character and give her some much needed fleshing-out, something I've called for since the pilot episode.

All in all, the Season Two premiere of Fringe offers a hypnotic journey back to the trippy, mind-bending world of the Fringe Division while also deftly altering the pattern of this intriguing and suspenseful series in unexpected and gratifying ways. I can't wait to see just what happens next.

Season Two of Fringe kicks off on Thursday, September 17th at 9 pm ET/PT on FOX.


Anonymous said…
Anyone that was a fan of ALIAS will call that twist very early as well, as I did. It is not as shocking here since I was expecting it. I guess if you have never seen ALIAS, you might not call it. This episode was better than many last year, I still think this show is lacking something. In my opinion, this is JJs least interesting series and no matter what they say, there is defintielty somehting lacking in the chemistry of the characters. The creepy stuff was done to a better extent on X FILES.
Hobart said…
I'm really hopeful about the new season of Fringe. I think they've finally got some momentum going and am looking forward to seeing what new directions they're taking the show in. And VERY happy to hear that Peter's character is more active (at least in the first episode).
Page48 said…
(For those viewers who do however remember quite clearly what Fringe Division does and who these characters are, these scenes feel a little too on the nose in terms of blatant exposition.)...In other words this is the "Fringe" version of Sydney Bristow talking to Dr. Barnett.

"Fringe" has a ton of work to do to become the thriller it's billed as. Let's hope Season 2 shows a noticeable improvement. I have to agree with 'anon', that "Fringe" is the least interesting of JJ's Big Three series (sorry "Felicity", you don't count).

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