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Why John Noble of FOX's "Fringe" Deserves an Emmy

While Emmy nominations are a long way off, I'd like to draw attention to the stunning performance of Fringe's John Noble. (Yes, it's a long way off but keep it under your hats, Emmy voters.)

FOX thriller Fringe is a series that I always watch on Thursday nights (so as not to be spoiled) but, as I was out on Thursday evening, I've only now caught up. Last week's absolutely sensational installment of Fringe ("Grey Matters") offered up not only an advancement of the series' overarching mythology plot but also placed the focus squarely on John Noble's Walter Bishop.

Throughout my coverage of Fringe's outstanding second season, I've often drawn attention to Noble's nuanced and compelling portrayal of Walter Bishop in his chief roles as mad scientist, drug-addled theorist, culinary devotee, father, and, well, father substitute and it pains me that he's gone overlooked for an award nomination as long as he has.

Over the course of the last two seasons, Noble has given a bravura performance as Walter, alternating between periods of madness, loss, and keening pain. This week's episode allowed him to come face to face with the cause of his memory loss and forced him to come to terms with the possible path of his own destruction and that of the entire planet.

Motivated by the loss of his child, Walter opened a door between the worlds and kidnapped an alternate universe Peter and brought him back from the other side to our world, where he raised him as his own. Whereas before Walter was moved by loss, he is now crippled by fear: fear that he will lose Peter all over again, either by someone's hand or by dint of Peter learning the horrible fact of what was done to him.

Was it a father's love? Or the horrific hubris of a man used to playing god? Thanks to Noble's deeply moving performance, it's both. There's a somber sadness to Walter, a man obsessed with culinary cravings who both lives in the past and is determined to forget it. This week's episode got to the root of those memory losses, introducing a plot in which the knowledge of how Walter moved between the worlds was literally cut out of his brain and forcibly implanted within the brain tissue of three unsuspecting civilians, each of whom went insane.

That we learn that the man responsible for literally ripping out the memories from Walter's head is none other than his former partner William Bell (Leonard Nimoy) is all the more shocking. Did Walter willingly submit to the procedure in order to safeguard an invasion from "over there"? Or did Bell betray his partner and force him to undergo the surgery?

It's unclear. But what we do know is that much of what Walter has suffered--his madness, his memory loss, the loss of seventeen years of his life--is all down to that one fateful decision, a choice that now affects the lives of everyone in his world.

Noble brings this onus to life vividly--the drooping of his body, the sadness of his eyes, the fear in his stuttering words--that the Atlas-like weight of his burden is clearly felt. (Look at the scene where he admits to unsuccessfully searching for a cure for his madness.) It's in the smallest of nuance that Noble imbues Walter with a tremendous sense of being a tragic figure in the most Shakespearean of terms. His fatal flaw was that he disregarded the natural order of things, played God, wreaked untold havoc in order to restore his son. A son that he could very well lose once the truth is revealed. And, lest we forget, the truth always comes out in the end.

This week's episode moved the possibility of revelation along quite nicely. The heartbreak with which Walter saw an image representing Peter's coffin (after a shot of custard) was powerfully affecting as was the transformation of Walter once the disparate parts of his brain were finally reconnected. In those moments, we saw not the fragile shell of a man that Walter is now, but a shadow of his former self: arrogant, forceful, and domineering. A man willing to do the unthinkable, to break the laws of the universe, to make a Faustian bargain that will inevitably undo everything he strove to create.

"Grey Matters" demonstrated Noble's fantastic range and his penchant for making Walter tantalizing flawed. There are few actors that could pull off the subtle transformation and the compelling mix of emotions that Noble conveys each and every week, much less make it as gut-wrenching as Noble does on Fringe each and every week.

Fringe returns with new episodes on Thursday, January 14th at 9 pm ET/PT on FOX.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Thanks for the wonderful post, Jace. I have thought John Noble should have an Emmy since the first season. His work this season - and like you said - especially the last two episodes have been heartbreaking to watch because he's SO GOOD!

I championed Jim Parsons from "Big Bang Theory" last year but now I'm on Team Noble!
Bella Spruce said…
Couldn't agree more! Fringe has had its ups and downs as it's found its footing but Noble's performance has been solid and compelling since the beginning. And this last episode proved that he is certainly Emmy-worthy!
Alex Stone said…
Absolutely agree. Noble was astounding in Grey Matters, and he continues to be one of the main reasons I watch Fringe.

He AT LEAST deserves a nomination for the role.
Anonymous said…
A Noble "Prize" is deserved and I wondered where your commentary was. I watch quite a bit of TV, not nearly so much as you I am sure, but enough to know that Noble's performance is compelling.

Thank you!
Amie
Catherine in Hollywood said…
Spot on. And I love too, that he's Australian....oh, those Aussie actors, can act, can't they?
Anonymous said…
Team Noble!!!!

JP
Tin Ear Tom said…
Watching Noble is like auditing a master class in acting. He never goes "too big," but instead creates a towering performance out of the smallest of gestures and modulations. I especially love his timing, the spaces between his words.
Unknown said…
on the one hand, John Noble is the best thing about Fringe, hands down, and I'd be happy if he won an Emmy. On the other hand, I think about the stellar performances from actors like Edward James Olmos, James Callis, Michael Hogan, Tricia Helfer and others in Battlestar Galactica who for some reason were wrongly not even considered, when they should all have won. As a show, Battlestar Galactica was of infintely greater depth, power, and subtlety in both its writing and in the acting.
Matt R. said…
Although this blog is a few months old... I found it after searching "John Noble Nominations" because after catching up on my Season 2 DVR'd episodes, like others I am consistently blown away how his character can actually move me. So much emotion and passion in key moments, that I've hardly every seen in any other series or movie for that matter. THIS MAN DESERVES MORE RECOGNITION!!! If he gets shafted another year, there's no hope for hollywood.

-Matt

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