WARNING: I will be spoiling a lot in this review, because I think my opinion on the story required me to give a few things away. Continue at own risk.


Science fiction – doing it right!

I like to think that there are several stages in the genre of science fiction: there’s the dumb and flashy sci-fi, the averagely smart sci-fi, the quite deeply intelligent sci-fi, the improbably brilliantly clever sci-fi and then there’s Fringe. Created by J.J. Abrams in 2008, Fringe is a show that’s hard to tell if it’s had all its smart plot twists  and storylines planned out from the very beginning or if they just figure everything out as they go along and just happen to be very lucky in how it eventually turns out. Either way, in terms of science fiction, finding a smarter show than Fringe is a task without ease.

From left to right: Nina, Astrid, Peter, Olivia, Walter and Broyles. There is also something hidden.

Starting out as an X-Files-esque show with one different supernatural mystery per episode but later tying (nearly) everything together and escalating into one big grand story arc, Fringe is on the list of my all-time favourite TV programmes. It tells us the story of FBI Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), joining a top secret division, namely Fringe Division, lead by the silent and mysterious Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick) and focusing on unexplainable, supernatural events emerging all across the Earth. The events are often linked to technology developed by Massive Dynamic, but connections to said events are denied by the firm’s Chief Operaing Officer Nina Sharp (Blair Brown) who also remains silent about the whereabouts of the firm’s lost founder – William Bell. What all these experiments are and who the mastermind is remains unclear for many episodes, but it is only a matter of time.

To help them figure these mysteries out, Fringe Division releases a bumbling but brilliant scientist named Walter Bishop (played fantastically by the great John Noble) from the asylum in which he has stayed for 17 years, due to certain sinister experiments he once performed together with none other than William Bell (played by Leonard Nimoy in his few appearances). They also enlist Walter’s snarky son Peter (Joshua Jackson), who later falls for Olivia and is revealed to be, well, from another place. (SPOILERS BEGIN) It is revealed at last that many of the strange occurances and experiments that have been taking place are part of criminal mastermind David Robert Jones’ (Jared Harris) quest to find a way to cross over into a parallell universe using Massive Dynamic’s technology. But the reason there even exists a breach between Universes is another story.

A story dating back to a cold night in the 80’s, when a younger Walter Bishop lost his sick son Peter, figuring out the cure for his disease to late. But he was working on other experiments at the same time – a gateway into a universe parallell but different to our own. Intending to cross over into it and give altarnate Peter the cure, he accidentally ends up trapped in this Universe with an altarnate version of his son. This is the Peter Bishop we follow and most of these memories he has repressed. This event sets in motion a war between the Universes, since the altarnate version of Walter (Walternate) does not take kindly to his son getting dragged into another realm. If things go to far, both worlds risk to collapse. Olivia soon discovers that she might possess abilities that’ll help Peter to set things right.

Watching, waiting, observing.

Episodes continuing this grand arc are evenly spliced together with the occasional stand-alone “Monster of the Week”-episode (but knowing this show, most of them might turn out to be significant to the main plot later on) but there is another, more vague yet perhaps even more serious storyline I have yet to mention – that of the Observers. In every episode, a sharp-dressed bald man known as The Observer (Michael Cerveris) is hidden somewhere in the background watching over important scenes. What he does or what he wants has been ambigious for 4 seasons until we’ve recently discovered the purpose of his and his colleagues’ journey to our time. In the upcoming season, the rest of them will come! At first, I thought Abrams was gonna dig into the Slender Man mythos with this mysterious character but that’s not quite the case.

The Observer who appears the most – his name is September (members of his team are named after months for some reason) – was there the day Walter failed to cure Peter and him being indirectly responsible for the corruption of the timeline means he must always be there to make sure things restore themselves, even if it means erasing the very existence of Peter from time. September is easily one of the most fascinating characters of the show. Other players I’ve not yet mentioned are Jasika Nicole as Walter’s caring lab assistant Astrid, Seth Gabel as FBI Agent Lincoln Lee, Michael Kopsa as Windmark, Kirk Acevedo as FBI Agent  Charlie Francis, Ryan McDonald as a nerdy scientist, Mark Alley as Olivia’s secretly evil ex and Kevin Corrigan as shady Sam Weiss, who seems to know a thing or two of how to mend the Universes.

Fringe truly is a fantastical show that keeps you constantly guessing throughout. We’ve seen it escalate from a show about supernatural events, to an epic tale about a war between Universes, to a mind-blowing story of re-written timelines and next up into a post-apocalyptic drama revolving around the arrival of the Observers, as well as the offspring of Olivia and Peter – Henrietta Bishop (Georgina Haig). “The child who was meant to be”, if I understood September correctly.

When I first started watching it in 2011, I was hooked, and it only kept getting better the more I watched it. I always looked forward to that moment at the end of the week when the intense, gory prologue had finished and that spooky theme music started playing once more. I was always excited and hungry to see what was going to happen next.

On the other side, the Twin Towers still stand, blimps are still common and Lady Liberty is all brown. Giant text still levitates there though.

One of things that keeps me coming back is the brilliant characters and the performances by their actors, especially John Noble’s magnificent portrayal of Walter Bishop. He can be sympathetic and miserable, he can be smart, he can be intimidating but most of all, he can be funny. The scenes with him and Astrid will inspire more than one laugh, no questions asked! It gets even better when the alternate Universe is introduced and the actors get to portray different versions of themselves. This is where the cast get show off their true skills. Torv flawlessly portrays two different versions of Olivia while still maintaining an equally flawless fake American accent, Gabel plays the two Lincolns beautifully, Nicole is lovely as both versions of Astrid and Noble shows his braud talents yet again when portraying the much more threatening and less bumbling Walternate. Sometimes they’re so good I forget they’re played by the same actors. Now, that’s how it’s done!

I love this show for so many reasons. I love how the story just keeps expanding and reveal more by showing certain things in anachronistic order (the episode that flashes back to the 1980’s, Peter, is probably my favourite), I love those glyphs you can find in every episode, spelling out some kind of clue, I love how all the characters work off of each other, I love how Olivia and Peter grow closer, I love how countless things from older episodes will prove to be of larger significance in newer ones, I love how mysterious it is, I love how ominous it is, I love how creative and well thought-out it is – I just love it!

The fact that Fringe is now in the Friday Death Slot and that season 5 is supposed to be the grand finale is a little sad and I’m not sure how there’ll be time to tie up all loose ends, but I’m confident that this will provide a more satisfying conclusion than Abrams’ other show Lost. Though admittedly, I’d say most endings are better than the Lost-ending.

Oh, and the way they advertised this show in 2008, by distractingly inserting the Observer character in other Fox shows like American Idol, Nascar and a group shot of the Glee-cast – that was just brilliant!

5/5 whatever