Fringe, a science fiction show in its third season on FOX, has the potential to be as successful as X-Files. The turn it took at the beginning of this season, though, could have driven many of its viewers away. But I'm getting ahead of myself. This may be a mid-season look at the show, but for those that have never seen it before, I'll go over some of the basics that I think makes this show great.
Imagine that there is a parallel universe out there, one that reflects our own in many ways. Of course there are differences--the twin towers still stand, technology is more advanced, and they contain fringe events (kind of dimensional holes, glitches from our own dimension) by sealing the location, and the people, in some sort of gelatinous mixture. They have to contain it, or our world may destroy theirs. We don't get a glimpse of this parallel universe until the end of Season 1, though, and it's not until the end of Season 2 that our main characters cross over to this different reality. In our world, Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), along with Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble) and his son, Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), explore the odd fringe events taking place here. This eventually leads them to discover the parallel universe, a world that sees itself at war with our own--the people there think the only way to save their world is to destroy ours. Rich world-building and a well thought out plot sucks you into Fringe. Even though Olivia and her team investigate weird events, in the end those odd events still have some type of explanation (whether it's explained during the episode or a season or two later).
Yes, the world the writers have built is great, but the true shining star is the characterization. Olivia is an FBI agent who loses her fiance to a fringe event, eventually finding out he was involved. She's assigned to investigate these events. I'll admit, in Season 1, her character was the hardest for me to swallow. She felt a bit flat because I didn't see a lot of emotion from her. Seasons 2 and 3 have changed my mind, her character being fleshed out little by little. As far as we know, she is the only person who can safely cross over to the other side.
The first time we meet Dr. Walter Bishop, he's in a mental institution. A brilliant scientific mind that has fractured. He is the comic relief of this show, and by far the best character, in my opinion. His character is quirky and needy, but he still has much of the scientific knowledge needed to investigate the fringe events.
Peter Bishop, who originally was estranged from his father, is the perfect foil for Walter, and eventually a love interest for Olivia. It just so happens that Peter is actually from the other dimension (unknown to him until the end of Season 2). Walter's son died, and he couldn't bear to see this other Peter die, so he crossed over--the only way to save Peter was to bring him back to our world. This was the event that caused the instability in the other world.
It's about time I get to season three, don't you think? It starts out slowly. Our Olivia is trapped in the other world, while their Olivia is infiltrating our dimension. Walter, Peter, and other characters have no clue that there is an impostor in their midst. Our Olivia is brainwashed (with the help of some drugs and memories) to think that she is actually the Olivia from the other world. Great set-up for the beginning of the season, no? I thought it was, but it didn't stay that way.
They alternate episodes, one in the other world, then one in ours. Makes sense. Unfortunately, once our Olivia is finally brainwashed, the episodes in the other world left a bitter taste in my mouth. The characters around her weren't developed to their full potential, which made them come across cardboard and felt like mere tools. Not only that, but anything we discovered about this world didn't have as big as an impact as I think it could have. I contest that it is far more interesting to explore a new world from the eyes of a stranger. Since Olivia thought she belonged there, we saw the world from familiar eyes, so everything to her was ordinary and commonplace. The world failed to come alive for me--it had been more alive when Olivia, Walter, and Peter had crossed over initially at the end of Season 2, since they were all discovering the differences compared to our world.
The big thing that sunk me, and made it hard for me to hang on from episode to episode, was the length of time it took for our Olivia to finally get home and, more importantly, for everyone on our side to figure out that the Olivia working with them was an impostor! It's not until Episode 8 when the Olivias end up back in their respective worlds. I can see a few episodes, but not nearly half the season.
Episode 8 was great, I have to admit that. It just kills me that it took so damn long to get there. Walter was in prime form in the episode--I'm still laughing over the word he created, Vagenda (you have to watch the episode to get the context, it's well worth it). A lot of action, twists and turns, speed bumps, and someone's life sadly ends. Good fun, but it should have come four episodes sooner, in my opinion.
Am I alone in my feelings? No, I'm pretty sure I'm not. My husband read a few articles throughout the last few months that reflected dissatisfaction, and the viewers were slowly declining. I think stretching things out so long was what did it. Is there hope? Yes, I believe so. Fringe is an excellently imagined story, and if the writers pick up the pace and start throwing more punches concerning the war (which our side now knows about), then they can redeem themselves. Every series has a slump period. I can only hope that the viewers they lost will come back or new viewers will start watching. Fringe should have at least two more seasons in it--not sure if it will reach eight seasons like X-Files. It has held its own going up against the original CSI, Supernatural, and Nikita, among other powerhouse shows.
This is the clincher, though--starting at the end of January, Fringe will move to a Friday time slot (it has been airing on Thursday nights, with some odd Monday night episodes during Season 2). Many people consider Friday a death slot. Will the final bell toll, or will Fringe embrace that time slot as X-Files did in the past? Perhaps in the mirror dimension, they've already hit the cancel button, or perhaps it's been renewed for another ten seasons! No matter what, I'm sure Fringe has plenty of surprises in store for the future.
NEXT UP: Resolutions and Goals for 2011, and a look back at 2010.