Jul 15, 2010

[TV] Fringe: Season 2

Fringe: Season 2With so little science fiction television around these days, the surviving shows end up being the stronger ones. It's Darwin's Law of Natural Selection applied to network television, or something like that. As much as lesser shows are sadly thrown to the curb in the aftermath, one has to admit that the shows that remain are pretty kick ass.

Then again, what else can you expect from Hollywood's golden boy of science fiction, J.J. Abrams? Most of his television projects have gone on to become long-lived and well-watched TV shows (e.g. Alias and Lost of course) with a few lesser projects here and there (e.g. Six Degree), but overall he's been pretty reliable in the ratings game. And that's really all that the networks care about - it's not about creativity or how novel your ideas are. It's all about reliability and whether or not you can draw in the ratings.

Thankfully, Abrams is both reliable AND highly creative, thus satisfying both the geeks in the audience and even the studio executives. As much as I want to support independent and new talent, one has to take the time to pay homage to this man's geekily creative vision.

So yeah, I'm really happy this show got renewed for a second season.

Fringe is J.J. Abrams current science fiction show that deals with a supposed Fringe Division of the FBI dedicated to exploring paranormal scientific events and other elements of popular speculative fiction. In the first season of the show, we followed the Fringe team as they explored a large number of interrelated phenomena known only as the Pattern. The season ended with Oliva Dunham (Anna Torv) finally getting to cross over to the parallel dimension and finally meet the enigmatic William Bell (Leonard Nimoy).

FringeImage by Kikishua via Flickr
In this second season of the show, we jump right into the action with Oliva reappearing in her original universe with little memory of what had happened on the other side. But the strangeness of the world doesn't wait around for her to get better and it's up to the quirky father and son team of Walter Bishop (John Noble) and Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) together with Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole) under the guidance of Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick).

Where the first season focused on The Pattern, this season focused more on the incursions from the other dimension including mercury-blooded shapeshifters, buildings slipping through the gaps between the dimensions and mysterious typewriters used to communicate across the planes. As the season progresses, you find out that there's a lot more to Peter's past than what was originally presented in the first season, even more secrets lost in Walter's fractured memory and at the heart of things the experiments of Walter and William and even the involvement of Nina Sharp (Blair Brown).

As you compare the two seasons, I kind of miss the independent story approach of the first season. At that time it was just mystery after mystery with the Fringe team running after each one without a clear idea of what's going on. This time around they have a more focused mission and thus it no longer seems to be about discovering new sciences and future possibilities. Instead we're pretty much engaged in a secret war with a parallel dimension and all the efforts are part of an elaborate cloak and dagger operation. This made the season feel somewhat more like Alias instead of being closer to X-Files as the first season was.

The story development was still rather fulfilling and despite a few side development episodes, the core story was very strong and certainly kept things moving. As much as the more military feel to things was a bit disappointing as a change of pace, the plotline certainly warranted it and it was all executed pretty well. My only complain would be that some of the latter reveals weren't quite as surprising as I'd have liked them to be, but I trust Abrams enough to know that there will be even bigger mysteries further down the road.

Points definitely have to go out to Kevin Corrigan as Sam Weiss, the blatant Yoda-like figure introduced into the story to help Olivia learn more about her destiny or whatever else you want to call it. He's quirky and annoying and all that other good stuff that any good mentor figure needs to be. Plus he runs a bowling alley, so he definitely has to get points for that. Then we have to give a polite nod the subtlely implied yet still not clear relationship between Agent Broyles and Nina Sharp.

And yes, the season was so chock-full of Observers, my partner and I have gotten tired of trying to look for them anymore. It's not that it wasn't fun to do so, but it's kind of annoying how they're making it more and more difficult to spot the Observer by inserting him in more and more ridiculous ways. I'll not go into further detail about it now - you'll just have to try it for yourself when you try and watch the show.

Still, the season is one great mystery as a whole and despite all the answers we get about the Bishops, the other universe an perhaps even the Pattern, we're still left with even more questions, complications and more great storytelling. Sure, it isn't Lost, but it's a completely fulfilling experience all on its own, regardless.

Fringe: Season 2 is a great continuation to the first amazing run and a great promise of things to come. It gets 4 repeated visual themes such as red and green blinking lights out of 5.
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