Dec 6, 2012

[TV] Fringe: Season 4

The fact is not lost on me that the fifth season of Fringe is well underway and I'm only getting around to posting a review for the fourth season now. Then again, this is one of those those that are best savored instead of rushed through - plus it hurts when there's no new Fringe to watch for extended periods of time. Case in point, we're actually still at least 2 episodes behind in terms of the current season since we don't want to be left without the option of going forward to the next episode in case we end on a particularly compelling cliffhanger.

And let's face it, Fringe loves its cliffhangers.

This penultimate fourth season wobbled a bit for me, but in the long run it still makes a lot of sense in terms of the overall progression of the series. And things do look increasingly grim for the realities / universes covered and perhaps inevitably complicated as well.

But that's really part of the fun of the series, when you really get down to it.

Synopsis: Fringe is a science fiction drama TV series created by J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci for the Fox Broadcasting network. In the 2012 Saturn Awards, the show won Best Network Television Series and Best Actress for lead Anna Torv.

The seasons thus far have covered a fairly interesting progression in terms of the overall narrative flow. The first season had them trying to understand "The Pattern" and the suspected incursions from another universe. The second season had us further explore the aspect of the alternate universe as the primary adversary of our Fringe team. The third season alternated between the two universes given the two Olivias (Anna Torv) had pretty much switched places.

This fourth season starts with a new paradigm entirely - that the two universes are now linked through the mysterious machine that is now houses under the Statue of Liberty at the cost of the life of Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson). So now the two Fringe divisions are working together for cases that either involve both universes or involve criminals from one side somehow crossing over to the other. And Peter didn't die, mind you - he never existed to begin with, at least as far as we know.

Thus we get to see Agent Lincoln Lee (Seth Gabel) become a season regular as he again meets Olivia for the first time and eventually joins the team. And the prime universe version is a little more uncertain about things since he's the type of guy who's never heard of Fringe Division, what more encounter the types of things that they do. Thus he presents a rather stark contrast from his alternate universe version who is a lot more take-charge when you think about it.

The story becomes a bit more complex as this version of Walter (John Noble) is pretty much a shut-in and hardly leaves the lab at all. To make matters worse for him, he seems to be plagued by random visions of a phantom man - one that we recognize to be his son Peter. So we know that sooner or later he's going to re-join the cast and somehow find a place for himself in this new reality.

This does seemingly slow down the story a bit in the beginning since it feels like we're back to start for many things. There various cases that each version of the Fringe Division investigate involve a lot of references to prior seasons all the way back to the first as we rehash things - a way to stress that this is, in fact, a completely new reality and thus all previous events didn't necessarily happen. That can seem confusing as we inevitably start saying things like "but in season X that's not how it happened..." - thus the complex brilliance of this season.

I know a lot of folks who felt the pacing was annoying given how things had been steadily building up previously, and I see where they're coming from. But any long-time viewer of Fringe will know that the pay-off is generally worth it in the end as long as you stick to it. And I reiterate that point with respect to this fourth season - they have a definite goal in mind and we'll all get there eventually.

The open involvement of the both universes does mean we get a lot of "cross-over" stories where folks from Universe A visit Universe B and vice-versa. Gone are the days of using special technologies to manage the difficult crossings. Now there's a permanent linking point that does make travel a lot easier. Of course this does not mean that there aren't forces out there who are determined to change the status of things in both realities. And that's where the story telling gets pretty interesting with regard to the meta plot.

And at the center of every is David Robert Jones (Jared Harris) as our primary villain of the season. And he's quite the match for both universes indeed.

This fourth season of Fringe may not exactly be its best, but it does certainly set the stage of the final season yet to come. So I rate it 3.5 fun juxtapositioning of the characters with their alternates out of a possible 5.

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