November 21, 2009
What at first seems to be a relatively simple corporate espionage kidnapping and extortion scheme turns out to be a brilliantly intricate tale of family deception. Paralleling the lie that Walter Bishop and his son are living, James Carson, a top Massive Dynamic scientist, has been telling his son an alternate version of the truth. And as the episode concludes, we find out that the truth that Tyler thought he had found out was not even close to the real truth — i.e. the Massive Dynamic truth.
Many, including myself, have understood from the beginning that while Fringe held a lot of potential, it had to get over a couple of initial hiccups to become awesome. Some have been dealt with, and others not. I seem to not be the only person very happy to see it blooming wider open with every episode (even if it seems to somewhat stall at times). In my opinion, “Of Human Action” demonstrates how far the show has already come, and gives me great hope for the end of this season.
The opening scene is very reminiscent of yet another X-Files episode, “Pusher” (season three, episode 17). Police officers drive, hellbent, to a parking lot, where three individuals are in a car: two adults and a teenager. The adults are forced outside of the car – and this is where things become a little “Pusher”-ish. One police officer starts walking backwards until he falls off the parking lot’s ledge, and another one shoots her fellow officers before turning the gun on herself.
But this is where the similarities end, for where “Pusher” was about an individual with a brain tumour who had acquired the ability to control others, the person to control other’s actions here is courtesy of none other than Massive Dynamics’ scientists. And once again, we realise that Nina Sharp is in on it, far more than she lets on.
I am now convinced that Nina Sharp is using everyone for her own agenda. While it seems that she is only doing it out of loyalty to William Bell, I’m certain she will end up betraying him, too, because while her own agenda is probably intricately linked to that of William Bell’s, it will somehow be different because of some fundamental yet seemingly small difference.
“Of Human Action” really was a great episode. The plot was advanced indirectly, a brilliant ploy making the experience all the more interesting. We don’t know how Peter will react when (if) he finds out he’s from the other world, but we have an idea of how Tyler reacted when he found out about what he thought were his real origins. We don’t know what her role is, but we do know that Nina Sharp is incredibly good at lying and manipulating, even to Broyles, with whom she is romantically involved. We also know that her connection with Bell, who is in the other dimension, isn’t solid; some sort of interference has occurred which makes the messages she sends him all the less certain to reach their destination.
The pacing of the action increased substantially from the previous rather slow ones, and the writers had more than one trick up their sleeves. The visuals were great — from the first shot from above of the police officer and Fringe Division looking down to the shot of Peter and Walter at Massive Dynamics, we were treated to both typical and atypical visuals. One particularly striking scene was that of the FBI agents moving in on the abandoned hangar. We were tuned into what the agents and Fringe Division could hear wearing the headphones, and it lent an air of tension and slight confusion to a scene which was otherwise visually simple.
This episode makes me wonder what else Massive Dynamics is up to, since their blatant lack of respect for human life is made all the more apparent in their creation and use of the Tylers. This particular storyline has great potential for more than one interesting ethical dilemma concerning the needs of the many versus the rights of the few. For example, the Tylers (brief X-Files flashback here – remember when Mulder walked into a room filled with clones in tanks?) had to be created to experiment if mind control would work so as to prepare our side for the imminent invasion promised a couple of episodes ago. Does it warrant such horrific, lifelong experiments (and necessary lies)?
Of course this episode of Fringe wouldn’t be complete without a couple of Peter/Walter and Walter moments:
Peter: Walter, remember that conversation we had about personal space?
Walter: I’m bored.
Walter [briefing the FBI agents]: Do not remove them under any circumstances. If you do, you may die a gruesome and horrible death. Thank you for your attention, and have a nice day.
Walter: That was quick thinking. You proved to be more resourceful than I give you credit for.
Peter: Is that supposed to be some sort of compliment?
Walter: Don’t be ridiculous. You were abducted. Of course you need crepes.
November 21, 2009
Fringe is back, and back with quite a bang; a monster-of-the-week episode featuring an entity that will make you watch the episode with your back to a wall, just to make sure nothing creeps up on you. Hey, you never know.
The overarching plot is simple enough. It starts with a Russian cosmonaut who went to space and brought back an entity with him. While the plot is a little reminiscent of The X-Files episode “Space,” Fringe manages to push the idea further (and, dare I say, makes for an overall better episode). Said cosmonaut has been in a coma since being taken over, but that doesn’t stop the entity, as it can project itself anywhere it wants. A black shadow made of smoke, the entity absorbs radiation emitted by the human body by passing through it. The result: victims burn at a temperature so hot that they retain their shape even as their insides have been turned to ash.
In a desperate bid to save him, the cosmonaut’s brother steals him from the Russian military hospital, brings him to the United States (how is a question still up for debate), and starts jumping from hospital to hospital, having his brother admitted into the coma ward and bailing ship when the entity’s shadow starts killing people. The brother is also looking for a way to get rid of the entity, thus allowing his brother to wake up from his coma; he has a formula which needs solving, and until that’s done, he can (sort of) control the shadow’s excursions by applying an electric current to his brother’s comatose body. Delightful.
The opening scene was great, at once touching and consequently heart-wrenching — because you know that, invariably, one or more people in the opening scene are going to die. Randy calls up his wife, Natalie, pretending to be at the airport, about to leave the city on the evening of their wedding anniversary, when in fact he’s at home, preparing a surprise for her. Seriously, talk about toying with the viewer’s emotions.
I especially loved the fact that Natalie’s reaction was so realistic. Women in such a situation are often portrayed as shrill and hysterical, yelling at their husbands for being a killjoy and accusing them of having an affair or some other ridiculous thing. Natalie simply told her husband she was really disappointed (and she sounded really disappointed, too), but that she understood that he had to work. Newsflash: this is usually how real women react!
Perhaps Fringe is also at the cutting edge of social sciences…
The rest of the opening scene was also pretty awesome, what with the second of total silence after the black shadow attacked Randy while the camera panned the empty apartment. Perhaps there was a little Hitchcock inspiration at work here? And then, the cherry on the cake — Natalie comes home to find Randy sitting on the couch, and when she touches his arm, he falls apart in a cloud of ashes.
This scene’s emotional build-up, from a beautiful romantic moment between two people who seem to be in a healthy relationship shattered by a Smokey Black Shadow, seems to have been written on purpose to tug at the emotional heartstrings of the viewers and to ready them to open up to Broyles. Because although the show is a monster-of-the-week, it’s pretty obvious as soon as the credits are over that it’s about Broyles. For the second time in the history of Fringe, we see a more human side to him (the first being when we find out he has a relationship with Nina Sharp). For impenetrable and sometimes overly seriously Broyles is sitting in a restaurant and playing peek-a-boo behind his menu with an adorable little boy. How cute is that?
I like the idea, I really do – but I don’t think this episode did what it set out to do quite as planned. On the one hand, we do find out a little bit about Broyles’ past, and how he had already investigated the Smokey Black Shadow only to see it destroy his marriage. And we see how that left a bitter taste in Broyles’ mouth, and would explain a little bit more about his mostly deadpan façade.
Broyles: I took this job to make the world a safer place for my family. And now, I don’t even have a family.
But just like with Olivia Dunham, I found it hard to connect with Philip Broyles. While Walter Bishop’s discomfort at watching a patient tied down as he was back at St. Claire’s (season two, episode five), I didn’t really feel bad for Broyles having had a divorce as a direct consequence of the Smokey Black Shadow case. I don’t know if it makes me an insensitive person, but if it does, there are a lot of Fringe viewers who suffer from the same problem.
Thank goodness for Walter Bishop. According to the fan forums and discussion boards, even Astrid summons more empathy and caring that Broyles and Dunham. I don’t know why.
On a more positive note, the cosmonaut’s brother’s devotion is heart-warming, especially when such a thing is fast dwindling as individualism slowly creeps into the hearts of even the most caring of us.
And there was one particularly adorable Walter Bishop moment:
Olivia: Walter, do you have any thoughts?
Walter: Reminds me of Christmas. Like a fire log that burns so hot it remains intact, holding the shape of its former self. You (Peter) used to love that when you were a child, you’d poke the log with your little finger when cold, and you’d draw genitalia on the reindeer decorations.
Peter: Happy memories, Walter. But what I think she meant was having thoughts to what happened to Dusty here.
So just like its plotline, my opinion of Fringe has plateaued once again. It’s an intriguing show with a lot of potential that needs to be worked harder. The writers should perhaps consider taking some advice from Supernatural writers — put more into one episode, advance not only the plotline and one character, but rather the entire cast together within the plot. I would really hate to see a show with so much potential go to waste simply because after a great beginning to the season, it manages to lose the audience’s interest.
September 27, 2009
A promising TV show throughout season one, Fringe is definitely becoming better, slowly unfolding to deliver its full potential. Season two is already better than season one, and the second episode is better than the first.
On the one hand, like I noted last week, the acting is a lot better (except for John Noble, whose Walter Bishop was always amazing) and we can finally connect to Olivia Dunham (although her portrayal is sometimes a little erratic; why would a woman normally under such control freak out so easily, trauma or no trauma?). The speed is also picking up; a lot more things happened in episode two relative to the season premiere.
I was wondering if season two would only be about The Pattern, but it seems that the writers have found a way of adding another dimension to the story: the Monster of the Week. This week, we feature a lupus-resistant foetus that has grown to become quite the difficult teenager, to put it mildly.
While Fringe has numerous times drawn comments about its resemblance to The X-Files, this episode in particular is the one that, to date, bears the most resemblance to the cult series. From the monster to the dark shots, the people disappearing into the ground, and the tension between the male and female lead, all these elements contributed to the X-Files-ity of the episode, delightfully topped off by many great moments such as:
Peter [examining Olivia’s cane]: I’m looking for the hidden ninja sword.
Olivia: That one wasn’t covered by insurance.
Peter: How’s it going, Walter?
Walter: I’m planning to urinate in 23 minutes.
Peter: Good to know.
Astrid: We’ve been at this for five hours.
Walter: Science is patience!
Astrid: It’s also slimy.
What Mr. Hughes did deserved a bit of attention. In short, he and his wife wanted a child. His wife, suffering from lupus, couldn’t conceive and so Mr. Hughes – or rather, Dr. Hughes, tinkered with some animal DNA (including scorpion DNA) to produce a foetus who would be able to resist the in utero attack his mother’s immune system would wage on it.
The desire to have a child is one that is understandable; no childless couple should ever be told such insensitive things as “you’ll have more fun without kids” and “stop complaining, it’s not like its all fun and games” (I personally overheard those two comments). Today, there are a lot of things a couple can do to have kids; there is, obviously, the most obvious way (wife + husband = babies), but for those for whom this formula doesn’t work, there currently are: fertility treatments, in-vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood, and adoption. And, as technology advances, there are probably a lot more options that are going to open up to such couples.
The question is, where do we draw the line? When does having a child become a selfish act, rather than a selfless one? These are tough questions that cannot be adequately addressed in this review; however, I’d only like to mention that the ends do not always justify or condemn the means. It isn’t because Baby Boy Hughes turned into a terrible creature that what Dr. Hughes did was wrong; conversely, had Baby Boy Hughes turned out normal, it wouldn’t have justified what Dr. Hughes did as right.
Olivia is undergoing an interesting physical transformation. While we have only witnessed the acute hearing, according to Sam, there is a lot more awaiting our fearless heroine. Speaking of which, wasn’t that quite the Sylar moment, when she started hearing all the sounds from around her apartment? Thankfully though, she didn’t go all megalo-Sylar on us and start slicing people’s heads open.
Another point of interest, which wasn’t directly addressed, is the relationship between our above mentioned heroine and Peter. The two had a bit of a moment at the beginning of the episode, when Peter came to pick her up upon her discharge from the hospital (begging the question, why Peter?), and another indirect one when Peter covered for Olivia for almost shooting him. Speaking of which: a) she’s an amazing shot, and b) Peter’s face was priceless.
Just one last little question: when they are in the Hughes’ house, knowing that a mutant of sorts lives in it, why did Olivia and Peter separate, when one doesn’t have a gun and the other doesn’t have full use of her leg yet?
Okay, just two little questions: how did child-Peter from this universe die? Is Walter at fault, possibly for not being present, and does it have anything to do with fishing and/or drowning?