There’s a few minor spoilers in this so if you haven’t seen the show and want to watch it unspoiled then you may want to skip this entry. I’ll put most of it after the jump just in case.
I’ve got a love/hate thing going on with J.J. Abram’s newest show on FOX called Fringe. Various previews of the show described it as a bit of a knockoff of The X-Files, Altered States, and the Twilight Zone, so I was looking forward to checking it out and after two episodes… well… it’s annoying. The basic premise of the show, according to its Wikipedia entry, is as follows: When an international flight lands at Boston’s Logan Airport and there are no signs of life, FBI Special Agent Olivia Dunham, a scientist, Walter Bishop, and his son Peter uncover a deadly mystery involving a mysterious plague and a series of unbelievable events. It all revolves around fringe science; a new branch of science dealing with mind reading, levitation, invisibility, and even reanimation of the dead. Olivia, Peter, and Walter are in charge of investigating all strange events, some of them even seem to look like “experiments”.
First off, “fringe” science isn’t new. It’s been around as long as science has been around and it usually involves stuff that is dubious in its hypothesis or ethically questionable such as the Russian experiments with keeping decapitated dog heads alive. That’s being nitpicky, though, so we’ll let it slide. The first episode basically involves some sort of easily and rapidly communicable bioengineered plague that breaks out on a plane and causes the soft tissues of everyone aboard to liquefy which made for some pretty cool melting people scenes. Special Agent Olivia Dunham and her partner are assigned to look into the event and through a series of events that I can’t be bothered to recall at the moment she tracks down a mad scientist, Walter Bishop, who may have worked on something similar back in the 1970s and is currently locked up in an insane asylum. However she can’t talk to him without the consent of his family so she tracks down his son, Peter Bishop, who’s a bit of a genius with some vaguely shady past of his own who she blackmails into helping her gain access to his father. These three people end up being the core characters of the show: FBI chick who’s in way over her head, mad scientist guy who’s playing without a full deck, and the skeptic son who’s main job is to keep Dad in line and spout off about how impossible what they’re about to attempt happens to be.
I don’t recall the exact series of events for the episode, which doesn’t bode well for how memorable it was, but at one point they get a lead that takes FBI chick and her partner to a storage rental place where they discover someone has set up a pretty sophisticated lab in a couple of the units. They bump into Mysterious Evil Dude and give chase through the storage yard only to lose him when he sets off an explosion that appears to kill FBI chick’s partner whom, conveniently enough for the plot, she just happens to be madly in love with. Turns out he’s not dead, but he has been doused with some of whatever the hell it was that fucked up all the people on the plane so he’s going to die if they don’t do something soon. I don’t recall if this is before or after she tracks down mad scientist dude and his son, but it doesn’t really matter. Someone figures out they can slow down the progression of the “disease” by keeping him cold (this is never really explained) which buys them time to figure out who the bad guy was by undertaking what has to be one of the more ridiculous means I’ve ever seen. Using some sort of spinal probe thingy our mad scientist just so happens to still have in his old university lab that was never dismantled when he was locked up, a sensory deprivation chamber that has bright lights in it thus ruining the point of being inside it, and an ample amount of LSD, they undertake an experiment that so blatantly rips off the movie Dreamscape, complete with overuse of lense flairs, that I’m surprised they didn’t get sued for copyright infringement. The do all of this so FBI chick can climb into her comatose lover/partner’s dreams and see the bad guy’s face and they can track him down.
This is the first point at which I really cringed. During the scene the skeptic son rants about how ridiculous the entire concept is, and it is pretty ridiculous, which of course means it works just as the mad scientist said it would. This is a pattern that will be repeated in the second episode and probably until the series ends. The thing that drove me nuts about the whole scene is that FBI chick who’s in way over her head is at least smart enough to see that skeptical son is probably right about this all being nonsense, but because she’s so in love with her partner she throws common sense to the side and tries it anyway. And it works. Flawlessly. With no apparent ill effects to FBI chick. It seems mad scientist guy is the Wesley Crusher of this show.
After tracking down Mysterious Evil Dude and getting the info out of him that they need to save her partner’s life it only goes without saying that he (the partner) ends up being a traitor who was in on it from the beginning. Turncoat partner climbs out of his hospital bed long enough to go smother the Mysterious Evil Dude, who is in the same hospital because they shot him or something, right about the same time that FBI chick finds evidence implicating him (the partner) as being part of the problem and not part of the solution. She arrives just in time to see ex-lover boy speed off and a chase ensues in which he eventually crashes and dies in her arms from his injuries, but not before he says something cryptic to her on how she should ask why she was picked to investigate the melting people in the first place. So all the shit she went through tracking down mad scientist guy and flying to Iraq to blackmail skeptical son into helping her get mad scientist guy and stripping down to her underwear and taking an illegal controlled substance while laying in a faulty sensory deprivation chamber with a highly experimental probe thingy stuck in her spinal column was all for a lying sack of shit who ends up dieing before she can learn just what the fuck is really going on here.
During all of that nonsense we’re introduced to some other characters including a Department of Homeland Security special agent who is the person who sends FBI chick on this little escapade to begin with. He’s initially a hard ass with her, but that’s because he’s testing her to see if she has the do-whatever-it-takes to handle investigating the freaky shit he’s going to have her investigate. At the end he offers her a job, natch. We also meet Creepy Old Executive Lady who is a 16-year veteran at Massive Dynamic which is the possibly-evil-mega-corporation that fills the role of the Syndicate from The X-Files. She has a cool cybernetic arm and is cooperative and threatening at the same time. You just know Massive Dynamic is going to be looming in the background of everything they investigate. Then there’s a few miscellaneous characters from the FBI that FBI chick will probably call on for favors while not actually telling them what’s going on. One of the other characters that really stuck out to me was Agent Astrid Farnsworth played by Jasika Nicole. She sticks out because not once does she so much as bat an eyelash while helping out the team as they undertake their crazy experiments. No matter how ludicrous, dangerous, or possibly illegal what they’re doing happens to be she just jumps right in without even a single question of the wisdom behind the actions their taking. It just struck me as being really odd, but maybe she’ll turn out to be an experimental android or something. It wouldn’t surprise me at this point.
Overall the production values were pretty high with the melting people scene and the scenes where traitorous lover boy has skin slowly becoming more translucent allowing you to see through to his muscles, brain, eyeballs and such. That stuff was pretty nifty. The acting was OK for the most part and Mad Scientist Guy has all the best lines so far. In fact he’s the main reason I tuned in to see the second episode. FBI Chick Who’s In Over Her Head was passable if annoyingly willing to do the stupidest things without questioning and will likely come to represent the Power of Faith that appears to be a growing theme in the show. Skeptical Son is relegated to mainly being wrong all the time.
In the end I found myself enjoying parts of the show, but also found that the tone annoyed the hell out of me. There’s a whole lot of a “science is EVIL” vibe going on which when combined with the pseudo-science nonsense plays right into the hands of the overly credulous. Which wouldn’t be a problem if there weren’t so many people out there who are overly credulous. There were plenty of nutcases out there that considered The X-Files more of a documentary than a fictional TV show and I can’t help but worry this show will have even more of such a following. It implies that skepticism is bad, acting on faith regardless of how stupid the idea is is good, and scientists are nuts out to fool with powers mankind should never mess with and that annoys me. Yes, it’s just a show, but it still bugs me.
Those are my thoughts. If you saw it then what did you think of the show?