Couldn’t get to sleep the other night and didn’t quite feel like I had the mental capacity to watch something in Japanese (i.e. anime) so instead I trawled Netflix for a few moments and eventually settled on a show I’ve been meaning to watch for a long time: Fringe.
I knew very little about Fringe going into it, save that it seemed to be pretty well-received, and that my acquaintance Chris Tilton, who had appeared a couple of times on the Squadron of Shame SquadCast, had assisted creator J.J. Abrams’ regular partner Michael Giacchino on the soundtrack. Other than that, I was going in pretty much blind, and had managed to remain unspoiled to date.
Turns out it’s a fantastic show, and exactly the sort of thing I enjoy, so I’m well and truly hooked.
For those who, like me, have somehow let Fringe pass them by until now, here’s the pitch: FBI agent Olivia Dunham becomes involved in investigations of weird happenings collectively known as “The Pattern” after she starts looking into the inexplicable melty-face issues that struck an inbound flight from Hamburg to Boston. In order to investigate these strange occurrences, she enlists the help of Dr Walter Bishop, a somewhat eccentric but clearly brilliant man who had been locked up in a mental institution for the preceding 17 years. In order to get Walter out of the institution, she also has to enlist the help of his son Peter, who has a past that can be charitably described as “checkered” and together, if you’ll pardon the cliche, They Fight Crime.
If this setup sounds a little X-Files-ish, you’d be absolutely right, though rather than going in the “aliens!” direction, Fringe instead looks at seemingly paranormal phenomenon through the lens of “fringe science” — being able to explain them through scientific theories that may appear ridiculous to the layman, but which Walter proves time and time again to have some basis in reality. Or at least the reality that Fringe depicts, anyway.
Fringe’s biggest strength is in its characters. Olivia is, in many ways, the most “normal” of the bunch — at least in the initial episodes — and the perfect foil to the somewhat tense relationship between Peter and Walter. Walter, meanwhile, is downright fantastic, punctuating his explanations and hypotheses with seeming non-sequiturs; sometimes they end up being relevant, and sometimes he really is just commenting on how much he enjoys a glass of milk fresh from the cow he keeps in his laboratory “because they’re the closest thing to humans, genetically, which makes them ideal test subjects”.
This isn’t to downplay the ongoing narrative and its stranger aspects, meanwhile; J.J. Abrams has proven on numerous occasions — Alias springs immediately to mind — to be good at stringing out mysteries with apparently supernatural elements to them, and Fringe is no exception to this. Over the course of the first few episodes, we’re introduced to a number of elements, some of which appear again in subsequent episodes, but which aren’t explicitly pointed out to the viewer. Already I can see it’s a show that would reward a repeat viewing knowing the full truth — which, only five episodes or so in, I have no idea of yet — because you’ll doubtless spot things that you wouldn’t have given a second thought otherwise.
I’m really intrigued to see where this series goes. And yes, I know I’m late. But I’m watching it now, okay? (Also, it’s inspired me to go back and play Cognition again thanks to its thematic similarities. So that’s good! I never finished the fourth episode, after all…)