Fringe – review

Years ago when Fringe started, I watched about 20 minutes of the first episode despite my concerns that Dawson’s Creek was heading to speculative fiction town. There was a plane, people died in mysterious and icky ways and at the 20 minute mark I thought to myself “I can’t commit to another X-Files”. I turned off the TV, rediscovered the lost art of conversation for the evening and felt vaguely relieved that I wasn’t committing myself to yet another television series. Besides, my younger self thought, it probably won’t last more than one season.

The scars of Firefly fandom run deep.

Since then, I’ve heard a scattering of good things about Fringe. Intelligent plots. Good acting not at all reminiscent of Dawson’s Creek. A long running story arc that keeps you engaged. Great characters.

And finally I heard “it’s finishing”.

Aha! I thought. Here’s my chance to get in on this show in the sure knowledge that I can watch the whole damn thing without having to worry about end of season cliffhangers.

What can I say. I think in italics. So, towards the end of last year I purchased the first four seasons on DVD and settled in over the Christmas break to make a dent.

I then proceeded to mainline the first three seasons. My wife complained she never saw me. My children suffered from neglect. Chores went unfulfilled. But finally I finished season 3 and collapsed into a puddle of TV over-watching exhaustion.

Since then I’ve rationed myself to one or two episodes of season 4 per week, partly to help in the recovery process and partly to stretch things out so I can get season 5 before I run out of season 4 episodes.

Because of the ongoing nature of the story, it’s hard to give away much plot without spoiling. Olivia Dunham is an FBI agent who begins to get involved with cases that are a bit weird. She needs Walter Bishop, a brilliant but insane scientist who used to pursue “fringe science” (think telekinesis, teleportation, genetic manipulation etc) and has spent the last 17 years in a mental institution. In order to spring him loose, she enlists the help of Walter’s son, Peter Bishop, an extremely intelligent man with a history of dealing slightly on the wrong side of the law. The three of them solve bizarre mysteries.

So far it sounds a bit X-Files doesn’t it? And reading descriptions like that was what turned me off (as much as I liked the X-Files at the time I didn’t want to repeat the experience). That was a mistake. The storyline for Fringe is much more coherent, with alternative universes, conspiracies and enough sneaky espionage to make a Mission Impossible movie proud.

The characters are wonderful, with fantastic interplay between the three leads (and a fourth regular character, Astrid, an FBI agent who primarily works with Walter in the lab). Olivia is a believable FBI agent, smart and active and even does things like ties her hair back when she is doing actiony stuff (which seems very practical to me). Walter is a brilliant bumbling scientist trying to deal with being back in the “real” world after years in a mental institution. And Peter is great as the sceptic (at least initially), and someone who can get things done outside legal processes.

The ongoing plot line manifests itself in other ways. When a character gets visibly hurt, you see the damage in later episodes, slowly fading over time. There is no reset button here. The plot seems to have been thought through quite well, with threads coming together episodes, sometimes seasons, later.

As you can probably tell, I’ve really enjoyed Fringe and I’m looking forward to seeing how it ends. I’d highly recommend picking it up if, like me, you’ve avoided it for this long.

Author: mark

A writer of speculative fiction and all round good egg. Well, mostly good. OK, sometimes good.

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