Review: Fringe - Season 3 (15) / Created by: JJ Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, Robert Orci / Starring: Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, Lance Reddick / Release Date: Out Now
It feels as though producer JJ Abrams other science fiction show, Fringe, has never crossed over to mainstream success the way Lost did. It’s probably more to do with the fact that unlike Lost, Fringe never got its start on terrestrial television and made its UK debut in a ten o clock slot on Sky One. As such it has a smaller dedicated audience who will tell anyone who will listen that it is currently the best sci-fi show on TV. Based on much of season three it’s very hard to argue with these claims.
If you don’t know the story by now, Fringe follows the exploits of FBI Fringe division comprised of Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), Civilian consultant Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) and his slightly brain damaged but genius father Walter (John Noble). Fringe division is assigned to investigate ‘The Pattern’, a series of strange occurrences which seem to be caused by otherworldly technology and fringe science. They are aided or hindered by a company called Massive Dynamic and its shady CEO Nina Sharp.
By the time we get to season three, there is a central mythology and conspiracy plot that has almost reached crescendo. It seems that there is an alternate world much like our own which has been plagued by disruptions to the very fabric of reality due to Walter Bishop’s actions years before when he opened a bridge between the two worlds. The inhabitants of the other world, lead by Walter’s doppelganger (or Walternate as he becomes known) who is secretary of state there and driven by revenge, have been making incursions into our world with the use of super soldiers who can change their appearance. At the end of season two, Olivia Dunham had been replaced in our world with her doppelganger and the Olivia we know and love was trapped in the other world.
For a great deal of season one and two of Fringe, it threatened to go into Lost or X-Files territory with its mythology. It seemed like they could be making it up as they went along with the plot getting more and more convoluted and no real answers given. Patience pays off however because about ten episodes into season three all of these concerns have melted away and most things in Fringe make total sense. Apart from the origin and purpose of ‘The Observers’ which remains a fantastic mystery that I’m not sure I want answers to. The plot picks up with the ramifications of the end of season two being felt badly, Peter is still bitter and angry at Walter after discovering he is in fact a kidnapped child from the other world but at the same time he is elated by the development of his relationship with Olivia, or so he thinks. Peter becomes more and more concerned about the discovery of the doomsday device which he seems destined to activate. The fake Olivia or Faux Olivia as she is known, wastes no time worming her way into the affections of the Bishop’s and although she is different in subtle ways, The Bishop’s do not seem to cotton on. In the other world meanwhile, our Olivia has been brainwashed into thinking that she is a permanent resident and sets about taking up her role with the FBI Fringe Division over there. Part of the fun of this set up is that the other world is further explored and its differences are revealed through tiny details as the plot unfolds, things like a picture of JFK as an old man and the Green Lantern being known as the Red Lantern over there. The writers made the smart and brave decision of setting every other episode in the alternate reality (indicated through the colours in the main credits) where the other world Fringe task force are no longer the faceless invaders but become characters that you get to know and care about equally. It’s a major shift in format for a show that has not yet crossed over into the public consciousness but really pays off as the first half of season three is amongst the best television I have seen.
The main trio of actors really run with the ball as well, John Noble is fantastic as Walter Bishop constantly revealing hidden depths through his flashback episodes or his exchanges with Peter. As Alternate, Noble does just as well playing a character you should hate but can’t because everything he does is driven through heartbreak or the desire to save his world. Joshua Jackson is not an actor I have enjoyed previously but he keeps getting better and better in Fringe. The Peter Bishop character is now far from the former conman he was and is now likeable and just as driven as the rest of the team. Anna Torv started the show in season one as a bit of wooden eye candy but really hits her stride in season three playing two different versions of the same character. It’s brilliant to watch because our Olivia is sullen and withdrawn whilst being dedicated and faux Olivia is cocky and bubby with a bit of a sinister streak to her. Torv does most of the heavy lifting in her role and its good to see her open up the character and the relationship with Peter deepen.
Apart from the ongoing and fascinating mythology you also get some great little stories that the show has become known for. Things like men who have a power over probability and become assassins, or weapons that make peoples bones disintegrate. The key strength is that the mythology never feels tacked on or not part of the main thrust of the show and blends in brilliantly with the weekly ‘strange event of the week’ format. Sadly Fringe can’t keep the brilliance up for the whole season and lets itself down at about episode 16 with a contrived body swap storyline (two words: Soul Magnets) that ends in a badly animated Inception rip off. Luckily it recovers from this arc and leaps back into the central story with ease and the stakes get raised to apocalyptic proportions. The ending changes the direction and format of the show yet again and I can’t wait to see how they pull this off in season four which has foolishly been consigned to the Friday night death slot in the states.
It’s rare to see something that puts the Science back in the Science-Fiction, so if you are not watching Fringe yet then you are missing out on one of the best shows around. If you pick it up, stick with it through season one and just enjoy it because by the time you get to season three it will be one of those shows you can’t stop watching and will have taken over your life. And yes, it’s better than Lost…
Extras: Episode 19 Animated making of, Deleted Scenes, Episode Commentaries, Duality of Worlds Featurette, Unconscious Manipulation Featurette, Gag Reel.