Friday, April 9, 2010

FRINGE Benefits

FRINGE Pre-Weekend Thoughts:

How to follow up one of the best single episodes of television this season? That was the question facing FRINGE this week. What the show delivered was something of a compromise - picking up on a few of the major threads from last week's game-changer while also getting back to business as usual. We got a monster-of-the-week, but this particular monster tied-in closely with the ongoing, overarching storyline - namely, Olivia's participation in the cortexifan trials orchestrated by doctors Bishop and Bell during her youth. In this episode, one of the participants in the trials had somehow contracted a killer cancer virus - a form of the disease that could be passed on to others via touch. Except, only other participants in the trials were suceptible. Our first victim was played by none other than Diane Kruger of Inglourious Basterds fame (!), and the killer proceeded to make his way through a series of trial-alumni until the inevitable confrontation with Agent Dunham. There was a lot of grossness in this ep, and the cold open with Diane Kruger was truly horrific. For this reason, the Cancer Man was an interesting adversary, but ... it seemed strange that it took so long for Olivia to piece together his connection to her and the other victims. What's more, we didn't learn much about the how's and why's of his condition, or how it related back to the trials. After learning so much about the show's backstory last week, it was a bit jarring to return to a Fringe where answers are so hard to come by. This was true in the scenes with Nina Sharp, which were the usual variety of "Olivia goes seeking answers, comes up empty-handed after some pop psychology from Nina." This was also true in the scenes with Kevin Corrigan, who returned as the mysterious bowling-alley seer who somehow has insight into Olivia's psyche and her Fringe division work. I really like Corrigan, but this character is still pretty out of left field. He so far just seems to be written as eccentric and mysterious without any real purpose or point - we still have no idea what his deal is, and I also don't really understand why Olivia would continue to visit him for advice, or entertain him when he drops by for middle-of-the-night games of Clue.

Still, easily the most compelling part of this episode was the ongoing tension between Walter and Olivia over the secret regarding Peter's otherdimensional origins. After last week's tour de force, John Noble once again brought it this week - he was a ball of pent-up nervousness and anxiety whenever he came in contact with Olivia, and his face really conveyed just how tortured he was over the possibility that Peter might finally learn the truth about where he came from. I also give a lot of credit to Joshua Jackson - he's really stepped it up since the series first began, and this ep was a great example of his easy chemistry with Anna Torv and John Noble. Jackson seems reinvigorated by the new complexities of the character he's playing, and I think it's going to be exciting to see him take center stage in the weeks ahead, as his role as some sort of multiversal chosen one is expanded.

I do think Fringe needs to figure out a slightly better formula for its freaks-of-the-week, though. This episode had the benefit of tying deeply into the series mythology, but some of the same flags from other standalone episodes still could be raised: villains that aren't quite as memorable as they should be, rushed endings / resolutions, etc. We'll see if that improves - I just don't want there to be such a gap in quality and excitement-factor between the mythology-heavy eps and the standalones. As it stands, this ep was able to ride the momentum from last week's barn-burner, and overcame its faults by deepening the central mysteries about Walter's work and the reprecussions his past actions still have in the present.

And on a sidenote: Peter "ROBOCOP" Weller on next week's episode?! Hells yeah!

My Grade: B+

- Have a great weekend - peace out, fools.

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