By Toussaint Egan
For those who are fans of compelling television with interesting premises and a compelling running series of mysteries throughout, Fringe is a show worth giving a chance. And believe me, there’s seldom been a better time to be a Fringe fan. This is a retrospective recap of the first half of the show’s ongoing fourth season, which is currently in the middle of a three-week hiatus.
For those who might not be familiar, Fringe is the brainchild of acclaimed showrunner J.J. Abrams, most known for his stewardship of hit shows like Alias and Lost. The initial premise of the show follows the exploits and investigations of FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), the eccentric scientist Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble) and his jack of all trades son Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) together comprising a special investigative task force created to solve rogue cases of bizarre “fringe science.”
The first season dealt with the problem of “The Pattern,” a series of seemingly unrelated fringe cases that are otherwise being orchestrated by either by some unknown person or force. However, this premise appears to have been little more than a convenient red herring, as the two subsequent seasons have done more to flesh out the mythos of the series by putting the Fringe team in the middle of a conflict between alternating universes. At the conclusion of the third season, Peter was faced with the choice of sacrificing himself to avert the destruction of both of these universes. He succeeded, but rather than dying, the timelines of both universes have been rewritten in such a way that Peter has now been erased from existence entirely. Or so it seemed.
To be entirely honest, I was extremely underwhelmed by the aftermath of the finale in season three, but the initial eight episodes of this season did little to recapture my enthusiasm. For all intents and purposes, season four is meant to be both a reboot and a continuation of the show’s storyline. And it succeeds at both, but not in an entirely satisfactory way. With the exception of a few critical episodes like “Neither Here Nor There,” the episode “Subject 9” in which Peter returns, “Novation” and “Wallflower,” I would be pressed to suggest anyone to jump into the series from the initial episodes of fourth season. It’s the next seven episodes that really matter.
It’s interesting to note how the narrative of this season compares to lasts. While season three opened upfiring on all pistons, keeping a persistent momentum of meaningful episodes throughout and very few frivolous “fluff” episodes, this season appears to be taking the opposite direction. I don’t think that that’s paid off favorably for the sake of the show’s story or its chances of staying on air, but at least we’ve pushed through the painfully meandering period of eight expository episodes and got to the narrative meat of the season.
After far too long, Fringe finally has three things that it’s been desperately in need of for the past two seasons. These include a compelling and unambiguous main antagonist driving the conflict, a persistent sense of purpose pushing the show to answering preexisting questions and retaining enough preexisting mysteries that hints at a satisfyingly awesome conclusion for the whole season. The villain that I’m referring to is a rogue techno-biological terrorist by the name of David Robert Jones, played by Jared Harris. Most viewers will know him for his role as Professor Moriarity in the recent Sherlock Holmes sequel; Harris originally played the character in the show before dying in first season finale. However, because of the timeline revision, David Robert Jones is now alive and just as Machiavellian and sinister as ever, though his knowledge of the timeline before Peter’s erasure is still to be determined.
We know more about the “observers,” the mysterious time-hopping fedora-touting manipulators that have been a persistent influence since the beginning of the show. We know who they are, and that itself is a compelling hint as to what the ultimate intent behind their machinations is. The nature of the two universes and how they’ve been changed by Peter’s absence is being elaborated by the interactions of the remaining main characters and plot points that I thought that were previously coincidental or irrelevant. The love dynamic between Peter and Olivia is also being built in new and compelling ways. What first seemed like a standard attraction between two principal characters has subtly turned into a tragic impetus responsible for most of the conflict in the story. But there remains hope that these problems can be overcome and that they might end up together after all. Time will tell.
Fringe is a show at its finest when it moves away from the premise of being a procedural “horror story of the week” thriller and becomes a dense character study focused on the fractured adopted family dynamic between Peter, Walter and Olivia. Because of the lackluster performance of the first episodes from season four, Fringe appears to be on its last legs. However, I think that it’s worthwhile for any fan of good television to give Fringe a shot. It’s a genuinely creative show that knows how to throw serious curveballs and rewards persistent viewership.