Fringe S3E4 review
|REVIEWS - TV|
Fringe is getting more confused than dear old Walter...
"Do Shapeshifters Dream Of Electric Sheep?"
"If Fringe had been this choppy and uncommitted in terms of style back in season one, I think I would have bailed out at that season's episode five, or earlier."
I have to give credit to this week's writers (or the producers) for at least acknowledging in the episode's title what some of the core concepts of this week's outing owe to Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? and its adaptation, Blade Runner. Lots of films and shows channel Mr. Dick's ideas as if they were their own.
But more of machines with feelings later.
I am afraid. Very afraid. I'm afraid that season three of Fringe is going to turn out to be the equivalent to season six of its forebear, The X-Files. God help us. There are only two reasons to dick about with a show's formula this much:
- It's season six, and you can do what the hell you like (let the actors write and direct the episodes, do spoof episodes, do recap episodes, etc) because season 7 is a guaranteed green light when you're that close to syndication.
- The previous season suffered a radical enough drop in ratings to make it time to imitate the more successful competitor shows.
I haven't checked the figures on season two, but I'm guessing that possibility #2 is behind what is now turning Fringe into a very tedious experience. It's clear by now that we are not going to be returning anytime soon to freak-of-the-week territory. The 'bridge' story that closed season two is setting its tendrils deep into season three, leaving us with 100% non-episodic fare. If all this was as well-written as The Wire, I could stand it, but...hell, even The Wire had some kind of closeable theme, most episodes.
What we have in Fringe S3 is more akin to the rambling, character-conflicted story arc style of The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Given that show's fate, this could be a poor move. Last week I mused that the show was turning into CSI: Fringe, and now I can only wish that this were the case. At least it would constitute a decision.
The truth is that I don't care about Not-Olivia and her growing feelings for Peter, or her possible conflict between her own ethics (presumably a trait she shares with our Olivia, who we didn't see this week as she is still stuck in her amnesiac situation over in the Other Dimension) and her mission to close the gap between dimensions permanently, no matter who gets killed in the process. I do care about Peter, but he's turning into background noise in S3. I would care about Broyles if they ever gave him anything to do except be trundled on in a suit and dish out exposition.
Only my beloved Mad Walter is left, and his contribution to this episode is all that stopped me falling asleep. Seriously. But even there, the comic possibilities of the Lunatic Taking Over The Corporation weren't that well-exploited, and his comedic patter about puddings and sweets needs an injection of novelty after two seasons of it. That said, his attempt to strip naked while stoned on LSD in front of a horrified panel of employees - averted only at the last minute by Peter's timely arrival - was a welcome return to form for the character, as was his recounting of how Lewis Carroll's Mad Hatter got his name.
Well, on with the story...
Senator James Van Horn, actually a shape-shifter who substituted the original two years previously, is apparently killed in what I have to admit is one of the best 'gotcha!' car-crash scares I've ever seen. Not-Horn knows every aspect of every case of this dimension's low-budget Fringe division. In short, he knows too much, even dead, since he's a semi-cybernetic Terminator-style creature, and it's possible that data can be retrieved from his remains that will expose Not-Olivia for what she is.
Time for a series of assassination attempts by Not-Olivia's Brit-Villain chum, who ultimately resorts to a third party - a 'sleeper' shape-shifter who hasn't been given a mission in five years, and has settled down with a young family into cosy domesticity. The unwelcome arrival of his almost-forgotten boss brings the news that he must not only break into Massive Dynamic and retrieve the data module from the remains of Not-Horn, but then immediately reboot his life in order to cover his tracks - with the firm indication that he should kill his entire family before changing his face and moving on.
This was perhaps the most interesting thread of the episode (hence it got promoted to the episode title), not only because it deals with machines that develop feelings in conflict with their core programmed missions, but also because it echoed themes in Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent, wherein a long-forgotten Russian spy in England is finally remembered by his Slavic masters and ordered to make a terrorist attack on Greenwich, despite the fact that he has completely grown away from his original loyalties.
And oh dear, most of the rest is about Not-Olivia and whether Peter is guessing that she is not the Olivia he knew before. And her conflicts. And her machinations. And her conflicted duplicity. And the fact that she is having sex with Peter, which will presumably lead to some embarrassing conversations when real-Olivia finally gets her memories back and returns to our universe. And I don't care about that either.
If Fringe had been this choppy and uncommitted in terms of style back in season one, I think I would have bailed out at that season's episode five, or earlier. This is not the show I have loved for two years. Since four episodes is long enough for the tone of a new season to at least roughly establish itself, I do fear the worst, and it's possible that only a mid-season rethink can rescue season three. At this point I hardly care whether Fringe returns to its X-Files roots or its new dabbling with CSI style, just as long as it makes its mind up and starts to explore the possibilities in that format.
But I can't take much more of this focus-grouped, over-cast nonsense.
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