thoughts on Fringe

Now that I’m once again using my TV for its original purpose — that is to say, watching broadcasts of shows, rather than treating the TV as simply an output device for the DVD player — I’m watching Fringe, Fox’s new X-Files-style show.

I suspect at least a couple of other people on my friends list are watching it, too, so I decided to toss my (non-spoilery) thoughts on the show up here.

First, and most major: the shadow-conspiracy. Fringe is in danger of falling into the same trap as its predecessor, namely, failing to make me care at all about the metaplot. In the case of The X-Files, it was a problem of concept as well as execution; at the end of the day, I just don’t care very much about UFOs and alien abductions. So when the execution was vague and muddy and confusing and pulled out of Chris Carter’s posterior, well, that didn’t help. In this case, I’m willing to invest more in caring — but they’re going to have to stop doing nothing but monster-of-the-week plots and start building up an actual pattern, with something that makes it hang together. So far, the only connecting element is that practically everything derives from some cracked-out experiment Walter did twenty years ago, thus giving the characters a way to solve the problem.

But I’m enjoying the characters, so I continue to watch. I like the way they have history; Walter and Peter are the most obvious and most enjoyable case, but also Dunham and her FBI boss whose name I can’t remember — not Broyles, the white guy. There’s a sense these people knew each other before the pilot episode started. And in general, I like that it’s a show about smart people being smart, where they have to bring all their mental capabilities to bear in order to figure out the puzzle. If that occasionally involves a dose of WTF, well, that’s kind of built into the premise of the show.

And I like Dunham. I like the fact that she’s a strong character who happens to be a woman, rather than a Strong Woman ™. Aside from that one time she blew up at Broyles, there’s been very little in the way of flashing neon gender signs, and more of her just being who she is, rather than a representative of her sex.

I fully expect a relationship between her and Peter someday, but I like that they’re not rushing into it. Peter himself is interesting, but like the metaplot, he needs more forward movement; he spends too much time being little more than Walter’s interpreter. I like it when he proactively contributes something to the puzzle, when his intelligence matters, too. (Not to mention the clue Walter dropped at one point, about Peter’s medical history. What kinds of experimentation was Dear Dad doing on him, anyway? More on that, kthxbye.)

Also, tonight’s episode made me notice something: if the plot calls for a main character to be strapped to a table or dentist’s chair and subjected to pain, that character has generally been Peter. Which makes sense on a structural level, but is also a refreshing change from media’s default victimization of women.

No overall thesis here; just scattered thoughts and reactions. Anybody else keeping up with this one?

0 Responses to “thoughts on Fringe”

  1. gollumgollum

    First, i just watched Supernatural 4.4, and i’m wrestling with “watch another episode (which promises lederhosen, apparently) or go to bed so i can go to the gym tomorrow.” Grr.

    (Put the phone down, you. 😉

    Second, i’ve not been, say, “keeping up” with Fringe, but i’ve seen a fair number of eps, tonight’s included. I’m certainly liking it more as the show goes on, although that’s not saying much. I’ve said before that Abrams irritates me as a show writer; he seems to be writing his stories for himself first and his audience second, and i feel cheated by that. That said, i find i’m not half as irritated as i was with the pilot and all it seemingly promised, and it’s not been half so “wooooo, weird enigma, cooool” as i’d first thought.

    I think Peter had a moment of growth in tonight’s episode, during his rant to Dunham’s boss about how he’s his father’s babysitter, not his puppeteer. He’s also managed to have some nice moments where he’s thrown himself headlong into danger out of a pathological need to feel useful, i think. But he still needs room to expand out of the quirky, not-quite-right boy wonder.

    That said, i really really hope that Peter and Dunham don’t hook up. For starters, they are both horribly, horribly broken–Dunham with her “my boyfriend totally betrayed me and went and got killed all at the same time” PTSD, and Peter…well, frankly, Peter’s just flat-out b0rken. That’s why they work so well as partners–there’s a strange empathy there, a bond between the two of them (that’s much deeper and yet more lighthearted than Mulder and Scully, since Dunham isn’t continually antagonized by Peter–they use Walter for that, and for antagonizing Peter himself). There was, in fact, a really nice look that the two of them exchanged in this episode that really telegraphed “broken?” “broken.” “me too.” “cool.”

    Besides, i reeeeeeeeeally like Peter, which is clearly a sign that he’s so totally a mess. He’s like a softer, brainier Dean. *grin*

    A final gender note: Dunham is known by her last name, while Walter and Peter their first. While there are plenty of reasons for this (Dunham being FBI while the boys are civilians, the boys having the same last name), it’s usually the other way around. She’s also the ass-kicker, while Peter tends to flail at things (and use brains to create force–jumping out to surprise someone with a found weapon at hand to knock them out before they know he’s there).

    And remind me sometime to tell you about my character in ‘s game.

    • Marie Brennan

      Clearly you need to watch more Supernatural, so I can get your thoughts on those eps. ^_^

      Abrams is pretty much a null for me, in terms of raising or lowering my interest in a show. But I guess his handling of metaplot has historically been not so great, so, meh. (I quite liked the pilot, but that’s probably because I was playing Magdalena in Mike’s Scion game at the time, and so anything involving outrageous medical science was pure Glamour to me.)

      Peter had two other good moments tonight, too. The more obvious one was the “Daddy?” line once he was sedated — yeah, Peter and Dean need to be in therapy together for their father issues — but I really liked the subtler one, when Walter admitted he used to hook his son’s brain up to a car battery. The scene went on, Walter doing his thing, but if you watched Peter instead of Walter, he was just standing there, staring blankly into space, for quite a while after. There really needs to be more development of the conflict there.

      I wouldn’t mind a Dunham/Peter relationship, but I also wouldn’t mind if it didn’t happen. You’re right that they both have some serious problems, but the development and/or resolution of those could lead them in directions that would make a relationship work. I agree that they wouldn’t work right now, though, which is part of why I’m glad the show isn’t racing to shove a romance down our throats.

      Names: I almost called her Olivia at one point in my original post, before deciding to type “Dunham” instead. Some people call her Olivia, and her dead traitor boyfriend calls her Livvy, so this isn’t a Mulder/Scully-type “we never use our first names EVAR” scenario, but I haven’t been paying close enough attention to spot any patterns beyond the boyfriend’s use of Livvy. You’re right that it’s a nice unstated reversal, though, one that feels logical instead of contrived. Ditto with the ass-kicking: Dunham is trained, Peter not so much, but he manages to be combat-useful in the way that a fit guy with a decent helping of courage and brains could be.

      Tell me about your character in the game! (Which game?)

      • gollumgollum

        I should have watched Supes; i’m still up. Sigh.

        Also, i really like Astrid(?). (Yes, the irony of me not knowing her name is not lost on me.) She’s wonderfully chill about everything, while still not taking any shit from anyone, especially Walter.

        Speaking of Abrams…The very end of this episode, with the reveal about the wife of the near-dead FBI guy, made both Surly and i sigh heavily and roll our eyes.

        As for Mike’s game, i’ll have to tell you some other night, less publicly. But there are things i think you’ll really enjoy.

        *goes off to rewatch stuff*

        • Marie Brennan

          Yeah, I kind of sighed, too. I mean, when Broyles was talking to the guy, I was suspicious right then. And look! I was right!

          Conspiracies bore me.

          (Yes, her name is Astrid. And I laugh at you not being sure.)

  2. moonandserpent

    I’m digging it so far (haven’t seen tonight’s episode yet) but while I care about the metaplot — I fucking adore how the bald guy is a collection of traits from real MIB reports — I don’t trust Abrams to deliver.

    • Marie Brennan

      I hadn’t really thought about the fact that it was Abrams, and what his track record has been for metaplot.

      Oh well. I’ll just enjoy the characters while I can.

    • gollumgollum

      Yeah. I am *totally* waiting for Abrams to screw me, hard. Which means i’ve got one foot out the door on this one.

      • moonandserpent

        I’m there for the characters right now… that and the fact that there is a good deal of consistency so far. (The Observer has been in most if not all of the episodes, there are actual links between some of the cases, ect.)

        I like Peter and Walter and I’ll watch anything Lance “the Wire” Reddick is in.

  3. cjfringe

    At first I thought you were talking about me. 😉

    I gave Fringe 4 episodes, but in the end I stopped watching it because it just started getting too convoluted and nonsensical to me. *Every* monster-of-the-week had to do with experiments that Walter performed 20 years ago? Big Shadowy corporation? All those experiments going on in some huge unused lab in a basement at Harvard (like it has the space and was left alone for 20 years)? I just couldn’t get into it. What ultimately did it for me, I think, was the fact that Peter is supposed to be this brilliant person in his own right, as they said in the first episode. Yet his role most of the time is to imitate Scully and doubt that any of it is real, that Walter is crazy, and to not have any ideas of his own. That and the pseudo-science annoyed me, and I gave up on the show.

    What I did start watching instead, and I’m glad that I did, is Eleventh Hour. That show has IMO better written characters, plots, and science. I find myself caring more about the characters, and while both shows involve mad science experiments gone wrong, Eleventh Hour IMO treats the science with more respect, and (spoiler) often it is a smart person gone rogue, rather than sinister shadowy corporation pulling the strings oohhh creepy it’s not Lost we promise.

    • Marie Brennan

      For me, the pseudo-science is one of the selling points. 🙂 I don’t care if it’s plausible; I just want it to be cracktastical.

      I think they’re relying on Peter too much as a translator to the audience; his disbelief is a structural excuse to exposit at us. (Though it’s also justifiable based on his knee-jerk dislike of his father.) If they keep that up forever, it will annoy me. But there are enough other things I like about his character that I’m willing to wait a bit longer and see if he gets more development.

      I yawn at the Big Shadowy Corporation, though.

      Eleventh Hour looked interesting, and I might watch it someday. But I don’t want to let TV eat my week, so I haven’t taken it up yet.

  4. danielmc

    i gave up on Fringe after episode 3, which is too bad as i really like the characters, but i am fatigued over metaplot stringing. (see: Xfiles, Lost…)

  5. moonartemis76

    I enjoy Joshua Jackson and I like Walter;s crack. That why I have caught a few episodes.

    • Marie Brennan

      I was wondering if you had the free time for it, since it’s quite X-Files-like. (Though without Mulder and Scully, obviously, which I know was a big part of your investment in that series.)

  6. pathseeker42

    (Not to mention the clue Walter dropped at one point, about Peter’s medical history. What kinds of experimentation was Dear Dad doing on him, anyway? More on that, kthxbye.)

    This has bothered me since that first episode, and is primarily responsible for getting me to sit down and watch the show week after week (that is, when I’m not working.) I won’t go out of my way for it like I do Heroes (yay full episodes online), but I really want to find out this bit of history.

    • Marie Brennan

      Heroes has never grabbed me that strongly, but I like Fringe well enough that the week I missed the broadcast, I did go watch it online.

  7. unforth

    I’ve been watching it. My frustration thus far is that it feels JUST like watching X-Files, though the plots are better than the first season X-Files plots were. But I keep feeling like I’ve already seen every episode, which is very, very bad.

    That said, I, like you, have been watching because I like the characters. But if it doesn’t pick up the pace and make something happen soon, I’ll consider it a wash, and stick to watching the Mentalist, which by far is winning-est of the new shows I’ve seen this season. 😉

    • Marie Brennan

      I actually don’t get the “I’ve seen this plot” feeling as strongly off Fringe as I have off Supernatural on occasion, but the vibe of Fringe is much more similar, you’re right. FBI, and shadowy conspiracies — what saves it is that it swaps out Mulder, putting in his place two characters, one of whom gets the credulity (with an added heaping dose of Bugfuck Crazy), the other of whom operates more like Dunham’s partner.

      But yeah. It needs to pick up, and not just go in circles.

  8. Anonymous

    I watched the pilot because, despite what lots of people seem to think about him, I like J.J. Abrams’ stuff. Overall I’ve liked Lost, although I haven’t seen any of season 4 as I just watch the seasons once they’re out on DVD. I really liked Cloverfield, and I haven’t really seen anything else he’s been responsible for.

    Anyway Out of the pilot’s 95 minute run time there was about 10 minutes of it I genuinely enjoyed. The rest of it I found uninteresting and just a little too weird for me to care. The only character I liked was Peter. I found his dad mildly amusing at first but in the end just annoying. I didn’t really like Dunham very much, although I think that’s because I just don’t find that actress engaging, if she had been played by someone else I probably would have liked her more. That seems like a fairly lame reason not to like a character but, hey, what can ya’ do?

    I’m also very picky about my “weird-stuff pseudoscience” tastes, and the weird-stuff pseudoscience in the first episode I found boring and weird. The stuff that Dunham’s FBI boss (I don’t remember his name since I only saw one episode) talked about at the end of the pilot is the kind of weird-stuff pseudoscience that I find much more interesting, but people who’s organs turn transparent and then into goo, which ultimately needs to be solved by someone taking large amounts of LSD and communicating with someone else in a “dream state” by sitting in a sensory deprivation tank? That’s just dumb and weird. To me at least.

    I also saw the boyfriends betrayal at the end of the episode coming a mile away, mostly because it was obvious that Peter was going to be Dunham’s long term romantic interest, therefore the boyfriend had to be out of the picture but, I doubted that they were going to kill him off since the entire episode was about trying to save him and that would be a really depressing way to start a tv series. [run on sentences FTW!] So they had to get rid of him somehow. I saw it as pretty much the only logical conclusion story structure-wise

    I’m glad to hear that it’s gotten better though.

    • Anonymous

      Oh yeah ^^^ that’s Tony.

    • Marie Brennan

      I can definitely see tastes varying the pseudoscience. As I said above, the pilot may just have struck me at the right moment; my character in Mike’s Scion game was all about uber-brilliant but wildly unorthodox medical experiments. So injecting somebody with hallucinogens and dropping her in a sensory deprivation tank while wired up to the guy’s brain? I’m there!

      As for Dunham . . . it’s hard to put into words. I like her, but I don’t. As in, I find her interesting, and like the way they’re treating her in the scripts; but I don’t like her as a person in the same way I do with Peter. She’s kind of chilly and hard-edged, for all that she smiles a lot. So I want to watch her, but I don’t have an emotional investment in her, at least not yet.

      The boyfriend wasn’t a huge shocker, but her conversations with him after his death have been interesting. 🙂

      • Anonymous

        Due to this LJ post/discussion I’ve actually been chatting over gmail today with another friend who really likes the show. I’m considering giving it another shot. I’ve found out that I can watch all of the episodes on Fox’s website so that fixes my “not having tv” problem.

        Now I just have to tear myself away from Fallout 3 long enough to watch a few of the episodes.


  9. ozziel

    I love Fringe. I love Fringe a lot, in fact. Unfortunately, I’m in a place where I can start to predict how its going to twist. For instance, last night’s episode I guessed who exactly was responsible for the entire parasite thing and what they were getting out of it about 30 minutes in. I’m really in it more for the Metaplot which, because this is the 7th episode in the FIRST SEASON, I’m not going to get a lot of. I mean, come on, the episode was titled “In Which We Meet Mr. Jones”. Clearly they’re building something epic so I have to remain patient. That’s hard.

  10. ozziel


    I really like the Dark Matter game-setting. This is pretty much Dark Matter the Series, without shadowy aliens. Another reason why I like it so much.

    Also, most complaints I’ve heard are “OMG I don’t trust Abrams he screwed me in Lost, Cloverfield, etc.” Judging someone by their previous work is a good way to miss out on something awesome down the road.

    • Marie Brennan

      On the other hand, eternal hope that somebody will break his established pattern of dropping the ball is a good way to be frustrated again and again. <g>

      My take on Abrams is, I generally like the ride he takes me on, but not the destination, and sometimes he crashes the ride into a flaming ball of wreckage. But I’m enjoying it while I can.

      • ozziel

        Fair enough; Although if people get that frustrated with Abrams they can still exercise their right not to watch. I still have never seen Revenge of the Sith.

        • Marie Brennan

          Of course they can. And that’s the perennial question, and the source of frustration: pass up on the interesting premise, and the chance that this time maybe he’ll get it right? Or watch, and risk being burned yet again?

  11. gatezilla

    Hi there! I found your Fringe post surfing friends-of-friends. I’ve had a hard time finding others who are watching, so I have friended you. I hope that’s okay!

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