Saturday, December 4, 2010

Television Breakdown: There's Always Hope

Fringe: Entrada

Plenty of shows make promises that they aren't prepared to keep, and Fringe is luckily not one of those shows. When they promise a truly phenomenal hour of television, they deliver on their promises. This run of episodes to start out their third season has functioned as something of an extended film on its own, but this episode was the only one of the bunch to feel truly cinematic. True to the mark J.J. Abrams, Entrada was a fast-paced, high-tension thriller that can only be fully appreciated in HD. Those who saw it in merely traditional quality were missing out, if only by a small margin. However, what people really tune in for is the storytelling and the characters, and as they hit their 50th episode, that hasn't changed. I'm calling this episode 50 because I don't technically qualify whatever Unearthed was as an episode of instant classic television.

If you were disappointed that the last episode didn't get to the damn monkey and bring Olivia back home, then you were feverishly anticipating this one. It picks up right where the last episode left us, and then it nails you to your seat and keeps you there for the next hour. Fauxlivia's cover has been blown, thankfully before her mission was completed, and rather than making her wait longer than necessary, Walternate does the proper thing in planning an extraction immediately. Unfortunately he also approves to have our Olivia killed, chopped up, and sent back over here in a disgusting mass. So the clock is certainly ticking for both sides.

Anna Torv has been doing fantastic work all season, but as far as choosing an episode to send in for an Emmy nomination, this would certainly be the one. We see her sell the crap out of both Olivias, ranging from sexy, charismatic, and easy-going to panicked, desperate, and emotional. It's a high class performance from an actress who we've underestimated over the course of the first two seasons. Another notable this time around is Lance Reddick's performance as Alternate Broyles, who gives a reason to care about this newly introduced character just in time. He's an honorable man who cares too much about the cost of each and every human life to risk an entire universe of them, even if it isn't his own.

As for the other supplementary characters this week, they did their jobs rather well. A trip to the Bronx brought back our favorite crippled typewriter salesman, who we finally learn only wanted his legs rejuvenated. After seven years of waiting, Fauxlivia promises his legs back in exchange for a simple job being done. It was nice to see him given his due. It really adds to the idea that neither side is good or evil. Walter continues to be played for comedic value, and offers us the innovative new term "vagenda". Jasika Nicole continues to play both sides of Astrid and AlternAstrid with a sweet touch. Topping things off, I rather liked the shapeshifter that installed the harmonic rods in Fauxlivia. We've definitely gone from despising these shapeshifters as they were last season, to actually feeling for them and finding them endearing.

There's been some debate on whether or not Walternate as a character is clinically insane, and I still believe that he isn't. He's made some sinister decisions over the years, but he has always had the best intentions of his world. If there's a man who is going to save their world, it will be him. On the other hand, Bradonym is dead crazy, or rather he was dead crazy. Now he's just dead. I also have to note on the cinematography and music in this episode, because it really added to the grandiose feel of Entrada. There were a few beautifully ordered shots in this episode, and quite a few musical themes take greater form this time around. The Peter/Fauxlivia theme in particular takes powerful emotional resonance.

Fringe has delivered some horrifying and disgusting images over the years, but the shock value alone of Col. Broyles' mangled corpse is enough to send shivers up and down your spine. The writers have few qualms about dispensing with characters, like the shocking season 1 death of Mr. Papaya, and we'll hopefully get plenty more horrific death over the other 14 episodes of this season. This episode acted as a climax to this first trimester, just as next week's should act as an opening to the next chapter. With everything that's happened in both universes, where do we go from here? Do we go back to the stalled progression of the freak-of-the-week episodes, or do we keep going forward with more intriguing and intense story arcs? We'll have to wait another week or so for the answer. Until then, here are my rankings for the episodes in this chapter of the third season.

1. Entrada (9.8 out of 10)
2. Do Shapeshifters Dream of Electric Sheep? (9.5 out of 10)
3. Olivia (9.5 out of 10)
4. The Plateau (9.5 out of 10)
5. The Box (9 out of 10)
6. 6955 kHz (9 out of 10)
7. The Abducted (8.9 out of 10)
8. Amber 31422 (8.4 out of 10)

Glee: Special Education

While Fringe continues to touch our hearts and warp our minds, Glee is just cute. Over the year and a half of watching this show, I've stopped looking for anything more than the occasionally "Awww" that overcomes me whenever something adorable happens on the show. It does occasionally surprise us with something more, but it's ultimately leisure entertainment. It doesn't have a longterm plan that spans out and rewards longterm viewing. It's not a problem the show has, but it is a show with a time limit. I can't really say that I'd stay with this show for more than five years if it doesn't continue to give me more.

Getting on to what works and doesn't work with this episode, there were a lot of things I was pleasantly surprised by this week. Rachel was almost bearable to be around this week, with a few scenes with Kurt sticking out at the top of the heap. Unfortunately she has that unpleasant twist at the close of the episode that pushes you to hate her once again. Artie and Brittany have become my favorite couple on the show, and I think that people are starting to get where I got weeks ago, and are starting to take them more seriously. Mr. Shuester had a great week, taking command of the Glee club when they were divided and bringing them together in their hour of need. The music was nice, if not that outstanding. Ultimately, it was better than Furt, but for some reason it just struck me a bit sour.

7.8 out of 10

The Walking Dead: Wildfire

Finally, we have the penultimate episode of the first season of The Walking Dead, which keeps seeming like less of a series and more of a miniseries. Even though this season has felt more like an six hour film than a season, it's managed to be one intense ride. Not a lot actually happened this week, but every scene was played for pure unbearable tension. The opening with Andrea cradling Amy's fresh corpse had us just waiting for her to spring back to life. I kept waiting to see what poor Amy would look like as one of the dead, and it was almost as if she was herself. For a moment I questioned whether or not there was anything actually human in there before Andrea blew her dead sister's head out.

The rest of the tension came from the discovery of Jim's bite wound. I don't think that he ever suspected when he dug those holes that he'd have to dig one for himself as well. So much for him being a long held out prophet of the series. Still, we quickly saw the numbers of our camp of survivors dwindle to a few, and we know that if they were given more time, the writers could have spread this across a good 13 episodes. Instead, everything got in place for the finale this week. The show has found a great atmosphere of restrained panic, and that final ten minutes sums that up nicely. It was rather shocking to leave this natural landscape we've been exploring for the first four episodes and enter pure science-fiction territory, and I'm sure tomorrow's finale will deliver what we've expected from this show.

8.9 out of 10

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