Friday, September 23, 2011

"Fringe" Review: "Neither Here Nor There" (***)

If I'm not ecstatic about this week's season/series premiere of "Fringe", it's probably because of basic jitters over the massive leap the writers have done. This is very likely the most ambitious, and thusly terrifying, science-fiction plot development in recent television memory. There's quite a lot that goes towards making it work, and excuse me ever so slightly if the premiere leaves something to be desired. The episode truly works as pilot for this new series, and it has all the telltale signs of such. The opening moments lead in the initiated to a state of calm, while then bringing the uninitiated in similarly. I builds for an hour that's quite flawed, but understandably so to a point. I feel confident enough that there's nowhere to go but up.

Peter is gone, but certainly not completely forgotten. Slight traces remain of the man who sacrificed himself for the sake of two worlds, and one of the first scenes we see shows our main observer, September, in a light we haven't seen him in before. He's absolutely terrified. They did this massive reset to further a goal, which is still unknown. We see September in these odd situations, gazing almost remorsefully at Walter's Harvard abode, and to more comedic effect, telling a store clerk up front that he's erasing a person from time. It's tricky stuff we're dealing with now. For the first time, we feel sympathy for these strange characters, because we have to. They can't be the people who completely destroyed Joshua Jackson.

And Peter's absence is noticed quite evidently in nearly every moment. Olivia isn't so emotional as she was before. She's hardened, authoritative, and bitter in her work. Peter was a constant in her life, and now that tether's gone. Walter is very much the same, but that tether held him not just close to people, but to reality. He's paranoid, frantic, and depressingly cynical. We get this one point in which we realize that the Peter he stole simply did not survive, and that only compounds that feeling of guilt and self-loathing. Not to say he's completely alone. He's got "the man in the mirror" keeping him company.

And then there's Lincoln. Not the Lincoln we've grown to love on the other side. The Lincoln on our side, still a resident of boring as hell Hartford, CT. We're given this very Pilot-like introduction with him and his honestly stupid partner gearing up for a raid, which obviously goes wrong. That brings us to the rapid-fire case of the week, which brings us into this whole new plot strand. We get a callback to that translucent skin from the original Pilot, as well as a twist on previously laid information on the shapeshifters. This is different though, because the new shapeshifters prove human rather than mechanical, and they appear to be further flawed than their machine counterparts.

If all this seems somewhat evasive of our immediate interests, it is. Like Steve Carell on "The Office", Joshua Jackson oddly enough held our show together so comfortably. If you assumed his loss would be inconsequential, you'd be wrong. His charisma and that essence he brings to the show seemed to balance things out. Without him, it just feels somewhat empty and hollow. While that's much appreciated in some places, it just feels wrong in others. I blame the fallacies of this episode, in part to the writers, and in part to the director.

The writing is stereotypical science-fiction, basically straightforward and overly explanatory. It's the sort of thing I don't like too much in the show. As for director Joe Chappelle, he has a straightforward approach himself that doesn't add anything, and feels all too naturalistic, which betrays the show's main aesthetic. Rather than attempt creativity, some of the shots and readings come out like stone bricks. The most interesting scenes, between Olivia and Bolivia, are fascinating because of who they are to each other. Not how they're shots. It's just boring. Pacing is an uptick from last year, though, which is very nice to comment on. Overall, it's hard to say if they've still got it, but if the transition to the new timeline was a bit clunky, at least it's done now. Next week should prove to be more confident in its own resolve.

Notes of Interest:
  • Was anybody else just annoyed with Lincoln partner? I was kind of glad he died. Just a one off character.
  • Walter's one-sided hatred of Walternate is at once deserved, but also ignorant. Did he forget that he stole the man's son, only to have the boy die anyway?
  • Still no mention of the still-collapsing universes? I guess we're just laying the field for now.
  • The idea of family weighs strongly in this episode, and in many ways that family is broken in Peter's absence. Lincoln may be able to mend that emptiness, but not in the same way. It'll be interesting to see this season play out.
  • The bronze title design has this distinct new world quality to it, but one wonders if we'll ever see blue or red ever again, and under what circumstances.
  • Not to give anything away, but we say hello to an old friend next week. That's all I'll say.

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