Jayne Nelson (the one from this universe, not her alternate twin) explains why Fringe Division is the best in its league...
It’s the show that plays fast and loose with the laws of physics, the laws of gravity and just about every other scientific law there is. Professor Brian Cox would not approve. But if you take off your lab coat, put your feet up on the sofa and forget scientific accuracy, Fringe is one of the most brilliantly-imagined fantasy dramas to come along in ages – it even has parallel universes to choose from!
Once you could have used this as evidence to prove why Fringe was rather lacking. Back in season one it seemed the show ripped off a different X-Files concept each week; the gruesome, unexplainable body counts were tailor-made for Agent Mulder, and Agent Dunham walking down endless dark corridors with a torch was Scully all over again.
But times have changed. Now we’re far enough away from The X-Files to miss it and its bonkers conspiracy theories, neatly echoed in Fringe by the manipulations of mega-corporation Massive Dynamic. And Fringe is carefully harking back to Mulder and Scully’s finest hours without falling foul of what eventually made The X-Files falter: repetition. This is The X-Files ’s younger, fresher, snazzier little cousin.
If there’s one thing all Fringe fans are united on, it’s their belief that John Noble deserves an Emmy for his performance as Walter Bishop. Of course he’ll never get one because Fringe is sci-fi (sigh), but that doesn’t mean we can’t praise him to the rafters right here. Noble’s depiction of a confused, broken genius who loves ice cream, often forgets to put on his clothes and once experimented on children like lab rats is extraordinary. And to add to the joy, we get his cool, collected and impossibly dangerous alter ego as well, and with the delicious moniker “Walternate”.
It took a while to take form – the show spent a while rummaging around in Olivia’s head and focusing on her dead boyfriend – but when we finally got to discover Fringe ’s mega plot-arc, it was epic. Walter Bishop lost his son to a deadly illness; invented a way to cross into a parallel universe; kidnapped his son from there and brought him back. In doing so, he sparked off a series of paradoxes and glitches that resulted in cracks appearing in both universes, ensuring that one of them has to be destroyed for the other to survive. Fringe Division is set up to fight both the widening, devastating effects of this damage and to defeat their alternate universe foes – and it’s all delivered as straight-faced, straight-up sci-fi drama. Delicious.
Yup. A whole cow, stabled quite happily (or so we’re led to believe; the RSPCA may beg to differ) in Walter’s lab at Harvard. She even moos from time to time to remind us she’s there and once appeared covered in large, Twister-style spots. Named Gene – because cows are genetically similar to humans, dontchaknow – she’s a reassuring bovine presence on the show. Also, she’s handy whenever Walter fancies a milkshake.
Kudos to Joshua Jackson for downplaying Peter so perfectly, stepping back to allow his on-screen father to eat up the scenery and calmly letting Anna Torv’s female lead be the focus of the show (how nice for the man to be the sidekick for once). And yet, while Peter is often quiet or laid-back, he also displays a wicked sense of humour and a furious urge to do what’s right, making it hard to imagine the show without him.
The season one finale, “There’s More Than One Of Everything”, ended with a gut-punch visual that couldn’t help but hook viewers for one more season. Our first full visit to the other universe saw Olivia meeting Walter’s former partner and friend William Bell – none other than Leonard Nimoy, who else? – but the location for their rendezvous was a New York that had clearly never suffered the September 11 attacks (indeed, we later learn that the White House was destroyed instead). The sight of the World Trade Center towers standing proudly intact couldn’t be beaten for sheer emotional wallop.
Perhaps it’s another nod to The X-Files , with Nina’s stunning red hairdo a sly wink to Scully’s flaming mane. Or perhaps the actress just likes being scarlet. Either way, her hair almost deserves a show of its own – it’s so vibrant it could almost be alive. In fact, it’s almost as cool as Nina’s robot hand, which in itself is cooler than a particularly chilly bit of Antarctica.
Whenever we slip into the other universe, the opening credits change – not only their colour, but also the words that flash up on screen. The first time it happened it was like being slapped in the mug because it was so unexpected, and the novelty still hasn’t died down, with the credits seemingly changing from week to week. The latest season has been see some orange opening credits and a flashback episode even treated us to some ’80s-style credits credit with cheesy synth version of the music.
There are two games you can play while watching Fringe : trying to decipher the glyphs that pop up around the show’s commercial breaks (butterflies, frogs, flowers, all with secret meanings that are endlessly discussed online) or trying to spot the Observers. These bald-headed, emotionless men (are they men? Are they aliens? Who knows?) turn up to watch every important event in history and are strewn all over the series, although if you manage to spot one in every episode you’ve got the eyes of an eagle.
The alternate universe seems very similar to ours, yes, but every time we stop by it’s possible to spot something the writers have tweaked.
• There’s an ad for the musical Dogs , for instance, instead of Cats .
• Apparently The West Wing never got cancelled.
• Back To The Future starred Eric Stoltz.
• Green Lantern and Green Arrow are Red Lantern and Red Arrow.
• People keep badgers as pets.
• There is no Batman, but their most famous caped Crusader is called Mantis.
• Some US silver dollar coins have the profile of Richard Nixon.
• Sheep become extinct in 2001
• Oh, and Manhattan is spelt with one “t”. That one’s really freaky...
And there are loads loads more to spot.
It’s no secret that most Fringe fans, as much as they love the show, find Olivia Dunham a tad dull. And it’s understandable: she does come off as a little cold at times. Some blamed Anna Torv, saying it must be the actress’s lack of charisma... but boy, did they eat their words when we got our first chance to meet Olivia’s alternate universe twin, soon cheekily nicknamed Fauxlivia.
This version of Olivia cracks jokes, has sex, has better hair (ironic how a fringe can make such a difference in Fringe) and even seems to enjoy her life (gasp!). Bizarrely, her liveliness ended up making Torv’s performance as our Olivia look magical in its coolness. Now that’s acting.
Astro. Asteroid. Asterisk. Asterix. Ashram. Astrid. Ostrich. Aspirin. Astral. One of these is correct; the rest are Walter’s attempts to remember who the hell his lab assistant is. It’s always hilarious.
No prizes for figuring out what this second season episode is about. The story of Walter’s desperate quest to save his dying son and his fateful, world-destroying final decision is told with extraordinary sensitivity in flashback form – and the astonishing make-up and digital effects used to make the actors seem younger add to “Peter”’s brilliance. The lynchpin episode on which all of Fringe rests.
Fringe has a way of subtly sneaking characters under your nose until you suddenly realise you adore them. Nowhere is this more evident than with Seth Gabel’s Lincoln Lee. Originally a stranger to us because he only appeared in the parallel universe Fringe Division, he’s since popped up over here, too (as a geek, no less, rather than his kick-ass soldier alternate self) and now both Lincolns have a mega-crush on Olivias who are apparently completely unaware of his puppy-dog-eyed love. This naturally makes Lincoln adorable, although don’t tell Alt-Lincoln that because he has a bloody big gun. Our Lincoln would probably just blush under his enormous nerdy specs...
It’s been a long, beautifully understated romance that even they weren’t aware of most of the time, but Peter and Olivia are clearly Meant To Be Together. Which made it all the more awkward when along came Fauxlivia to seduce Peter while pretending to be Olivia. Emotional tension? Fringe is rather good at it. And though this particular plot thread seems to have reached a conclusion with an Observer playing matchmaker, we’re waiting for the cruel twist…
How on Earth a character can be such a one-note cypher in our universe and a hard-edged, hard-assed hero in another is beyond us, but that’s Broyles for you. Over here, he issues orders, asks questions, wears suits and looks worried. Over there, he’s a ripped hunk who wears tight t-shirts, has a loving family and sacrifices himself to save Olivia. He’s done it brilliantly. And now he even gets to take a third swing at the character as a dubious sort who is working for the orange universe baddies.
Fringe Division investigate strange events that happen on the fringes of science (hence their name). Incidents include people on a balcony falling to their deaths after it phases out of existence for a few seconds, leaving them in mid-air; a group of unfortunate souls who are lighter than gravity so they’re in danger of floating off into space; robbers walking right through the walls of a bank vault; time speeding up or slowing down... it’s pure sci-fi nirvana.
This chemical substance freezes things in “amber” – which comes in handy when the “things” in question are giant tears in the space-time continuum! Each rip, such as the one in the parallel universe’s Central Park, can be frozen inside this solid substance and contained. It’s a brilliant concept, but what makes it even more astounding is the fact that people are often caught inside the amber, too, and they remain alive while caught fast. Do they have rights? Should they be saved? Fascinating stuff...
There’ll be no slouching at the back when you watch Fringe , thank you. You either pay attention or you lose out. This is because the writers have no time for stragglers – particularly when they first rolled out the parallel universe, which was introduced to us so matter-of-factly you had to really stop and think about the fact they all wore communication earpieces like nothing we’ve got here, or that the Statue of Liberty was gold. Some of the concepts are staggeringly complex but delivered in a deliciously straightforward fashion, such as the antique typewriter which can be used to type messages across universes with the aid of a mirror.
The typography on Fringe is not only striking but also important. Whereas, for example, The X-Files would tell us where we were with a polite label on the bottom of the screen saying “Miami, Florida”, on Fringe we get enormous, 3D type that screams “MIAMI, FLORIDA”. It’s not an original idea – these enormous words, interacting with their surroundings and casting luscious shadows, were put to excellent use during the opening credits of the 2002 film Panic Room . But they’ve become a vital part of the Fringe experience; how else would we know where the hell we were unless we could see those mammoth letters saying “MANHATAN” to indicate we’re not at home any more?
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