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TV Review: Fringe Keeps Getting Better

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A fan of FOX’s Fringe from the onset, I did get a little bored with the case of the week mentality the first season, and to a lesser extent, the second, brought us often. However, after beefing up Olivia’s (Anna Torv) story little by little over time, it soon became apparent that The Olivia Dunham Show, as my wife likes to call it, was something pretty darn interesting. Not only that, but Walter (John Noble) also got better and better arcs. Late last season, and even more so this season, the third member of the central trio, Peter (Joshua Jackson), has finally been given his due, too.

Somehow, Olivia and Walter’s parts are no less central, even after Peter stepped front and center, ending his long reign as the third wheel. I think making each week’s individual mystery less and less important allowed room for the growth, and now the series often jettisons the weekly stand alone stuff altogether. This season’s arc of Olivia being trapped in the alternate universe, as Peter fell in love with her counterpart, Fauxlivia (also Torv), has been amazing! Torv and Jackson have been able to show such raw emotions, and allow such deep feelings to be ripped to the surface, that both are having banner years.

In past reviews, I have discussed the debate over what name the alternate Olivia should go by. Bolivia was a popular suggestion, and seemed to be first on the scene, although I preferred Fauxlivia, as I used in the preceding paragraph. This week’s episode was the first to refer to her by a special name on screen, and they chose Fauxlivia, making the debate essentially over. Fauxlivia seems to have won.

But names are semantics. Torv has brought both characters alive in ways both obvious and subtle, showcasing her immense talent. These are two very different women, who are at their core, nearly the same. It’s a strange paradox that Olivia and Fauxlivia can be alike and different at the same time, but Torv has excelled in demonstrating that in ways that it’s hard to express in words. A++ for her performance.

Peter seems poised to suffer even more as the rest of the season plays out. Friday night, he went on a killing spree, taking down shape shifters sent by the other side. He justified this to himself and Walter by calling them soldiers, making them casualties of war, and helping Peter sleep at night in a way he wouldn’t after committing murder. But it is murder, and Walter’s concern that the ancient machine has negatively affected Peter seems a valid concern, since the serial killing thing is kind of out of character for Peter. How this will play out is a burning question, as well as what will happen to Peter concerning the ancient machines, one of which exists in each universe.

Walter, who has always set himself apart as an amazing actor and essential piece of the show, is even more exciting now. He is a parent terrified for his son, but also thinking rationally most of the time for the first time in awhile, and willing to make sacrifices. He faced Peter’s death only last week, and worried even more about Peter this week as test after test was performed on him. It’s a change from the distracted scientist who doesn’t care for others, and a welcome one. Walter and Peter’s bond is the strongest on the show.

The Observer (Michael Cerveris) last week seemed to reference Peter’s death being among the upcoming events, but I am suspicious of this. Surely, Fringe would not kill off one of the central trio before a series finale? I could see Peter’s death being one of the last things that happens on the show, although a happy ending with Peter and Olivia would be nice, so maybe Walter, being older, could somehow sacrifice himself and take Peter’s place? But however it plays out, I don’t see Peter dying in one of those machines this year. Unless it’s a dying fake out of some sort. It would be kind of cool to see Olivia and Walter mourn Peter, though he couldn’t possibly be permanently dead.

The Observer saved Peter for a reason, unknown to us viewers, years ago, angering fellow Observers. That means Peter is vital to something in the two universe war. This plot arc seems finite, and closer to an end than a beginning. I really think things have to come to a head by the end of this season, with Olivia and co. facing down Walternate (also Noble), Fauxlivia, and the others. I don’t see this going on for years longer, and the show is doing well enough that it is in no danger of immediate cancellation. Even the move to Fridays has only bolstered the ratings, not hurt them. Other shows that J.J. Abrams has been involved in have completely rebooted the plot after a couple of seasons, and always came out stronger than ever, so I’m not afraid of a reset. I’m excitedly anticipating one.

I think the alternate universe story line has been fantastic. Normally when fiction tackles an alternate reality (I’m looking at you Star Trek and Star Trek: Deep Space 9), they face a reality drastically different than their own, often with evil versions of themselves. Yet, the Fringe alternate universe is quite similar. Sure, society and government have been drastically altered due to the rip factors on the other side. But our Walter clearly had the capacity for evil if his life had played out differently, and I can see how Walternate ended up the way he is. Other characters, like Charlie (Kirk Acevedo) and Broyles (Lance Reddick), are nearly the same man on both sides. Or were, as one of each has now been killed off. Which begs the question, were they killed (in the series or in the universe) because they were too alike, and it was repetitive to have both?

Which brings me to the other main characters, who have too frequently been shut out of any real development. Seeing the alternate Broyles (who got no cool, trendy nickname and now probably won’t) help Olivia escape was some of the best work Reddick has gotten on the show. Nina (Blair Brown) has had more to do with Massive Dynamic now under Walter’s ownership, and the company working on the ancient machine, than she ever had before. Astrid (Jasika Nicole) has been more involved in what the rest of the team is doing, not just cleaning beakers in Walter’s lab.

It’s a welcome change. All three of those actors are very talented, and were picked to star in Fringe for a reason. While the series is essentially a three person story, these other three can carry their own weight. In fact, letting Peter be believed dead for a little while might give them a chance to be fleshed out even more, and in that regard, I welcome the idea. However, seeing as how the writers made Olivia hallucinate Peter in the alternate universe episodes so that Jackson could keep starring every week makes me think that even if the characters think Peter is dead, he will probably still get ample screen time. I’m not asking for less Jackson, I think this is the best role of his career to date, but I would like a bit more fairness to Brown, Nicole, and Reddick.

 That aside, I have no complaints about this season of Fringe. It’s tightly written, wonderfully exciting, super suspenseful, and beyond creative. Check out Fringe, now airing Friday nights at 9 p.m. on FOX.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com
  • http://www.scuttlebuttmotv.com Thom

    Bravo on a great review of the best show that has ever come out on TV except for 24. Peter has become the central character on the show. What I have failed to see however, is what the Observer meant by the lesson Walter learned last week. I must have missed something but It’s fantastic. All the points you raised are spot on. Well done.

  • TiskTisk

    Wait a minute so Josh should be pushed to the side just so Blair, Jasika and Lance get more screentime? What about Walter and Olivia? Those two have been the center of attention since the show began!

  • TiskTisk

    You are being TOTALLY unfair to joshua jackson. You act like he is not worth being on this show!

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    Not at all! I love Joshua Jackson! If you look at my article, I said it was the best performance he’s given yet in his career. However, I am saddened that other great characters haven’t gotten as much. Peter’s part was expanded, while still maintaining good story for Olivia and Walter. I am hoping that the writers could balance good story for six if they try, instead of three overshadowing the other three.

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