Two friends asked me what I think of Fringe. Here are a few, not nearly all, of my thoughts, assisted by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
(If you are not finished with Season 2, don’t read this!)
John Noble, I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach.
No, seriously, John Noble as Walter Bishop/Walternate is an amazing performance of an amazing character/s. I wonder where John Noble's Emmy/Golden Globe/Peabody Award nominations and wins are, but then I remember that award-voting-bodies cannot find their asses with maps and miner’s hats. At turns vitriolic, self-pitying, brilliant, and endearingly befuddled, Walter is one of the most challenging characters on TV. Ask yourself if you would do anything differently if your child had died? Can you honestly say that you wouldn’t go to an alternate version of your reality, take your dead son’s doppelganger back to your own reality, cure his fatal disease and then not fight back when your grief-stricken wife refuses to let you take him back to his real home? And would you ever be whole again? The answer that Fringe offers is, no. As tragically human and complex as Walter is, he is not whole, literally and figuratively. He kidnaps Peter out of love, but no matter the motivation, such a great violation tears his soul apart, and it is because of the man he sees himself becoming that he asks William Bell to cut out the parts of his brain that contain the knowledge of how to get to the alternate universe. As a viewer, every time I want to throw my hands up in disgust that anyone could be so selfish the next scene makes me realize that no punishment could compare to that Walter inflicts on himself. And then there is Walternate, the man Walter would be without Peter. Mad with power, trying to kill the son he lost in order to punish an entire universe for the crime of one man, and now holding dearest Olivia captive in a dark cell, Walternate is a despot who has lied and bent a world to his revenge driven will. It would be too easy for Walternate to be a caricature of an evildoer, but John Noble’s gravitas prevents parody. Faced with our choices is it better to be permanently pshycologically fractured or utterly devoid of human compassion?
But when feeling out of sight from the ends of Being and ideal Grace, then there is Astrid. And Agent Broyles. And alternate-Charlie.
The beauty of Fringe is balance. One example of that is that the core-trio (Walter, Peter, Olivia) is balanced by the satellite trio: Astrid, Broyles, and Charlie. Unfortunately, this balance was disturbed in S2. I think that the Charlie storyline at the beginning of S2 was handled poorly. I think it was a mistake to have Charlie killed and replaced by a shape-shifting agent from the other side, but having made that mistake, the show should have explored all the possibilities. Instead, almost immediately shape-shifted-Charlie is killed off. But I applaud his return via alternate-Charlie, because now there is a chance that the empathetic but grounded, supportive but tough, and serious but self-deprecating triumvirate of Astrid-Broyles-Charlie can guide where Walter wanders, act where Peter questions, pull where Olivia pushes.
And most of the episodes, I love thee to the level of everyday’s most quiet need.
As I just said, I don’t think every moment of Fringe is impeccable, but for 90 % of S2 I couldn’t rip myself away, like “Brown Betty.” A drug addled Walter spins Ella a film-noir inspired yarn that he ends as a dower morality tale, but Ella counters with a redemptive fairytale. Silly? Yes. Brilliant? Yes. More than meets the eye? Of course. This whimsical, but poignant episode uses mystery-genera tropes to explore the impact of point-of-view upon narration, to compare the weight of emotion versus reason, and has singing! By the end of the episode we see that the depth and truth of human failing is accessible to a child, but for the adult, who has lost the faith in mercy inherent in childhood, forgiveness is a continual journey rather than an isolated act. And it is this blend of the esoteric and earthly that makes Fringe more than a sci-fi show, more than a family drama.
My one major complaint: Fringe is a bit too gross to watch on a full tummy. But despite that, Fringe, I love thee with the breath, smile, tears.
The TV Girl