Scary with the “Fringe” on Top

Posted by SH

Fair warning: I’m not a Lost watcher. I’ve only seen a couple episodes of Alias (who could resist that post-Super Bowl ep?). So I come at Fringe a relative J.J. Abrams neophyte. But I think that’s a good thing. Never will you hear me comparing whatever mythology Fringe ends up following with the tangled tapestry of those island survivors. On the down side, if there’s something along the lines of a smoke monster crossover, I may not get it.

Which brings me to the opening of Fringe. There’s an airplane going through some rough weather — wait, what? That sounds familiar, you say? Well, don’t worry, the airplane is really just a jumping-off point. There are no survivors, because their faces all melted. But the plane still managed to land in Boston on its own, which makes it possible for our fearless FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Aussie newcomer Anna Torv) to leave her tryst with fellow agent John Scott (Mark Valley) to go investigate. He comes along, too, and the pair have to pretend their interaction is strictly PG-rated, at the risk of offending their superior, Charlie (Kirk Acevedo).

Some sleuthing by Olivia and John lead them to a suspicious storage facility, and a foot chase that ends in an explosion. Olivia is knocked out, but John isn’t so lucky. He’s alive, but his skin is transparent, which makes for some icky viewing (good thing we had those melted faces to get us ready!). But Olivia is determined to find the truth, and she stumbles onto a scientist who conducted an experiment that might be relevant to what happened on the flight and what is now happening to her lover. Trouble is, Dr. Walter Bishop puts the “mad” in “mad scientist.” He’s been locked up in the loony bin for decades, and the only person with access to him is his equally brilliant yet troubled — and estranged — son, Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson).

Here’s where Fringe starts to settle into its groove. That is, implausible as hell but more fun and freaky than just about anything on TV right now.

Olivia jets off to fetch Peter, who is about to make some much-needed cash running a scam in postwar Baghdad. (As dire as things are in Fringe at times, it’s nice to know that in the Fringe universe, Iraq is as accessible as Cleveland.) She blackmails him into coming back with her to get his father, although Jackson has a hard time coming off as anything but petulant. Tortured really isn’t his forte. But he lets that go often enough, cracking wise about the crazy situations that come up (“You know what’s great about that is that it’s completely insane!”) and generally distancing himself from the proceedings.

From there, Peter and Walter make up … a little, while Walter shaves off his Saddam beard and looks much more like that bastard king dude from Return of the King. They even take him back to his old Harvard lab, which remarkably still has a bunch of his old stuff in it. But now they need new stuff, all sorts of modern scary sci-fi doohickeys and whatchamajigs … and a cow. But Olivia is desperate enough to trust Walter when he says he can create a psychic link between her and John where she can enter his mind and question him to find out more about his assailant. Better hurry, too, because he has about 24 hours before that transparent skin of his turns fatal. In order to do this, however, Olivia must lie in a sensory-deprivation chamber with all sorts of stickies attached to her while, of course, being naked. Sounds like the worst pickup line ever, but she agrees, and manages to maintain a smidge of empowerment by insisting she keep her skivvies. It makes you wonder how often Abrams & Co. will find reasons for Olivia to drop trou. I’m guessing it’ll happen more than it did on X-Files.

The Altered States-like sequence does yield results, and the culprit behind the Boston flight massacre is revealed to be a disgruntled former employee of Massive Dynamics, or as the show seems to think of it, Evil Inc. In another nod to Altered States, Blair Brown plays a flunky in charge of telling the world — and nosy FBI agents — that Massive Dynamics has only the purest of intentions in its carrying out of monstrous science.

Eventually, John recovers but turns out to be not the innocent victim Olivia thought. In fact, he kinda had it coming. So after killing his attacker in the hospital, John leads Olivia on a high-speed chase that ends in a wreck from which no psychic connection can save him. But we may not be done with him yet, since his corpse is brought into Massive Dynamics and Blair Brown’s character says, “Question him.”

Meanwhile, Olivia has signed on to be part of a special unit investigating The Pattern — a series of mysterious, often deadly phenomena that apparently make the plane incident look run of the mill. Leading the charge is blustery agent played by Lance Reddick, who was so glorious on The Wire. Thank God he’s getting more work.

In its pilot, Fringe managed to get through a lot of exposition without too much trouble (which will also be my goal in these recaps). Lots of questions to get us through the season: What is The Pattern? Who is Blair Brown’s boss? When/will Olivia and Peter get it on? Will there be more cows roaming the halls of Harvard? Stay tuned.

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