“Fringe” producers open up about The Observers, Season 2

By Stacey Harrison

© 2009 Fox Broadcasting Co. Credit: Michael Courtney/FOX
© 2009 Fox Broadcasting Co. Credit: Michael Courtney/FOX

Are the Observers human? As far as I can tell, it’s never been definitively determined on the show, but in a conference call this week, a couple of Fringe producers may have let slip that the bald, Mad Men-styled characters who pop up during important events in several episodes are in fact of another species.

Tonight’s episode, “August,” delves deeper into the mysteries of these characters, who so far have not participated directly in any of the strange goings-on that seem to be building toward a war between our dimension and another. That all changes when one of these Observers, named August, kidnaps a girl. Does he mean her harm, or is he trying to save her?

Executive producers Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman shared some background about how they came up with the look of the Observers, and where the rest of the season is headed.

On why “August” is a must-see episode: Wyman says, “It will definitely open up a whole other line of concept and understanding for the viewer. … For us, the best science fiction deals with very human conditions — Isaac Asimov, or a great writer like that — the more out-there and sci-fi it becomes, the more it reveals the human condition. This is one of those episodes that we feel very passionately about in that regard, because the entire episode reveals itself to be about a very human emotion. The way we chose to tell this episode is through the eyes of somebody who’s not human.”

Pinkner say, “What’s special about it to us is in the world of the mythology of the show, there’s all kinds of things that have just been hinted at or alluded to. We’ve seen the tip of the iceberg, and we see a lot more below the water line in this episode. It’s a story driven 100 percent by emotion, and it’s a story where this character who in many ways is unknowable and in other ways is driven by emotion, and at the end of the episode, hopefully you feel something.”

On how the Observers were conceived: Pinkner says, “We were looking for something that was sort of iconic and at the same time, we’re fascinated with the idea of all the little things that go on under our nose every day. The construction workers, the guys working on telephone poles, those weird marks on the sidewalk that you don’t quite know what they’re for, the last couple remaining pay phone booths when all the rest have been removed. … We wanted The Observer to have a quality of being invisible. We put him in the first three episodes of the show and then finally revealed him in the fourth, and people looked back and went, ‘Oh, my God, he was right there. He was right under my nose and I didn’t see it.’ Then the notion of some of his characteristics, the bald head, the no eyebrows, we imagined how it would be that somebody who wasn’t of our world would end up in our world, and what the process of getting here would entail, the fact that his senses were largely deadened, so it took a lot stimulation for him to feel anything. That led to the hot peppers and some of the other characteristics.”

On Fringe‘s periodic struggle for ratings: Pinkner says, “Absolutely there is a time slot issue, but at the end of the day, it’s more important to us that people fall in love with the shows. These shows to me are like licorice; not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice love it. It’s always been more important to us that we create shows that people can get passionate about, and the truth is there’s only so much time in the day to get passionate about some things. There are a lot of really great shows on. We never take it as an indication of the quality of our shows, how many people watch it. It’s more important that the people that watch it really care about it deeply.”

On what’s coming up in future episodes: Pinkner says there will be an “outbreak-type condition,” and later a bombshell that will change the nature of the relationship between the characters. There will be more action in the alternate universe and its effect in our world, and an episode that deals with Walter’s memory as it pertains to William Bell. It will feature the first scene between John Noble and Leonard Nimoy.