Archive for February 17, 2011

So, we’ve been watching Season 1 of Fringe on iTunes, and have just finished episode 7. And while I appreciate that this is only a tip-of-the-iceberg, start-of-a-long-game thing, and while I’m still enjoying the show, a number of things are bugging me. They are:

1. Each episode begins by focusing on one or more strangers who will, inevitably, either die or be subject to something truly weird in the space of the first five minutes. While this is a nice narrative device in the sense that we come to care for these people, and by extension care about discovering what was done to them, by whom and under what auspices, it’s also five minutes of every episode which isn’t spent developing the protagonists – and this early in a series, I really feel like we could do with more of that. For instance: who the hell is Astrid? How did she come to be working for Olivia, or even for the bureau? She doesn’t seem to have come from the Pattern unit, so what qualifications have marked her out to be transferred across when Olivia was? What makes her exceptional within what is undeniably an exceptional unit? So far, we know two things about her: she did a bit of Latin, and knows some basic cryptography, which in context makes her a dumping ground for skills that later plots might require, but which fall outside the knowledge of the main characters. That’s it. No wonder Walter can’t remember her name.

2. Another problem with these opening sequences: they necessitate a lot of narrative double-handling, which possibly bulks out the episodes, but also detracts from the tension and the sense of stakes being upped. Viz: we meet the people to whom weirdness is about to happen, shit goes down, and then, when our protagonists get on the scene, they discuss EXACTLY WHAT WE HAVE JUST SEEN HAPPENING – which, yes, must logically precede their forming theories about each event, but which means the audience ends up hearing the same information twice, but from different people. On their own, the visuals would be dynamic. On their own, the discussions would be attention-grabbing. Together, they are deeply unnecessary.

3. All right. Look. I get that there’s a long game afoot here. Particularly in television, I applaud the long game! But in the course of seven episodes, there has not been a lot of continuity in terms of the Pattern. To clarify: there has been some continuity regarding John Scott, Massive Dynamic and Walter’s having worked on a proto-version of every goddamn oddity they encounter, but this continuity is being undermined by the number of crazy twists we’re being given that DON’T appear to relate to these things, including but not limited to: the role of the bald man, Walter’s relationship with the bald man, what Walter might have done to Peter as a child to change him permanently, Olivia’s violent stepfather, and why Agent Loeb and his wife are apparently working for the other side. I know, I know. Seven episodes isn’t a long time. But with so much to learn in such a short span, and with not all of it clearly linked, the plotting just feels… busy.

4. A related point: dangling or ill-explained plot points, such as the question of how Peter was able to know something he didn’t know he knew, just because Walter knew it. Possibly this links into a bigger plot, or to Walter’s childhood experiments? It’s not clear! But in that unclarity, the whole climax of episode four makes no sense, because the Big Magical Thing that needed explaining isn’t actually explained. Instead, we get a story about how Peter and Walter were saved by the bald man after a car crash years ago. This allows us to understand Walter’s motives, but not what happened next in that episode. And then there’s the omissions: where is Peter’s mother? Is she dead or alive? Given all the father-son tension and the fact that Walter’s been locked away for fourteen years, her absence from the narrative past a brief reference in the first episode is starting to irk me. I’d like to think that I’ve just not being paying enough attention, that some remark has already been made to explain why nobody mentions her, but even if she is dead, and that’s what I’ve neglected to comprehend, her absence still shouldn’t be this total. Or so it seems. Oh, and we’ve also seen two different methods employed for talking to the newly dead, and despite the fact that the success of the first one is what cemented Olivia’s trust in Walter back in episode one, everyone is still shocked at the idea of reanimating a dead man in episode seven – and despite the desperate need to do so, no one thinks of suggesting that first method. Huh.

5. The traumatic details of Peter and Olivia’s lives. Really: it’s not enough that our heroine has a bad history with men, falls in love with her partner despite this and then is betrayed by him both emotionally and professionally in a way which still allows some soul-crushing ambiguity as to whether or not he really was evil after all – we have to give her an abusive stepfather who she shot in defense of her mother when she was nine? And she tells Peter about it without prompting when doing so is an admission of attempted murder, a fact she’s clearly been concealing for years? GAH. Oh, and then, THEN, in what is only the fourth episode, Peter is tortured! Just like that! And then he calmly walks away from it without any evident psychological damage, despite the fact that the method by which he was tortured – electrocution – strongly resembles the experiments Walter used to conduct on him as a child, a similarity which is glaringly evident to the audience but apparently not to Peter himself? And despite the intimation in episode one that Walter was an abusive father – which Olivia rejected to Peter’s face on the strength of having known both men for all of a day – all of Peter’s interactions with or about him are either jocular or world-weary, with no glimpses of what this might cost him otherwise. Nope. Not buying it.

6. Yes, Walter is a mad scientist. He crazy! And very endearingly, well-actedly so. But even in the space of seven episodes, his quirks have grown repetitious. For example: any time he lists the multiple things he’s thought or discovered, he always forgets to explain the most vital one and has to be prompted. He has a food obsession. He cannot remember Astrid’s name and keeps calling her something else. He is inappropriately impressed by the evil accomplishments of enemy scientists. He drives Peter bonkers. All lovely traits, but if they are all that we ever see of Walter’s personality forever and ever, amen, then I will be disappointed. Unpeel the man! I want to see glimpses of who he was before the madness, and not just the subsequent caricature.

Other than that…

OK, actually, yes. Those are some quite significant complaints. But for the moment, I shall persevere in the hope that the pace picks up. Or else, J. J. Abrams. Or else!