Fringe 2.1, “A New Day in the Old Town”

In this episode: Olivia returns from WTC, but she’s missing her memory of the event; a clone assassin puts Olivia in the hospital; agent Amy Jessup stumbles onto Fringe division; Broyles defends Fringe in congressional hearings; Walter makes custard; we say goodbye to Charlie, at least for now.

For science fiction, Fringe sure feels real to me. Even though it’s a show about weird, fantastic phenomena, Fringe flavors that stuff for our current cultural moment.  Bioterrorism, bad drugs, animal experimentation, super-soldiers? These things all scare me in real life! A massive corporation with shadowy aims? We’ve got plenty of those, too. Instead of injecting strangeness into our humdrum world, Fringe finds the strangeness within and amplifies it.

Even the central premise of the show–that a slightly more sophisticated parallel universe exists, aiming to prey upon our own–reminds me of contemporary mediated life. I spend most of my time in front of fiction: reading novels and comics, watching tv, or putting in a movie. The weight of these fantasy worlds weighs upon my sense of reality. I’m seduced and threatened by these images. Sometimes it feels like the fantasy world is at war with mundane reality, and I’m in danger of giving myself over completely to it. Ostensibly, Fringe is about science run amok, but it’s also about our fantasies taking control and becoming flesh.

So part of the thrill of the show is that, despite becoming more familiar with the threat, our characters also seem to be succumbing to it. This week a soldier from that parallel universe, who (with the help of a device) can shape its body into the forms of its victims, attempts to kill Agent Dunham. It fails, but claims and replaces Charlie in the process. But Charlie’s not the only victim. All of our characters have been warped by their encounters with fringe science. Olivia has had her brain tampered with, numerous times, in a quest to develop a warring faction to the invaders. Walter’s experiments from decades earlier have created an addled man; his questionable moral choices from that period continue to haunt him. Broyles has gotten in bed (literally) with Nina Sharp, head of Massive Dynamic, a persistent source of their case files. Lastly, Peter and Broyles collaborate to save the Fringe division by giving up the cloning tech to the military, in effect putting our world on a similarly dubious path.

Stuff I couldn’t mold into coherence:

  • This episode throws in a few more scraps about the organization attacking our heroes. The clone soldier communicates with his superiors using a typewriter and a carefully positioned mirror. We understand that these communication hubs have been set up all over the place, but that they’re infrequently used.
  • Agent Amy Jessup mainly served to introduce new viewers to the way the show works, but Fringe is clearly not done with her yet. She seems like an intensive reader (Shakespeare and The Bible), which is already proving valuable. I’m kind of surprised I didn’t think of Revelation before her discovery of . . .well, let’s call it the new Pattern. But I doubt she’s long for this world.
  • Charlie’s gone . . . for now. Not only do we have the prospect of this clone Charlie wreaking havoc, but actor Kirk Acevedo can also return as the Charlie from another dimension.
  • What are we supposed to make of the enemy’s consistent repurposing of warehouses, storage units, and other industrial detritus?
  • Once again the show effortlessly shuttles between Boston and New York. This is the first tv show whose setting could accurately be described as “the megalopolis”.
  • I loved it when a member of the congressional committee referred to the Fringe Division’s “old X-designation”
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