The pilot episode of WB Channel’s new science fiction serial Fringe is about a ‘self-eradicating airborne toxin that causes liquefactive necrosis on contact.’ The vagaries of its plot call for devices like a ‘micro organism detector’ and require the lead actor to be immersed in water like an electrode and ‘synchronized’ with a fellow actor’s mind like they were Bluetooth devices. It also features the immortal line of all pretend scientific works: ‘We’ve never seen anything like this.’
Fast Forward: Fringe has a tight cast and a racy plot.
It’s remarkably easy to write television science. All you need is lots of jargon-filled exposition with words like ‘synaptic’ and ‘hybrid’, some sweeping orchestral music over montages of ‘experiments’, needlessly expensive equipment and elaborately designed labs, and the hook of the paranormal.
Fringe is guilty of all these crimes. It’s a post 9/11 X-Files, with an alarmingly powerful investigative agency doing whatever it damn well pleases to get to the bottom of a series of baffling paranormal occurrences collectively referred to as ‘The Pattern.’ In the film-quality two-hour pilot, an airplane falls victim to a bio-toxin that gives skin the constitution of shaving cream. Special Agent Olivia Dunham (played by Anna Torv) , is invested in the case when her partner and romantic interest Agent John Scott (Mark Valley) is infected by the same toxin. She asks an institutionalized scientist, Dr Walter Bishop (John Noble) and his estranged son (Joshua Jackson) for help. A super-massive evil corporation, wonderfully named Massive Dynamic, appears to pull the strings behind the mounting conspiracy theories. The intervening bits are liberally sprinkled with explosions, chases and Patriot Act muscle flexing.
There’s not much wrong per se with the pilot. It meanders at first, taking about half an hour to settle, but it rarely sags after that. The plot chugs along briskly, throwing in some nice surprises to keep up the suspense. It ends on an intriguing note, and sets up several interesting plot threads for the rest of the season to develop. The visuals are sharp and crisp, and the editing suitably manic. The father-son dynamic between the Bishops is interesting, and potentially the highlight of the season, if they choose to focus on it. Where the pilot falters is in its uneven tone—the romance subplot comes off a bit wooden, and the dodgy science jargon grates against the smartness of the narrative.
Fringe comes from the J.J.Abrams stable, the creator of Lost and Alias. Both those shows feature complex, multi-layered narratives featuring a large cast of characters. Fringe, on the other hand, is more an episodic affair—each episode presumably dealing with and resolving a paranormal occurrence, with a thinner plot thread linking a season together. Knowledge of prior episodes, while helpful, will probably not be necessary
It’s all unabashed silly fun, with rumblings of grand conspiracies, hidden secrets and parallel universes. At its meandering worst, it may be difficult to follow. For the scientifically pedantic, however, Fringe is best swallowed with a pinch of scepticism.
Season one of Fringe premieres 4 October on WB at 9:00pm.