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Fringe: The No-Brainer

Do you remember those really bad X-Files episodes? You know the ones I mean—they usually revolved around computer programs that suddenly were able to turn light switches off and on, on-screen images of the humanoid inner selves of the hardware causing so much trouble, and the Lone Gunmen explaining the impossibility of a 5 megabyte-per-second internet connection.

Maybe this episode of Fringe will look that dated in a few years. But, for right now, it isn’t so bad.

The creators still had some fun with the impossibility of the old-fashioned computer menace story: the “weird, glowy, scary hand” that came out of the screen wasn’t a possibility, but a hallucination. Even the title puns on the inevitability of a technological villain—it’s a no-brainer for a show like this. And while the science behind visual and aural stimuli producing liquefied brains seems a bit suspect, I’m willing to extend the benefit of the doubt.

My rather unusual willingness to finally give this show some credit stems from the subtlety of the show’s real topic, communication. Sure, there was the computer virus that can infect humans. And the subplot of “What’s Peter hiding from Walter and Olivia?” And the niece-in-peril sub-subplot (did I call it, or what?). And the bureaucratic villain sub-sub-subplot. And the constant question of whether or not Abaddon/Broyles is supposed to be that creepy.

But there were also various forms of communicative media, and not just the traditional trappings of emails, IMs, and texts. Jessica Warren, the mother of the lab assistant killed back in Walter’s halcyon days, wrote him a letter. She also called him on a landline, in perhaps the funniest scene in the history of this show. (A similar moment recently happened to me and a group of my colleagues. My astonished response was: “People still use phones?”)

And then there was the communication that actually matters: real person-to-person contact. Olivia’s niece lied to her mom. Astrid translated Walter’s nonsense. Olivia’s sister had sparkage with Peter. Luke brought his dad food, but didn’t know what to say, and Peter brought his dad joy and closure, but didn’t expect to. And Walter comforted Jessica Warren with a hug and a willingness to share memories of her dead daughter.

Not all of the communication ended well, of course. Olivia’s and Peter’s fight in the car was rather brutal, especially when Peter discounted her attempts to connect—and it was made worse by Olivia’s evident chagrin at her sister’s interest in Peter (but maybe that’s just the actress’s face). Olivia doesn’t know her neighbors, a black mark in her disaster-preparedness book according to a recent study. Olivia and Agent Francis failed in their interrogation of Luke Dempsey. And Olivia couldn’t talk Brian Dempsey out of killing himself.

It’ll be interesting to see where Fringe takes this idea. Will Olivia’s distance from just about everyone be her undoing? Or are the writers just poking fun at the one-dimensionality of her character by pointing out that she has no exterior life, just as she seems to have no interior life? Either way, I think it I like it.

3 out of 4 weird, glowy, scary hands.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)


  1. Hi Josie,

    Another enjoyable stand alone episode. I just wish they'd get down to the business of the main story arc...and the pattern...and Nina Sharp and Co.

    I do wonder sometimes whether this modern day style of "make 13 episodes and we'll see how people like it"....then "okay, now make 17"...then "okay, now you can have 22 episodes", is ruining the story flow of some shows. If you write a season with a beginning, a middle and an end.....and then extended it half way through filming...it stands to reason there are going to be a lot of stand alone episodes in there.

    I feel the same way about the Sarah Connor Chronicles. The main story line is good. But it's padded with some not so great stuff sometimes.

    Which makes me fear for Dollhouse too. It's looking like that's gone from Arc City to Stand Alone Avenue.

    Anyway, I digress. Nice review :-)

  2. Paul,
    I totally agree with you. How do you make a serialized show when you have no idea how many episodes you will have to tell the story. Networks don't like arc driven shows for obvious reasons but they are by far my favorite form. The one thing TV can do better than movies is the long form story complete with character development and a slow, measured resolution of conflict. I do not at all like the 42 minute resolutions were everything is initiated and wrapped up within a single episode. But we seem to be in the minority.

  3. The strongest moments in this episode, as you correctly pointed out, Josie, were the bits of communication happening between our cast members. These early episodes are a bit like the first season of Supernatural, when the focus was on the urban legend horror stories, but what I wanted them to focus on was the boys themselves and their back story. I want stories about Fringe's main characters -- mostly Walter and Peter. Like Paul and Peter commented above, I'm ready for some arc now.

  4. Was anyone else completely pulled out of the Fringe world and dumped right back to the Creek during the scene with Peter/Pacey and Mrs. Warren/Grams? Just me then?


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