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Fringe: August

“Who are these people?”

Fox was marketing this episode as, if not life-changing, at least show-changing. The Observer! More information! Answers, answers, answers! [Say that last bit like an announcer at a monster-truck rally.] What we got was a pretty standard stand-alone: guy does something weird, Fringe Division tries to figure it out and discovers there’s a twist, guy is neutralized and we’ve all learned something about ourselves. What we haven’t learned more about, though, is the Pattern or the coming War or even what the Observers are up to.

We did learn that the Observers exist outside of time: they observe it but are not of it. Except when they die. So maybe their bodies are in time, but their observational capacity is more comprehensive. Except when they can’t see their own deaths because somehow the timeline has been changed. So maybe they are able to observe everything but themselves, leading me to one timeworn cliché and one principle of physics: Who watches the watchers? And what’s up with the Observer Effect?

We also learned that there is more than one Observer. There seems to be a whole cadre of them. They watch time and call in a schlubby sniper when something changes the fabric thereof. That’s interesting.

And we learned that the Observers don’t feel emotion. Except when they do. Our Observer du jour felt love for his abductee, and the Observer who listened to him seemed to feel love for his dying friend.

Thanks to the guy at Massive Dynamics, we know that the Observers have always been around, mostly at important events in history. It’s interesting to consider what wasn’t covered in this quick sum-up: no Dallas, November 22, 1963. No Roswell, July 8, 1947. No Reichenbach Falls, 1891 (exact date unknown). Lately, the Observers have been observed more often, and at Fringe-events instead of historical disruptions.

…But didn’t we know that already? That the Observer(s) are out-and-about more than usual? Something is happening, a war is coming, lines are being drawn and sides chosen: but we don’t know any more than usual. Even the last lines were ambiguous: were the Observers talking about Olivia or her niece? I certainly hope it’s Olivia; we’ve already done the Ella-in-peril thing.

I think our Theme of the Week is the Observer Effect: only it’s not about how the Observer can change the experiment, it’s about how the experiment can change the Observer.

The Good

• Walter tricking Astrid, first with the cough syrup and then with the grocery-store fake-out.

• The dot-matrix fax machine of death.

The Bad

• I would have fought harder. If someone abducts me, throws me into a cheap motel room, and ties me up, they’re cruisin’ for a bruisin’.

• The truly obvious product placement for Olivia’s Ford.

Two out of four Sherlock Holmes, mostly because I wanted more than I got.

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


  1. Couldn’t agree with you more, Josie. They promised much but delivered very little. In the end all we got was a rather flimsy mythology episode masquerading as an average standalone episode.

    Which I was reading your review I was struck by a sudden realisation concerning the Observers. I can’t believe I didn’t notice this before but the Observers are almost a direct homage/rip-off to the Watchers created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in Fantastic Four. Both are groups of immortals who are all bald Caucasian men not from our world, sworn only to watch/observe and record but to never get involved. Only difference is the Observers are snazzier dressers. Mad Men chic trumps togas any day of the week.

    Considering the geek pedigree on this show I don’t think the similarities could just be a coincidence. The producers should be worried, though. Kirby’s family are currently suing Marvel for ownership of almost every single Marvel character (even those not created by Kirby) and wouldn’t hesitate to start screaming copyright infringement at Fox.

  2. I think our Theme of the Week is the Observer Effect: only it’s not about how the Observer can change the experiment, it’s about how the experiment can change the Observer.

    That's one grate line. To bad the episode did not match up. I am beginning to be very disappointed in Fringe, they don't seem to improve even though some of the ideas are very solid (crossing over, multi universe, etc.). The episodes lack completeness as if someone did not do all the groundwork or made up a "hole-less" back story. Considering that most SciFy viewers are geeks who live on detail this is very very bad.

    It feels as if there are good writers and bad writers sitting in the same room fumbling over each others feet.

  3. Thank you, Mark and WhyMe.

    Mark: I had no idea about the Observers coming from the Watchers comics--hmmm....homage? Rip-off? I guess it depends on how much credit we want to give the writers.

    At this point, I'd say we shouldn't give them too much. Fringe doesn't seem to have a definite narrative arc yet, and I'm not even sure that it is supposed to.

    There's a great article about 'Five Things that Could Help Fringe' here: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/showtracker/2009/11/five-things-that-could-help-fringe.html

  4. Hi, Josie

    Please don't tell the police, but I don't watch previews because I download the episodes, and they're usually cut. Moreover, I don't see the advertisement for any show because I live in Brazil (and that's why I have to download the shows. They're aired much later here in crazy hours and sometimes *gulp* they're dubbed.

    All of this to say that I didn't know what to expect from this episode, so I really loved it. I thought it was really LOST-like (always a compliment for me, LOST is my favorite show), to show much more of what's been mostly behind the curtains but not to reveal much of it. And in the end I felt like it thickened the mythology, if I can say that. I was very satisfied.
    So I think you should just, maybe, avoid advertisings altogether. Just a thought.

  5. I just watched this on DVD for the first time, without all the network build up to the episode. And I thought it was very strong, and an excellent stand-alone with some arc elements. No real answers for sure, and I would probably have felt differently about it if I had that build up. But still it had a lot of really interesting themes, and explored the emotions of these seemingly emotionless beings.

    A little aside. The lead Observer in this episode, Peter Woodward (August), played Galen on the short lived Spin-off of Babylon 5; Crusade.

  6. I agree with Gustavo and Anonymous. Seeing this without any ads, I really enjoyed it. I know that not much was revealed, but I don't think there's a lot of episodes so far with more revelations than this one, and after the last batch of standalones it was nice to go back to at least one of the recurring mysteries.

    Some promos can definitely ruin an episode by building your expectations (Lost season 6 comes to mind, and I remember a pretty important end-of-the-episode revelation appearing a Dexter promo).

    I knew about the Watchers and didn't make the connection, but now it seems really obvious. Bald, recording important events and not interfering (with exceptions, of course :p)

  7. I might have liked the nice Observer more if they didn't all sound like robots. That was a bad character choice for them.

  8. Lack of expectations definitely seems to make this one go over better. I agree that it felt like the arc wasn't significantly advanced, and I don't really understand what this all means for the larger mythology, but I still found it strangely moving. I was quite sad when August died, and got a good bit teary when Walter handed the teddy bear to Christine in his stead. Very solid episode for me.

  9. I've been playing catch up with Fringe finally and absolutely loved this episode. I've been watching the show on DVD though and didn't see any ads or build-up. In my opinion though, this was definitely a four star episode. I like the observers so much more now, and am totally into Fringe's mythology. They might be taking their time explaining things, but the best shows tend to do.

    Also loved Olivia in this episode. We got some nice character bits and seeing her have fun on the roller coaster with her niece was nice. A big improvement over season one's robotic Olivia.

  10. I definitely cried when August died. :'(


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