The subtitle to this review should be: ‘Why Fringe Will Save Television,’but I’ll spare you my fan-boy inspired hyperbole — even though it just may be true. I just finished watching Fringe’s third season premiere episode, ‘Olivia'[Premiering on FOX Thursday, September 23rd at 9/8c], and I feel like I just saw the impossible happen — Fringe’s creative team already sat a land speed record for taking Fringe from good to mind-meltingly awesome last season , this year Fringe sets the bar for appointment TV. Fringe has outdone Fringe. Let’s break this down.
What’s it All About
I promised no spoilers, and I intend to stick to it. That said, it’s probably pretty apparent what the episode is about: it’s about Olivia. ‘Which Olivia?’, you ask — and by asking you pull into focus what makes Fringe so unique. ‘Which Olivia?’, is exactly the question you should be asking. We know one is in the ‘˜Alternate Universe’, while the one originating from the alternate universe is in ‘˜our’universe. The concept feels a little gelatinous in the brain, doesn’t it?
The best thing about ‘Olivia’is that in the gap between the Season 2 finale, and the Season 3 premiere, you’ve probably had a pretty good idea of what the plot is going to entail — and you are wrong. If you thought the focus of season three was going to be ‘˜how does Olivia get back,’get ready for a surprise.
Is It Still Fringe-y?
The only thing certain with Fringe is the uncertainty, and in that sense the Fringe Season 3 premiere is true to what you’ve come to expect. Watching Fringe can sometimes feel a bit like having your brain thrown on a taffy puller, and ‘Olivia’is no exception. Nothing notable has changed in the sense of the style of the show, although the premiere is certainly a fine example of the Fringe brand in its perfect state.
Your DVR No Longer Has Value
If you are like me, Season 2 of Fringe was gotta-watch-it-live TV. The overarching plotlines, particularly the suspenseful thread of Peter finding out his over-there-ness, demanded your attention. The characters were never more detailed, and the dramatic issues at hand were absolutely riveting. Fringe really proved itself as a dramatic vehicle, and not just another gimmicky sci-fi flash in the pan. The morality plays involving Walter and William’s drug experiments on children (did the ends justify the means?), and Walter’s kidnapping of Peter from the other dimension — which, as it turns out, not only serviced a grief stricken father’s sense of loss, but also saved Peter’s life — are on par with anything else on television in terms of dramatic metal. This is solid stuff, and yes I am aware of Breaking Bad and Mad Men. At its core, Fringe is a show about ethics — and the sage writers room has mastered the groove of feathering the edges of the concept of ethics, and playing it for all the ambiguity it can contain. Fringe has become a moral safari that leaves you dizzy trying to wonder who is right and who is wrong.
The season three premiere of Fringe escalates this sort of play considerably. It is more of an adrenaline packed episode than a philosophical brain-teaser, but the writing very elegantly takes us down from a fight/flight story-line involving Olivia that you probably expect, to a tantalizing wink towards something you most likely would never predict. Give your DVR a break on Thursdays, Fringe’s third season is something you’ll want to watch live.
Character, Character, and More Character(s)
Anybody who ever said that Torv’s Olivia was scantly drawn will be beside themselves with this episode. As you can guess, the episode focuses almost entirely on Olivia who was last seen confined in a dark cell in an alternate dimension, the plaything of The Secretary, A.K.A Walternate. What you get in ‘Olivia’is some development for the titular character that comes via the very unique lens of Fringe’s alternate universe playroom. Here we get to examine Olivia’s character by contrasting how her own past clashes with the ‘˜road-not-taken’world of Over There. The episode is busting with well-crafted bits of subtext that flirt with notions of identity, all amplified by the fact that we are observing Olivia as two different people with two different histories. To say those histories collide is an understatement, the way in which they collide is a bit of plotting that further galvanizes the ‘˜Fringe’brand of story-telling.
The episode is light on the other core characters, instead introducing us to a new character that is bound to become an instant fan favorite, Andre Royo’s Henry the cabbie. All I can say is I hope FOX had the foresight to book Royo for a substantial arc because the former The Wire star really cooks in the premiere. Royo’s Henry is essential to Olivia’s plight in the alternate universe and the scenes between him and Anna Torv are a master class in craft as they bring the sheer absurdity of her situation into totally genuine human dimensions. Don’t worry, you do see the other characters — and there are numerous surprises there as well.
Want to see a perfect blend of action, brain rending science fiction, and compelling character drama? Tune in to Fringe’s Season 3 Premiere and you’ll get it all and more. Fringe returns totally in shape and ready to take all comers.
Fringe is extraordinary television. It would be very fair — realistic in fact — to say that Fringe weathered a critical and ratings storm to get to where it is now, and the show is paying off anyone who held faith by continuing on a track of mystery, moral ambiguity, and sheer thrills that is distinctive in the current crop of TV shows. With LOST in the rear-view mirror, Fringe is poised to take its own unique place in the annals of television of the fantastic. A++
Fringe “Olivia” Premiers FOX Thursday, September 23rd at 9/8c
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