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Review: 'Fringe' finale leaves Planet Plot for Planet Mood

May 13, 2009 |  1:32 pm

Fringe This is a good time to be J.J. Abrams. His "Star Trek" prequel has earned big love from critics and cultists alike; "Lost," which he co-created, is moving smoothly toward its self-imposed date with destiny and should make it through with its dignity intact; and his co-creation "Fringe," which finished its first season Tuesday night, has been renewed for a second.

Beginning its life as a historically expensive $10-million pilot, "Fringe" has gone on to become a less expensive but still good-looking, highly watchable series. An "X-Files" redux, or ripoff, in the simplest terms, it successfully — more successfully than "The X-Files," I think, or at least more purposefully — melds the crime-of-the-week procedural with a long-arc sci-fi conspiracy thriller.

Much has happened since we met FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) and the planeload of melted flesh that was her, and our, first hint of "The Pattern," the wheel beneath all the other wheels the series has turned.

"I can just about remember when a suspect's being human was a given, not an option," head "Fringe" cop Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick) sighed last week, nostalgic for the days of perps you could actually stop with a gun rather than the series' parade of mutant upshots of Science Gone Too Far. In this fight he is aided notably by Olivia; the acid-addled, junk-food-loving genius Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), busted out of an insane asylum for his arcane expertise; and his formerly estranged son, Peter (Joshua Jackson), who keeps him from wandering off.

The finale featured the welcome return of Jared Harris as David Robert Jones, more or less the villain of the piece, although I could not tell you precisely what he was up to. (Like "Lost," the show deliberately frustrates one's ability to judge good and bad.) Jones was unfortunately sliced in two as he attempted to cross into a parallel universe in search of William Bell, Walter Bishop's ex-partner and the head of the technocorp Massive Dynamics, upon whom (according to lieutenant Nina Sharp, played by Blair Brown) he had a mad science crush.

Drugs given her in an unremembered childhood key to the plot have made Olivia prone to unscheduled trips between these realities. (It is a recurring feature of Many Worlds fiction that, although the actual quantum mechanical theory posits an infinite number of alternative worlds springing into life at every moment, there is usually only one worth visiting.) It's this other world, I guess, from which Walter seemingly snatched a replacement Peter when this-world Peter died in childhood — the episode's biggest reveal, given that the appearance of Leonard Nimoy as Bell was publicized well in advance. (He'll be back in the fall.)

Like most science fiction, the show is an invitation to obsession, but like much science fiction, it helps if you think more about the fiction and less about the science, which is, one might say, loosely based on a few convenient facts. But what makes the show work in any case is not so much character and plot — the first is barely explored, except as regards Walter Bishop, and the second is not always easy to track — as it is mood and event. That and its soulfulness, albeit soulfulness of a dry, cool, wintry variety, qualities Torv herself embodies. Much of the drama is located in her Alice in Wonderland eyes.

Notwithstanding its often graphic displays of ick, the show operates at a kind of low boil, a point of tension where something bad and not as random as it seems is liable to happen at any time to anyone. And does.

— Robert Lloyd

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