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'Fringe': Who watches the Observer?

October 1, 2008 |  7:47 am

Now we're getting somewhere.

After two weeks of meandering, in which "Fringe" threatened to become a repetitive bore, this week's episode finally got nice and weird. Most of the renewed interest is due to the introduction of an intriguing character, a bald, eyebrow-less stiff with the appetites of a pregnant lady that we're calling "the Observer."

Fringe1 The Observer is a pretty obvious takeoff of the Marvel Comics character, The Watcher, but who's complaining? At this point, it's fun to see J.J. Abrams and company toss together as many inspirations from their childhoods as they can and see what comes out.

The events the Observer was on hand to witness involved a mysterious silver bullet-shaped thing referred to as "the beacon" that gets uncovered every few years. For several hours, the beacon must be protected from the evil knit-cap guy -- and his laser gun that looks like a tuning fork -- before it burrows its way back into the earth again. What was that all about? Who knows? Who cares? It's weird, it's fun, it's compelling enough to keep you watching.

While we all hope "Lost," Abrams' other current hit show, has satisfying answers to its intriguing questions, I'm not as concerned about "Fringe." Maybe it's because "Lost" seemed so sure and confident of itself from the beginning, while "Fringe" is stumbling a little as it learns to walk. Or maybe it's because "Fringe's" laundry list of obvious influences makes it seem less of a work of art than a fun pop-culture thrill ride, but the answers here just don't seem as necessary. I certainly hope the Observer shows up again. And I also hope the writers know how to use him in an effective way. But do I need to see his life story? No, absolutely not.

There were lots of nice, unexplained touches in the episode. What was the meaning of all that reflected light in the early scenes? It happened too often and seemed too artificial to be an accident. So it was added purposely. What was the meaning of that? Dr. Bishop's sudden obsession with root beer and root beer floats was another nice moment. And to have him share his beloved snack with the Observer was a welcome relief to those of us who get tired of having interesting developments saved for sweeps month.

One thing to note in Bishop's scene with the Observer: Bishop says the root beer float tastes heavenly, then he glances at the Observer and says it tastes earthly as well. Is that a clue? Is the Observer some kind of angel?

I was a bit disappointed to see yet another scene in which one character had information in his brain that had to be extracted by another character in an unorthodox manner, but at least this episode flipped the formula and had Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) be the one who had the information and the unnamed knit-cap villain as the one trying to get it from him. But that can only be used once. After this episode, no more bizarre information extraction from unwilling brain scenes, OK? Promise?

And in the least surprising cliffhanger yet, Agent Scott made his long-awaited reappearance. Since we've been seeing his name in the opening credits week after week was this development worth leaving us with for two weeks? (No "Fringe" next week). Probably not, but after this course correction of an episode, we have a reason to be excited for its return.

--Patrick Kevin Day

Photo: Joshua Jackson as Peter Bishop. Credit: Fox Broadcasting Co.