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'Fringe': Returning to our reality

September 18, 2009 |  6:50 am

201_newday_05652 BAM!

"Fringe" comes crashing headlong back onto television. That’s not just a metaphor. Before we even fade in we have two cars smashing into each other. What a way to return: an accident in which one driver is nowhere to be found and the other flees into a nearby apartment, smooches his face and then uses a strange device to rearrange his appearance. That’s my good old "Fringe."

Though if there’s one thing to be learned from this first episode of the second season, it’s that this isn’t the same old "Fringe" from last year. Not quite.

When we left last May, Olivia slipped into the alternate reality (or Déjà Vuniverse, as I still insist on calling it). The finale ended just before William Bell (played by Leonard Nimoy) presumably explained to her everything about the Pattern, the parallel Earth and how to find the Observer in every episode of Season 1. But after Olivia comes crashing back home through the window of her SUV (she should have gone through the Wardrobe), she’s inflicted with a case of amnesia. Darn. I actually believed that we’d learn everything we always wanted to know from William Bell. Then again, I did believe that "Star Trek’s" Voyager would get home in the third episode. Call me an optimist.

While Olivia spends this episode in a hospital bed, her duties are picked up by Peter and newcomer Agent Amy Jessup. After spending nearly the entire first season making sarcastic comments and pulling favors from underground sources, Peter Bishop really steps up to the plate. He comforts his father and Rachel when they think Olivia is brain-dead, he heads up the investigation of the shape-shifting soldier from another dimension, and he’s the one that makes the decision that the Fringe Division is going from a reactive to active stance on the Pattern and threats against our world. It’s a totally new Peter, and I like it. Get out there, bust some heads. And while you’re in Washington, tell Congress to stop asking for apologies from each other.

By his side through this is Agent Jessup. She’s called to the accident at the beginning of the show and becomes entrenched in the world of "Fringe." (It took me forever to realize where I’d heard the name, but it’s Jack Nicholson’s character in "A Few Good Men.") Jessup seems like a fun new addition to the group. She’s ready to stick her nose where it doesn’t belong, whether it’s classified files on the Fringe cases or crowding the table as Walter does an autopsy. She doesn’t even seem fazed when the nurse she’s shot twice jumps out a window and lands safely several stories below. Sign that girl up.

Peter and Jessup aren’t the only ones getting additional screen time since Olivia’s out of commission. Agent Broyles (or Col. Broyles to you, senator) finally shows some aspects to his personality besides gruff but likable. He joins Peter for a drink after Olivia is admitted to the hospital in a scene that shows how Lance Reddick can say more with a look than most actors can in an entire monologue. Then he’s off to D.C. to defend the Fringe Division against the senators who want to shut it down, followed by a little make-out session with Nina Sharp. When did Broyles become James Bond? License to be awesome.

Then there’s poor Agent Charlie Francis. If you follow "Fringe" news at all, you’ve probably heard that Kirk Acevedo is leaving the series. It actually looks like they’re going to give him a pretty strong send-off, though. He got his touching moment with Olivia about being shot while on a domestic violence call before he fell victim to the shape-shifting soldier from another dimension (there’s probably a shorter name to call that person, but I like this), but like Locke on "Lost," just because he’s dead doesn’t mean he isn’t a vital part of the story.

So instead of answers, the season opener brings us new questions. What did William Bell tell Olivia she had to find in our world? Who send this agent from the Déjà Vuniverse to stop Olivia from meeting with William Bell? Why can they only communicate through an old typewriter in the scary backroom of a shop? Why does their futuristic technology look so lame? Couldn’t they get Apple to design it?

"Fringe" faced an uphill battle this year for me, going up against "The Office" and "30 Rock." Those are my two favorite comedies on TV right now. My TiVo’s not smart enough to record two shows at the same time, but it looks like "Fringe" is really going to make it worth my while. Plus I can always watch those other shows online.

Holy Homages, Batman – Did you notice what the surprised apartment dweller was watching when the shape-shifting solider from another dimension broke into his place? That’s right, a little "X-Files." And the senators grilling Broyles also referenced the “old X designation.” "Fringe" has been compared to the "X-Files" since it came on the air. It’s nice to see it pay tribute to its cultural older brother.

Astrid Action – Astrid’s back with a new haircut. It was mentioned that Astrid is finally going to get out of the lab this season. All I could think of was a buddy cop show of Astrid and Walter solving crimes. Whatever it takes to get my favorite lab assistant more face time.

Spot the Observer -- It might be time for me to finally admit I’m horrible at spotting the Observer. Though I see online that he was caught walking in front of the accident right at the top of the show. One interesting thing to note, though. In all the interviews I’ve been reading and listening to leading up to the second season, the cast of "Fringe" keeps referring to the Observers. Plural. Interesting. Very interesting indeed.

-Andrew Hanson

Photo credit: Fox Television