Friday, October 9, 2009

Head cases

Fringe, Season Two – “Momentum Deferred”

The word “headhunter” is given a wicked 21st century twist in this episode of Fringe. It seems a group of men from the other side, including 24 vet Roger Cross, are looting cryogenics facilities. No, they’re not looking for Ted Williams or Walt Disney, but for one very particular frozen melon.

Walter and Peter enlist the aid of one of Walter’s former test subjects from years past (Theresa Russell). It seems Walter’s special hallucinogenic cocktail enabled her to see through the disguises of the shape-shifters from the other side, and now they want her to dip her toes back in those psychedelic waters. Fer sure, dude.

And Olivia finally remembers her conversation with William Bell in the parallel universe. IT’S. ABOUT. FREAKING. TIME.

This one started with a bang, with a well shot opening sequence of the cryo facility robbery shot at night. It was so well staged and executed it seemed more like a movie. Plus, Roger Cross was featured and the man just COMMANDS your attention. Hey, 24, I know his original character was killed, but when Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer steps down, make Roger Cross your new 24 hour man.

There’s some good humor (not the ice cream kind) used in this episode. Peter at one point remarks to Olivia about being creeped out by Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and she replies, “The original or the remake? Don Siegel or Philip Kaufman?” Nice to know hot female FBI agents did classic sci fi. (But where are these girls when I go to Egyptian Theater programs?)

Minor quibble: there are FOUR movie versions of the Jack Finney novel - the two Olivia mentions, plus Abel Ferrara’s Body Snatchers and the forgettable Nicole Kidman Invasion. Perhaps in the Fringe universe there are ONLY two versions of this movie. Cue Twilight Zone theme.

Leonard Nimoy appears again as William Bell. I love the Man Who Was, Is, and Will Always Be Spock, but my goodness he sounds like death warmed over. It is painful to listen to him speak. He gives Olivia some intel about the shape-shifters and the coming War of the Parallel Worlds, but he does something which I absolutely hate. He says “there are forces at work” but he doesn’t name them. WHO THE F--- IS HE TALKING ABOUT? If you don't know, say you don't know, but if you DO KNOW, give her that information up front.

Last weekend I watched the original 1964 pilot episode for the series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. The narrator tells us that to the world the submarine Seaview is a vessel of exploration, but the truth is that it’s the most advanced weapon in our arsenal against the “forces that work against us” but it never NAMES the buggers. I know it's about building suspense (especially when you have to save your big guns for SWEEPS MONTHS, like, oh look, in November). I just hope Olivia and the Fringe Division never have to fight a giant lobster man, like the Seaview did.

Now I watch a lot of genre television and movies and I must admit I am SICK TO DEATH of people always waltzing around the issues. Lost does it, BIG TIME. Fringe does it. I hope FlashForward doesn’t do it too badly. There has to be a better way of keeping the audience in suspense other than having seeming normal, and in many cases bright and intelligent people, not asking obvious questions and getting obvious answers.

It’s this endless stringing out of the storyline that might be responsible for Fringe’s recent huge dip in the ratings. The last three episodes have averaged around 6 million viewers; that’s down from the 9.5 million who watched the half dozen episodes prior to that. The ideas that make Fringe unique often seem to take a back seat to storylines and plots that appear to be lifted, however superficially, from The X-Files (like the cryogenic heads and, especially, the shape-shifters). The Fox Network needs to take a tip from Lost and give this series a definite end point, say two more seasons, so the writers can start to plot and plan accordingly.

If they don’t I fear the Fringe Division could be shut down prematurely, before its work is done.

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