'Fringe': That age old question

Johnnoble_fringe_240_002 Here's a bit of warning that the producers of Fringe should put ahead of every episode: "Do no watch if you've eaten anything in the past eight hours." Good gravy, but this show likes to go graphic. There were times I wasn't sure if I was watching the newest J.J. Abrams drama or National Geographic's Surgeries Gone Wild. Tucked into this gore was a middling serial killer drama that ultimately tied into The Pattern, but didn't really sustain interest for a full hour of television.

At the heart of the episode's structure lies a conceit that Fringe will no doubt employ early and often as it tries to spread its general premise in the least painful way possible. That formula will go something like this:

  1. Crazy, shocking, and seemingly impossible event occurs before the credits
  2. Olivia and The Two Bishops get brought on the scene
  3. Elder Bishop slowly remembers research done in the 1970's that caused said shocking incident while Younger Bishop snarks
  4. Olivia solves crime thanks to CSI-esque research coupled with conspiratorial help from both Homeland Security and Massive Dynamic
  5. One small sliver of The Pattern revealed right before closing credits

This is all fine and well for the early goings, as I'm willing to wager a lot of people tuned in for the first time tonight after watching the season premiere of House. That lead-in audience explains why every line of dialogue in the first act of the episode directly repeated everything outline in last week's pilot. I realize this is all meta-analysis rather than episode analysis, but I do hope that the time comes sooner rather than later when the show feels confident enough in its premise and audience to avoid wasting precious episode minutes rehashing for those trying to play catch up from home.

The Pattern of the Week stemmed from research done back in the day by Walter Bishop and Claus Penrose. Turns out they were working on a sort of super serum for soldiers, with the ability to quickly age fighting men from fetus to age 21 at an accelerated rate. But instead of churning out an assembly line of Captain Americas, they instead churned out boys who aged in exponential dog years. Unable to turn off the aging mechanism, these specimens aged uncontrollably, eventually looking like Blue from Old School.

At the end of the pilot, Olivia's ex-partner warned her that Phillip Broyles may have selected her for a reason. And tonight, we got a potential glimpse into her connection with the Pattern, in the form of a serial killer she tracked with John Scott more than a decade earlier. This serial killer was a byproduct of the Bishop/Penrose Baby Soldier Brigade, and through Penrose's help stayed alive through the pituitary glands of the victims he killed using methods so graphic that I shan't repeat them hear. But sufficed to say: this is SO not why I got a high-def TV.

Olivia and the Two Bishops eventually find this serial killer via a device called an electronic pulse camera. Now, don't go looking for one of these bad boys at Best Buy, as it's only a prototype of a fictional, multinational conglomerate that might not work with Homeland Security so much as run it, for all we know. The device worked in much the same way that Jeff Goldblum's 1990's-era MacBook interfaced with an alien spaceship in Independence Day: by the power of donothinktoohardaboutthis. It's a power that will come in handy as the show progresses, methinks.

And yet, I actually found the EPC more plausible of a plot point than what followed: Olivia deciding to bolt onto the scene without calling for backup beforehand. Yes, I get that there was little time to waste, and I realize I need to let things like this go, but one does not bust into a potential murder scene with only Pacey as backup. Just not how it's done. Maybe Olivia was worried that her colleagues would be unable to leave the office in any case, what with the enormous, floating "BOSTON FEDERAL BUILDING" block letters blocking their exit.

Blairbrown_fringe_240_002 Perhaps sensing what preceded it wasn't up to snuff, the show stuffed in quite a few tidbits of mythological coolness into the final act. For starters, there's the power play being waged over Olivia by Broyles and Massive Dyamic's COO, Nina Sharp. Earlier in the episode, we saw Broyles debriefing an unknown group of individuals, with Sharp among them. Clearly Olivia's character fits somewhere into the Pattern, although it's uncertain either side knows what it is. Nevertheless, both think it beneficial to employ her services.

The second, and equally intriguing, note was sounded by Walter Bishop concerning his son. Looks like Daddy might have done a little experimenting upon his boy as a child. Heck, given Penrose's affection for the serial killer, can we really assume the two Bishops are even related? The possibilities are fairly endless at this point: everything from genetic modification to behavioral implants to brain rewiring is possible. It's obviously a mystery with a long-term payoff, but it's worth it to keep an eye open as the season progresses for clues.

A few odds and ends from this week's episode:

  1. Loved Walter's attitude while helping Peter revive the last victim. He wasn't so much as concerned scientist as a bored Dell tech employee trying to help a customer boot up their computer.
  2. I'm waiting for the episode circa sweeps in which Walter goes from "doddering, lovable old man" to "potentially the most dangerous man in the world." Penrose might have lied about his continued involvement in his research, but I have no doubt of his sincerity when he says, "No one in power should ever learn what he knows."
  3. That last shot of the remaining super soldier clones: was that inside of Massive Dynamic? Given that last week's episode ended inside of that complex, I couldn't help but wonder if the surprising (although awkwardly edited) finale shot showed another part of the same facility.

All in all, a letdown of an episode. It has the trappings of a mediocre episode of Lost: gripping intro, fascinating ending, but a lot of fluff in the middle. However, this is show still finding its feet and, perhaps more importantly, its audience. Pattern of the Week eps will only get them so far; in the long run, character development will always win out over gratuitous gore. That's true, at least, for this viewer.

But I'm only one viewer. Tell me what you thought of this week's episode. Did it measure up to the pilot, or take a step back? Why are Broyles and Sharp so interested in Olivia Dunham? And what did Walter to do his son that he know regrets?  Leave your thoughts and comments below!

Ryan also looks for The Pattern over at Boob Tube Dude.