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Fringe Season Two

on Fri, 11/19/2010 - 00:00

“I’ve seen history repeat itself enough times to know a war is coming, just as we predicted, Walter and I, years ago and we knew that we had to prepare a guardian, someone to watch the gate, between this side and yours,” William Bell tells Olivia Dunham during the second season of the FOX drama Fringe. “Now that we know how difficult it is to cross over, I can count on my hand the number of people who’ve done it safely. But on this side, they’ve become more insidious. They have designed hybrids, part organic tissue, part machine that can do things humans can’t. They can change shapes, taking the form of human beings. Over here, they call them the First Wave.”

Fringe initially began life as an X-Files style exploration of the unexplained. While Fox Mulder and Dana Scully’s investigations led to the supernatural, however, the corresponding mysteries on Fringe resided on the edges of modern science. Throughout the first season, FBI Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) and her handpicked team of civilians—the elder genius Walter Bishop (John Noble) and his thirtysomething son Peter (Joshua Jackson)—were confronted with man-made horrors along the likes of flesh-dissolving toxins, large single-cell slugs and an hallucinogen that caused its victims to be literally scared to death. But as that inaugural effort progressed, a connection between the investigations and the three main protagonists of the series slowly developed. Just as the events of the show were part of a larger “pattern,” so too with the mythology of Fringe.

That connection ultimately begins—and in many ways ends—with Walter Bishop. A brilliant scientist, Bishop had spent the previous 17 years in a mental institution following the death of an assistant in a lab accident. Despite his fragile psychological mind frame, he is vital to Olivia Dunham’s investigations because of his previous work in the field of fringe science on behalf of the United States government. For decades before his incarceration, Walter Bishop and his colleague William Bell (Leonard Nimoy) conducted experiments that pushed the boundaries of the laws of nature. From quantum physics to genetic engineering, Bishop and Bell expanded the realm of the seemingly impossible and made it possible. Now, in the present, someone is unleashing the results of those experiments on an unsuspecting world.

While these events initially appeared to be random, Fringe began to focus near the end of its first season on the existence of an alternative universe. “When Belly and I were younger men, we regularly ingested large quantities of LSD,” Walter Bishop told his son Peter in that year’s final episode. “We became convinced what we saw on the drug was real. We believed that we were catching glimpses of another reality, another world, just like ours but slightly different. Populated by slightly different versions of ourselves.” Furthermore, the organization behind the events—known as ZFT—had ties to a manifesto suggesting that a war was coming with the alternative universe, and that there were “soldiers” specifically designed for the battle ahead. Based on William Bell’s remarks to Olivia Dunham, it should be of no surprise that Bell was the author of the ZFT manifesto.

William Bell and Walter Bishop were also responsible for the “recruits” mentioned in the manifesto who would become the soldiers in the coming war. They were in effect created through a series of drug tests conducted on unsuspecting children during the early 1980s. The drug, known as Cortexiphan, was designed to forestall the inevitable erosion of the human brain’s capabilities as a child grew older. “The drug worked on perception,” Bishop explained, going on to say that it also gave “the ability to identify things from the other side.”

As fate would have it, Olivia Dunham was one of the children injected with the drug. While one could thus consider Walter Bishop the surrogate father of Olivia Dunham, the same could also be said of his actual son Peter. It turns out that the coming war between the two worlds was put into motion when Walter Bishop opened a door between them and in effect ripped a hole in the very fabric of the universe. It was not scientific curiosity or even arrogance that caused Bishop to do so, however, but the fatherly love for his child.

It was suggested in the final episode of the first season that the real Peter Bishop actually died as a child and that the Peter Bishop of the series had been taken from the alternative universe by a grieving Walter Bishop. More hints at such a scenario are sprinkled throughout the early episodes of season two until it is confirmed in the episode “Jacksonville,” during which Olivia Dunham’s Cortexiphan-enhanced abilities are activated and she can “see” that Peter does not belong in this reality.

With the mythology and ultimate premise of Fringe established by the end of season one, season two fleshes them out even more so. While that first season mainly consisted of self-centered storylines that were resolved by the end of the hour, season two focuses more on the “First Wave” of shapeshifters that William Bell alluded to in his conversation with Olivia Dunham. That is not to say that stand-alone episodes are left by the wayside, just that the greater emphasis is on the actual mythology of the series. As the season moves along, that mythology likewise grows with fuller explorations of the shapeshifters’ plans and motives, as well as the roles of Olivia Dunham and Peter Bishop in the overarching narrative.

Needless to say, the agenda of the shapeshifters eventually center on Walter Bishop. He is the only one, after all, who has been able to open a door between the two universes and the first priority of the shapeshifters is to duplicate that achievement. It likewise turns out that the reason for their efforts are the same as Walter Bishop’s—in order for a grieving father to reunite with his son. In this case, it is the alternative world Walter Bishop, nicknamed Walternate, who crosses over. He eventually finds his long lost son and convinces him to return back to the reality in which he once belonged.

That event leads to the final two-part season finale, entitled “Over There,” which are arguably the best installments of the series and raise Fringe to even greater heights than it had previously achieved. Refusing to give up on the son he had raised, Walter Bishop and Olivia Dunham—who has developed romantic feelings for Peter—find a way to cross over to the other side. Once there, they find a universe devastated by Walter’s actions decades earlier, a world where the fabric of reality is decaying and irreversibly torn.

It is also an alternative universe where Walter Bishop is Secretary of Defense and the blonde Olivia Dunham is a red-haired bad ass working for a familiar-yet-different Fringe Division. In the end, Walter and Olivia are successful in their attempt to retrieve Peter but in the chaos of their escape, the original and alternative Olivias switch places. The season thus concludes with the alternative Olivia having successfully infiltrated this world while the original is held captive by Walternate.

Fringe was co-created by television auteur J.J. Abrams, who also co-created the ABC drama Lost. While that series managed to hide its true sci-fi inclinations throughout its first season, Fringe took a different route. As if defying convention, it hinted at the end of its inaugural effort where its true DNA lay and eliminated any confusion on the matter during season two. By doing so, it not only elevated the series but transformed Fringe into one of the most intelligent and intriguing shows on network television.

Anthony Letizia

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