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Fringe Season Three

on Wed, 05/18/2011 - 00:00

The FOX series Fringe entered its third season having established itself as a sci-fi drama that was not afraid of showcasing its roots. Originally an X-Files-style investigation into the “fringes” of modern day science, its mythology evolved into a world of parallel universes at war with each other that shredded any pretext that the series was a traditional network television show. The trend continues during season three as the creators and writers push the boundaries of its narratives by incorporating numerous twists and turns, while likewise treating the audience as intelligent viewers capable of following the storyline being played out in front of them.

The sophomore installment of Fringe saw two of the main protagonists of the series—FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) and scientist Walter Bishop (John Noble)—traveling to the parallel universe to retrieve Walter’s estranged son Peter (Joshua Jackson). While the elder Bishop had raised him from a young age, in actuality the younger Bishop is the son of the Walter Bishop of the parallel universe and had been kidnapped from that world when the Peter Bishop of this universe died of a rare disease. That action by a grieving father, who was spurred on by the need to save the other Peter from the same fate as his own, ripped the very fabric of the universe. While the effect is only beginning to be felt by this world, the aftershock has wreaked damage on the other side for decades.

Walternate, as the parallel universe Walter Bishop is nicknamed on the series, became determined to not only retrieve his lost son but save his own world by destroying that of the original Walter Bishop. Although Peter agreed to return to this dimension at the end of season two, Walternate was able to switch Olivia Dunham with her parallel universe self before it could be successfully accomplished. The third season of Fringe thus begins with two storylines to explore—one “over here” and one “over there.” Initial episodes alternate between the two worlds with narratives featuring the original Olivia Dunham’s attempts to return home while her parallel self embarks on a clandestine mission of infiltration and deception.

Although that may sound confusing, the creators and writers of Fringe managed to keep the story understandable by using the show’s traditional blue-tinted opening credits to represent episodes centered on this universe while employing a red-tinted sequence for the other side. The narrative device also offers a richer exploration of the two worlds and the contrasting nature of the main characters. The original Olivia Dunham was experimented on by Walter Bishop and his lab partner William Bell at the age of three, for instance, leaving her often cold and mistrusting as an adult. Without such an experience of her own, the parallel Olivia Dunham is “much quicker with a smile” and “less intense.” Walter Bishop, meanwhile, spent 17 years in a mental institution prior to the pilot episode of Fringe while his equally brilliant counterpart has risen to the position of Secretary of Defense in the alternate United States.

During the first two seasons of Fringe, a romantic undercurrent developed between Olivia Dunham and Peter Bishop that did not fully come into fruition until the third season. Unfortunately for all involved, the subsequent relationship involves Peter and the parallel universe Olivia. When the two female FBI agents eventually return to their respective home worlds, Peter must come to terms with falling for the wrong woman while Dunham struggles with the depth of personal intrusion the other Olivia was able to achieve in her life. Here again Fringe is able to distance itself from other television shows with installments that not only feature sci-fi elements but allows for an exploration of the characters as they grapple with the aftereffects of their actions.

The X-Files spliced numerous standalone episodes within each of its seasons that had nothing to do with the main storyline but complimented the “mythology” explorations just the same. The ABC drama Lost, meanwhile, used a more serialized approach that intertwined each installment with the grander epic that was ultimately being narrated. While Fringe has a serialized nature to its episodes in the same way as Lost, it also utilizes the standalone style of The X-Files to frame its own overarching storyline. Viewers are thus capable of not only following the show’s mythology week-to-week, as opposed to sporadically throughout the season like on The X-Files, but can also enjoy them on an individual basis in a way that Lost never allowed.

More significantly, the standalone episodes of Fringe often feature a narrative that parallels those of the main characters. In the first installment following Olivia Dunham’s return to her home universe, for instance, the group explores a series of deaths revolving around organ donations from a teenage suicide victim. It turns out that the culprit is attempting to put the girl back together in order to bring her back to life. “Her eyes,” he explains to Olivia Dunham after he has succeeded. “When I looked into her eyes, it wasn’t Amanda. I don’t know what I brought back but I know it wasn’t her.” The comment likewise contrasts to Peter Bishop’s inability to realize that the Olivia Dunham he fell into bed with was not the Olivia Dunham for whom he had developed feelings.

While Olivia Dunham and Peter Bishop struggle with their personal relationship, Walter Bishop is left to ponder the ramifications of his actions from decades earlier. In the episode “Os,” another scientist finds a way to combine two of the heaviest elements on Earth and uses them to make handicapped individuals lighter-than-air and thus able to float. “Our entire universe exists in a delicate state of equilibrium,” Walter Bishop explains during the installment. “And we know what happens if that balance is upset. It could cause a chain reaction. He’s messing with the fundamental constants of our world. It could lead to chaos.” He could just as easily be referring to himself.

As the main characters slowly come to terms with their internal demons, the mythology of Fringe expands upon the conviction that only one of the two universes can survive with the discovery of an ancient doomsday device, left in pieces scattered around the world by a “First People” who walked the Earth before the time of dinosaurs. The machine is somehow linked to Peter Bishop and it is soon revealed that he alone will decide the fate of competing mankinds. Alongside this apocalyptic storyline, however, Fringe offers something else—the concept of “hope.”

“There are billions of innocent people over there, just like here,” Peter Bishop remarks in regards to his presumed destiny. “People with jobs, families, lives. I gotta believe there’s another way.” The same philosophy is likewise shared with the parallel universe’s Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick) when he tells Olivia Dunham, “I’ve seen war but if what you’re saying is true, in the end I need to believe in hope.”

That hope appears to evaporate when Walternate finds a way to turn on the twin doomsday devices of both worlds and uses them to extinguish the universe he considers to be his enemy. Faced with no alternative, Peter Bishop enters the machine and finds himself transported into a future where it is Walternate’s universe that has been destroyed while the other one continues to be torn apart. The experience only reaffirms Peter’s belief that there has to be “another way” and he returns to the present determined to make different choices, first amongst them bringing the competing protagonists together in one dimension.

“I understand now,” Peter explains to the dual versions of Walter Bishop and Olivia Dunham. “I understand what the machine does, but I know something else. I’ve seen doomsday and it is worse than anything you can possibly imagine. This isn’t a war that can be won. Our two worlds are inextricable. If one side dies, we all die.”

As he continues to speak, however, Peter Bishop suddenly disappears, not only from the room but from the memories of those around him. The third season of Fringe thus concludes with the hope that the end of the world can be averted as well as the apparent loss of Peter Bishop in the process, leaving the aftereffects of his action left for a fourth season to explore. Based on what Fringe has accomplished from a narrative standpoint so far—in regards to both its epic storyline as well as examination of the individuals within—it will no doubt be a season that does not disappoint.

Anthony Letizia

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