Judge David Johnson's kick-ass Styrofoam solar systems were the very definition of "fringe science."
Our reviews of Fringe: The Complete First Season (published September 3rd, 2009), Fringe: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray) (published September 8th, 2009), and Fringe: The Complete Third Season (published September 15th, 2011) are also available.
"I'm not from here, am I?"
After a sluggish, monster-of-the-week start to its existence, the first season of Fringe took off in its homestretch, developing a compelling mythology and ending on an eye-bulging cliffhanger. Now here's Season Two to pay it all off, which it does, quite awesomely.
Facts of the Case
I'll give you the basic layout, because if you're new to the show and hold even a passing interest in the sci-fi mystery genre, you really need to start from the beginning, as unspoiled as possible.
But here's the gist: the FBI has set up a special "Fringe" division, which investigates all manner of bizarre cases. These can involve mind control or pyrokinesis or shape-shifting or suspended animation or time travel or pretty much anything that leaves victims in puddles of their own offal.
Tasked with unraveling these mysteries are FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), brilliant but crazy Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble, The Return of the King) and his enigmatic son Peter (Joshua Jackson, The Skulls).
Apologies for that vague synopsis. I haven't even flirted with the show's main mythology. Trust me, the show is worth exploring with as little working knowledge of plot points as possible.
And you want to know why? As opposed to other well-known sci-fi mystery shows, Fringe answers its questions! I know that there is an appeal to the "joy of the journey" versus "the destination," but one of the things I really, really liked about this show, is you can have your cake and eat it too. The build-up is mystifying and cool and the revelations are well-executed and hugely satisfying. Win-win!
All this to say, stick with it. Based on the hype, I tuned into the first batch of Fringe episodes during Season One and lost interest. Over the summer I caught up on the series, pushed through, got caught in the season arc (once it got rolling) and devoured Season Two.
Yes, Olivia is stiff, but thankfully the writers seemed to acknowledge that, devoting much of the second season to peeling her back, introducing some vulnerability and sparking a romance. Of course, no matter how many quirks they infuse her with, the simple truth is that Walter and Peter will overshadow her, which explains why the showrunners also opted to bring them forward in meatier roles.
I'm a sucker for quality father/son stories, and the dynamic that has been crafted between Walter and Peter is one of the best I've seen on television. Season Two can be characterized as the Peter/Walter season, their tumultuous relationship getting tossed around with ferocity, and just when things get settled, one of the great game-changing plot revelations I've seen in years threatens all of that.
I'm talking about Episode 15, "Peter," a show devoted entirely to exposition and mystery-solving and the miracle is, even though I had pieced together enough of the puzzle by then, the writers still managed to shock and move me. Ask a fan of Fringe his or her favorite episode and I'd be surprised if this one didn't pop up.
So with our characters at their most well-defined and volatile, and the mythology cemented, we arrive at the season finale (told in two parts) and it's a corker—exciting, surprising, creative and, more importantly, a rules-changing experience.
Which is why I have become comfortable in calling Fringe my current favorite network show; it never stops shuffling the deck, and is never afraid to rocket off in new directions. Massive plot turns are introduced, characters are fundamentally changed and new worlds are (literally) opened—yet it all feels earned. Fringe continually rewards its viewers.
This being a Warner Bros. Blu-ray TV release, the quality is assured: video is high-performing, a beautiful 1.78:1 widescreen transfer that outperforms broadcast HD and works wonders on the multitude of far-out sights the series utilizes. The resolution impresses, even when visual effects are brought in to bolster the story (love those zeppelins). You will be doing yourself a grave disservice if you take the Fringe journey in anything other than high-definition.
The sound mix is an active, if standard-issue, Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, a step down from the burlier lossless mixes, but more than suitable to push the action and Michael Giacchino's awesome score.
Extras: the unaired Season 1 episode "Unearthed" (as so-so installment), an exhaustive documentary on the mythology of the show, scene breakdowns from six episodes, a featurette on Walter Bishop's lab, commentary on four episodes from cast and crew, deleted scenes and a gag reel.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I liked every episode—including the schizophrenic premiere—save for one: "Brown Betty," a weird noir-inspired fantasy show that was unfunny, out-of-place and, worse, coming on the heels of a major plot twist.
Season Two of Fringe fulfills the promise of Season One and blows the series wide open. In a good way.
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