messier object

the post-war new world order strikes again!
post-war new world order map in fringe 2x16, "peter"

Look! Way in the back, behind John Noble's wig! There it is!

So, Fringe was actually good for once this week so I’ll cover that later but for now! Look! It’s the Post-War New World Order Map (even bigger for your desktop wallpaper needs here)!  I’m not sure why it pops up so often (it was in that Jonny Quest documentary, too) but my guess would be either 1) it looks official and secret, since it’s a bit like real life but not really 2) it’s free 3) there’s high-quality scans online and set dressers need some junk to fill space.

Still, weird that they’re using an alternate-reality map to document the alternate reality that’s supposed to be our reality except everything was invented by Leonard Nimoy as a surrogate for the messy process of the creation of new technology (just like Edison in For Want of a Nail) and also you can travel through dimensions and people turn into scorpions occasionally.  (In a show which, itself, is pretty obsessed with counterfactuality – Walter and Peter, the World Trade Center reveal, “President Kennedy,” some of the Olivia/dead agent boyfriend stuff S1 was getting into near the midpoint)  That is, a reality to which the alternate-reality map is, presumably, an alternate.  Sheesh.

Also, let’s take time to note Fringe’s new 1985 intro look – while the alternate intro has a long and atrocious history of denoting parallel universes in SF teevee over the past decade (‘sup, mirror universe episodes of Enterprise*) this is actually pretty decent at capturing/pointing out the somewhat goofy nature of the Fringe opening credits, along with its more obvious homages to the credits from The X-Files.  Plus it sorta looks like a cross between Look Around You and the Dharma initiation films from Lost, which is always nice.

*of course, this implies I thought the legitimate intros to Enterprise were good, which, well, who the heck would ever say that in the history of the world?

the fringe files: 2×11, “johari window”

Real Fringe is back!  But just back to monster-of-the-week episodes, unfortunately.  This time, it’s a (nonsensical) calque of “The Post-Modern Prometheus,” more or less.  And, in the end, to “Humbug.”     There’s been references to it being closer to “Home,” but in the end it’s not close to being nearly as good as any of those episodes of The X-Files.

Like the inexplicable unaired episode they put up earlier in the week, the episode’s desire to semi-logically explain what’s happening is easily its weakest point.  Because when you think about a magical electromagnet generator that turns freakish mutants into normal-looking people (and moths), the first thing you need to do is explain how it works.  If they’d stuck to Walter’s semi-explanation and made it a town where when you crossed the city limits you went blind that would have made this a much more dramatic episode.  Instead, you get Astrid getting mad at Walter because he brought back an ugly moth (she hates moths, but loves butterflies? unexplained exposition alert!)  and, seriously, a machine that camouflages just people’s deformities.  That was so stupid it’s hard to get over it.

People spend a lot more time screaming at horrible deformities in this episode than they ever did in “Post-Modern Prometheus” or “Humbug,” or even “Home.”  We get it!  They’re ugly.  But when The X-Files managed to be nicer to its mutants than you… Well, let’s put it this way – there’s no dance party with a Cher impersonator at the end of this one, just Walter talking about how brave it was for one of the freaks to be willing to be seen as a freak instead of just murdering a bunch of people.  It’s an oddly deterministic view of things for Fringe, the monster-or-cute-person divide, and not really one that fits into the bigger view of the show’s hidden identities motif.

Anyways, Peter shoots a guy (how hasn’t he shot somebody before now yet?) and is sad but not as sad as Special Agent Olivia Dunham was when she killed Charlie so I guess we don’t need to meet the Lebowski-shrink this week.  This was a bland monster-of-the-week episode and, frankly, they need to get back to the mytharc ASAP.

the fringe files: 2×11*, “unearthed”

Hooray, Fringe is back – and back to direct calques of X-Files episodes.  In this case, s1e21: “Born Again.”  There’s a girl and freaky memories she can’t possibly have and a dead dude and whoooooa.

This time, Fringe is much more into explaining what the heck is going on: in “Born Again,” the strange coincidences of death and birth (or was it conception?) were more than enough to explain what was going on; nearly 20 years on apparently we need more explanation.  Because of Experimental Radiation Poisoning Treatments (Fringe‘s treatment of radiation, in general, is really on the lines of a fifties b-movie.  I’m just waiting for the Night of the Lepus calque.) and dying violently a murdered USN sub officer ends up in the head of a dying Catholic schoolgirl, who is instantly reanimated because, well, brains and spirits and dumb shit and I dunno a weird non-dualistic theory of mind, because she gets his brain’s radiation poisoning too.

Aside from the deeper digging into What’s Going On In Radiation! Science, Fringe is also taking a less agnostic tack than The X-Files towards religion, of all things.  While Fringe doesn’t have characters who are even occasionally defined by their faith like Scully was, the show is in general a lot more respectful of the notion of faith in a way I have trouble pinning down.  I can’t see Mulder (much less Scully) ever defending exorcism or actual demonic possession, for example – while The X-Files treated the weird as undefinable, it was never treated as anything symptomatic of bigger cosmic structures.  An episode like “The Căluşari” doesn’t try to reveal any truths about the existence of anything beyond the weird shit that’s happening in the here and now.  I don’t know to blame this on a change in culture in the past couple decades, or the overarching plots of the shows, with Fringe‘s whole-universe-defining mytharc.  Time, I guess, will still tell, although Walter’s ending beat calling on Isaiah and the old science-and-faith-are-the-same-thing duck wasn’t all that promising.  If you ask me, at least.

So while John Noble throws around a bunch of technobabble (although “What happened to subjects 1 through 5?” “I believe the University settled with them out of court.” was a pretty good exchange) about Tibetan theories of the mind and the right kind of drugs to do an exorcism with, we get to watch Olivia and Charlie run around Boston looking for clues.  That’s right, Charlie.  Because this isn’t actually a season 2 episode: it was made, but not aired, for the first season, which gives us the chance to see how far the show’s come since then.

The show has, frankly, improved a lot.  Importance of minor characters (neither Broyles nor Astrid do a thing in this, which makes them basically boring space-fillers) has been upped, John Noble’s Walter has gotten more sensibly nutty (or at least he’s gotten a little subtler and smarter than “whoa he’s drinking milk from the cow from a beaker! wacky”), and – this is probably the best change – the whack-you-over-the-head romance plot with Peter and Olivia has nearly been killed due to the total lack of chemistry.  When you have a one-ep victim character pushing something to happen, you should know you’re in trouble.  So in conclusion: thank god season two is back.

the fringe files: 1×15, “inner child”

Okay, so hopefully I can start to do this a little more often now that things in my personal life have settled down.  That said, let’s talk about TV’s second-most-successful SF show right now, Fringe!  What with the traveling to alternate universes where Leonard “Belly” Nimoy stopped 9/11 or something and the consistent forgetting of plot elements it’s sometimes hard to remember that this show started as – and continues to be – an X-Files calque.

I’ll fill these in later as I go on, but let’s start with the fifteenth episode of the first season, “Inner Child.”  This was the first one to air after the mid-season break, and one of the first not to show any major X-Files influences.  But that’s not to say it doesn’t deal with ground that show dealt with fifteen years ago.

So here we are at “Inner Child,” which has all sorts of fun things – feral children (“Jersey Devil”), serial killers (any number of episodes of any show, ever), introduces the show’s good FBI vs. evil CIA stuff (the Syndicate), and creepy bald psychic kids (Gibson Praise).  The kid also looks a little like the flukeman, but that’s beside the point.   This episode also totally blows, which makes it a lot harder to talk about.  Unlike Gibson or that feral missing link kid the child found in this episode is portrayed as pretty much entirely normal, aside from the amazing abilities granted him by living in an underground rat-filled vault.  Aside, that is, from the fact that he looks like a tiny Observer.  Frankly, about the only interesting thing in this episode is John Noble dancing to Al Green’s “Love and Happiness,” the first of the show’s musical interludes – and, I think, a pretty big step in the development of the Walter character as he becomes more comfortably weird than he was in the beginning of the season.  Mostly a forgettable monster-of-the-week otherwise, though.