messier object


Flying saucer fever, it would seem, hit the USSR too:

Mystery of the Flying Discs (1960), which are (apparently) showing up hovering over Moscow. Note the similarity to the classic "I Want to Believe"/Passaic streetlamp UFO!

Unfortunately, while I own this, I can’t actually read Russian well enough to tell you what’s going on in it.

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: 1×02, “The Same Old Story”
2009, December 21, 10:40 am
Filed under: teevee, the fringe files | Tags: , , ,

And, indeed, that it is.  Because this episode, the second of the series, is a calque of the second episode of The X-Files, “Squeeze.”  For real.

No, seriously, for real.  Well, he steals pituitary glands instead of livers.  But for pretty much the same reason, in a similar pattern, barring some of the gimmick of Tooms’ special ability.  The only real conceptual change here from “Squeeze” is that the embittered old cop who couldn’t get him before is Olivia.

At this point, I think, the show was still trying to force us into thinking specific things about the characters: that Walter Is Crazy, that Olivia Is A Badass, that Peter Is Gonna Bang Olivia, that Astrid Is Insignificant, and so forth.  So everything, in these early episodes, gets turned up to eleven: Walter sleeps inside a closet and needs someone to sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” to him so he can sleep, is obsessed with seat warmers, and is borderline-catatonic when he’s thinking; Olivia is tormented by her failures with John and with the case in the past – and her “I told her you were gonna give me a raise” line didn’t help; Peter is much more vocally skeptical about everything that happens; Peter is tormented by Walter for not having an imagination and banging Olivia.  But, then, I think pretty much every show goes through this sort of tuning – certainly, it’s a lot more natural by the end of the first season, although I can’t name a specific turning point like “Beyond the Sea” was for The X-Files.

That being said, this episode introduces a whole lot of interesting concepts that are pretty crucial:

  • The Pattern is mentioned for the first time – and in this season they’re still trying to tie everything to it, something which appears to have been jettisoned for the time being.
  • Fringe’s version of the Syndicate (henceforth “the Fringedicate”): the shadowy organization that Nina and Broyles lead to still unknown conclusions.
  • The notion that Walter is at the root of the Pattern, and that the Fringedicate knows it.
  • Plus – and this has yet to be brought back – Something Happened to the predecessors to the Team.

Oh, and Olivia has this weird dream where she gets pregnant with John Scott’s fast-growing baby that’s sort of shocking but, I mean, it’s not like much comes of it.  And the Peter Revelation comes up for the first time, which is a bit menacing, but, again, not much comes of it.  But like all good things, it would get better as it goes.

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.