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The Fringe Binge, Part 1: Season 4 aka The Best Season

FRINGE-Key-Art110901140313Four years back, we dropped cable in the interest of saving money, vowing to use much more affordable streaming services to keep up with the shows we watched each week, including Fringe. But the practical effect of that move was that Fringe got put on hold with a strong intention to catch up with it again someday. In the newborn phase after my second child’s birth this summer, that day has come.

Fringe has always had the reputation of being an aughts replacement for The X-Files, and certainly it did have the crime procedural married to tales of a supernatural or bizarre nature and an overarching “mythology” narrative, Fringe proved itself distinct from its ancestor.  Watching season 4 over the last few weeks brought home Fringe’s special recipe, and I dare say it has earned a place in the pantheon of great sci-fi television.

I do intend to write specifically about certain plot events, episodes, and moments, so if you’d like to remain naive on the season’s stories, stop reading now.

Season 3 ended with Peter getting in the Machine to create a bridge between the two universes to help stabilize both and allow the two Fringe teams to work together for more solutions. That meant that Peter was erased from the timeline as it got reset and 10-year-old Peter drowned in a lake, as he should have done without the Observer’s help.

fringe-peterreturns4So when season 4 picks back up, we return to the Fringe team we’re used to, but now they’re working with the other side, the other side is healing, and no one remembers Peter at all. But as the episodes add up, and Peter’s non-corporeal presence attempts to reach back into their reality, it becomes clearer and clearer what Peter’s presence meant to the team, especially Walter and Olivia. Olivia, without Peter in her life, has remained distrustful of everyone around her. She has remained the guarded, distant Olivia of the first season without the opening bond with Peter. Likewise, Walter stays distant from the world around him. He never leaves the lab and, in fact, sleeps in it. Astrid is his eyes and ears on the world through a camera she wears like a Bluetooth over-the-ear microphone.

What strikes me as a major difference between Fringe and The X-Files is the emphasis on the relationships in Fringe. This season largely explores the relationships between Peter and Walter and Olivia, but it also focuses on Lincoln’s relationships with his former partner and Olivia, Olivia’s relationship with Nina Sharp, and even Astrid’s relationship with her father. In fact, parent-child relationships are paramount. John Noble as Walter is a font of sympathy, pathos, and humor as he navigates the return of a Peter he didn’t know existed. Each Fringe event that the team studies directly mirrors the interpersonal conflicts of the team. The themes in both A- and B-plots are reflective in a way I don’t remember being as strong in the first three seasons.

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Of course, rather than The X-Files‘ obsession with aliens, Fringe deep dives into the concepts of time and alternate realities. In season 3, we met Olivia’s and Walter’s alternate universe selves–nicknamed Bolivia or later Fauxlivia and Walternate respectively. We also met the other side’s Astrid, Lincoln, and Broyles. Each of them is a plausible variation on the character we came to know in the first two seasons. Now, in season 4 with the timeline reset and Peter gone, we get slight variations on both sets of characters we got to know in season 3. Walternate in season 3 was villainous, but Walternate in season 4 is well-meaning but hard. The doubling down on the variations of character is fascinating. A highlight is when Astrid finally meets her doppleganger, who is on the spectrum, and they bond.

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I’m very pleased I decided to catch back up with season 4. The show antes up the relationships and concepts it built over the previous three seasons and creates what I would argue is the best season of the show.

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Review – Black Science Vol. 1: How to Fall Forever

imageBlack Science Vol. 1: How to Fall Forever by Rick Remender has been growing in my esteem since I finished reading it last night. Initially I was put off by the douchery of Grant McKay, the protagonist of the comic. The story opens in medias res with Grant bemoaning the choices that have led him to this dangerous situation, estranged from his wife, imperiling his children and his scientific team, running from scary fishmen riding giant turtles. But Grant reflects on this in a quantum physics sort of way. He is a dimensionaut (as they tentatively call themselves), traveling among layers of the everwhere, an onion-styled multiverse. He hopes that in one of these dimensions, he hasn’t screwed everything up. This is what drew me to the title in the first place–the multiverse aspect–and it’s what makes the story more than just a tale of adventure and redemption. Of course, there’s also plenty of that, but it’s entangled, if you will, with the heady mind-puzzle of parallel realities. That’s played out in the adventure in multiple, intriguing ways. Different versions of history, of the team, and of Earth itself become the randomized settings for the team’s survival after their travel device, the Pillar, is sabotaged by a mystery team member. In each place, they must survive long enough for the Pillar to make its next jump. Grant becomes much more sympathetic as the story goes on, as do even the most villainous of the characters. And no one is safe from the peril of their situations–will the next leap of the Pillar bring them to a safe, civilized place, or the battlefield of Germans against the technologically advanced Indian American tribes of alternate North America? Of course it leaves you hanging, as all good serials do. I’m certainly interested to see where the next jump will take the crew and if they’ll make it back home. image

The Monarch, one of Grant McKay's doppelgängers from The Venture Brothers version of reality.

The Monarch, one of Grant McKay’s doppelgängers from The Venture Brothers version of reality.

I appreciated the diversity of the cast of characters but was continually left cold by the art. The scenery was drawn and colored beautifully and moodily, but the humans were oddly modernist–all angular and cartoonish. Grant looked too much like The Monarch for me, and facial expressions were overdramatized. But I tend to be fairly elitist about my comic art. If it’s not by John Cassady, I probably won’t dig it. Most comic readers won’t likely be bothered by this.