I’m not sure there’s a great deal to say beyond what I already said about the first season (not that that will stop me prattling on). This is a nice enough little series with some fun ideas and a great character in Walter Bishop, but there’s something about it that doesn’t quite work… all the pieces are there, but they don’t come together in any sort of magical way.
The concept is really interesting, clearly owing a lot to The X-Files, but with parallel universes rather than aliens. The ongoing revelations about the ‘other side’ and the connections between the two universes are carefully done. The subtle differences between our side and their side are really very clever – someone noticed that on the other side, an episode of Lost that was showing in the background was actually airing a scene which on our side is only available on the dvd. Little things like that make the show worth paying attention to.
But while the concept and the arc storyline are interesting, the day to day plots are pretty mediocre. If the season were 10 episodes long, it would be intense and fascinating, but with 23 episodes, there’s an awful lot of padding. Too many episodes feel like complete filler, with microscopic amounts of arc thrown in to keep it going. With the complex plot spread so thin, I struggled to keep track of it.
Happily though, even the most forgettable of filler episode is made watchable by Walter Bishop, a character who I criminally overlooked on my top 25 characters list . Whether he’s being hilariously crazy, or terrifyingly sane, John Noble manages to make him compelling just about every second he’s on the screen. The relationships he has with his son and Astrid (his de-facto babysitter) are beautiful; in one episode he thought he was responsible for Astrid being hurt and scared and his response was absolutely heartbreaking.
I think where the magic fails is in the central partnership of Olivia and Peter. I like each of the characters a lot, Olivia thawed out a lot this season coming across a little more human and a little less uber-agent. But I don’t find them particularly interesting as a pair. Great partnerships are about contrast – Bones and Booth, Starsky and Hutch, Bert and Ernie. If Fringe is inspired by the X-Files they really should have also been inspired by Mulder and Scully. They were so interesting to watch because of the contrast between them – faith vs science, passion vs analysis, light vs dark. But Fringe has created two lead characters who are extremely similar. They both tend to approach problems analytically, calmly exploring options, investigating the science and the case interchangeably. They are both committed to what they are doing and turn out to be personally intertwined with the problem, but also try to stay detached and private.
I guess it could be argued that Walter is Mulder, with the passion and the obsession, while Peter and Olivia are both Scully with the clinical detachment. This season there does seem to have been a move towards giving Olivia a relationship with Walter as well, to even up the triangle, but it still felt a little too much as if she was using him as a tool, rather than treating him as an equal.
So, you end up with a show that’s engaging, interesting and rewards you well for paying attention. When an episode is about the arc plotline, or Walter and his relationships, it’s really good. but in episodes without that focus, it just feels like everyone’s sort of plodding along, going through the motions.