Over the next few weeks, I’ll be summarizing my thoughts on many of the series that ended just as the “official” television season came to a close recently.
Overview: The season one finale of Fringe pushed the series into new, better territory and gave us fans all hope for the second season. And almost every level, season two of the series nailed my expectations. There were more mythological episodes. There were more stories that felt relevant to the characters. There were better standalone cases. And multiple episodes balanced all those elements very, very well. Fringe quickly became one of the best genre series on television.
Pros: Everything I mentioned in the overview definitely goes here. The major problem with the first season is that the desire to keep general viewers interested led to a number of mostly boring standalone episodes that didn’t quite tie into anything larger aside from the broad “Pattern” story that plodded along before being tied into the inter-dimensional war. It wasn’t until the first season’s second half that the story really kicked into gear and even with the occasional detour into the standalone this season, most of those efforts tried to either A.) tell the story in a way that connected to something in the larger arcs or B.) tell the story in a way that connected to something that was relevant to the character.
Speaking of characters, all three major members of the team were given meatier material to play with this season, especially the Bishops. Olivia dominated the first season and thanks to a combination of weak writing and a weak performance from Anna Torv, that decision weighed down many episodes. But this season, Peter was pushed to the forefront of the story in an organic way that also helped Olivia and Walter seem more like people and less like vessels for funny jokes and steely looks (you can guess which actor is which there). Joshua Jackson, John Noble and Torv were given better material and added nice layers to their characters.
The mythology also expanded nicely throughout season two, with each mytho-heavy episode slowly building on what the previous had offered and delivered a number of satisfying reveals and conclusions. The stories in season two expanded the universe without overdoing it or introducing too many questions that would be possibly difficult to answer in later seasons. Many people are more satisfied with Fringe‘s ability to answer the questions it poses and with good reason. Most of the big questions introduced in season one have been answered or at least partially covered, while just the right amount of new questions were brought to light.
Cons: Despite my praise for the series’ ability to streamline the story and keep things on a path towards the finale’s reveals, there were a few bumps in the road that were ultimately not too important, but still frustrating. Most importantly, the lack of William Bell and a full leap into the conversation between he and Olivia from the S1 finale made the season’s early episodes feel like the series was stalling. Though the “over there” conversation and subsequent reveals came, more Belly really did not. Leonard Nimoy’s desire to not work too often meant that the character wasn’t served in the way the series set him up to be early in season one, and although I’m certain we will hear more about Bell in the future, we won’t be seeing much — or any — of him. Bummer.
And again, although there was a better balance of mythology and procedural in season two, the Fringe universe(s) is so interesting that I wish the series would dive further into the mythology and just stay in that storytelling gear. Sometimes the cases can still be boring, even with the character connection. Plus, it’s the third season; the audience is the audience. Why not give them what they want?
Best storyline: Walter trying to keep the secret about Peter’s origins from him and the eventual reveal of said secret.
Worst storyline: Hey, remember that young FBI agent brought in during the first couple episodes that then completely disappeared?
Best performer: John Noble — Joshua Jackson was almost the pick here because Peter was given much more to do in S2, but it’s hard to deny the excellence that is the performance of John Noble. It’s difficult to play someone who is crazy with blips of “normal,” and in the episodes that Walter was nearly completely normal, Noble sold it very well. But of course, I can’t not mention “Peter” and the subsequent episodes that saw Noble play two Walters, each with varying degrees of depression, anger and power.
Best single moment: The scene between Peter and Walter when the son confronts his father about knowing the deep, dark Bishop secrets.
Three best episodes: “Peter,” “Over There,” “Jacksonville”
Worst episode: “Unearthed” — Screw you, FOX, and you’re stupid airing of a leftover S1 episode and calling it a possible “alternate universe” episode. Screw you.
Where does it fit within the context of the series as a whole: I think season two of Fringe proves what kind of series it can be. One that mixes all sorts of storytelling techniques to create a unique blend of serialization and procedural. One that tells solid character stories amid seas of technological and scientific dystopia. One that presents mysteries that are paid off in satisfying aways. And one that is among television’s best.
Final grade: A-
Past days of the wrap