Fighting with the Sky

Fringe on DVD [Movie/TV Monday]

Posted on: September 21, 2009

fringe-season-2-posterSo I’ve been slacking and haven’t been watching a lot of movies lately.  Instead, I’ve been trying to catch up on various TV shows, one of them being Fringe.  So, I’ve decided to change Movie Monday to Movie/TV Monday when I want to talk about a TV show in general (not just a specific episode) or I have not watched any movies recently.  I just finished the first season of Fringe on DVD this weekend, and I have to say, I loved it.  I was a little wary about it at first because it just seemed to be a knock-off of The X-Files.

Fringe is kind of a knock-off of The X-Files, but it’s different enough and good enough that I’m willing to overlook that.  Fringe follows FBI Agent Olivia Dunham who has recently been assigned to the Fringe Division, headed by Agent Boyles.  The Fringe Division is the FBI team that investigates cases involving paranormal activity or that aren’t easily explained.  Agent Dunham recruits the scientists Walter Bishop to join her team.  Walter Bishop did scientific research for the government in the 70s and early 80s but was committed to a mental hospital for the criminally insane after a fire broke out in his lab killing his lab assistant.  Agent Dunham needs Walter’s son, Peter Bishop (played by Joshua Jackson aka Pacey from Dawson’s Creek) to take custody of his father in order to get him out of the mental hospital.  Peter is kind of a con man, but they are nice enough to never really use that phrase.  He fakes his way into a lot of things, but is really smart and knows a lot about science as well, so he is able to help his father.  Peter becomes a consultant for the FBI and plays a critical role in solving many of the cases.

The Fringe Division specifically looks into cases involving what is called “The Pattern.”  The Pattern is a series of paranormal events that are believed to be the work of some group using the world and unsuspecting people as their testing ground.  We find out that Walter Bishops research before he went to the mental hospital was the basis for a lot of these paranormal events, so Walter plays an even more critical role on the team than first imagined.  We later find out that The Pattern is the handy-word of a terrorist group, ZFT.  ZFT may or may not be funded by William Bell the founder and CEO of Massive Dynamic who also just happens to be Walter’s old lab partner.  Massive Dynamic just happens to be where a lot of the technology that The Pattern involves comes from and they also sometimes provide necessary information and technology to help Agent Dunham in her cases.

So, now that we are all caught up on the general premise of the show, let’s take a look at why I got hooked on it (which, granted, doesn’t take much).  Fringe has a strong female lead.  Agent Olivia Dunham kicks ass on every episode and is not afraid to go after what she wants or to do things that won’t necessarily make her popular.  She’s the one that comes up with or readily supports the “out there” theories about a case.  She’s the one that does all the follow through.  I’m a big fan.

But, as always, because Olivia Dunham is good at her career, she’s “married” to it.  She loves what she’s doing, and that’s a good thing.  But can’t we see some of her life outside of work?  The only romantic relationship we see her in is with her partner John Scott.  But John Scott is killed in the first episode and revealed as (possibly) a traitor.  And guess what, she works with John Scott (if you couldn’t tell by the word “partner”).  I’m starting to get really sick of this trend that women who are good at their jobs can only date people that they work with.  Later in the season, we did get to see a glimpse of her personal life when her sister and niece came to live with her for a little while.  We would see them for a couple minutes almost every episode since they were introduced.  And I liked to see her interacting with people outside of work, even if they were family and not a romantic relationship.

fringe-promo_420x314And then we get to the relationship between Olivia and Peter.  Before even watching the show, I could have guessed that they would end up together in some way further down the road.  That just seems to be how shows go these days.  But in the first half (or so) of the first season, I didn’t really “sense” any romantic chemistry between the two of them.  This kind of excited me.  I thought: “finally, a show where the female and male leads don’t fall for each other.”  But then around the middle of the season, there was a turn.  I can actually remember the episode where I started to notice this change: “Bad Dreams.”  Olivia and Peter started growing closer together.  And as Peter developed a relationship with Olivia’s sister (just as friends) you could kind of tell that Olivia was getting a little jealous.  And in the opener for season 2, we can see that Peter definitely has feelings for Olivia and Olivia’s sister tells Peter that Olivia “likes” him, whatever that means.  I was just hoping that we wouldn’t get this story line thrown in.

I also sometimes have mixed feelings about how the show handles Walter’s mental illness.  You can tell that it is partly for comic relief and I don’t always appreciate the use of clear mental illness for laughs (you will notice in my post about Bones, that I do sometimes appreciate the humor in that show).  Walter is funny.  He says random things.  But this is a result of his severe mental illness.  But they do use his mental illness as something other than comic relief at times.  Walter’s mental illness is what brought him and Peter together again and what continues to connect them.  His mental illness is sometimes an obstacle in solving cases and they have to work through that as a team (but this sometimes involves yelling at Walter to focus).

I also don’t like how Walter can never remember Astrid’s name.  Astrid is an FBI agent who is a black woman and, as far as I can tell, Olivia’s assistant.  She spends most of her time in the lab with Walter.  Walter should know her name.  He remembers Olivia’s name.  He even remembers Agent Boyle whom he doesn’t really see that often.  But the one name that he can never remember is that of the black woman who is always there and is one of the ones who takes care of him on a regular basis.  Not cool.

Overall, I really like Fringe.  It’s pretty unique considering it looks at lot like The X-Files on the surface.  I will probably write a couple more posts about it as the second season progresses.  But for now, for those of you who like TV, I would highly recommend renting (or finding online) the first season of Fringe.  You’ll enjoy it…if you like those kinds of shows.

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4 Responses to "Fringe on DVD [Movie/TV Monday]"

My biggest beef with Fringe is definitely the treatment of Astrid. She’s a frickin’ FBI agent, for god’s sake, she should have more of a role than simply being someone who fetches things for Walter and Olivia. The fact that she’s a WOC with natural hair just makes it rub me even more so the wrong way, and it just astounds me that the writers aren’t seeing a big, glaring WARNING sign over all her scenes.

Have you seen this season’s premiere yet? What do you think of the new agent? While on one hand I’m glad to see them bringing in so many female agents (it feels like women are in charge in a way that Scully never was on X-Files), I wish they could have just increased Astrid’s role instead.

I think it makes sense logistically that women on TV tend to date people who they work with. I think it comes down to A) the short amount of time they have each week, B) the ability to fit the romantic interest into the storyline (it’s much more seamless when it’s a fellow co-star, their scenes together don’t take away from the procedural part), and C) the viewer is more invested when 2 regular characters are hooking up rather than a guest star. People always groan that everyone on Grey’s Anatomy is dating someone else in the hospital, but since that’s where the show takes place, it makes sense. Meredith dating McVet just felt shoehorned in.

On the other hand, I liked seeing Olivia’s family instead of a romantic partner. Women have more to their lives outside of work than dates. Wasn’t there was a scene too, where she had plans with friends that she had to cancel when something at work came up? I’d like to see a few more examples of her having contact with friends.

I’ve often wondered about Walter’s mental illness and the issues you brought up. What I haven’t been able to figure out is, was he mentally ill before the fire and his trip to the mental instutition? When the show first came on, I read it as his time isolated there caused his current mental state. Since they haven’t been too clear about what started the fire that preceded his stay there, I can’t decide how accurate I am. Any thoughts?

I do love this show, possibly more than most other shows on, but the use of Astrid is just this thorn in my side.

I quit Fringe after the first 6 episodes or so, but I keep hearing it got really good, so I’m considering revisiting it.

I don’t remember the specifics, but I remember there was an episode that upset me in which Walter knocked Astrid out in order to… do something, I don’t remember. But I do remember his “apology” being completely inadequate for how terrifying that would be, especially as a woman of color. She’s a person, not a prop!

I think Walter deliberately tries not to remember Astrid’s name because Walter was fond of the lab assistant that died in the lab explosion, and caused Walter’s psychotic break. By not remembering her name, he’s subconsciously distancing himself from her in case something happens to her that may be his fault.

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