Worryingly, I’ve noticed that the slide of US viewers for Fringe has continued downward. If the numbers go much lower, this season might end abruptly, which I don’t really think the production remotely deserves. Part of the problem, I think, is that sending shows on hiatus always robs them of momentum, which was exactly what happened to this show in season one. So that’s Fox’s fault.
But to be honest, some of the issue is also the content of Earthling, which seemed to be treading on territory that Fringe has worn a clearly visible path across.
It starts with the trademark shocking event, this time a romantic gesture falls apart in an unexpected way when the architect of the evening literally turns to dust. As good as this looks, and the effects in this story are superb, we’ve now seen people go solid and explode, become jelly, as well as a dozen other weird ways to expire. I know it’s meant to hook the audience in, but they’ve done this so many times that the viewer is likely to be more curious if they did something entirely different.
This leads the team on a strange hunt for the killer, who, it turns out, isn’t entirely from this planet. I won’t spoil it, because this is actually a perfectly serviceable whodunnit story, which has an odd resolution and even a closing twist. It also bravely tries to create a long overdue backstory for Phillip Broyles, explaining how his marriage failed and why he generally looks so glum. It partly succeeds in that, but I kept feeling that humanising Broyles should have been tackled before now in the greater scheme of things.
Where I wasn’t so pleased was that all of this was an island in terms of the bigger story arc, which, for me, is what keeps me watching the show. A good self-contained story is fine, but Fringe is at its best when dealing with the bigger story. I’m also not entirely sure that adding aliens into the mix is actually helpful, as there are enough odd terrestrial things in the Fringe universe to need them.
I may appear to be having a downer on this episode, but it was fine, really. I just know that Fringe can do better. And it did contain the best line of the season so far, when Walter Bishop utters the classic: ‘”itanium Tetrachloride – you sly temptress!”
I’m not willing to give up on Fringe yet, because when it’s good, it’s great and it’s rarely as abysmal as two other shows I cover for Geek, Dollhouse and FlashForward, can be.
Hopefully, we’ll get back to the greater story arc next week, in a story that is Massive Dynamic focused, I believe.
Read our review of episode 5 here.