JJ Abrams’ Fringe episode 11 review

JJ Abrams co-writes the script, as Fringe returns after its mid-season break. Hurray!

Fringe

A minor problem I’ve had with Fringe from the outset is that the threat Olivia and her team are fighting is generally unseen and faceless. This worked within the context of The X-Files, but only with the physical manifestation of the Smoking Man.

The show desperately needs a nemesis that can represent the threat, and the impact of the fight against it.

This story was written by show co-creators J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, together with Jeff Pinkner. But I think the Abrams influence is strong here given how brilliantly he manipulated ‘threat’ in the early seasons of Alias.

The episode, called ‘Bound’, opens with both a Fringe and Abrams signature sequence. From the Fringe side we have the shock icky event, whereas the J.J. influence is a long intro before the credits actually appear, though not as long as one famous Alias episode where they didn’t arrive until at least 15-20 minutes in.

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This preamble is actually necessary, because episode 10 left us with the cliffhanger abduction of Olivia and it’s important to establish what happens to her before unleashing the weird stuff on us.

We find her strapped to a medical trolley, undergoing some experiment where her spinal fluid is sampled. I presume this has something to do with Agent Scott’s memories, but I might be entirely wrong.

She escapes in a very Alias style but not before she catches a glimpse of the distinctive footwear worn by her abductor, double Agent Mitchell Loeb. She doesn’t make this connection until later, but it’s a nicely observed link.

After she escapes she contacts the FBI for backup, but when it arrives they shoot her with a tranquiliser dart – unexpectedly.

The show then starts proper with an epidemiologist dies while lecturing when a giant slug forms inside him and then emerges. There is running and screaming aplenty.

The nemesis for part of this show is the palpably unpleasant Michael Gaston as long time adversary Agent Sanford Harris. He was successfully prosecuted by Agent Dunham for sexual misconduct, which has now been reversed and he’s heading up an Internal Affairs investigation of the Fringe Division. This forms a combustible mix, as everything her and Fringe does comes under unwelcome scrutiny.

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I’m not going to jump through every hoop of this story, but eventually Olivia starts to put the pieces together and then recognises Loeb’s shoes. That leads her to the Loeb house and an exceptionally tense encounter with Samantha Loeb. Actually Olivia arrives to get access to the home, and isn’t expecting her to be there, which starts this scene off on an edgy track. Then simultaneously Charlie has asked Peter Bishop to intercept phone calls to the Loebs, on the basis that it would be illegal for him to do so.

Inside the Loeb home Samantha and Olivia are exchanging pleasantries, while both tries to work out what the threat each represents. Eventually Samantha rings Mitch at work, and Peter overhears her instruction to shoot Olivia, so he then phones her to deliver a warning. There’s a far too short fight which ends with Samantha taking a 9mm round to the forehead. I wanted a real Sydney Bristow vs Allison Doren style bust up, but it never really gets going.

With Mitchell unaware his wife is dead but realising that his cover is blown it’s an opportunity for the Fringe crew to catch the double agent and get some answers. That last bit was enough to convince me this wasn’t going to happen, and I wasn’t disappointed. They catch him okay, but under interrogation Loeb tell them that he saved ‘Olivia’, and she has no idea what she’s done killing Samantha. As usual with Fringe, the meaning behind this is as clear as pre-stressed concrete.

The good bits of this story were the new nemesis, although he didn’t ultimately play much of a part in events, and how it worked effectively against expectations in a number of places. For me there wasn’t enough Walter, but if I had my way it would be renamed the John Noble Show. And, I’m not really sure about the introduction of Olivia’s sister and her daughter, even if I did complain she didn’t have a life as such. I didn’t mention them in the context of the story, because they didn’t actually contribute to the narrative this week other than to appear and set-up living in Olivia’s apartment.

Next week the Fringe team must stop a man with the ability to liquefy the human brain. And no, it isn’t Uwe Boll before you ask.

Check out our review of episode 10 here.

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22 January 2009