Friday, September 25, 2009

Spooky, With a Side of Icky

Fringe: Night of Desirable Objects
Season 2, Episode 2

This is actually more of what the series needs. The biggest problem with a lot of mythology-heavy programs is finding the right balance between carrying on with your "Big Plan" and taking adequate breaks to just explore the world your characters inhabit. To bring The X-Files into it yet again, you need to pace out your conspiracy with some cool Monsters of the Week. And where this show struggled through most of the first season was having a "monster" that didn't tie back to Walter or Bell's research. If this is supposed to be a world where the impossible happens, it can't all tie back to these two guys working in a Harvard basement. But at the same time you can't ignore the audience's burning questions (see Lost - The Hatch for all necessary examples) particularity after a summer-long hiatus.

This week's episode tries to break away from the Bishop/Bell brand of fringe science, but at the same time move the story along in the mystery of what happened to Olivia on her summer vacation on Earth-2. So how does all of this story-telling balance out?

Fairly well, actually. As far as monsters go, the Super-Mutant-Baby that looks more Grant Morrison Mutant than Jack Kirby Mutuant is executed well enough. In general they keep him hidden underground, following the Jaws approach that everything is scarier when it's out of sight if your director is executing the scenes well enough. But when they do finally show this week's monster, it holds up under visual inspection. I'd say its a great job by the effects department, certainly a big step above the alligator-ish monster from late last season.

More than anything else I was just so jazzed to have all the characters discover what was going on along with me. The loop of scenes last year where everybody was freaked out until Walter popped up and tremembered the base experiment that he and/or Bell did wore out pretty thoroughly. But to have him in a situation where he is confused and uncovering something he didn't imagine (Peter telling him the woman with Lupus did give birth) is kind of a rare treat. His enthusiasm is generally enjoyable and given that he can separate the idea of it murdering people it lacks the dark reality that Peter or Olivia would approach the situation with. He's just amazed someone did it.

Speaking of Peter and Olivia, the highlight of the episode by far is their final exploration of the house and confrontation with the Super-Mutant-Baby. Where the story dragged noticeably until the coffins of the woman and S-M-B were pulled up, this sequence near the end stole the show. The entire scene is directed by Brad Anderson (the man behind the camera for "The Cost" one of my favorite episodes of The Wire), who manages to overcome the rather forced setting of the S-M-B's tunnels. At times he pulls out a little too much so we can see things, which isn't as impressive as the claustrophobic approach I would have expected.

The big problem this week is keeping all those stories moving at the same time. As nice as it is that they are having Olivia suffer side-effects/super-powers from her trip and using that to further her resolve to remember things, I found myself missing the heavy dose of Walter and Peter interactions we got in the premiere. A lot of it is that they are both just far more interesting characters than the rather straight-laced Olivia.

Her questioning of her recent history is far more enjoyable when Fake Face Charlie is around and doing his sneaky act. So far, in a real limited amount of screen time, Acevedo's done a great job playing a completely different person impersonating the role he played last year. And his vague and discomforting instructions from the magic typewriter instantly make every scene with Olivia more interesting given the added information that we as the audience have about FFC. The one ball that kind off falls to the ground in all of this week's juggling is our latest addition, Agent Jessup, who has virtually nothing to do and shares hardly any screen time with anyone else of consequence. As much as I enjoy Acevedo's performance, until he is revealed, we're going to keep seeing Jessup pushed into the background. At this point I'm wishing they hadn't even bothered to introduce her until later in the year. Everything she brought to the table structurally so far could have been done by Charlie or FFC. Bringing her out early is doing FAR more harm than good.

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