Earthling seems to be somewhat of a watershed moment in the Fringe fandom. It’s not that it was a bad episode, per se. (I stand by my 7 out of 10 rating because it did address some earlier problems of the series). However there seems to be more frustration being voiced about this episode than any other. I put this down to 3 things – the hiatus, the flaws in the episode, and the growing fears that Fringe will be canceled due to the recent Nielsen ratings.
Below the jump are my honest opinions on what I think is currently wrong with the show, and the solutions that I believe would help make the show better than ever.
Problems with Fringe
- It’s moving too slowly in telling the overarching stories – that is, the stories we CARE about. It’s not that we need everything now, but too many of the mini arcs seem unimportant and meaningless, whereas last season’s equivalents at least felt more relevant with the possibility that they’d be followed up on.
- Not enough character development. There have been signs of character expansion this season, but only in 2 of the 6 episodes so far. Important characters are getting left by the wayside (Nina, Phillip, Bell, Shape-shifters) and those with potential are all but ignored (Astrid, Amy, Sam). The producers have said that season 2 will be more character driven, but it hasn’t lived up to that so far. We have some seriously fascinating characters in play (including the likes of Nick Lane, the Observer, the many villains locked up in that imaginary FD jail, not to mention all the alters) but we are not exploring the show through them – they are playing second fiddle to the procedural element. We need the characters to remain interesting, to surprise and shock us, and to be relatable so that we can invest in their journeys without having to worry that our investment is a waste of time. No-one cares about Dr. Nayak or Tomas – these are characters we’ll never see again, and there are far too many characters of that ilk taking up valuable screen-time.
- The show is scared of its own mythology. Having created a fantastic world that fans have bought into, the show seems to ready to apologise whenever things get a touch deep or complicated. Case in point, William Bell warns viewers that things have got a bit too ‘myth-heavy’ and so sends Olivia back home and effectively closes the door on serialization for a few episodes – MOMENTUM DEFERRED. Literally. The trouble is, it’s difficult to invest in the world of the show when the show is afraid of its own shadow. Forget the casual viewers, and tend to the world that the fans respond to – a world which needs populating with interwoven stories, a world where each episode should absolutely ‘go for it’, because the way things are going there might not be a tomorrow for Fringe.
I purposefully haven’t mentioned the lack of serialization because at this stage I see it as more of a solution..an opportunity to put things right, if you will. That said, I’m not demanding a serialized show – I just want an awesome show, however it’s done. But I do feel that the time is now right to readdress the balance.
- Scrap the “news cases” procedural/stand-alone format of the show, or at least inverse the ratio and make the show have a much larger serialized format. Allow the stories to overlap into neighboring episodes. Let the characters drive the show instead of the “shock and awe” moments – which are cool, but not cooler than our characters. Embrace the mythology of the show – give us more to get stuck into, and allow us to explore the world of the show by making the stories deeper. Make every episode matter because shows with this much potential don’t come along too often, and I’d hate for the casual ’3 episodes a year’ viewers to catch Fringe on an off-day. Increase the tension in episodes by making the situations and characters believable, however fantastical (the two can go hand in hand). Raise the stakes. Creep us out. Give us a sense of danger. Make us laugh. Let us know what’s happening with ZFT, the Pattern, Cortexiphan, Bell..remember them? Where’s Nick Lane at, remember him? What’s going down with the shape-shifters and the gate between worlds, remember that? Seriously, just thinking about these things reminds me what a cool and exciting show this is underneath the procedural element. Whilst these ‘solutions’ are mixed in with ‘hopes’, I believe that some, if not all, of the above need to happen for the show to realise its potential. I’m confident that these elements will be addressed, but I’m also concerned that by the time they are, no-one will care. We don’t need episode after episode of dense mythology, but how can Olivia fail in her mission to find the shape-shifters leader one episode, and for it not even be mentioned in the next episode? That’s crazy! That’s more unrealistic to me than the very idea of shape-shifting soldiers from another universe, man!
Maybe I’m trying to make Fringe into something it was never intended to be, but as a fan and follower of this show since the very beginning, I just don’t see it as a CSI-type show. Leave CSI for the CSI fans, and let Fringe be influenced by its greatest episodes – the likes of: “Arrival”, “In Which We Meet..”, “Ability”, “Bad Dreams”, “Road Not Taken”, “More Than One”, “New Day”, Momentum”. Notice a pattern?
Now onto Earthling. Not a bad episode. I’m really happy to see Lance Reddick have something more to do than exposition, and we got a golden nugget with the CIA guy at the end (Ala Peter being kidnapped at the end of Dream Logic). But despite that, this episode wasn’t a complete joy to watch. I actually zoned out at one point. This is Fringe, I can’t zone out!
Although I have aired some criticisms in this post, I think they’re constructive. We always try to be honest on this blog, that’s why it was created, so that we could support the show and explore its good and bad points. It just so happens that we think Bad Robot are the best at what they do, and even an average episode of Fringe is better than most things on TV. So I’m fully behind the show. I believe in the creative team, many of whom have helped create some of my favourite shows and productions (FB probably wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for LOST). Serialized or stand-alone I will support the show because I want it to get better and I truly want to see these fascinating stories told to full effect.
So to answer the opening question; Is Fringe in trouble? If it is, I really don’t think it will be for very long. But as always, we’ll keep watching it, and supporting it, and talking about it, and tearing the clues to pieces until we figure it all out. Because aside from LOST, there’s no other show like it on TV.
Ramble over..as you were.
EDIT: Feel free to cast your opinion in the poll if you fancy: