“Take me to your leader.”-David Robert Jones
Many highly creative people have themes that they continue to mine over the course of their careers. Tim Burton has his daddy issues. J.J. Abrams’ hero, Steven Spielberg, is obsessed with staying a child forever. Abrams himself is apparently very taken with parallels. Timelines, universes, lives, storylines, sides of a triangle, whatever. He can’t get enough.
He toyed with parallelism thematically in Alias, went full-tilt boogie with it on Lost and set off a bomb in Star Trek so big that it launched a whole new universe. That said, I thought that Lost would go down as the pinnacle of his alt-world storytelling. How could I not? It set a new standard for complex long-form plot structure involving multiple timelines, time travel and pseudo-religious pluralism in a weekly hour-long drama. The only two shows to try even one of those before were Quantum Leap and Dallas.
I was wrong.
It has taken three and a half seasons, but Fringe is showing itself to be the show Abrams wanted to make all along. I don’t know how much day-to-day involvement Abrams has with Fringe (and with his film career, it can’t be too much), but it has his fingerprints all over it. Perhaps after the sprawl Lost sunk into before setting an end date revitalized it, Abrams planned Fringe all the way to the finale from day one. I don’t know, and I don’t care. What I do care about is that Fringe may go down as the only show I will ever watch that has gotten consistently better as it has gone on. It seems almost inevitable that the finale, whenever it comes, will be the finest episode of the series.
Though we saw the return of Jared Harris as David Robert Jones for a moment last week, his full return was this week, and it was worth the wait. Cold, calculating and oh so smug, it’s no wonder Guy Ritchie wanted him for Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows. Now fully revealed as the puppetmaster of the new shapeshifters (of which alt-Broyles appears to be one) he steps out of the darkness and into the spotlight. Particularly good is his interrogation scene with Peter. For the first time, Jones meets someone he should be afraid of, and Harris manages to convey that spasm of fear with the slightest tick around his eyes while never dropping his smooth air of superiority.
Jones’ machinations drive the plot, from his capture and eventual release (via blackmail) to his clever evasion of Fringe Division with the help of alt-Broyles. Meanwhile, Walternate’s wife Elizabeth gets increased screen time as she tries to convince Walter to help Peter return to his own timeline.
The largest pleasure of this episode, however, is in finally seeing all our heroes in one room, united against a common enemy. This was something we thought (and hoped) we might get around the same point last season, but thankfully the writers knew better and put it off for a year. Why is that better? Because every single emotional beat in this episode parallels a corresponding moment that we’ve seen before, going both a few episodes back as well as all the way to the first season. Emotional payoffs that were denied are now granted. Scenes that are familiar play out differently and bring closure to some old wounds.
This may sound similar to the final season of Lost with its alternate timeline where the plane never crashed. The difference is that on Lost the audience was kept in the dark as to how that timeline fit in with all that had come before it. Here there is no such mystery, and as a result we can focus entirely on the characters, their interactions and how every new plot development affects their relationships.
This week’s cliffhanger reveals that Nina Sharp is Jones’ silent partner. Blair Brown has been a small but important cast member this season. With two universes to cover, her screen time has been minimal, but it looks like that’s about to change. The last time we saw her was when she and her goons broke into Olivia’s apartment and pumped Olivia full of drugs. Take that and add in tonight’s revelation that she’s in league with Jones, and it will be difficult to go long stretches of story without bringing her in.
Despite the tap dance by Fox’s Kevin Reilly last week regarding Fringe’s future, it seems inconceivable that the show will continue beyond this season. Judging by this episode, the folks making the show appear to be starting to pay off on the early promise of the show. If the second half of the season is as good as its beginning, the next few months will be a great time to be a Fringe fan.
-“Enemy of My Enemy” was supposed to be the midseason premiere, and last week’s “Back to Where You’ve Never Been” was intended as the fall finale. While both would have served those purposes well, this season’s pacing feels intentionally built for full season binge viewing. While I may occasionally wish things sped up a little here or there, most of my issues stem from Fox’s irregular airing calendar. I’ll bet this season plays like gangbusters watched in a weekend marathon session.
-While Jared Harris is excellent (honestly, there’s really not a bad apple in the bunch), John Noble has been the show’s secret weapon since the pilot. The fact that he has now played FOUR different version of Walter (granted, so are Anna Torv and others, but Noble gets the most screen time and the four Walters have more variations than the other characters) and manages to make them all unique and believable is worth tuning in for all by itself.