Fringe: “Brave New World Part 1” (Episode 4.21)

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“Don’t confuse a winning move with a winning game.” -William Bell

There is a problem that is both inherent and unique to being a watcher of Fringe: at some point you start to not just expect narrative twists that reset the status quo, you come to count on them. This week’s episode brought out the latter impulse in me.

Before Fox granted the show a 13-episode finale season, the creative team went on the record that the finale of the season could function as both a season ender and a series ender if necessary. Halfway through the finale, I have no idea what the hell they were talking about. There is an hour remaining in which to find some redemption, but that doesn’t excuse the numerous glaring problems with the first hour.

First of all, yes, we all love Leonard Nimoy and we enjoy it every time he comes on the show. That said, why would you spend an entire season (let alone four) building up your villain to near mythic status only to demote him to an ineffective lackey during the resolution? I had openly questioned whether David Robert Jones answered to a bigger boss (and, given the show’s repeated trips to the same well, figured it would end up being Bell), but what I hadn’t expected was that they would make this William Bell a grandiose scenery-chewing lunatic. We already had one of those, and his name was David Robert Jones. Seriously, this was like watching all four seasons of The Fugitive and then finding out that the one-armed man was working for Snidely Whiplash the whole time.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the fact that our primary villain, a man known for his elaborate and clever plans, decides that the best way to kill one of the good guys is…to get into a fistfight with a man half his age. Wait, what? You’re telling me that the same Jones that bounces between universes and routinely evades capture by being two steps ahead of the Fringe team came up with this plan? He can bounce enough sunlight off of two satellites to take out a building but not a guy on a rooftop who happens to be right next to the device that is controlling the satellites?

How a show that made its name on intricate plotting got this lazy I will never understand. Did the same creative team that put together the ascendant 2036 episode two weeks ago all get killed in a plane crash or something?

The overarching problem here is, of course, the same thing that lets Fringe dabble in some occasional brilliance, mainly that there simply are no rules anymore. We don’t know who this William Bell is at this point, and there simply isn’t time to run a side by side comparison to the gentle and benevolent Bell that sacrificed himself in the theater a couple of years ago. The end result is some hammy acting (Nimoy’s proximity to Shatner for all those years is finally paying off for him) and a tremendously unsatisfying setup for what could have been the series’ final hour. I’m suddenly very, very glad that there’s going to be 13 more episodes. At least I think I am.

Some Closing Thoughts:

– First sign that something was wrong was the decision to spend half the episode’s running time on a new character with no apparent tie to the story. I’m always happy to see Lost’s Rebecca Mader again, and I’m assuming she’ll be important to the second half, but it hardly justifies taking your time with her scenes and then rushing through the stuff we’ve waited all season to see.

– Alt-Lincoln’s body is barely even cold yet and now you’ve shot Astrid? I’m all for keeping the stakes high, but you have to pick your spots. Right after we finally get some badass Astrid where she kicks some ass and shoots at people? Not the right spot.

– Just guessing here, but is anyone else thinking that the finale will end with our heroes getting trapped in amber alongside Bell? Does that mean that the 2036 episode was meant to be a coda to the show to demonstrate that the fight continues? On a more positive note, would that mean that next season will take place entirely in the future? I would actually be in favor of that except that I don’t think they can afford it under the new plan.

– Along those lines, I’m all for doing a little product placement to pay for the show but not if the absurdly heavy-handed Sprint phone stuff was representative of what is to come. Isn’t it enough that people see your logo on a device that the main characters use? Sigh.