Tuesday 12 February 2013



My interest in this Damn Fine Show is 100% attributable to my Fiance. You see, it was because of her interest (actually more like cult fandom) that I eventually got into Fringe myself, and like any other Sci Fi show worth watching, I became hooked. I have a tendency to be far more discriminating with new TV shows (I don't usually give new shows a serious look until the second season) not just because it gives the creative team and cast time to work out all the elements/characters, but because these days new shows pop up as regularly as weeds without the staying power (remember Heroes)

What happened to the days when TV shows lasted as many as 8-10 seasons? Never mind that, what happened to the days when the Fall Season actually started in the fall instead of January or even February? Remember when the only hiatus was in the summer? Times really have changed. Is it that today's viewer lacks the attention span to continue following good shows? Perhaps the average, non Sci Fi viewer doesn't, but lovers of Sci Fi are loyal viewers and will follow good shows right into the Friday Night Death Slot and ache for more despite the inevitable "Final Season" warnings.

The show follows the casework of the Fringe Division (a Joint Federal Task Force supported primarily by the Federal Bureau of Investigation) which includes Agent Olivia Dunham, Dr. Walter Bishop, Peter Bishop (Walter's estranged son) and are supported by Phillip Broyles (the force's director of operations) and Agent Astrid Farnsworth.

The Fringe Division investigates cases relating to fringe science, ranging from transhumanist experiments (an international intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities) gone wrong from the prospect of a destructive technological singularity to a possible collision of two parallel universes.

The Fringe Division's work often intersects with advanced biotechnology developed by a company called Massive Dynamic, founded by Walter's former partner, Dr. William Bell, and run by their common friend, Nina Sharp. The team is also watched silently by a group of bald, pale men who are called "Observers", but we'll get to them soon enough. Let's look at thedriving force behind the characters motivations.

Olivia Dunham
Olivia is a FBI Special Agent assigned to a multi-agency task force of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (the Fringe Division) after her partner and lover, John Scott is exposed to a flesh-dissolving agent. Both Agent Broyles and Nina Sharp consider her to have much potential and talent, (with Nina even hoping to bring her on as an employee of Massive Dynamic)

Olivia was one of a group of preschool-age children who served as subjects of the Cortexiphan experiment in her childhood home of Jacksonville, Florida.  The drug Cortexiphan was developed by William Bell, which supposedly allows children injected with it to retain higher brain functions which would normally deteriorate with age. As a result, Olivia is capable of unspecified psychic abilities (including the ability to discern if an object originated in the alternate dimension due to a "glimmer" that only she could see) as demonstrated when she shuts off a series of lights wired into a bomb as a kill switch simply by thinking it (I did see that episode and found it intriguing but wasn't quite hooked yet)

Close to the end of the first season, Nina Sharp arranged for Olivia to meet William Bell, who at the time resided in another dimension, with his office in the World Trade Center's South Tower (Leonard Nimoy as William Bell? Alternate realities? I'm hooked)

Peter Bishop
Peter Bishop is a jack of all trades who despite his his genius level I.Q. of 190,[and fluency in English, Arabic, Farsi, Latin, Greek, Cantonese, Russian, and Spanish, Peter became a college drop-out with gambling debts and a master con artist.

Peter was born in the alternate universe, to parents Walter Bishop (also known as "Walternate", and his wife Elizabeth Bishop) In 1985, Peter acquired an extremely rare and savage genetic disease. His father, a brilliant scientist (in both universes), worked around-the-clock to save him.
After Walter watched his own son die because of the disease, he would frequently watch the other Peter living in the alternate universe via a "trans-dimensional window", then eventually formulated a compound and opened a doorway into the other universe, with the intentions of saving the other Peter from death.

When the vial containing the compound shattered on his way over to the Other Side, Walter was forced to kidnap Peter bringing him over to the prime-universe to cure and then return him. But, after curing Peter on our side, he and his wife could not find themselves able to return him, so they raised him as their own.

Despite having no memory of the kidnapping, the impression left on his subconscious coupled with the fact Walter experimented on him caused Peter to grow up despising his father, and the feelings remained much the same throughout the first season, until he comes in contact with The Observer known as "September", who appears to read Peter's mind. Following this incident, Peter realizes that "The Pattern" does actually exist, and vows to remain in Boston until he discovers the truth, becoming a civilian consultant for U.S. Department of Homeland Security, in the area of fringe science.

Walter Bishop
Walter and his friend William Bell conducted numerous experiments in the area of fringe science, including developing highly advanced weapons for the Army. At some point during 1970s, Walter and Bell discovered the existence of another universe, through the heightened use of LSD, among other drugs.

They constructed a "trans-dimensional window", a portal which could view the other universe, which was more technologically advanced than our own (in "Peter", the Other Side appears to have already created digital cell phones by the year 1985). They began copying the advanced technologies they saw over there, and sold them to the Army to benefit this world. They spent much time sending objects over to the Other Side, including Bell's car, and discovered that the "multiverse" requires balance. If a car goes over the Other Side, then a car of the same mass must be sent into our universe.

In 1985, the now seven-year-old Peter contracted a rare and savage disease. Walter attempted numerous methods to cure him, ranging from trying to build a time machine to bring a researcher who specialized in these cases from 1930s to the present, to watching his alternate self, dubbed "Walternate", work with advanced medicine to cure his own Peter in the alternate universe, who was also ill. But Walter could not save his son, and he died in his arms.

Walter became consumed with watching Walternate work to save the other Peter (through the trans-dimensional window) Walter discovered that Walternate had formulated the correct cure for his son, but did not notice as he was distracted by The Observer known as September. Knowing that Walternate would not be able to cure the other Peter, Walter created the correct compound and built a doorway into the other universe, with the intentions of curing Peter there, and then to return home.

On the journey to the Other Side, the vial holding the cure was destroyed, forcing Walter to kidnap Peter, cure him back in our universe, but on the way back, they fell through an icy lake, were rescued by September, who warned Walter that Peter could never return to the alternate universe. After he cured Peter, he and Elizabeth could not find themselves able to send Peter back, so they decided to raise him as their own.

Astrid Farnsworth

An FBI Junior Agent who serves as Olivia's assistant  is stationed in the lab with Walter, who can never appear to remember her name, calling everything from "Asterix" to "Astro"). Though her work is mostly clerical, she has a number of skills which come in handy during their cases: cryptanalysis, knowledge of Latin, linguistics (speaks five languages) computer hacking, (the Alternate Universe version of Astrid Farnsworth is autistic and is a computer and statistics specialist, within their Fringe division.

No one (Except Peter) seems to understand Walter's quirkiness better than Astrid. She understands what he's like when in a mood and what it takes to soothe him (if she's able) She's aware of his propensity to experiment with/indulge in hallucinogenics without judging, her function aides in bringing order to Walter's often chaotic methods, helping harmonise his ideas. Despite never seeming to takeWalter's outbursts personally, Astrid's personal life and past were never examined in depth.

Phillip Broyles
Broyles!!! is what I would yell at his first appearance in every show. Like William Adama (BSG) it must be something in the eyes that demands respect. That stone cold look that says I'm in charge, I'm a stickler for the rules (but willing to bend or break if called for) It's the look that says I'm well seasoned in the art of combat and I don't mess around. He'd be the stern uncle keeping the kids in line while the cats (parents) are away.

Broyles is a Homeland Security Special Agent and head of the Fringe division, which was established to investigate a series of unexplained phenomena. While he comes off as professional and by-the-book, he is surprisingly flexible when it comes to dealing with the unusual circumstances of Pattern-related cases.We know he has been involved in the military,was once married to Diane and had children (his obsession with a case broke up his marriage) He initially harbors resentment for Olivia as she was responsible for prosecuting his friend Sanford Harris, but comes to respect Olivia's aptitude. He knows President Obama, who he thinks dislikes him because Broyles beat him at golf. He in the end comes off as the type of commanding officer who will allow a certain latitude with those serving under him due to the knowledge there are very few people with the ability to see what his team has seen and continue to not only keep it together but function harmoniously in the face of the greatest threat to humanity (and there are several)

Nina Sharp
Nina Sharp has run Massive Dynamic as the executive director since William's departure to the parallel world. She has had long personal ties with Walter and romantic interactions with William. One of her forearms is a highly-advanced prosthetic arm, having lost her arm while trying to prevent Walter from crossing over to the parallel universe in 1985. 

Nina is often cryptic and cautious of interacting with the Fringe members; though she will provide Massive Dynamic's services when necessary, she does not always reveal the full truth of the situation making you often wonder who's side she's really on.

Nina arranged for Olivia to be taken to the parallel universe to meet William Bell, while in the season 2 finale, she alerted William to the plan to rescue Peter. After Bell's death, Walter is left in control of Massive Dynamic but chooses to leave the majority of the control day-to-day workings of the company with Nina, and she later becomes his confidant during his despair at having possibly caused the universe to unravel.

William Bell
William Bell (played by Leonard Nimoy) is the founder of Massive Dynamic and the former lab partner and friend of Walter. William is mentioned throughout season one, showing several ties with Walter's past and the study of the parallel world, including participating in the Cortexiphan tests.

Sometime after Walter brought Peter from the parallel universe, William convinced Walter to allow him to remove pieces of his brain and implant them in other patients to keep the knowledge of dimensional travel safe; this process led to Walter's mental instability and institutionalization. The two parted ways, William going on to form Massive Dynamic.

In his first onscreen appearance, William brings Olivia acrossto the paralell world to warn her about the oncoming storm between universes and reveal the identity of the shapeshifter Newton. In the second season finale, he helps Walter and Olivia to evade capture (by Walternate) in the parallel universe, and then assists Walter in preparing equipment for them to return to the prime universe; William and Walter reestablish their friendship when William reminds Walter why he had removed the brain pieces.

When Olivia returns with Peter, Bell is unable to cross over again due to repeated travel (his atoms would split apart and no trace of him would remain in either universe) Because of this, he sacrifices himself to provide the means for Walter, Peter, and Olivia (in actuality, the alternate Olivia) to return to the prime universe. With William now dead in both universes, Walter discovers that William left the whole of Massive Dynamic to him in his will.

The Shapeshifters
The Shapeshifters are inorganic human hybrids from the Alternate universe able to take the form of any person by using a device that plugs into the roof of their mouth and that of the target. This process occurs after the shapeshifter has killed the target prior to the transformation, without the device, the shapeshifter is locked in its current form.

The "First Wave" were created with the aid of William Bell (who had moved to the alternate universe) to infiltrate the Prime Universe and lay the groundwork for a full scale invasion that would result in the destruction of the Prime Universe in favour of saving the alternate. It is believed that Walter's initial actions of creating the doorway between the universes is the cause of the Fringe events causing devastating effects and the precursor to a coming war that would see one of the universes destroyed (with Walternate at the forefront of the efforts to destroy the Prime Universe his son Peter was kidnapped to)

Shapeshifters may be programmed as sleeper agents unaware of their unusual nature until they are activated. Their primary characteristic is the large quantity of mercury in their blood, and the presence of a metallic data disc at the base of their spine making them able to withstand travel between the universes.

The Observers
The Observers are hairless pale men that typically wear grey suits and fedora hats. They are quiet, tending to mind their own business and interact only minimally with others.  They tend to appear before significant events in history (captured in works of art throughout history) using advanced equipment, such as communication devices and compact binoculars, and they employ an alien written alphabet. A distinguishing trait is their diminished emotions and diminished sense of taste (it is often shown that they can only taste very spicy food)

The Observers are able to  travel in time across universes without difficulty and predict future events because of their advanced technology. In "The End of All Things", it is revealed that the group of Observers seen in the first four seasons are a team of scientists from one of humanity's many possible far futures. This group of Observers traveled to their past to observe the events that led to their creation.

The group of Observers seen in the show during the first four seasons had designated code names with each individual referred to as a month of the year: September appears in every episode in the first four seasons, even if only in a cameo shot, while December and others appear with less frequency. One episode a rogue Observer named August sought to try to change the fate of a young woman contrary to the Observers' practice.

September is seen in both universes during the episode "Peter", to cause Walternate to miss a critical observation for the cure for Peter's illness in the parallel universe, and to rescue Walter and Peter after they fell through the ice in the prime one.

A series of events were temporally engineered by September to force Walter to make a choice regarding Peter's safety and to prepare him for a future event. 
After Peter's disappearance in the third season's finale, the Observers remain aware that Peter has vanished, claiming he has been erased from existence.

A later episode reveals that the Observers wreaked environmental havoc on the Earth in the far future then decided to travel back in time to colonize the planet before the environmental destruction occurred. In the year 2015, the Observers invaded from the future, instituting "The Purge" and killing many humans. Although humans continued to resist well into the year 2036, the Observers largely succeeded in conquering the planet and beginning the process to make the earth's more "pure" atmosphere more toxic (paving over Central Park to build an atmospheric processor)
The fifth season focuses on events in this future, where the Observers commanded by Captain Windmark, maintain control on the remaining humans through their own abilities and the assistance of human Loyalists.

A rogue group of humans (the Resistance) fight against the Observers, and have come to learn much about the Observers' abilities, including that many extend from an implant in the back of their neck that expands their mental processing power at the cost of emotions.

September explains that the Observers were born out of an experiment performed by a Norwegian scientist in 2167. The experimenter modified human genes to displace certain emotional facilities for improved mental abilities, and the success of the experiment eventually led to the development of near-emotionless humans with high levels of intelligence that became the Observers. Without emotions, there was no urge to procreate (guess that's why we never saw any female Observers) and thus developed technology to artificially grow new Observers using Observer DNA.

During the growth process, developing Observers were fully matured into adults. Sometimes, the growth process would create genetic anomalies which the Observers would typically destroy.

However, using his own DNA, September intentionally created such an anomaly by stopping the growth process of an Observer while it was still in the child stage. The resulting child Observer possessed both human emotions and Observer-level intelligence. September then hid the child in the past, and the Fringe team later came to call the child "Michael".

In the series finale, December explains that all twelve members of the science team had begun to experience varying degrees of human emotion (one shows a slight appreciation for music) and that they had all agreed to keep these emerging emotions to themselves, in order to remain undetected by the other Observers in the future. They were also unaware that their mission of observation was also a precursor to the invasion that would see the Observers take over in 2015.

Timeline Deviation
On the night Walternate would discover the cure for Peter he was distracted by September (who went to witness the pivotal moment) causing him to miss the indicator. September deemed this event significant to the Observers evolution as it set off the chain of events (the Pattern) that September was told should never have happened beginning with Walter's fracturing of the universes causing a deviation of the timeline and the basis of the show's premise.

Henrietta Bishop
Born in 2012 to Peter and Olivia, she was separated from her parents when "The Purge" began in mid-October, 2015. Her parents spent more than two decades in Amber after they failed to locate her in the aftermath of the invasion, and after their plan to defeat the Observers failed had to be aborted. 

"Etta" becomes a Fringe Division Agent charged with policing the Native population beyond the scope of typical Loyalist Security operations. She is an active member of the Resistance forces that have challenged the oppressors since The Purge. 

She has had an active 'work order' on request with her contacts for sometime and in 2036 it paid off. Her family was discovered in Amber and she was able to retrieve and release them. After a brief period with her family, she was shot in the chest by Captain Windmark in her time distracting him allowing her family to elude capture, becoming a symbol for all to resist and the driving force behind her families efforts to put the plan in motion and defeat the Observers resetting the timeline.

What Made Fringe A Damn Fine Show

Put aside the fact Leonard Nimoy was in it (we didn't actually find out he was the Bell character till the end of the first season)  and consider the fact the series has been described as a hybrid of The X-Files, Altered States, and The Twilight Zone. Week after week the show balanced serious issues with a quirky and often daring humour. It was dark in many of it's concepts and intense with it's makeup and special effects to bring the paranormal to life.

It's Sci Fi made for the post 9-11, war on terror world of the current civilization, ultimately making a statement on the possible dangers relating to genetic engineering and transhumanist experiments in the attempt to improve on nature's work the similar way BSG warns of the perceived danger of applying human thought processes to Artificial Intelligence. 

It had outright monstrous genetic mutations,  human-machine hybrid shape shifters from the parallel universe, episodes that alternate between the two universes, alternate universe characters, universal rips, Amber, alternate timelines, objects merging into shared space, theories of the first people, Destruction through Advancement of Technology, Observers and villains driven by their goal of advancement or self preservation, Fringe, like X files was not for the faint of heart. It wasn't the usual bubbly wubbly humans in space Sci Fi show (excluding BSG) it was real, a little gritty, and very entertaining.

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