Wednesday, 20 October 2010

'FRINGE' 3.3 - "The Plateau"

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

This third episode had a very interesting challenge; deliver a regular freak-of-the-week episode, but minus mad scientist Walter Bishop (John Noble), whose help solving cases are often the highlight of such stories. "The Plateau" took place in the alternate-Earth, so we had our first good look at how that dimension's Fringe Division tackle these investigations, minus someone like Walter to solve the puzzle at the eleventh hour...

The good news is that episode 3 nailed what it set out to do, which is rather marvelous considering Walter Bishop's character has been the show's crutch in previous years. Already, there's a real sense that Fringe has evolved and improved so it doesn't have to rely on him this season, with Olivia (Anna Torv) suddenly equipped to handle the burden. And it helps that simply spending time in this universe brings its own entertainment value, as throwaway remarks and background sights help paint a picture of a world slightly removed from our own.

This week, Fringe Division investigated a bizarre series of bus-related accidents across the city, that appear to have been the end-result of a chain reaction started from a simple ballpoint pen left at each accident site by a fidgety man called Milo Stanfield (Michael Eklund). It turns out Milo's a super-genius able to calculate probabilities at an extraordinary rate and accuracy, thus enabling him to cause "accidents" from a butterfly effect he instigates. But what made Milo so dangerously intelligent? Why is he killing seemingly random people across town? And how do you stop a man who can predict your next move with extraordinary precision, and seemingly create coincidences?

First and foremost, writers Alison Shapker and Monica Owusu-Breen came up with a fascinating concept in "The Plateau" that, to my mind, is largely original and immediately got imaginative juices flowing as you, ironically, tried to predict the outcome of this story. Canadian actor Eklund also made for a compelling guest star, perfectly capturing the mannerisms of savants and crafting a sympathetic and intriguing "villain" to be stopped.

Torv continued her impressive start to this season, now playing Olivia in the manner of her dimensional counterpart because she's been drugged and implanted with the memories of her duplicate. Walternate even revealed the reason behind this deception to Colonel Broyles (Lance Reddick), which is the study Olivia because she has the genetic ability to withstand the process of traversing realities. Torv certainly looks happier in the role, able to play Olivia as someone more outgoing and sassy, and it was fun to see the dynamic of her colleagues -- from Charlie (Kirk Acevedo), who has his suspicions that Olivia's not all she seems, to the clever Agent Lincoln Lee (Seth Gabel), whose facial burns are healing rapidly now, but it’s a process that only gives him 8 hours away from an isolation tube. This trio is already good fun, so I'm glad Fringe has hit the ground running in that regard, as future investigations in the "other world" have decent characters to play with.

The idea that Olivia can see subconscious projections of Walter and Peter (Joshua Jackson), who even talks to her before planting a kiss on her lips, is a decent way to keep her tethered to the truth of her own identity, and there's a precedent for Olivia seeing visions of this nature after season 1's recurring "ghost" of her dead fiancé, but I hope it doesn't become too much of a crutch for the writers. It's all a little too easy if Olivia has Peter as a "spirit guide" to help her remember who she really is, but maybe the taxi driver from the premiere will return to give her memory a jump-start.

Overall, "The Plateau" was another very confident step forward for this uniquely-structured season, and I liked the parallel between Milo and Walternate as geniuses who don't really fit into the world they live in, so have to focus their brilliance on a destructive path, both pushed along by personal heartache (signified by the toy horse Milo owned before his treatments, and Peter's clothes Walternate has kept since his kidnapping). It wasn't the beautiful masterpiece I believe was possible with this premise, but it ranks as another rock solid installment of a sci-fi drama that appears to have found a rich vein of storytelling in its third year.

WRITER: Alison Shapker & Monica Owusu-Breen
DIRECTOR: Brad Anderson
GUEST CAST: Kirk Acevedo, Michael Eklund, Seth Gabel, Philip Winchester, Ryan McDonald, Kacey Rohl, Malcolm Stewart, Douglas Chapman & Dave Collette
TRANSMISSION: 19 October 2010 – Sky1/HD, 10PM