Wednesday, 17 November 2010

'FRINGE' 3.6 - "6955 kHz"

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The first disappointment of season 3, but still not half bad. I think the big problem with "6955 khZ" is that its ingredients have been overused and the premise reminded you of too many older episodes. Fortunately, writers Robert Chiappetta and Glen Whitman worked in some good character moments, and delivered a significant chunk of fresh mythology to chew on. If we had to endure a pedestrian case-of-the-week like this, at least it took the time to deepen the show's roots.

Events began with various people around the world joining an online chat room to discuss a strange transmission on the 6955 khZ frequency, which appears to be a list of numbers spoken in different languages. Minutes into the creepy broadcast, everyone suffers retrograde amnesia, forgetting everything about their lives, which draws the attention of Fringe Division. Walter (John Noble) devised a way to examine the recorded broadcast's content without actually listening to it, and so began an investigation into who's transmitting these digits, what the numbers mean, and why someone piggybacked a signal onto the transmission that causes widespread amnesia to its audience.

I enjoyed the fact this episode was based on a genuine oddity; so-called "numbers stations", that in reality are popularly believed to be coded messages for international spies. It gave the story a sense of credibility in some ways. The X Files more commonly based plots on real instances of strangeness and urban myths, whereas Fringe usually takes basic tenets of sci-fi and carves its own path, so it was fun to see Fringe tackle something with added substance. I'm sure a few people will be intrigued enough to grab an old ham radio from their attic, and try to find a "numbers station" on the dial. That's a great way to spend an evening -- right?

The problem I had with "6955 khZ" is simple: the story unfolded in a very familiar way, using ideas that felt recycled. Once again, innocent people were being harmed by hi-tech means; the work of a villain who has his reasons for protecting information they were getting close to understanding. Said bad guy was again a shapeshifter from "the other side", also in cahoots with "Fauxlivia" (Anna Torv), who had to work the case while secretly protecting her colleague's cover. The investigation even led them back to Peter's (Joshua Jackson) eccentric bookshop contact, who once again provided them with a rare volume ("The First People") that had all the answers within its dusty pages. While fun, for established fans it was run-of-the-mill Fringe.

Still, a new expanse of Fringe's mythology was opened up for exploration. "The First People" were a theoretical race of humans that existed before the dinosaurs, who harnessed incredible powers of creation and destruction using something called "the vacuum", before apparently becoming victims of an extinction event. The numbers are later revealed to be a code, giving the coordinates of 33 sites around the world. The nearest of which is excavated and found to contain a piece of the bizarre contraption Walternate is trying to build, and which Walter fears could be used to destroy an entire universe.

Overall, thanks to a final third that suddenly dived into uncharted territory, with the new more mythology for the show, "6955 khZ" was certainly saved from being a totally formulaic episode that riffed on things we've already seen. I also appreciated the bolder hints that Fauxlivia's cover is on shaky ground (she doesn't remember acquaintances she should do, Nina is wondering why she's less direct with Walter), and there was a nice scene between Nina (Blair Brown) and Walter, discussing his fears about Peter researching Walternate's machine and the modern generation's lack of pioneering spirit. A later scene between Fauxlivia and Peter also quietly significant, as Peter outlined his stance on the inter-dimensional war and how he wouldn't destroy one reality to save another. I've always believed the show will resolve things with peace (probably with the two Walter's pooling their talents to repair the other side's damage), and this moment hinted that Fauxlivia might align herself with Peter's way of thinking soon.

A decent episode, certainly worthwhile for the fresh information dumps, but the actual premise and story was a weak engine. What do you think?

  • Okay, my guess is that The Observers are The First People. There, I've said it. Their civilization didn't become extinct, they simply evolved and installed themselves as dimensional guardians. The "vacuum" might perhaps be the space between universes that they now inhabit, or use to power whatever technology they have? I was actually expecting the climactic excavation in New Jersey to unearth one of those mysterious capsules from way back in season 1 -- remember that? That didn't happen, but are those unexplained capsules related to this ancient machine?
  • Why is the ancient machine only to be found on OUR version of Earth? Is it possible we'll learn that our Earth was the first dimension, and this machine was responsible for creating the alternate one back in pre-history? If so, how does Walternate have schematics for its construction on his side? Did he steal them from The Observers, if they are The First People, as I suspect?
  • How can Peter be the missing biological component of a machine that was seemingly constructed and dismantled eons before he was even born?
  • Whatever happened to Olivia's bowling alley guru? Is he out of the picture now? I'm guessing he'd know Olivia isn't who she says she is.
  • I wonder if little Ella has mentioned her aunt Olivia's strange, interrupted phone call on her birthday last week.
  • That freefall from a high-rise window was really impressive effects work, especially for TV.
WRITERS: Robert Chiappetta & Glen Whitman
DIRECTOR: Joe Chappelle
TRANSMISSION: 16 November 2010, Sky1/HD, 10PM