Back from hiatus, Fringe finds itself in a precarious position, shunted to Fox's Friday night "death slot" with an episode wryly entitled "The Firefly", possibly in salute to Joss Whedon's sci-fi drama that died in the same timeslot in 2002. The good news is this comeback hour managed to slightly improve on its previous episode's rating, so if Fringe manages to maintain that audience its future isn't so bleak.
"The Firefly" was a strong episode marking Fringe's return, taking the form of a puzzle for Walter (John Noble) to solve, set by the ubiquitous inter-dimensional Observer (Michael Cerveris). The brainteaser was set in motion when the bald Observer transported a young man from 1985 to 2010, in order to speak to his aged father Rosco (Christopher Lloyd), an ex-rocker now in a nursing home and grieving the tragic death of his son. However, this miraculous reunion for Rosco is spoiled by the fact he can't remember details of his encounter with his dead son, so he's taken into FBI care to allow Walter (a passionate aficionado of Rosco's band) the opportunity to try and restore his memory.
The existence of another Peter in this reality has caused ripples of change that have altered the course of established future events, exemplified with The Observer's story that Peter existed to catch a firefly in a jar, denying someone else from catching the same insect, and in a butterfly effect something so minor ultimately caused Rosco's son to be killed by a careless driver. And, of course, Walter's not entirely to blame, because The Observer himself interfered in the timeline by saving Walter and Peter from drowning when their car fell into an icy lake. Walter and The Observer are both culprits of this whole sorry mess, which it seems The Observer is trying to put right by preparing Walter for the loss of Peter a second time.
Overall, "The Firefly" was a great episode of limited ambition, helping to crystallize some of Fringe's issues regarding Walter and The Observer's disruption to this dimension and its timeline. Any newcomers will probably have been baffled by most of the events, but they'll hopefully come back for more because of how enjoyable wacky this hour was. It opened with Walter, trousers round his ankles, listening to "Phenomenon" at 2 o'clock in the morning, about to inject himself with a lime green serum. That's the best introduction to this show you could hope for. There was even a brilliant in-joke for Twin Peaks fans, when Walter referenced his friend Dr Jacoby from Washington State, before wearing a pair of Jacoby's red-and-blue-lens spectacles. If the presence of Back To The Future's "Doc" didn't tickle your inner geek, the idea Fringe takes place in the same universe as David Lynch's surreal classic surely will. I'm now hoping Agent Cooper gets assigned to a case with Olivia (Anna Torv).
Another damn fine episode of Fringe in what's shaping up to be a remarkable season of high quality sci-fi, now the show's started to ensure every story impacts the lead character's emotions while testing their mettle. What did you think?
WRITERS: J.H Wyman & Jeff Pinkner
DIRECTOR: Brad Anderson
TRANSMISSION: 21 January 2011, Fox, 9/8c