Monday, 24 January 2011

'FRINGE' 3.10 - "The Firefly"

Monday, 24 January 2011

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 curious thing about this episode is that its storyline was, ultimately, a rather tenuous test for Walter Bishop, but that didn't seem to matter. There's an argument to be had that "The Firefly" was a thin excuse to have fun with The Observer, and potentially hook any Friday newcomers by promoting the character's freakishness and super-powers (snatching bullets in mid-air during a bank robbery, starting cars with a simple touch), and I wouldn't argue against that too strongly. In many ways this was a simple lark, well told, but it also did a great job making us realize the extent of the damage Walter's caused when he crossed to the other dimension in 1985 to kidnap the alternate-Peter.

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.

My opinion is split on the guest-star appearance of Christopher Lloyd, which obviously meant this episode had Dr Emmett Brown interacting with Dr Walter Bishop, which probably caused a few fanboys to jizz their pants. Lloyd was good throughout, turning marvelous in a key scene where he recounted the tragedy of his son's death 25 years ago, and we realized he lost a son so Walter could have his. I think Lloyd did a great job with such a thin character. To create some added fun, they made Rosco the former keyboard player of a band Walter used to adore, but beyond a few moments of hero worship and bonding over strawberry ice cream, the idea didn't really take flight.

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