Monday, 18 April 2011

'FRINGE' 3.19 - "Lysergic Acid Diethylamide"

Monday, 18 April 2011

This has to be one of craziest episodes Fringe has ever produced, and that's saying something for this show! "Lysergic Acid Diethylamide" (hereafter "LSD") was a bizarre cocktail of Inception and The Matrix, partly told in an animated style akin to Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly. The storyline itself was very simple and didn't deserve this kind of expensive attention, although a part of me's happy there's a mainstream TV show prepared to take creative risks -- reminding me of how The X Files used to deliver episodes built around gimmicks (monochrome horror homage "The Post-Modern Prometheus", the uninterrupted takes of Rope-esque "Triangle".) Unfortunately, those episodes told compelling stories in their own right, whereas "LSD" was just an hour of weird, often distracting, nonsense. Perhaps that was intentional, given the drug taking...

The crux of "LSD" was a race-against-time to find Olivia's (Anna Torv) cowed psyche, before the inhabiting soul of William Bell took up permanent residence in her mind. This mission entailed Walter (John Noble), "Bellivia" and Peter (Joshua Jackson) dosing themselves with LSD and entering Olivia's mind to find Olivia's consciousness, with plenty of winks and nods to the movies Inception (a dream-logic New York where citizens are dangerous figments of a subconscious) and The Matrix (Peter wore a long black coat and chose to wear Neo-like shades.) The biggest indulgence came when they finally discovered Bell's own psyche, holed up in the World Trade Center, which had taken the form of a cartoon. Indeed, the bulk of the episode thus transformed into full-blown animation, allowing the show to deliver a few stunts it would otherwise be too expensive to produce in live-action (like an escape from, uh, zombies using an airship), and to get Leonard Nimoy involved in the show by voicing Bell's caricature.

As a playful exercise in giving audiences something unexpected and fun, "LSD" was a success. I certainly didn't expect the show to produce a credible animated special under the constraints of network television (how long has this episode been in production?), but when you take away the nifty presentation this episode wasn't anything very special. In fact, it was a disappointing conclusion of William Bell's storyline that didn't even give him a final scene to match his live-action "death" in season 3's finale.

And in considering Bell's return to the world of Fringe, you have to wonder what the ultimate point of it all was. Walter has been tormented by a fear he's singularly incapable of solving the issue with Walternate's "Doomsday Machine" all year, but when his prayers were answered with the spiritual return of "Belly", the old friends barely even discussed this threat to reality. Instead, the arc was dominated with a need to immediately get rid of Bell to save Olivia! The whole storyline felt like a triviality at the end of the day, and "LSD" didn't contain anything to make it feel retrospectively worthwhile. It was intermittently very funny -- especially with Broyles (Lance Reddick) tripping out on LSD in the lab, slack-jawed and whistling at an imaginary Disney-esque birdie -- and contained some entertaining visuals and creative risks. But remove the gimmickry and you're left with a hollow story, and a weak second-death for William Bell.

A memorable episode, but only visually, as there was very little to get stuck into emotionally and intellectually. Frankly, it was an anti-climactic resolution of Bell's story that confirmed the idea of his beyond-the-grave return was a wasted opportunity. Hopefully the remainder of season 3 will return to the issues with the alternate universe that were so rudely interrupted by Bell's pointless encore.


  • I liked the moment when Peter saw Nina's (Blair Brown) robotic arm, which came as a surprise to him. If memory serves me, Peter is unaware of Nina's prosthesis in the real world, so perhaps assumes this was just a quirk of Olivia's mindscape?
  • Who is the strange man in the airship who attacked them, later identified by Olivia only as someone she believes is going to kill her? Any theories?
written by J.H Wyman & Jeff Pinkner (story by Jeff Pinkner, J.H Wyman & Akiva Goldsman) / directed by Joe Chappelle / 15 April 2011 / Fox