Friday, April 23, 2010

Film on TV: Fringe's "Man from the Other Side"

Last night’s episode of FRINGE, titled “The Man from the Other Side”, was one of the most important and singularly impactful episodes we’ve seen in a series now fully developed and comfortable in it’s bizarre but engaging serialized existence. It was powerful. It was peculiar. And it was damn near perfectly FRINGE. But I can’t help but feeling they missed their mark by just a little bit…

***SPOILER ALERT – if you haven’t seen the most recent episode of FRINGE, read no further***

“The Man from the Other Side” referred to several vital characters in the FRINGE mythology, and the episode dealt with them all appropriately. We were reintroduced to Thomas Jerome Newton (Sebastian Roche), a manipulative, calculating and certainly capable ambassador for “the other side”…and theoretically for the war they will bring. When last we saw Newton he brutally tortured the resident mad scientist, Walter (John Noble), psychologically invading his mind, then leaving him on the verge of death in order to assault Olivia (Anna Torv) with a “capture me or save Walter” ultimatum. She, of course, chose Walter, and Newton was in the wind.

In “Other Side” we were given the ramifications of her decision, as well as the results of Newton’s psychological invasion – Newton’s ability to bring some “thing” over from the other side. Or, more importantly, some “one”. This would be the second “Man from the Other Side”, a mysterious figure known only to us as The Secretary. Of what? The forces behind the coming war? Or possibly of that alternate reality’s own Fringe Division, working against said coming war? Probably not, but it's fun to theorize.

As we're given only blurred or obstructed vision of this man, we were meant to also theorize who he might be. Could he be Spock, aka Dr. William Bell? Or could it be the alternate version of Walter himself? And could this then impact the story arch of the most important “Man from the Other Side”?

Indeed, this was the episode we’ve been waiting all season for – the episode in which Peter (Joshua Jackson) finally discovered his “father’s” (possibly) deepest, darkest secret. “I’m not from here, am I” Peter coolly asked the man who’d kidnapped him from the alternative reality and claimed him as his own. It was a pinnacle moment, and FRINGE was bold in its narrative decision to have Peter realize it on his own, robbing Walter of his opportunity to settle his soul through confession.

And it was a delicate moment, resulting in one of FRINGE’s very best scenes, masterfully performed by men who’ve emerged as two of televisions most interesting and reliable performers (Noble and Jackson were absolutely swimming in gravitas). But to me it also felt a little…empty. And somehow, impossibly, anticlimactic.

As I said, this was the moment we’ve been building to, and the choice to allow Peter the discovery was a wise one. But the manner in which the realization occurred – in an instant on a bridge in the middle of electrical and sonic mayhem – and then delivered to us, felt slapdash and poorly paced. One minute Peter has no idea who he really is. Hints had been dropped (“Why do you know so much about this, Oliva?” “Why are you acting so weird around me, Walter?”) but ultimately Peter seemed to base his entire decision on the fact that “FBI Guy” from THIS world imploded, and he, Peter, survived. And how long did he have to come to this decision, to analyze all the alternative possibilities to this latest in a series of bizarre and infinitely twisty occurrences? None. Zero. Zilch. Or, to be factually accurate, a split second before blacking out, followed by a day and a half in a coma, during which one could theorize his mind worked its way to this conclusion…but if that’s the case then we, the audience, were robbed of that process. And in actuality, we were.

Peter’s a smart dude. It’s not implausible that he put this all together. It made for a great scene and an interesting new scenario (by episode’s end it’s Peter who’s now in the wind, possibly reverting to his old, understandably “lost soul” self). It also sets up – depending on who you think The Secretary is – a potentially interesting personal battle within Peter. If The Secretary is his “real” father, should Peter then side with him and the world where he DOES belong? Or would he stand with his adopted world, and his Fringe family, the only family his adult life has ever known?

Speaking of The Secretary, his presence as the show ticked to a close was the episode’s second “rushed over” element. From what we saw, the Bishop Boys successfully prevented Newton’s crossover plan. And yet, here he is, identity hidden and recovering in one of FRINGE’s infinite secret lab locations. I guess we can accept that he made it and we just didn’t see. But I’d rather not have to settle for “I guess”.

Flaws aside, this was a huge episode, and following last week’s great Peter Weller-fueled time travel piece, it’s clear the show has found its stride, clicking its neato-cool and emotionally raw wavelengths into alliance.

FRINGE is an interesting show that makes interesting choices, and it’s going places.

1 comment:

JMoCrow said...

Great insights! I actually didn't have any issues with the way that Peter figured it out, but I think they were kind of lazy about it. If they were going to go that way, shouldn't EVERYTHING on the bridge from this world have imploded when the portion of the other world crashed in on the space that it was taking over? This would have also included the equipment, the SUV, and the bridge on which Peter was standing. Right? Seems like for such a smart show, they could have figured out a better way to have this huge moment.


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