Culture > Television
Ben Mark Holzberg/FOX

A world apart

Television | Fringe has all the strangeness of a J.J. Abrams series

Issue: "Northern light," Sept. 20, 2008

You know you're watching a J. J. Abrams show when you have no idea what's happening but you're having a wonderful time. It's been four years since Abrams premiered Lost, but his flagship disasters still involve airplanes, his deaths still have expiration dates, and his favorite word is still "Gotcha!"

With Lost, though, Abrams has a group of people on an island experiencing the unexplained, brought together by a unifying force. In Fringe, as the name implies, Abrams has everyday characters like stalwart FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) tentatively venturing out to the edges of human experience, or, sometimes, being dragged there.

The case that starts the series off is a frightening one: Onboard a passenger jet, a man injects himself with some kind of devouring disease that quickly spreads through the passengers, killing them and crashing the plane (this is a pretty violent show, about on the level of a PG-13 film). Olivia and her lover/partner John (Mark Valley) are called in, and from there, things start to get weird.

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Pretty soon, John seems gone from the picture, Olivia is left with a host of unanswered questions, and the man most capable of helping her (very much against the wishes of her CO) is Peter (Joshua Jackson) a bitter, sarcastic doctor who must mediate between Olivia and Walter Bishop, his crazy scientist dad (John Noble, who displayed his crazy chops with Denethor in The Lord of the Rings). Walter's demands are odd-blood samples, medical equipment, cows-but his findings are even odder.

The trail leads Olivia to Nina Sharp (Blair Brown), underboss of a corporate behemoth that may or may not be responsible for the plane crash and other assorted disasters called "The Pattern" by Olivia's unhelpful CO (Lance Reddick).

In what may be the show's most telling moment, Nina peels back the skin from her right hand, revealing a mechanical skeleton and musculature that would shame the Terminator. In the same way, Abrams seems to say, there's a world underneath this one-a world we may not even want to understand.


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