Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “Fringe” (Sorta.)

Dear Frank,

So this isn’t the first time I’ve tried to tell you about Fringe — when the show first premiered in 2008, I watched the first couple of episodes with an eye towards filling you in on a regular basis. I even came up with nicknames for the characters, like Agent Cate (because star Anna Torv looks like a poor man’s Cate Blanchett) and Pacey (because Joshua Jackson was on Dawson’s Creek, a show I never watched as a teenager because of its lack of space battles).

But while the show wasn’t awful, the first few episodes also failed to hook me (you’ve seen one misfit FBI team investigate strange phenomena, you’ve seen ’em all) and so not only did I not tell you what happened in it, I stopped watching altogether — an experience, I’ve heard, many other potential fans also shared. (Especially fans unwilling to put their faith in a J.J. Abrams production after Alias and Lost failed to follow through on their narrative promise.)

Here’s the trouble with Fringe, though — once you get past those first six or so first season episodes, Fringe is awesome. I mean, it’s not immediately awesome, but about halfway through the first season it starts getting good, and then it gets better, and then it’s onto full-on awesome, and then its awesomeness quotient increases exponentially until the awesome meter breaks and gets awesome juice everywhere. But you DON’T CARE about the mess. Because of how awesome it is.

I wouldn’t have discovered this, though, if my dad — who pushed through those first few episodes and became a fan — hadn’t (with my permission) spoiled me on a detail from the season one finale. So today, Frank, I’m not going to tell you everything that’s happened in Fringe — I’m just going to tell you enough to make you (hopefully) want to watch it.

See, every great sci-fi show has a central science fiction concept at its core: The X-Files? Aliens. Star Trek? Space travel. Doctor Who? Time travel. Sure, all those shows dabbled with other concepts, but the central premise always came back to that one “What if?”

And the “What If?” of Fringe? Parallel universes. Which, aside from Star Trek‘s occasional excursion into the Goatee-verse, is a concept relatively unexplored by sci-fi television, and Fringe? It GOES TO TOWN.

"Fringe" lacks goatees, but does not lack Leonard Nimoy.

I should probably back up, though, and tell you what the show’s about, huh? Okay, Fringe is about this FBI agent lady, Olivia Dunham, who starts investigating vaguely paranormal incidents occurring around the Boston area. Working with her is a literally mad scientist named Walter Bishop who was an early pioneer of “fringe science” before going crazy, and Walter’s son Peter, who’s nearly as smart as Walter, but less crazy, more streetwise and Joshua Jackson.

Oh, and Frank this won’t be of a lot of interest to you, but Joshua Jackson? OMG I GET THE PACEY THING NOW. Holy smokes, Dawson’s Creek fans, I now retroactively forgive you for those six years of squealing I never quite understood. He twinkles when he smiles! And when he does, it’s naughty.

No. 1 TV Boyfriend. (Courtesy of

Anyway, while the series starts off with a bunch of stand-alone investigating-weird-shit episodes, what Olivia soon learns is that all this weird shit is happening because of damage done to the barrier between her universe and an alternate universe. The first season ends with her being drawn over to the alternate universe to finally meet the enigmatic William Bell — she arrives in his office, turns out William Bell is Leonard Nimoy, William Bell greets her — and then the camera pulls out to reveal that the office is in THE WORLD TRADE CENTER. (Which maybe borders on “too soon” but also is, like, “wow,” and is in general handled with a great deal of sensitivity.)

And from there, it’s back and forth between their world and ours. And here’s how much care and attention to detail is put into building the differences between the two worlds: When the producers decided to decorate an apartment in the alternate universe with some tastefully framed comic book covers, they actually commissioned D.C. Comics to create alternate universe versions of classic comic book covers: The Red Lantern and Red Arrow team up! The Man of Steel Returns! Simply incredible. (This was made easier by Warner Bros., which produces the show, also owning D.C.)


Over the course of season two and three, Frank, we learn an awful lot more about the alternate universe, because not only is it stocked with parallel versions of most of our favorite characters, but it also believes itself to be at war with the WTC-less universe — as only one of the two may be able to survive the damage done.

Oh, and that damage to the boundary between universes? Turns out that’s Walter’s fault. What he did exactly to cause such destruction takes the better part of two seasons to be revealed, but is truly heartbreaking in its entirety. Because this is one of those things I don’t want to spoil, I’ll just say this: It’s incredible, what a father will do for a son.

There’s so much to say about how good this show is — the totally gross and inventive things that happen to victims, Walter’s drug use and obsession with food (which he tends to bring up while looking at totally gross and inventively-killed corpses), the slowly-built romance between Olivia and Peter… Oh, man, and I haven’t even gotten to the spooky bald-headed Watchers and the adorable Agent Farnsworth and Blair Brown’s robot arm or the time when the producers were required to do a musical to help promote Glee and so there’s an episode where Walter gets really high and tells an elaborate fairy tale combining detective noir and Tears for Fears songs… Let’s just say there’s a lot to love.

We’re halfway through season three right now, and it’s just been phenomenal, Frank, thanks to the producers not quickly resolving a major cliffhanger at the end of season two, and instead letting things play out over the course of eight episodes (half of which actually took place entirely in the alternate universe). Of course, now that Fringe is at the top of its game, ratings are down and Fox is moving it to Friday nights in January. And this certainly has the producers worried — the first episode after the holiday break is called “Firefly.”

But it’s just not fair, because it should be watched! Because, Frank, it’s so good! Here, in fact, is how good this show is: One of my least-favorite writer/producers of all time, Akiva Goldsman, is heavily involved with the show. But because of Fringe, though, the impossible has occurred: I HAVE FORGIVEN AKIVA GOLDSMAN FOR BATMAN AND ROBIN.

Wear a sweater if you go to Hell, Frank. It’s frosty down there.

Oh, and watch Fringe.


About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor, and has been talking about television on the Internet since the very beginnings of the Internet. She is currently Senior TV Editor at Collider, and her work has also been published by the New York Times, Vulture, Variety, the AV Club, the Hollywood Reporter, IGN, The Verge, and Thought Catalog. She is also a produced playwright, a host of podcasts, and a repository of "X-Files" trivia.

Posted on December 13, 2010, in Some Spoilers, TV and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

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