“Fringe” Season One: The Skip It/Watch It Guide

Hey, want to check out on the complete series? A guide to all five seasons of “Fringe” can be found in “Liz Tells Frank: The Skip It/Watch It Guides,” now available on Amazon!

A few weeks ago, I spent a whole bunch of words telling Frank how great the show Fringe is. But I included this one caveat: The first season is pretty problematic, as it darts between narrative-heavy developments and stand-alone monster episodes almost at random. That might have worked for The X-Files in its day, but screw The X-Files, it’s the 21st century and Chris Carter floats in exile on a surfboard. We can demand more from our TV, is what I’m saying.

So (because I have had at least four friends request it) here is a guide to watching Fringe that should help you avoid the less consequential episodes and focus on the good stuff that relates to the ongoing narrative. I try to add as much guidance as possible when it comes to the Watch It episodes, so that if you’re on the fence about a particular storyline you can use your own judgement. But otherwise, trust in me to steer you around the dull bits.

Fringe Season One: The Skip It/Watch It Guide

1. “Pilot”: Watch it. Yeah, suck it up, you have to watch the pilot. It, y’know, explains who the characters are and what the basic premise of the show is. And it’s got its moments: In the first five minutes, for example, a guy’s jaw falls the fuck off. It is as gross as you might imagine.

2. “The Same Old Story”: Skip it. This episode, right here? This is the problem with Fringe season one — a stand-alone episode that has its moments, but is pretty much just “let’s investigate strange phenomena!” Trust me on this: That’s not why you want to watch Fringe.

3. “The Ghost Network”: Skip it. See above.

4. “The Arrival”: Watch it. Actual shit happens. The first major hints of the Bishop back story come out here, and it leads into…

5. “Power Hungry”: Watch it. Not as key to the show’s mythology, and includes some kinda silly pseudoscience, but it does feature some developments to the narrative. Plus, extra Mark Valley for you Mark Valley fans. (There has to be at least one Mark Valley fan out there.)

6. “The Cure”: Skip it. There are better episodes coming up.

7. “In Which We Meet Mr. Jones”: Watch it. Deeeeeeeeeeefinitely watch it. Introduces the big bad of the season, and the big bad of the season is played by Lane Pryce from Mad Men (not to mention Sherlock Holmes 2‘s Moriarty!) and thus it is awesome.

8. “The Equation”: Watch it. This is one of those Fringe episodes which seems stand alone, but actually proves key to the ongoing narrative. With bonus GretaBritta-from-Community guest appearance!

9. “The Dreamscape”: Skip it, unless you’re one of those aforementioned Mark Valley fans and are super-engaged in Olivia’s relationship with him. Personally, though, I was bored with them by this point.

10. “Safe”: Watch it. More Mr. Jones! Action! Plot twists! Adventure!

Halfway through the season! Let's take a quick break and look at Peter Bishop, shall we? Hi, Peter Bishop! Mmmm, yes. Hi.

11. “Bound”: Watch it. Resolves events from “Safe,” and also introduces Olivia’s sister and niece, who add nice layers to Olivia’s character. For Olivia, you may have noticed by this point, isn’t much for smiling, but Anna Torv is fucking gorgeous when she smiles, and she smiles a lot when her niece is around. So that’s reason enough to watch.

12. “The No-Brainer”: Skip it. Life is short, you know.

13. “The Transformation”: Skip it. Read a book, go for a walk outside. Maybe try your hand at knitting. You never know what you might enjoy until you try it.

14. “Ability”: Watch it. I can’t even explain how much stuff goes down here. Watch it. Pay close attention. Enjoy. This episode is great.

15. “Inner Child”: Watch it. It’s not an amazing episode, but there’s a twist at the end that casts an interesting light on a key aspect of the show’s mythology. Also, there’s a kid involved, so Olivia smiles some more.

16. “Unleashed”: I’m really torn about this one. On the one hand, it’s kind of just a standard monster episode. On the other hand — and this is what fucking kills me about Fringe, for the record — if you skip this episode, there are one or two tiny references that you won’t get in season two and three. It’s also a big Charlie episode, who doesn’t get much attention but is a character worthy of it. Ultimately, you can probably skip it. But if you’re feeling completist, watch it.

17. “Bad Dreams”: Watch it. You learn a lot more about what happened to Olivia during her childhood, and it sets up a character who’ll become very important down the line.

18. “Midnight”: Skip it. The last monster-of-the-week episode of the season, and not a bad one necessarily — there’s even a final twist that adds an interesting detail to the ongoing narrative. But if you wanted to watch MOTW episodes, you wouldn’t be reading this guide, would you? And if you skip it, then that’s one less episode between you and:


20. “There’s More Than One of Everything”: Watch it. Yeah, the last episode ended with a nice SHOCKING TWIST, but then you get to this episode, in which there are like a dozen SHOCKING TWISTS. At least one of which? Will totally break your heart.

“The Road Not Taken” and “There’s More Than One of Everything” are essentially the dawn of Fringe 2.0, a genuinely great series where every episode is important to the narrative on some level. Fringe 2.0 isn’t perfect — every season of every show is going to have its dud episodes — and it’s built on the hard work of season one. But as you can see, you can get through season one while only watching about half of it. (If you’re a Fringe super-fan, by the way, feel free to yell at me in the comments about why I’m wrong about certain episodes.)

There are a few stand-alone episodes in Season 2 that aren’t necessarily essential, by the way, but only one you should skip: Episode 11, “Unearthed,” is a season one episode that was held over from season two for some reason, and thus has absolutely no relevance to the season plotline. Just pretend it doesn’t exist.

Because otherwise, really, Fringe is so worth the effort. This season has slowed down a little bit, its trajectory very narrow at this point, but I really can’t wait to see where it goes.


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 February 9, 2011, in No Spoilers, Skip It/Watch It Guide, TV and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 31 Comments.

  1. Ugh, I wish I’d had this when we were watching the show the first time. I also wish that S3 was already finished and someone could make a guide like this so I wouldn’t have to trudge through the current Storyline of Extreme Boringness. Also — I believe you mean Britta From Community. *g*

    • GAHHHHHHH what a dumb mistake. Thanks for catching, will fix!

      And yeah, I’m a bit concerned about this season at this exact moment — but more alternate universe this week! That is always a good thing.

  2. I pretty much agree with this. I am a HUGE ‘Fringe’ fan, but at the beginning of season 1 I was basically watching on faith that it would get awesome, because I could see it had a lot of potential, but they hadn’t quite figured out the tone of the show (how to balance Serious Things with Walter’s wackiness), so it was boring/painful at times.

    But then things started to come together and ideas were planted and then ‘Ability’ happened and HOLY CRAP the show was off and running. And then in season 2 there was White Tulip. Which DESTROYED me.

  3. Oh my gosh thank you so much for this. I’ve already already watched all of Fringe but I was looking for a list like this to send my friend who wants to watch it and this is exactly what I was looking for.

    Also, awesome blog. Added to my RSS feed.

  4. “There are a few stand-alone episodes in Season 2 that aren’t necessarily essential”

    I think there are more than a few. 😐

    After 14 season-2-episodes, I think I can count the essential ones on one hand.

    • Yeah, you could probably skip about half and have a basic coherent understanding of the show, but there are enough callbacks to past episodes by the end of the season to warrant watching the bulk of them. Totally YMMV, though.

  5. Laurel and I started watching FRINGE last night and we are using this guide! Thanks, Liz Tells Frank!

    Full disclosure: I fell asleep during one episode, just like I used to do when I first tried watching the show when it originally aired.

  6. Thank you so much Liz! As both a Fringe newbie and full time student (without a ton of time on her hands), it’s super helpful to know the less important episodes so I can get caught up ASAP. As usual I have a tendency to find shows in their last season or cancelled….but better late than never. Thanks again and would love guides for the next seasons as well!!

  7. Thank you so much for this!!! When the show is good I really enjoy watching it and I’m excited for the actual storyline to develop, but so many episodes in season 1 have been throw away episodes so far that I was about ready to give up on the show before reading this.

  8. Thank you Liz! I followed your guide yesterday and had a very enjoyable time. Now to tackle season 2.

    But how do I deal with the FEELS! Everyone is so far ahead I feel dumb squeeing about things so old. And Pacey is now Peter in my head. Also, never thought I’d look at Joshua Jackson as hot. So strange.

    Sadly, Tumblr has spoiled me for some of the big reveals but I can’t fault it. Tumblr is the reason I sought it out.

    Are there any really creepy/gory scenes/eps I can skip? I get a bit squicked easily.

    • You’re very welcome, Jessica!

      Personally, I find that people are always happy to squeal about older developments, especially when the most latest developments are SO VERY SAD. So I would just broadcast your feels, and rejoice in knowing you’re not spoiling anyone!

      I adopt a “look away and just listen” policy for a lot of Fringe scenes. It’s served me well. You can usually sense when things are about to go off the rails, and it’s not hard to figure out what’s going to happen.

  9. If you skip The Same Old Story, you miss the formal establishment of the ongoing working relationship between Walter and Peter and the FBI; the episode also gives context to Peter and Olivia’s conversation in The Arrival.

  10. An addeddum to my last comment: TSOS also establishes the ‘Pattern Committee’ and the fact that Broyles and Sharp have a working relationship and are ostensibly on the same page, something that is hinted at in the pilot but not formally established.

  11. PLEASE do it about the other seasons!! Thank you!

  12. Great list! But, where is the list of “season 2, 3 4….”?
    Another thing, i used another list from this website to watch X-Files. Really Love it!

  13. Episode 13 read a book???? Come on! It’s FUNDAMENTAL for the relationship between Olivia and John. You better check out your list and pay more attention.

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