Until the Last Word, Part 8 ~ Misunderstandings


Fringe started as a very good show and it quickly became exceptional. It's a far-reaching story that remains grounded in people and relationships, that is constantly changing in surprising and emotional ways, and that needs time to explore all its dark and surprising corners. But there are those who don't really give it a chance.

At one point I was looking for some reviews, and I came across a reviewer that dropped Fringe after the pilot. Three years later they wondered if they should have and asked readers which episodes would get them up to speed. Just eight from season one, if you must know. They were also told to watch the first episode of the next season and then skip to "Jacksonville" and go from there. This is the wrong attitude to bring into the show. All episodes of the first season should be watched, not just because important plot points may be missed, but for the beautiful interactions and character development that Fringe does exceedingly well. 

I could not ignore the points that were made:

1 Olivia is a blank slate. According to the reviewer, Olivia didn't have much of a personality and cases were always solved conveniently. First off, Olivia is a damaged character who needs time to warm up to new people. She is also an FBI agent, so being emotional all the time would be a bit unprofessional, but she does display emotion. She broke down in the very first episode after her perception of reality was changed and her life ripped apart.

2 No chemistry between Peter and Olivia. Why should these two who barely know each other, neither one open or trusting, have a instant connection? And, actually, they kind of did. They were a treat to watch throughout the pilot, and I remember Peter looking concerned for Olivia at the end. One of the many things Fringe is expert in is the depiction Of Human Action (yay for working in an episode title) and feelings.

3 Peter didn't have enough to do. Yeah, this criticism again. They got the impression that Peter was more like window dressing. Watching only eight non-consecutive episodes will do that to you. Peter is a much more fleshed out character by now. His development has been completely believable and natural. Everyone is important. Everyone has a reason to be there.

4 Repetitive. Where they got this I have no idea. It's never felt repetitive. Even though it started as a procedural, it soon evolved into so much more. Of course they had a case to investigate every week, but it was not solely for the sake of investigation. If there were no cases there would have been no reason for this team to get together, no reason for son to see father again, no reason for the star-crossed Peter and Olivia to meet, no world-devastating events to stop. 

5 Cases solved conveniently. It seems they failed to realize that though cases are solved by the end of the episode, each episode doesn't have a set time frame and elements of the episode more often than not will matter down the road. The convenience comes from the fact that cases are personally tied to the characters instead of being totally unrelated, which they seemed to have no clue about. It was not a design of convenience, but a pattern of a larger mystery.

6 Story lines were dropped. Were they? I don't remember. That's because any of the major ones they pick up again later, unless they don't really matter anymore. Part of the reason for that is the story shifts and what once was important may not continue to be. The other part is there's only a certain amount of time in television, and the relationships are more important than follow up about something that may still be brought back later on.

One thing they got right, though, was that John Noble has range and his scenes with Jackson are enjoyable.

I'm not saying they were picking on Fringe. It's just that the grading system made no sense to me for someone professing to love television. It's very strictly objective, seeming to take feelings (the most important part of Fringe) completely out of the equation. Great shows like The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Homeland, Friends, and Parks & Recreation all were unable to crack an average of 70 out of 100. Some individual episodes fared better, but not usually by much. Points would be taken off for things that didn't meet the standard, like repetitiveness or plot holes, so nothing would ever get the highest score, because nothing is ever objectively perfect. Unpredictable, original, and emotional were requirements for getting the higher scores. If they'd kept with Fringe then they'd realize all of these things were a regular occurrence.

It was a good show from the pilot and kept me interested until the shocking cliffhanger finale, and it soon after became unmissable. There is great fun in going back to the first season to see all the hints of what was to come, not all of it intentional as pieces changed in importance when the writers had new ideas. Every episode is different and adds something more to the mythology, reveals something more of the mystery. There are no static characters or a set way of doing things. By the end of the first season we were riveted to the edges of our seats. It was never stuck, unable to figure out where it wanted to go. The writing seemed effortless. It felt like more than a show, like the characters were real in a living, breathing world, and it never broke that illusion.

I feel sorry that the reviewer missed this scene, one of the most beautiful in the entire series. As always, don't watch unless you have caught up. This is from season 4, episode 16, "Nothing as it Seems."

It's unfair to review random episodes of a show you apparently know nothing about, especially when those episodes are from the first season and it's already had more than three years to develop characters, relationships, and story. This would turn off potential viewers, who will wonder why they didn't just try it for themselves long ago if they one day happen to catch Fringe on Science Channel, Netflix, or at a friend's house, as so many brand-new fans recently have been saying. The reviewer certainly has a right to their opinion, but without seeing all or at least most of it, instead of less than half of one season, they can't really understand it, see how the characters are changing, feel the moments between them, or realize that something far bigger is about to be revealed.

For this reason, I don't give reviews for fledgling series too much weight. I appreciate them saving me time when ads for a new show are interesting but don't really make clear the quality. But when somebody grades a show like Fringe, one with huge potential that is obviously keeping something back, I get quite annoyed. I'm glad I let an opinion be just that and try things for myself instead of taking any one reviewer's word for it.

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