The series follows the exploits of a small group of people who comprise the FBI's Fringe division - investigating strange events which normal methods cannot explain. In this way it's a little like The X-Files in it's set up, but it takes a completely different direction to that show.
Fringe is headed by Agent Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick), a no-nonsense officer who acts very much as the voice of reason. He is often seen striding with the others to the scene of the event, explaining everything they need to know. In this respect, he's a little like the caricature which Sergeant Asap portrays in the Touch of Cloth comedy crime series. Then there's Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv). Blonde, beautiful, but haunted by her past (and so she should be, as we discover). She's the perfect, logical, FBI agent looking into these strange happenings. Helping her, and in many ways the mastermind behind Fringe, is Walter Bishop (John Noble). Old, bumbling, forgetful, and with a penchant for red liquorish sticks, Walter knows all the science and the tech and pulls random things from his fragmented memory which helps them to understand what is happening. Walter's assistant is Astrid Farnsworth (Jassica Nicole), a sassy girl, who passes him his test tubes and generally dotes on him. Completing the Fringe 'family' is Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), Walter's son, a fairly serious young man, who helps out with the investigations.
|The Fringe team. L to R: Astrid, Walter, Peter, Olivia,|
So as the series starts, and with Seasons One and Two, each episode, the Fringe division investigate some strange happening: all the passengers on a plane have been infected with some flesh-dissolving toxin; a baby born fully developed and then aged to death in a matter of minutes; a man able to channel electrical energy; genetically engineered parasites; all are fair game for the Fringe team. All this strange activity seems centred around a lake, and there is a 'pattern' to what is taking place. This also seems to lead back to a massive conglomerate company called Massive Dynamic, and the CEO there is Nina Sharp (Blair Brown).
These investigations also often seem to point back to Walter's past, and the things he can't remember - he spent a long time in an institution as he was deemed insane, but then Peter rescued him. And this starts to form the backstory. It seems that Walter was working with another man, William Bell (Leonard Nimoy), and that Billy might still be out there ...
This basic idea forms the backbone of most of the seasons. But at the end of the first season, we learn that there is more to all this than meets the eye. There is an alternate and parallel dimension, with equivalents of the Fringe team living there ... in fact it's an almost duplicate of our dimension (but they have airships and a gold Statue of Liberty!). But sometimes the dimensions can touch, and bleed through, and this accounts for several of the Fringe events. But there's more than this ... it is revealed that Peter is actually from the parallel dimension, and that Walter, having lost his own son, arranged to travel between dimensions to steal Peter away.
Series Four starts when the Observers decide that to get time back on track, they have to remove Peter from existence, so they do this, but Peter is too strong, and keeps bleeding through. Thus Season Four is a confused mess ... the Fringe Team don't remember Peter at all, and as time has been reset, some of the Fringe events and characters which we had previously seen and dealt with reoccur ... Peter comes back properly and Olivia regains her memory.
|L to R: Broyles, Nina, Peter, Olivia, Walter, Astrid|
But there are issues with all of this. The Observers could time travel and appear at any time, so why do they have a base in a fixed time, and why do they want to take over anyway? (It says on Wikipedia: Numerous Observers from the 27th century, having made the Earth uninhabitable in their own time, travelled through time to take over the Earth from humanity, instituting a Purge to kill off a large fraction.) Battles with them would be pointless as they could just step back ten minutes and disable any plans that humanity tries against them ... but all this seems to be forgotten. Also, Peter gets an Observer chip and puts it in his neck ... not sure why, but the implication is that he is becoming like them - he can move fast, and loses his emotions and hair ... but part way through Season Five this is forgotten about and never mentioned again ...
|The two Olivias, both played by Anna Torv|
|Peter, Astrid and Etta beside the Amber which held|
the Fringe team.
Overall, I'm very glad we spent the time to visit with the Fringe team. The show is original and fast paced as you might expect from J J Abrams, and the acting and scripting is usually first rate. There are some brilliant episodes, and even a partially animated one! The show manages to stay bright and relevant and compelling pretty much all the way through, but as mentioned, it does have its issues, and for Season Three especially, you need a little perseverance to get through the first half! The series is very complex, and it has taken me some time to pen this little piece, trying to ensure I get the facts right, and realising that I missed several elements of the show as we went through!
It feels that after the first three Seasons they started to run out of ideas (but there are so many ideas and concepts in the show - far more than I have mentioned in this quick review - check out the Wikipedia pages for a more detailed summary of the seasons and their themes and backstories) that this must be wrong ... there is a sense of sameness creeps in though, not helped by the characters being taken back and 'reset' at various points both in our and the alternate universe), but kept getting renewed and so had to come up with reasons and plots to keep it all running. The individual episodes of investigation mostly stop around Season Three, and the show becomes all about the characters and backstory, as common with nearly all genre shows, and as I have said in the past, it suffers for it.
If you'd like to see all the different title sequences they used, well here they are ...