Fringe (S01E01): Pilot

Grade: A

The most-hyped series premiere of the new TV season is upon us, but with months and months of build up was the latest from J.J. “He’s So Hot Right Now” Abrams (And fellow LOST producer Bryan Burk as well as  a handful of others) able to live up to lofty expectations? Yes, yes, and YES.

I still remember watching the pilot for LOST several years back and being pretty underwhelmed. It was good, but not great. The intricacies of the plot and the depth of the characters hadn’t been established in the pilot and it felt like, more or less, a high-budget action movie for the television screen. Obviously it didn’t stay that way, and my interest grew as the show went on.

Fringe’s first hour started at a hundred miles per hour and ended at two hundred, asking enough questions to intrigue me and answering enough not to leave me frustrated, and managed in that timeframe to set the basis for a group of characters I can already see myself getting very much wrapped up in. I don’t know what this show will become, but the pilot of Fringe was one of the best first hours of a show I have seen in some time. The acting was top-notch, the music was as good as a big Hollywood movie, the dialogue was charming, hilarious (Joshua Jackson has a lot of great one-liners), and at times heart-wrenching. Fringe just has a little bit of everything–supsense, mystery, comedy, drama–and I can see this being a major hit for FOX.

The setup for the plot could easily be a standalone movie, yet the premise surrounding this show leaves so much room for this series to have some long legs. It’s really reminding me of a more sophisticated, more character driven X-Files, with that signature J.J. Abrams touch. We can expect plenty of plot twists as this show goes on, I’m sure. I can see this being a case-by-case show, but with a main plot continuing on in the background.

A detailed, SPOILER-FILLED summary of the plot is below the cut.

The first scene could almost be the first scene from Abrams other little show LOST, with a group of people on a plane that is experiencing some, umn, minor technical difficulties. A little electrical storm turns into a creepy skin-melting party (It’s all the rage these days I hear), started by some nervous guy who injected himself with what appeared to be insulin, but was apparently something with a lot more interesting effects.

Cut to  FBI Agent Olivia Dunham and Agent Scott, in the midst of knocking boots in a cheapy looking motel room, because apparently agent on agent action is frowned upon. They talk about their relationship like they’re having affair, with lines like “If he found out…”, but it’s only their superiors they’re referring to. They get calls back-to-back about the incident on the plane, and a quick wardrobe change later and they’re both on the scene. Olivia meets her boss, Phillip Broyles, and they’re instantly best pals. And by best pals I mean they hate each other. Seems Mr. Broyles has some hard feelings toward Agent Dunham over a past case, where she locked up a friend of his. Another wardrobe change into some sexy looking hazmat suits, and we get our first good look at the inside of the plane. And what do we find? Lots o’ skeletons.

Thus begins the frantic rush to find out what the frak (ohh, mixing another show lingo into my review…scandalous!) happened on board the flight. Agent Dunham gets a lead that takes her and secret-lover man to a rental storage facility. Before they to too much actual investigating, Olivia has to let Agent Scott know that when he said he loved her in the hotel room, she wanted to say it back. She’s not good at these things, you see, but he’s made everything change for her. What I’m thinking at the time: Their romance will not end well. I mean, c’mon..first episode. They’ve said they love each other. They can’t stop SMILING when around each other, like guilty little children. /End personal thoughts.

They use their FBI prowess to unlock all the storage containers until they find one that seems a bit unusual somehow. I mean, I guess the computers and cages with rats and other such lab-specimens did seem a little out of the norm. Olivia goes to call in what they’ve found, and while she’s away a man exits from another of the facilities. Agent Scott sees the guy, who happens to look identical to the guy who shot up the not-insulin on the plan, and a dramatic chase scene ensues, which ends with an explosion.

Olivia wakes up with only a minor boo-boo on the head, but it seems Agent Scott wasn’t so fortunate, as the explosion was laced with chemicals and now he’s…turning transulcent. What I’m thinking: I knew it! Happily ever after averted!

This begins Olivia’s frenzied search for clues that might save her beloved, clear-skinned man (Man, Proactiv never cleared up my skin like that…). She does some of that fancy, only-on-tv web searching that yields the name of a man–one Dr. Walter Bishop. This guy performed classified experiments in the 70s in the area of “Fringe Science” (Aha, the name of the show!), but an accident in his lab led to a series of events, which landed him in a mental ward for the past 17 years. Olivia wants to bust in and see the guy, but there are strict orders that only family members are given visitation rights. So, our crafty and desperate Agent Dunham (Is it just me, or does she look kind of like Gwyneth Paltrow…or maybe Cate Blanchett?) tracks down the guys son, Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), in Iraq. She wastes no time in blackmails him into coming back to the states and allowing her to meet with his father, who happens to really be pretty crazy (“Oops, I just peed myself. Just a squirt…”), but also may know what’s going on.

Turns out Dr. Bishop worked on something similar years ago in his lab, but the only one who knew the full details about his experiments was his partner, William Bell. Bell is now the head of a multi-billion dollar corporation called Massive Dynamic. Enter the corporate conspiracy angle, stage left. Dr. Bishop thinks he can get to the bottom of what’s ailing Agent Scott, but he wants his old lab. Only problem is it’s been closed down for years. After throwing a crazy-man hissy fit, he gets his way and they reopen the lab. Oh and they bring him a cow, too, for his research. He comes to the conclusion that he can save the almost-glass-skinned man, but he’d need to know the list of chemicals in the storage facility. That place got to’ up from the flo’ up, though, and the only way to find the list would be to track down the man they were chasing that night. Oh and they only have 24 hours at this point, by the way, until Olivia’s prince charming will be too far gone to save.

What do they do? Oh, you know, just the obvious. Strip Olivia down to her bra and panties, pump her full of homemade LSD (and other various drugs), and put her in a tank filled with yellowish water and salt. According to the Dr. Frankenstein-Bishop, this will allow Olivia’s mind to connect with the comatose Agent Scott. And, in fact, one trippy LSD induced “dream” sequence later, and Olivia has the face of the man, a name, and a location. After chase scene part deux, they catch the creepy looking guy and question him. This guy looks identical to the one on the plane because they were twins, but Bad Twin put his brother under the bus to advance whatever plan he has going. In the interrogation room, Bad Twin doesn’t want to give Agent Dunham anything, though, so Peter sneaks in and tries a different approach. Apparently smashing his fingers with a coffee cup worked much better.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, Oliva pays a visit to Massive Dynamic’s huge office, where white is apparently the color of choice. The head honcho, Mr. Bell, isn’t around, but one of the higher-ups, Nina Sharp, meets with Olivia and gives her some info. 1) Massive Dynamic is a good company because they save lives. They saved her life from cancer. 2) She has a robotic arm, designed by Massive Dynamic. 3) Olivia should be careful if she plans on sticking her nose into the shark tank. 4) She’s a creepy lady with a frakkin’ robotic arm who’s obviously hiding something.

With the list of ingredients in hand and a few bags of Agent Scotts blood, the Dr. and his son begin working to save the man (who is almost see through at this point). While anxiously waiting/pacing the halls of Harvard, where the lab is located, Phillip Broyles finds her and finally acknowledges all the work she’s been doing. He spits out a list of strange occurrences happening around the world and wants her to quite the FBI and join him in investigating them. She gets kind of pissy, refuses, and about that time Agent Scott has been cured and revived. My thoughts at the time: Wait, so they WILL have a happy ending. Something isn’t right here.

Olivia and her man get gooshy, but she eventually peels herself away from him and goes to question Bad Twin. She says he will only get immunity if he gives her more information, so he reveals that he was given orders from someone inside the FBI, someone in her unit. He buried the recording of his talk with the man. Olivia digs through the snowy ground and finds a bag with the tape and jumps into her car to listen to it. Can you guess whose voice is on the other line? Who’s the traitorous double-agent?

If you guesses Agent Scott, advance to the finish line. If not, you must just like happy endings way too much and, unfortunately, this show may not be for you. Right as Olivia is discovering she’s been boned by the enemy (or given her heart to him, if you prefer something less crass), Agent Scott is smothering Bad Twin with a mint green pillow. What a way to go. Agent Dunham chases her ex-lover (I’m taking the liberty of assuming the relationship is SO over) down the highway. The scene ends with his SUV flipping and crashing and killing him. But not before he coraks out a few cryptic lines about her asking herself why she was sent to the storage facility, too (or something along those lines).

Olivia has a good cry–she kind of deserved it by this point–and then decides she wants to pursue the path that Phillip had suggested. And she has her eye on Peter and his crazay dad to help her, and I’m guessing their smiley/amused/i’mnotsure looks in the end suggest that they will all be teaming up to investigate this Fringe Science business.

The last scene is of robot-arm lady taking a peek at Agent Scott’s corpse and asking how long he’s been dead. As Dr. Bishop had mentioned earlier, his research had uncovered that you could link minds with even the dead, as long as they had been dead under six hours. Agent Scott’s only been deceased for five. Nina smiles and says “Good, interrogate him”.

Oh yeah, I’m even giving Fringe points for how it uses the scene change text. While most shows display a bland line or two explaining “We’re “insert place here”. Its “insert time here”, Fringe displays dynamic, 3D letters that seem to be part of the scene. Sure, it’s a minor touch, but it works and I like it.

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One Response to “Fringe (S01E01): Pilot”

  1. […] appears that my love for Fringe’s Pilot was not shared by the majority of television viewing America, but as this show finds its Stride […]

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