Fringe Episode 103: Ghost Network – My Cranky Review

I reviewed the Fringe Pilot a few posts back.  I was on the fence then, but anticipated sticking with Fox’s “New Hit Series,” for the first season.  Now, I’m not so sure.  Somehow, I managed to completely miss the second episode, but watched about half of it last night on Fringe Television – a pretty impressive website where full episodes are available for viewing without having to dowload a player.  I only watched half because I had just finished watching the third episode, “Ghost Network,” and had really had enough for one night.

This episode opens exactly…and I mean exactly…like an “X-Files” episode.  Same dark lighting, same something-really-spooky-is-about-to-go-down music, same ominous dialogue, same focus on a desperate character haunted by something supernatural, culminating in a big “What just happened?!” moment and then the first commercial break.  That’s not officially a complaint, since it inspired a wonderfully nostalgic feeling and really sucked me in to the episode.  On the other hand, the thought, “This feels just like an ‘X-Files’ episode opening ” repeated in my brain throughout the entire segment.  So, maybe it is a complaint.  In any case, I’ll get to the real complaints in a moment.

See, here’s the thing:  If I’m going to invest myself in a new epic mythology television series (like “LOST” or “X-Files,” both of which I am enormously devoted to), there has to be a…well…a natural process.  It’s like dating.  If the guy shows up in his best suit, bearing a dozen long-stemmed roses and a Cartier watch, it’s not generally a good idea to presume this is what the entire relationship is going to be like.  I mean, you wouldn’t marry that guy based on that first impression, would you?  I hope you wouldn’t.  Your mama raised you better than that, didn’t she?  No, you’d spend time with that guy and get to know him and, if you’re both fortunate, love would grow.  Granted, I fell head over heels for “LOST,” at episode 1 (It had me at “hello”), but that’s just what kept me coming back for more.  And, it never once disappointed.  I mean, not once.  Some might disagree, but I have never experienced a let-down with any episode.

But, if that guy showed up for the first date in his best suit, but still had bits of tissue stuck to shaving nicks on his face and his socks were two different colors, maybe you’d try to overlook that to give the actual person behind the faux pas a chance…but you’d be leery.  And, “Fringe” had me leery from the start.  I’m often turned off when I can see stagecraft.  It is easy to see “Fringe” trying very hard to show us how much it is “just like” its predecessors…trying to convince us that we should put it in the same pantheon and not evaluate it for ourselves.   Did those other two series’ do that?  They didn’t have to.  See where I’m going with this? And, the careful plotting of a mythology in a television series is really starting to get old for me.  As a device to gain a faithful audience from the outset, I think it also has the potential do alienate those who are not blown away by the first few episodes.  You can claim the episodes stand alone for casual viewers until the cows come home, but I’m not sure you can really have it both ways here.  A show like “Fringe” is after the superfan demographic.  And, well, I just don’t think I have enough room in my heart for another series.

Sure, the production values are extremely slick, the characters are all well-cast and engaging, and those symbols (or glyphs) are intriguing. (To see hi-resolution images of each glyph and a brief description, visit the Fringepedia.)  But, when I started to see the tiny little Easter Eggs being logged at Fringe Television here, my brain just short-circuited.  Not again!  It was a great ride with “LOST,” and eagerly anticipate Season 5 and the new nuggets it will bring to my over-active, analytical brain, but how much of this can one really tolerate in one’s diet?  I’m talking about tiny things…like a brief shot of a dusty old car in a dark garage with the logo modified from “MG” to “MD,” referring to “Massive Dynamics,” the big, mysterious corporation.  Come on!  And, I’m still not complaining yet!

Let’s get to the actual episode, because I see I’m ranting just a bit.  Focus, woman!  Focus!  Here are the glyphs that appeared during the breaks in “Ghost Network:”

Episode 103 Glyphs

Episode 103 Glyphs

This episode centered on Roy McCohn, a guy with metal in his blood (put there 20 years previously by Dr. Bishop, who is now receiving transmitted thought over a “spectrum” supposedly unknown to anyone except Dr. Bishop and his old lab buddy “Belly.”  Roy sees things that are about to happen…terrible things…because he’s picking up the intentions of others who have, apparently, discovered this spectrum of thought waves…this ghost network.  I just know the writers wanted to call it a “Psychic Network,” but I think they would have either had to get permission fro Dionne Warwick or given her a guest spot or something.  The opening segment was awesome and the scene that greeted us on the other side of the commercial break was equally so:  a bus full of dead people frozen in place by a silicon-based substance like – as Dr. Bishop put it, “mosquitos in amber.”  Nice.  If they could have kept up that level of eloquence and intrigue for the entire hour, they might have had me.

But, in the very next scene, we’ve got Dr. Bishop and his son Peter sitting in a diner.  When Peter gets up from the table and his cell phone, left on the table, vibrates, the good doctor is mystified by it.  He later says to Peter, “It was moving.  I stopped it.”  Okay, for a guy who’s been locked up in a mental institution for 17 years, I can actually accept that.  But, remember how I complained about how familiar he was with the computers he used in the pilot?  In this episode, he confidently asks to “view axial images,” during an MRI of poor old Roy, even though he lets us know he’s never seen an MRI machine before, and he later makes a reference to satellite television.  These inconsistencies in his knowledge base just say “sloppy” to me.  Don’t try to tell me this is because he’s crazy or anything like that.  If you’re trying to be “LOST,” or “X-Files,” then you need to put that same kind of devotion in to the internal consistency and maybe stop spending so much time changing car logos.  You know what I’m sayin’?

And, apparently the writers felt there wasn’t enough quirkiness in the house.  It suddenly became necessary to have a piano brought to the lab because piano music helps Dr. Bishop focus.  We learn that he and Peter both play very well…setting up yet another contrivance we will surely see more of…much, much more of.  I also know I can count on every episode to have these elements:

  • A confrontation between Agent Dunham and Special Agent Broyles
  • A flirtation between Agent Dunham and Peter Bishop
  • A big lab experiment
  • A weird Dr. Bishop moment
  • A Massive Dynamics scene with creepy Nina Sharp
  • A chase and a takedown featuring Agent Dunham

The formula is already smelling a bit musty to me.

But, because I want to give credit where it is due, there are a couple of humorous moments that are genuinely engaging and smart.  At the start of an experiment on poor Roy involving drilling right into his brain and monitoring his responses to pictures shown to him, the door to the Harvard basement lab is knocked upon, making the characters…and me, in this case, jump.  Agent Olivia Dunham answers and we see two students who ask, “Is this Poli-Sci 101?”  Her response?  A straight-faced, “Not remotely.”  Good one.

I may become a “casual viewer,” but I’m sure not changing any plans to be sure I see every episode.  I’ve given my heart twice to series’ before.  That’s enough for this old girl.  You follow your own heart, but guard it well!

Romans 16:25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began 26 but now has been made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures has been made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith– 27 to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.

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2 Responses

  1. I dunno, I love the show, but I tend not to overanalyze shows. I don’t get into the easter eggs and stuff. There were a ton of them with Xena, and I never really got into them. I connect to shows on an emotional level and can suspend disbelief. I connected immediately to agent Dunham. I love acting – to me it is like art. I think she acts the character very well, so I enjoy just watching her as part of art. I think that is why sometimes I don’t care for shows that others are wild about. The aesthetics and the actor’s immersion into a character means more to me than inconsistencies and even great stories.

    I like Xena, because of the depth that Lucy puts into Xena. I don’t like Lucy in anything else, but Xena is tragic art.

    Same thing with 24 – I watch for Jack Bauer. I don’t typiclaly care for guns, shoot em up shows, but I am wild about 24. I don’t particularly care one way or another for Kiefer in other shows.

    I think the reason I have been ambivalent about Lost and Heroes is because none of the actors resonated with me on that artistic level, so I had to go with the stories. The stories are good, so I eventually liked the shows, but they won’t be iconic to me.

    I have to connect with someone right away. In Lost, if it wasn’t for Hurley, I would be long again. I despise all the other characters, except for Sun. And it isn’t necessarily the characters, but I don’t *feel* the art in the expression of them.

    That is just how I get into shows. I have to be moved. Not just entertained. When I do watch TV it is usually factual shows, like Forensic Files. I either have to be moved or educated.

    I know this will sound very odd, even to you my mother, but everything in life is like that for me, and that explains my utter cliff-diving into Apple. Apple moves me. Its aesthetics are beautiful. Its leader (Steve Jobs) is dark and fascinating. Its art.

    So I will be watching Fringe.

  2. I think Michael Emerson as Benjamin Linus has that acting quality you’re describing, Diz…but he didn’t show up until the second season, so one would have had to already be invested! I completely agree about art, but for me (as a writer), the story is art…the cinematography is art, the character development is art, and the actors themselves make art with their performances. That’s why I often stick with bad movies, believe it or not. I don’t feel I’m being fair judging a work of art unless I have viewed the entire piece. Fortunately, this does not transfer to television series’ or I would never be able to get offa the couch!

    I feel ya, daughter!

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