Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Fringe, "Ability": Mr. Jones and me

Spoilers for last night's "Fringe" coming up just as soon as I get my typewriter fixed...

A lot of "Fringe" viewers have been clamoring for fewer Science Crime of the Week stories and more mythology-type arc episodes. "Ability" had mythology to spare, as the mysterious Mr. Jones returned, we found out what Loeb was doing to Olivia when he had her captive and why Jones is so interested in her, Peter obtained a copy of the Jones group's manifesto, and it seems that Walter himself (or someone using Walter's typewriter) wrote the manifesto. Lots of answers, but the typical JJ Abrams show kind, where the answers raise twice as many questions. Walter's memory problems, for instance, could easily lead to a scenario where he wrote the thing and then forgot about it, or it could have been written while he was institutionalized, by someone like Jones who revered Walter's work and decided to pay homage to him by using the great man's own typewriter.

As someone who cares less about the episodic-vs-arc-story ratio than about the show being compelling regardless of what type of story is being shown, I found "Ability" to be solid but not quite as epic as I think it wanted to be.

For one thing, they're still fiddling around with this annoying Agent Harris character. I don't object to the general idea of Olivia running into trouble with her superiors. "X-Files" got a lot of mileage out of Mulder and Scully butting heads with FBI high command. The problem is that Harris is so clearly an idiot, and so clearly motivated by nothing but his grudge against Olivia, that he's just a strawman villain, and a plot device to slow down Olivia's efforts to solve each problem. If they had introduced him as someone competent, with no personal stake in this debate, but who understandably had a hard time wrapping his head around all this science fiction, the character might have worked. This way doesn't, and so he becomes an unnecessary distraction to the other things unfolding.

Still, the orifice-sealing virus was suitably disturbing (especially the second time, when Olivia's tracheotomy failed so horribly), Peter's ever-growing stable of eccentric underworld contacts has proven to be a good direction for the character, and I really enjoy Mr. Jones' very specific requests for equipment. (He reminds me of a character Ben Garant played on "The State," with a name like Saul Bitterman: Miracle Fetishist of the US Navy, who would constantly demand a mix of MacGyver props and sex aids in order to defeat the Nazis.)

Anna Torv's charisma deficit is going to be an ongoing problem, but there are enough interesting pieces around her that an episode like "Ability" makes me feel like "Fringe" is thisclose to figuring out what it can be.

What did everybody else think?

30 comments:

xyz said...

The best episode of the show. I would say that this was a LOST quality episode. This is the first time this show has lived up to the hype. I wish they would just get rid of the pattern of the week episodes and just focus on mythology as it is clear that the show works a lot better when it is focusing on the mythology.

HabsFan29 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
HabsFan29 said...

Long-time reader, first-time commentor.

And I had to jump in to say - FINALLY. This was the ep that really made me a fan of the show. Agree with XYZ, the mythology is much better. And this show was loaded with it, from the manifesto to the drug Olivia may have been subjected to in Jacksonville to the whole multiverse thing, this show hit its stride last night. When Walter hit the Y key at the end, I immediately went back to watch all the manifesto stuff again looking for clues. Rewinding is a staple of Lost, but this was the first time I had done it for Fringe. That's a huge sign.

If only we could kill off Harris and Anna Torv could learn to act, this show would be just about perfect.

Justin said...

I started watching the show because it aired after American Idol, I am ashamed to say, but have always been a bit of a fan of J.J. Abrams shows in the past. In the past three or four weeks worth of episodes I have seen, this one finally clinched me as a viewer. The unfortunate part is now that I am willing to watch this show on a weekly basis, it appears to be pre-empted by two-hour Idol shows for the next month... which is why I tend to buy shows on DVD after they air a season.

Dan Coyle said...

Definitely the strongest episode of the show so far. Now that she's said goodbye to John Scott, Olivia seems a bit... happier? Not the right word, but...

I do agree that it's not quite as epic as it thought it was.

Ricky A said...

Towards the end of the first set of episodes, I had an A-Ha moment regarding one of the major mysteries of Fringe and last night's episodes seems to have confirmed my assumption. If I'm right, this would obviously be considered a huge SPOILER, so please read with care.

Who is William Bell? We've never met or seen a picture of him. All we know is that he worked with Walter Bishop before he was institutionalized and that he created Massive Dynamics. I believe that Walter Bishop and William Bell are the same person. Why? Because no one has seen him in some time. They have the same initials. Mr. Jones was honored to meet him. The manifesto at the very least was typed on his typewriter. Aside from Mr. Jones, who considers himself a mere soldier in this "war," Bishop is the only one who understands all of the weird occurrences and in most cases, is responsible for them. Finally, Bishop is insane with severe memory loss. Maybe it was self induced?

amysusanne said...

A reference to "The State". Nice.

Last night was sort of fun, better than usual, opened some doors and...is the last one for awhile? Why is that always the case?

Count Screwloose said...

All I can do is agree - this was the one. At times I almost felt as if they were revealing too much, and I'm someone who's been anxious for more answers! Felt more like a season finale than a regular episode (considering the length of the next hiatus, it may as well be).

As if everything that had happened in the preceding hour wasn't enough, we get the hospital room reveal followed by Walter's typewriter. Kitchen sink, anyone?

Strange thing about this twist is that it resembles nothing so much as Brian K. Vaughan's Ex Machina series. Abrams may have to loan him out...

On a similar note, if we can believe the backstory being told by the FRINGE comic, Bell and Bishop are two decidedly different people, but in this show's universe I'm not sure what that even means.

April is the cruelest month...

RG

amysusanne said...

It seems to me that while some of them aren't exactly forthcoming (Blair Brown), people seem to know as fact that Walter and Bell are two different guys. It would seem a little weird to me (I know) to find out they were the same. I think there are any number of reasons for the manifesto having been typed on Walter's typewriter and think that, at this point, Walter genuinely doesn't know what to make of it. If he wrote it he doesn't know. If someone else did, he doesn't know. All he does know is that, for whatever reason, he recognized the type. I like that. But, then, Walter's the most interesting person on the show.

KB said...

Fantastic episode!

Last week, you had a problem because the teaser was too good. Too good! That was the problem. This week, it was "solid" but you're deducting points because you suspect it was attempting to be epic. Seems to me that you're really reaching for things not to criticize on this show. But I fully believe you are THIS CLOSE to figuring out what your Fringe reviews could be. Keep at it.

Patricia said...

My husband's theory is that the manifesto was typed by Walter in another reality from the multiverse that the manifesto talked about. He loves alternate universe stuff so he's very gung-ho on this idea in a "Wouldn't THAT be AWESOME!!" kind of way.

Myself, I'm just annoyed that it's off until April.

Alan Sepinwall said...

My problem last week was that the rest of the episode didn't remotely live up to the teaser.

I thought this was a fine episode, just not the best they've done so far. (That would probably still be the first one with The Observer.)

Anonymous said...

alan please give it a rest with your complaints about the agent harris character. we get it. we know hes not great. but come on relax

Alan Sepinwall said...

I'll give it a rest when he's gone. So long as he's around, he's an ongoing detraction to my enjoyment of the show.

Rachel said...

Please do keep complaining about the Harris character until he's gone. Do the writers think anyone's buying Harris as a valid character and not, as you say, a distracting and really obvious plot device?

This episode was a big improvement, but not the best. And by no means Lost quality -- that's a show that knows how to create and sustain its characters.

Anonymous said...

Was I alone in thinking that perhaps it was Peter that turned off the lights? The shot of Olivia "focusing" on her task was very explicit in letting the viewer know Peter was still in the room after initially deciding to leave.

Given Walter's involvement in the ZFT, I couldn't help but wonder if perhaps his allusions to Peters past somehow fit in.

Anonymous said...

There is something about Peter that is more than we know ... There were a few times Dr. Bishop wanted to say something but didnt or he said something that made me think Peter is special in a way or was part of one of his experiments.

So when I read the coment about Peter turning off the lights I instantly thought , yea that could be possible.

Unlikely tho since they are trying extra hard to make Olivia special ... judging from the coments made by the woman from massive dynamics and Olivia's boss and now Mr Jones.

Teev said...

I know we've been blaming Anna Torv's boringness on having to fake an accent (which really is no excuse) but tonight, in the final light bomb scene, she just stood there with a dead face. She could have been thinking about her grocery list. When I think of what Michael Hogan can do with one eye... I don't think it's the accent, I think she's just not very good.

Christopher said...

I'm starting to get the impression that Fringe is everything JJ decided he wanted to do about halfway through Alias, but couldn't because it wasn't really in line with the show.
The drawings of Olivia and the manifestos and the genius-experiments on young children have me thinking that the spirit of Rambaldi is still alive.

K J Gillenwater said...

It's almost as if the last few weeks were just some extra scripts they had laying around. This was the ep I was waiting for. Before the winter break, the dude escaped from prison...but no one cared about it until now? I am going to pretend the last few eps didn't exist. Somehow the sister mysteriously disappeared...which is fine by me.

The orifice closing stuff was one of my favorites this season. Esp. the tracheotomy gone awry. Also loved that Walter's typewriter or Walter himself wrote that strange book.

Yay! Sadly, just when this show found its way again...we have to wait until April for more eps.

Dave Wiemer said...

I agree that this was the best episode yet.

And Alan, speaking of the Observer... did anyone else notice that he showed up in the scene where the paper guy was dying? My wife spotted it but I had to rewind and pause it to know for certain it was him.

Also, he showed up on Fox during the Giants/Eagles playoff game.

Here's a link to the footage: http://www.thejordanblog.com/2009/01/fringe-observer-watches-football.html

I couldn't decide if it was cool or really really stupid. But that may be because Joe Buck was talking at the time.

amysusanne said...

Since I don't have sound on my work computer, I'm voting for cool.

I rarely notice him (and didn't notice him this week) but he's been in every episode of the series.

Dan Coyle said...

The comic book establishes that Walter and William are different people.

However, since the Bell/Bishop stories are told from the POV of Walter, there's some wiggle room there. In their first meeting, Bell and Bishop are the only people in the room.

The comic also implies that if Bell is real, he may possibly be even more fucked up than Walter, and that's partially Walter's fault.

Jamaican Fan said...

ive watched this show from start to finish and its jus like Alias, well it is JJ abrams but i mean even down to the tone of the music and the actors. I like this show alot but its making miss alias more than making me love fringe

Anonymous said...

in the pilot anna torv impressed me, she something, now, mid season, i'm disappointed by her luck of good acting, all hell is breaking loose and she has an idiotic grin, fire her immediately and bring maulder back!!! ot at list his son, or his cousin or even a character who wouldn;t f@cking smile when horrible things happen,
except if it's a tarantino character,
i'm so pissed off I want to send a letter to writers, for f@uck sakes people

tabernacle said...

(Alan, I hope you're feeling much better.)

I liked the episode. I think it opens up the show in a lot of directions. Olivia could have abilities, Peter could have abilities, Walter could play a big role in this warfare business, our reality could be competing Darwinianly with another, and Jones the German could be newly Hancocked (or Doomsdayed or something). Great job at delivering a good episode, enjoyable for its own sake, and adding to the mythology in productive ways (rather than just random clutter).

Anonymous said...

I think the worst thing about Fringe is that we viewers see the good show in it. If we could, we'd shake off all the bad bits (including Agent Harrassment and, sadly, Anna Torv's immobile forehead) and pull out the show we know it could be. But we can't. Harris continues as a character and the writers continue to try to make Torv interesting. Which is not really possible.

Take the latest revelations: Olivia is Magic. She has brain mojo and can make light-brite toys work in reverse (an analogy that is so completely apt that I shall leave the obvious joke as an exercise for the reader). This plot does two things though that I wish it would not: First, it redefines how Olivia, our viewpoint character fits within the show. Instead of being the realist in a strange world, she becomes Mary Sue the special gifted chosen one. Not only is FBI!girl strong, powerful, and disciplined (or so the scripts would have us believe to date), she's now padawanishly gifted. After all, as Jared Harris is being wheeled off-set, he exclaims with parental pride "My Girl!" as she has discovered her inner Wonder Woman.

The second thing is an outgrowth of the first thing. By making Olivia the superhero altered as a child, they have cut out nearly all the character development the writers have hinted at for Peter. This makes him more of a plot device and less of a character than ever before. He allows Walter to stay out of the hospital. He is a yellow pages of informant hook-up for Olivia. But you could replace Jackson with a large mannequin who could do the same thing as far as TV writing goes. Where could they possibly take Peter at this point which would give him a compelling story?

After all, they've dropped what was arguably the greatest strength of the first half of the season, the Bishop Boy relationship story. For four episodes, the Bishops with their banter, emotional conflict, and the growth of their relationship have been sidelined. What had been one of the best love stories on TV between two men has disappeared into the vapor and been replaced by...well, by Agent Harris.

Ability shows that the show has great strength for storytelling but I worry that the creative team has made irrevocable decisions that place that storytelling focus in the wrong areas.

Andrew said...

I feel good about this episode in that the show is moving in the right direction, hopefully that closed the "If there are no clues, Olivia jumps in the water tank and figures it out" plot lines. There was a trip to Chicago, Massive Dynamic was back, flash of the observer, and moving along the Jone's story while introducing new questions.

Anonymous said...

I was really disappointed in the ending of the episode. I don't want Olivia to have special abilities. It would have made perfect sense for Peter to have turned off the light box. After all, I think there were 47 lights on the box and they were on the 47th floor of the building -- it would have made sense to have Peter hit all 47 buttons in the elevator to turn off the box.

Darren

Anonymous said...

i'm just loving fringe at the moment.
Agent Harris is a bit of a useless character but i think that if they develop the character a bit more then he may turn out to be alright. Hopefully, or maybe they'll just kill him off.

At the moment tho i don't think we need anthor villian because at the moment we have a few could be villians and of course mr jones. who is a very exciting character and he has all the answer( i think ) but i don't think he'll be informing use of any of those answers any time soon.