Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Fringe, "Bad Dreams": Dude dreams like a lady

Spoilers for last night's "Fringe" coming up just as soon as I sing the score from "Pippin"...

There are actors who need good material -- or material, period -- to be good, and then there are actors who have a kind of unquantifiable presence that allows them to be interesting even when the material's not there. Anna Torv is decidedly not the latter, but episodes like "Bad Dreams" suggest she might be the former.

As a female strong-but-silent Steve McQueen type, Torv just comes across as a blank. Give her something less subtle to play, though, like this episode's depiction of a sleep-deprived, unhinged Olivia, and she's suddenly present. And by making Olivia (or "Olive") a former research subject of Walter and William Bell's(*), we're making her not only more important to the larger mythology of the show, but potentially giving Torv a lot more to play down the road, which is good.

(*) Unmistakably voiced by Leonard Nimoy.

I was a little amused by the girl-on-girl dream with the stripper, both because it's the second time this season that Olivia has been having a man's dreams, and because I couldn't help but think that the "Fringe" writers recently viewed Torv's work as a lesbian on the BBC's "Mistresses" and thought, "Hey, why not? She seems game."

Also somewhat unintentionally amusing is the number of times in the episode that Olivia traveled back and forth from Boston to New York. Because the show is in the weird position of filming in New York but being set elsewhere -- as opposed to shows like "CSI: NY" that are set there but film elsewhere -- it seems like half the cases, and any visits to Blair Brown, wind up taking Olivia and company down to the Big Apple.

On the other hand, they do make good use of New York locations, and the shot of the empath and his potential victims standing on the edge of a roof in the middle of Manhattan was gorgeous (and, of course, terrifying), in the way that most TV shows don't have the time or skill to pull off, or can't because they're faking one city for another. When production moves to Vancouver next year to save money, they won't be able to do something like that that gives away so much of the wrong skyline.

Very good episode. Creepy as both a self-contained story and as part of the Pattern/William Bell/Walter's past arc.

What did everybody else think?

28 comments:

ED said...

Gotta be honest, I thought the stuff with the stripper was exploitive for the sake of being so. I think it would have made more sense to show either 1) Nick in those dreams, or 2) a point of view shot from Nick. It just seemed like they thought, here's a chance for some girl-on-girl! Let's do it. I'm not a prude, and don't mind seeing that, doesn't bother me, but I don't like it when something like that is unnecessary and the show is just using it for shock value.

Otherwise, a solid episode. The image of all the people on top the roof was one of the creepier images they've shown us yet.

Is there any other show that consistently makes you really feel for the characters that die than Fringe? They rarely feel like part of a body count to me, this week more than most. Maybe because they seem to emphasize "innocents" getting killed. But I feel for the anonymous victims in this show more than any other. I think that in itself is one of the show's strongest elements.

Tom C. said...

I liked the moment when Walter began to say the phrase "astral projection," and Astrid reflexively jumped in with her name, thinking that he was going to mispronounce it again.

Nicole said...

I enjoyed this episode for the most part, and was especially creeped out with the people standing at the ledge.

As for the move the Vancouver, while it will change some of the skyline, they will probably be able to increase the spooky factor, because X-files was able to use Vancouver well, and this is just a version of that show. That said, had the production moved to Toronto, they could have kept the look a bit more, especially since the pilot was filmed here anyway.

Joe said...

Another solid episode, but I wonder if last weeks episode was shot out of order from this weeks. The animosity between Walter and Peter (inexplicably showing up last week) had mysteriously disappeared as well as the playful romance between Peter and Rachel. One thing that immediately attracted me to Fringe was it's continuity of the episodes. While each episode could stand on its own, the overall character of the show could only be enjoyed by the sum package. However last weeks episode seems now to be an anomally.


Overall, I am very encouraged by the slow reveal depth of Olivia's character, and how her story is key to the theme of Fringe... and the growing awareness of just what he (has/might have) done make me relish every time Walter is on screen.

Karen said...

ED, I had the exact same thought about the stripper scene: ooh, look, Fox is showing girl-on-girl action - for no good reason except they get to show girl-on-girl action.

And I agree, too, that it was a solid episode. And the PSA with John Noble using his real accent was a nice treat - although he was halfway through it before I was paying enough attention to understand what he was saying.

But what I'm especially looking forward to is the next episode, because unless I'm mighty mistaken, that was the incredible Jefferson Mays in the teaser, and that man is one of the most brilliant actors there is. Between him and Michael Cerveris showing up as the Observer, I'm seeing more B'way actors on Fringe than anywhere on TV since Pushing Daisies was cancelled, it seems - what a joy!

Anonymous said...

I'm assuming the move to Vancouver means we'll see the end of so many Broadway actors on the show and probably the beginning of a lot of aboots.

JD said...

I felt like the episode was better because of the director/writer that seemed to bring out more quality in the show than usual and that was Akiva Goldsman. In another director/writer's hands, the story might have felt more like an X Files ripoff than was came out.

Ted Kerwin said...

I was happy to see an ending after the overrun of Idol the previous two weeks

Jen said...

I enjoyed this episode immensely. It was a huge step up from last week's monster-of-the-week style episode. The pace at which they are slowly revealing Olivia's backstory seems to coincide with Torv becoming more comfortable with the character. While I found Olivia irritating early on, I'm discovering that I like her more and more as her character gets fleshed out, and I don't know whether it's due more to the backstory being filled in or Torv's level of comfort in the character or some combination of the two. Either way, I like it and can't wait to see what happens when they bring Nimoy on.

I was some what distracted in the rooftop scene by the large 17 Again billboard in the background. Cross promotion!

mjryan said...

I'm thrilled with the incorporation of Olivia into the wider myth-arc of the show. Am I the only one that sees this as a potential explanation for Torv's wooden interpretation of Olivia? While her forays into Nick Lane's mind showed a spark of acting talent, Olivia is still a dry and unemotional. Or, maybe I should say her emotional moments still don't ring true for me. Maybe, in the end, this characterization will be revealed as planned from the beginning and superb acting on Torv's part. Or, maybe it's the producers trying to make lemonade out of lemons. I'll take either, I like the direction that much.

Not spoilers but speculation: It's confirmed that Olivia was experimented on as a child. Where does that leave her sister? Was she a lab rat, also? Is she even Olivia's sister at all, or is she somehow involved in this conspiracy? Maybe she's been planted by Bell/Massive Dynamics/whoever the puppet master is to manage/keep an eye on Olivia. If that's the case, what about the niece? Is she being experimented on? Was she immunized or was she injected with a modern version of *insert Fringe drug name that I don't know how to spell here*? I've never understood the point of the sister/niece addition but this I would get. And love.

All in all, Fringe is hitting on all cylinders lately.

Kirs said...

After watching Fringe (and other shows set in Boston) it makes me wonder: do shows set in NYC screw up NYC as much as Fringe screws up Boston? Seriously, it's almost distracting sometimes. And I'm guessing the move to Vancouver isn't going to improve it much.

I'm still not sold on Torv- she's a little too bland- even in this episode I was only mildly captivated. But I'm increasingly impressed with Josh Jackson and who doesn't love John Noble?

Anonymous said...

One thing I'd add is that I can't stand how the show constantly has Peter pooh-poohing things as crazy, ridiculous, etc. early on in an episode. I mean his character has been seeing the wackiest stuff, and his first reaction is to dismiss it?
That just doesn't ring true to the character and seems like a crutch the writers keeping going to, almost like they don't want to fully buy into the implications of continuity across episodes - maybe to be friendlier to newbies?

Anonymous said...

Oh and let's be thankful that Harris is no where to be found. I think they had Broyles actually say something about how Harris was in Washington.
Maybe the message got through!

Anonymous said...

The problem I had was that this was supposedly an "mythology" episode but we did not learn a single new thing that we already did not know before except that the kids were paired up. I am willing to sit through the self-contained episodes as long as the mythology episode deliver some good plot movement. Fringe has so much potential but it is so frustrating because the mythology is moving at such a slow pace.

Gabriel said...

The problem I had was that this was supposedly an "mythology" episode but we did not learn a single new thing that we already did not know before except that the kids were paired up. What, you mean aside from learning that Walter was directly involved in the experiments on children, including Olivia? (Or Olive, anyway.) Not only that, but Walter now knows this as well.

mjryan said...

The problem I had was that this was supposedly an "mythology" episode but we did not learn a single new thing that we already did not know before except that the kids were paired up. What, you mean aside from learning that Walter was directly involved in the experiments on children, including Olivia? (Or Olive, anyway.) Not only that, but Walter now knows this as well.And, that Olivia has some unknown, maybe uncontrollable, possibly deadly, power? I'd say that the revelations were significant. I'll take quality over quantity any day.

Dean Winchester said...

No, the best part about the move to Vancouver is that they'll start using the Smallville/BSG/Supernatural Players. That same group of actors show up in all those shows.

Callum Keith Rennie will be the villian of the week inside a month of the move.

dez said...

I'm still not sold on Torv- she's a little too bland- even in this episode I was only mildly captivated.Yeah, I'm in the same boat. She kept taking me out of the story because she's so bleh. I'm hoping the revelation that she was experimented on will result in some goofy thing or other taking her out of the story so they can get a good actress in there.

The rooftop scene was gripping, though.

Ingrid said...

Callum Keith Rennie will be the villian of the week inside a month of the move.Go Leoben!

This was a good episode. I did not even mind the blatantly exploitive girl-on-girl action.

Am I the only one here who actually likes Anna Torv's acting? What some see as wooden acting I see as detachment in the portrayal of this character. I also like that she is sort of understated, as opposed to a sexpot or an in-your-face tough girl.

Nicole said...

Michael Hogan will have some free time too. It would be fun to see him interact with Noble.

nutmeag said...

@Dean Winchester:
My first thought on seeing the side of Nick Lane's face in the security feed was that it was Callum Keith Rennie. I hurried over to IMDB to check it out and was quite disappointed to find out it wasn't him. So I'm all for him showing up at some point.

dark tyler said...

Akiva Goldsman is probably the only big-name writer in Hollywood that's worse than Paul Haggis, so I'm thankful that this wasn't as bad as I was afraid it'd be. It was pretty good actually, the show's on quite a roll lately. The ending was very interesting, if a tad predictable. Can't wait for Nimoy's appearence!

Joe said...

Really? "Wooden acting?" Torv has continuously played her character as a straight laced, by the book, no nonsense, methodical and almost unstopable FBI agent.

She's a human incarnation of a 'terminator' of sorts. We see her soften somewhat when she is with her niece, and early on when dealing with the loss of her partner/lover... but she holds herself together as a seasoned agent would.

I think too many people have been spoiled by seeing 'action' characters and thinking that only someone who emulates James Bond could pass as an agent... Torv strikes the perfect balance in her character; a charcater that has to deal within the confines of reality but seem open to surreal and often unexplained events.

Her acting isn't "wooden"... it is more akin to how a character like Olivia would process it all.

mjryan said...

I don't want to see Torv replaced (anymore) like some viewers. But, I've had a hard time connecting with her character. I don't expect her to be an action hero nor do I expect wild swings in emotions. I get FBI Agent = stoicism and seriousness. But, comparing Torv and the gold standard for the portrayal of female FBI agents Gillian Anderson, you have to admit that Torv's performance is lacking. Yes, they are two entirely different characters, but even when Scully was being her most cynical and serious there was a spark, some intangible that made you like her, the same intangible that made the heightened emotions of future seasons, and the levity, so believable.

Personally, I haven't seen that spark in Torv. Which is why all of the interpersonal storylines they've put her in - the agent in the hotel room, her sister and niece - have been hard for me to swallow. It feels so forced and unnatural. The closest she's come to being real to me was the bar scene with Pacey, and I think that had more to do with Joshua Jackson than Torv. Is this stoicism the character or Torv's acting? *shrugs* I don't know. But, I do like that the producers are working on a way to negate that criticism (which is rather prevalent) by giving this a deeper meaning or reason.

One thing that might be working against Torv is the fact that she is so unknown. If you don't get BBC America and can watch Mistresses, there's nothing to compare her acting to, at least that I'm aware of. Maybe seeing her in a completely different role would enable her detractors to think Olivia Dunham as a characterization instead of a poor performance.

Davy said...

The creepiest moment by far was when, just as they were realizing that Walter had indeed experimented on Olivia, he reached up to caress her face. Shudder! The slow build all season is worth it for a moment like this.

As for the rooftop scene, yeah, it was beautiful and all, and the woman falling from the roof was quite startling, but I couldn't shake the predictable thought, "Just shoot him in the leg already. You know you won't kill him. Shoot. Him. In. The. Leg!"

And considering this show takes place in Boston, Mass (where gay marriage is legal), what's more shocking to me is that it hasn't featured an honest-to-goodness married gay couple yet.

Anonymous said...

The rooftop scene was filmed on an elevator machine room penthouse at 902 Broadway near Union Square. The actors were spared a 20 story drop because there was a lower roof 12 feet below them. The production crew clogged the neighboring streets for three weeks getting all those shots, then came back for another week to do scenes in the corner restaurant. It's not only the skyline that makes the scene sing, but the grey clouds, the people on the street, the rainy surfaces, and yes, the idea that you might be able to look out your apartment window and see this stuff happening 60' feet away. Usually, though it's not a group of zombies, but a guy in his underwear picking his nose.

7s Tim said...

to back up mjryan here: Olivia's neice, when she said the dead things in her shot were alive again-- didn't anyone else get a really creepy feeling there.

and as to ms. torv's acting: it ain't getting knocked outta the park, but when they've actually given her something to do, it gets considerably better. I think it's more the character as written that can come across as wooden, and that may just be a factor of them trying, as had been done in Alias, to show her as a person intensely reliant on compartmentalization-- Olivia tries to control her emotions so much, that she comes across as an automaton. Now, when they do have her make emotional decisions, they usually seem irrational and erratic. that's more of an issue, i'd say.

Marlark said...

Has anyone noticed the Star Trekian use of "47" in this series? A few weeks ago the winky-blinky lights bomb was on the 47th floor and this week there was a huge 47 in the middle of the Beautiful Mind newspaper/thread mosaic in Nick Lane's place.

More on the magic of 47 here.