Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fringe, "A New Day in the Old Town": Peter's custard, in the lab, with a shapeshifter

Spoilers for the "Fringe" season two premiere coming up just as soon as I get to ride in the back of an ambulance...
"Walter thinks that she was a shape-changing soldier from another universe. He thinks that might be where you went. Do you think it's a bad sign that I can say that out loud and neither of us thinks I'm crazy?" -Peter
It feels right that the "Fringe" premiere would feature a couple of overt Mulder/Scully nods (David Duchovny is on the TV in the first murder victim's apartment, and later the subcommittee grilling Broyles brings up "The old X designation"), because the season premiere finds the show continuing to embrace its role as the 21st century "X-Files" - albeit an "X-Files" where Scully has already become a beleiver.

"Fringe" is much weirder - and better - than it was early in its first season. And the willingness of the show and its characters to embrace ideas like shapeshifters, parallel universes, et al is a lot more fun than that period when Broyles or Peter or Olivia would constantly raise a skeptical eyebrow at Walter's theories. That was maybe necessary at first, but we're at home watching men turn into giant hedgehogs, so the characters just seem dumber to us when they don't go along with what we already know.

The downside to being another "X-Files" is that I suspect this show's larger mythology will make as much sense as the "X-Files" conspiracy did by the end, or as much as "Alias" did. But I don't necessarily need a logical endgame when the individual episodes are enjoyable, which "A New Day in the Old Town" definitely was.

I found it interesting, and yet apropos, that the writers would come back with an episode where Olivia is so much on the sideline. I suspect they just didn't want to reveal whatever William Bell told her after the season one finale ended - that, or they had no idea what he told her, and just came up with a cool cliffhanger, thinking they'd explain it when they came back from hiatus. But if it was frustrating to have Olivia forget her trip to Earth-WTC, at least it meant we got to spend far more time with Peter and Walter, who have become the heart of the show.

That's especially true now that we know Peter isn't the Peter from this Earth, which gives a new resonance to their interaction. Now Walter's fixation on custard isn't just another sign of his eccentricity, but a story about the old man wanting desperately to believe that this Peter (who doesn't like custard) is identical to his Peter (who loved the stuff). Joshua Jackson and John Noble have become so comfortable together as performers, and it's fun to hear the delight in Noble's voice (and see the dismay on Jackson's face) when he gets to utter a line like, "Feel his anus! It's soaking wet!"

I wasn't especially fond of Agent Jessup, who seemed so blase about all this freaky stuff that she's either a blatant double agent for the bad guys, or else it's bad writing/acting. On the other hand, I'm glad they gave Kirk Acevedo a nice moment to play as Charlie (the speech in Olivia's hospital room) before they bumped him off and replaced him with the shapeshifter. There was a lot of confusion about whether Acevedo would still be a regular on the show this season, and this development doesn't help. It's entirely possible faux-Charlie could stay undercover next to Fringe Division for a long time, or he could be found out by sweeps, and then we see goodbye to Acevedo permanently.

Still, a solid start to a season, and a sign that the improvements from late last season weren't an aberration.

What did everybody else think?

39 comments:

martin said...

The wet anus line had me in stitches for 10 minutes. Funniest thing I've seen in a year.

Bee said...

I knew there was something going on with Nina and Broyles!

Anonymous said...

The episode certainly had a high count of WTF moments, some good, some perplexing.

What did Walter do that shot Olivia's body out of the vehicle?

Bigger question: When they thought Olivia was brain dead why didn't they try to do that memory scan technique on her to uncover what happened? All of the sudden they were bound by a living will and uninterested/unable to dig into this? And Fringe division was effectively shut down in a day? WTF?

Let's see: the shape shifter has the power to jump down four stories but can't snap weakened Olivia's neck? Must be that mysterious je ne sais quoi that makes Olivia special.

Yes, the new FBI woman is up to something - she had an access code from someone. The only question is who? My guess is she's working for Nina.

Overall the episode shot out of the gate faster than Olivia Dunham!

anonymoose

Dianora said...

I believe the XF clip was from "Dreamland," in which Mulder is trapped in Michael McKean's body and vice versa. So it wasn't just an XF nod, it was a thematically appropriate one.

Jay said...

Alan, don't forget that Agent Francis could also make appearances in Earth-2 (in the penultimate episode last season, Olivia flashed to Earth-2 and saw a version of Agent Francis with a scar).

It does seem odd how public his "firing" was and yet he's an essential part of the show right now, moreso than last season. One wonders if Acevedo's comments were a lark.

Dean Winchester said...

Don't think Walter did anything to "shoot" Olivia out of the car. He was sitting in it when it came back to life (radio, etc) and I think he realized what was about to happen, so he got out.

My biggest question: when the shapeshifter kills the bald guy and takes his face, the end result is dead bald guy and the shapeshifter looking like him. Same with wet anus guy. So how does he kill Charlie, turn into him... yet there is a dead nurses body lying there. Is that supposed to be the body of the "real" nurse? He had the foresight to drag it to where he was going to confront Charlie? I guess that's the only explanation that tracks.

I don't usually nitpick at sci-fi shows, but this bothered me. Mainly because the Fringe team is typically more careful with in-show logic and continuity.

Anonymous said...

@Dean Winchester

The nurse was having a smoke right outside a basement door. after killing her he probably dragged her inside. after he failed killing Olivia he knew the humans would take longer to reach the basement and laid a trap for one of them, and you can guess the rest.

Matter-Eater Lad said...

The X-Files nod was even more explicit than you noted, Alan: The senator chairing the committee was played by an actor who was on shadowy committees in multiple X-Files episodes. Of course, if they REALLY wanted to go for it, they could have featured or mentioned Mulder's patron, Senator Matheson...

mjryan said...

I was bothered by the same thing, Dean Winchester. But, I have an idea what happened: the shapeshifter killed the nurse on her smoke break (who I think was just outside the basement area) and hid her body down there. Then, the shape shifting soldier led Charlie there to make the switch. It didn't appear that the soldier can be killed since the new FBI agent got two pretty good shots in the SSS's back.

Loved the episode, especially the cow wearing a birthday hat. Has any show ever been able to balance weirdness and wackiness like Fringe?

Hatfield said...

RIP Charlie! Can someone fill me in on what happened with Acevedo between seasons? I missed it

Alan Sepinwall said...

The bigger question to me is how the shape-shifter swapped the clothes around (re-dressing the nurse and putting on Charlie's suit) so quickly, given the apparent time frame.

Count Screwloose said...

A new day indeed. Felt a bit like a new show built on top of the old, which (for the most part) was good. It already looks to be a far more sharply focused edition of the original.

The introduction of the new FBI agent felt even more forced than last season's pain-in-the-butt suit and virtually screamed "I am a plot device, not a character!" But I'm sure I'll forgive it as things get rolling.

The shape-shifting thing left me cold as well. Felt like I'd seen it too many times before, which is why I thought the bit with the typewriter in the mirror was one of the episode's best moments. Same goes for Olivia's delayed crash through the windshield from out of nowhere. The shape-shifting soldier plots could get old fast, leaving us with a 21st century "Invaders."

I was really impressed by the music, though, and liked the way the show's theme was woven into the scene at the end with Peter and Broyles.

I guess it doesn't sound like it, but I did really enjoy it.

Peter said...

R.I.P. Acevedo, I'm really gonna miss his character.

Jon Delfin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jon Delfin said...

"The bigger question to me is how the shape-shifter swapped the clothes around (re-dressing the nurse and putting on Charlie's suit) so quickly, given the apparent time frame."

Exactly. And further on, don't you think someone will notice that the nurse's body doesn't have bullet wounds that match the holes in her outfit? That her corpse is 100% human? And how does Peter, clever con man, not wonder if Charlie is Charlie? "Pardon me, but just to make sure, could I look at your soft palate?"

I was happy to go along for the ride until we had to cross that massive suspension of disbelief bridge.

David said...

I was a bit annoyed with killing off Acevedo. I liked his character more than Dunham. With seeing Abrahm's writing credit in the beginning and then the shape-shifter, I was certain they were going to pull a faux Francie. And they did. Overall I found that to be disappointing and predictable.

hazmatzak said...

Regarding the timeframe: as I recall, we don't hear the shots until we the see the others. (We see him spin around, but don't see muzzle flash; then we see one of the others and hear the shots.)

What could have happened is the soupa-solja got the drop on him, *quickly* copied him and changed his clothes, dragged out the nurses body that was stashed nearby earlier, and then shot the nurse, which were the shots we heard.

Problems: angle of the shots if the nurse was on the ground, and if they went through to hit the concrete, that might be a problem. Second, nurse should also have the two shots that got put in the soupa-solja's back earlier.

And maybe I don't recall the scene correctly, which throws the whole thing out.

KLF said...

Glad I'm not the only one who thought "Uh oh, it's Francie and Allison again." And that the Husband and I aren't the only ones who wondered at the speed with which the nurse became Charlie. (But we knew way ahead of time that Charlie wasn't going to be Charlie.)

In short, some predictability, some repetitiveness of Abrams story pegs, but in general very happy to have Fringe back. Yay John Noble and Josh Jackson!

Karen said...

P.S. KLF = Karen, forgot to change the name...

Carrie said...

Hallelujah to this show finally figuring out what to do with Peter's character! By giving him more purpose the entire endeavor is elevated.

I really loved the premiere. It had a lot of individually great moments and great overall pacing. The X Files nods didn't hurt, either. I can completely suspend disbelief for anything that happens in this show. I mean, in a world where we're dealing with parallel universes, soldiers that can transform into any shape, etc. how fast shapeshifter Charlie can change clothes is not really something I worry about. ;)

I'm curious to see how the ratings went last night in such a killer time slot.

Count Screwloose said...

Attention trainspotters: Here's where Peter and Broyles had that drink early on:

http://www.irishheather.com

Alan Sepinwall said...

Yeesh, I had forgotten all about Evil Francie.

So does this mean Agent Jessup is gonna get suddenly struck by a bus a few episodes from now?

Kim S. said...

In regards to what Walter did to make Olivia be ejected through the windshield--didn't he unbuckle the seat belt?

If Olivia was returned to the exact place she'd left from, it goes along that she'd be in the exact position she was in--seat belt fastened. Once Walter unbuckled it, then realized what was going to happen, he got out, she was returned (sans seatbelt), her body reacted to the accident forces...and was ejected.

So...if Walter hadn't unclipped the belt, she would've stayed in the SUV, correct?

bill p said...

I liked that the seemingly throwaway near miss accident Olivia has on the way to her meeting with Nina in the S1 finale, turns out to pay off in S2 premiere.

bsangs said...

Oh no. Is that new FBI agent the same actress that began the downfall of "Heroes?" Please don't ruin "Fringe" I'm begging you. If her eyes turn black and start bleeding...

My favorite line of the night was Peter's response when Walter wanted Olivia to like his custard. Great reaction.

pgillan said...

I liked the shapeshifting mechanism. It's arguably the most realistic method of getting "full facial duplication" that I've seen in a movie or TV show, which all basically boil down to "surgery". I have to admit, though, that when the soldier looked in the mirror and started crushing his face-panels, when he removed his hands my first thought was "WTF?! He's a vampire?!"

hazmatzak said...

No, Heroes' Maya was portrayed by Dania Ramirez. Meghan Markle plays Special Agent Jessup --a nice step up from holding a case on Deal or No Deal

Chip said...

Hey I'm not mad at Abrams for pulling a Fringe-ified version of the Francinator. Ha, now that I think back bullets never really worked on her either. But while I like Fringe alot now, I'm still not as invested in the characters (with the exception of Peter and Walter) as I should be. I liked Charlie but his death didn't make me go "damn" the way poor innocent Francie's did. Maybe they should've gone for Astrid, ha. I'm really amped for this season of Fringe, it's seems like things are in high gear. I really wish Fox released the dvd earlier than a week before the premiere, I could've used a refresher but with school up again I don't have time.

Toby O'B said...

"when the soldier looked in the mirror and started crushing his face-panels, when he removed his hands my first thought was "WTF?! He's a vampire?!""

pgillan: I thought he was a Weevil from 'Torchwood'!

Anonymous said...

Selectric 251 = Very nice.

'Oh, you're one of them."

Typewriter from hell or Earth-WTC.

Loved the out of date/defunct technology shop.

Personal point: There's kids out there that don't even know what a Selectric is or was.....

Puff

Anonymous said...

I thought it was a great episode and loved the x-files references.

And I really miss those super electric typewriters. They were fun to operate!

OldDarth said...

Loved how the episode set up the season. Loved the typewriter scene and the Olivia ejection scene.

Hated the body swapping stuff with then nurse and Daniels. How come the first time took so long and the subsequent ones were so quick?

Also why did the spy give up the device and how was it damaged? If it was damaged beyond repair why didn't he throw it in the incinerator too? Really clunky aspect to an otherwise good episode.

Anonymous said...

I loved the IBM Selectric, I still have one from the 1960s. Second best use of one in a TV episode.
First was a Colombo from either the late 60s or early 70s. I'm not telling how it was used.

lashel said...

I don't think ANYONE has brought this up. In the Season 1 finale, Walter goes missing but in the first episode of Season 2, he's there as normal with no mention of his disappearance? What is up with that? Did I miss something as I don't think I did! This discrepancy kind of spoiled my enjoyment of a pretty good episode!

pgillan said...

I don't think ANYONE has brought this up. In the Season 1 finale, Walter goes missing but in the first episode of Season 2, he's there as normal with no mention of his disappearance? What is up with that? Did I miss something as I don't think I did! This discrepancy kind of spoiled my enjoyment of a pretty good episode!

I don't really think he did go missing, per se. He left, but he left Peter a note saying not to worry about him. I think we can assume that he just, you know, came home when he was finished.

7s Tim said...

1. Loved the reference to the alternate world as Earth-WTC. Spent ten minutes explaining the cross overs of 60s DC Comics and their eventual build up to Crisis on Infinite Earths to my very patient girldfriend because of it.

2. Started stronger than last season would have predicted on the whole, with a great deal of momentum. I just hope this is a sci-fi trend and that Dollhouse does the same (true, not related to this series in particular, but I hope you all forgive me)

3. Someone mentioned that Acevedo could continue, at least partially, as Alt-world Charlie-with-a-scar. I hope not. Could be really frustrating if they just replace every charater they kill with an off-world doppleganger, and if they start doing that in the second season, there could be a storm a-brewing. Now, if the economic climate changes, and Fringe becomes a huge hit and they got money to throw around, Alt-Charlie could be a great addition in the third season. Just this season feels wrong for this kinda curveball.

4. That said, if Mr Pryce doesn't work out, I am already missing Mr. Jones...

Anonymous said...

The focus on Peter and fading into the background of Olivia made this episode 10X better than any last season. For the first half of the episode I was hoping that they had decided to get rid of Anna Torv and replace her with the FBI agent.

Joe said...

@Dean Winchester

The ending really bothered me too. Also, the amount of time for the shape shifting to happen was established and besides having to hide Charlie's body and move the nurses body into position it didn't seem like there would be enough time for the face breaking and for the shapeshifting.

But by far the BIGGEST issue with the whole thing is if the shapeshifter was really dead after cleaning up the crime scene they would have two nurse bodies. I find it hard to believe that the characters are too stupid to realize they are an entire body short.

Daniel said...

Pure entertainment. This is why we watch tv, this show right here.