Friday, September 25, 2009

Fringe, "Night of Desirable Objects": It's a mole! It's a scorpion! It's Super Baby!

Quick spoilers for last night's "Fringe" coming up just as soon as I crash a car with a frog...

"Night of Desirable Objects" was a pretty meat-and-potatoes Monster of the Week episode, and those tend to rise and fail based on two questions: Is it scary and/or creepy? And is the monster memorable in some way? In this case, I'd say the answers are "some of the time" and "not especially." I didn't think the teaser was as effective as they were hoping for - even when the show was struggling creatively in the first season, the teasers tended to be bang-on, like the hedgehog man storming out of the airplane bathroom - but Peter and Olivia's descent into the scorpion boy's lair was fairly well-done.

Where "The X-Files" tended to take a clear Separation of Church & State approach to the standalone episodes versus the mythology ones, the "Fringe" writers are trying to juggle both most weeks. Here, for instance, we have the shapeshifting assassin cozying up to Olivia, and Olivia starting to hear sounds from the parallel earth (or earths). While I understand the reason for taking this approach - audiences are more impatient now than they were even in the early-mid '90s, and ongoing story arcs have become a more acceptable part of weekly network dramas - I think I liked the way "X-Files" did it better.(*) The monster episodes tended to feel richer because the script was focused entirely on telling this one horror story, and the mythology episodes (before it became clear that the mythology was never going to make any sense) were more fun because we only got them on occasion, and because they in turn could focus entirely on the larger mysteries because there was no traditional case to deal with.

(*) It is entirely possibly, by the way, that I'm romanticizing the past here, as it's been a long time since I popped in my "X-Files" DVDs. For all I know, Cigarette Smoking Man kept walking through episodes like "Post-Modern Prometheus" or "The Host." But this is how I remember it, anyway.

Also, with Olivia out of the hospital, there was less of Walter and Peter, and of Walter, period, than I would have liked. The fishing lure scene at the end was nice, but the season premiere was a reminder of how much more interesting the show tends to be when the Bishops are at the forefront and Olivia is off to the side.

What did everybody else think?

27 comments:

Stealth said...

It didn't seem like she was hearing things from the other earth, merely that her hearing was going all superpowered.

Vic said...

Funny that you should mention romanticizing The X-Files. That's actually the reason that I haven't watched Fringe until the DVD was release this month. I was afraid that it would just be a cheap knockoff that would just set me up for disappointment. After watching all of the first season and the first two of the second season, I can say that my fears have been completely unfounded. I thought that last nights episode was a very decent monster of the week exposition even by Mulder and Scully standards.

And yes, Cigarette Smoking Man did make an appearance on "Tooms" one of the finest monster of the week episodes of the series. It featured the stretching, hibernating, liver-eating mutant named Tooms. CSM shows up at the end and I think it is the first time that he ever says a word on the show. Of course the mythology of the show wasn't very well established at that point of the series.

One thing that kept bothering me was the excessive amount of travel by car that seemed to take place in this episode. It looked like they made about five round trips from Boston to Lansdale, PA. That's about five and a half hours each way. Do they really have to drive back to Boston to analyze every piece of evidence they pick up? I know that Walter has some specialized equipment in his lab but couldn't they just use an FBI lab somewhere and just requisition the additional material. Maybe that's why Peter requested the C-130 transport plane.

Karen said...

I also thought it was that Olivia's hearing had gotten more acute, not that she was hearing things from the other universe. (I did start to wonder how we would know if she were "our" Olivia or an other Olivia, though.)

Question: is the Observer supposedly in every single episode? Because me, I never see him...

Also, John Savage seems to have the same hair as he did in Carnivale.

All in all, a mostly forgettable episode, I thought. But John Noble was wonderful, as usual.

Alan Sepinwall said...

It could well be that Olivia has super-hearing now (to go along with the other psychic powers she got from Bell and Walter experimenting on her as a girl), but given Walter's comment about side effects from visiting a parallel universe, it seems to fit more that she's hearing what's going on in the comparable position on Earth-WTC.

Rinaldo said...

I can't speak to this episode (not having yet seen it), nor to the X-Files comparison (as I wasn't really a regular viewer), but I can say that I'm of exactly the opposite opinion when it comes to stand-alone episodes vs. episodes that carry the longterm arc or mythology. I want them intermingled, and in fact to me it seems lazy not to do it that way, as if some of the writers aren't talking to others (yes I know it doesn't really work that way on a series) or the writers just can't be bothered to work a little extra richness into a single-episode story.

A prime example of what I like is Buffy's musical episode "Once More With Feeling." There if ever one might have justified keeping it self-contained, and yet it dealt with (and in some cases resolved) very long-term story elements. And I found it all the more satisfying because of it.

Mac said...

Well, she was hearing the footsteps of flies. Unless flies on Earth-WTC weigh 3000 lbs, I'd go with superhearing.

Carrie said...

I was a huge X Files fan and loved their monster of the week episodes, but I like the way Fringe intermingles the mythology with the monster of the week. I like knowing that the world the show has created lives on and moves forward even if they are out in PA getting attacked by a mutant vampire baby.

I think this season has been really strong and I'm even appreciating Anna Torv more. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite shows, which is something I never thought I would say.

Anonymous said...

It's definitely superhearing, not trans-universal hearing. Remember when she came upon the meeting of Walter, Peter and Astrid were discussing something about the super baby case, and when they try to tell Olivia what they have found, she says I already heard what you said. Plus, she hears flies. But maybe it's both, she has sensitive hearing and can hear things from the other universe simultaneously.

Jen said...

Speaking of the X-files, I got an intense vibe with this Fringe episode of the X-files episode "Home". Something about the way they filmed that farmhouse out in the field, the music they used (though it was not nearly as off putting as "Wonderful Wonderful"), even the mutant baby thing. Totally freaked me out and probably made the episode scarier than it would've been on its own.

And personally, while I like the way the X-files split up the mythology stories and the monster of the week stories, I thought it did make it really hard to keep up with what was going on. So I'm going to say I'm perfectly fine with Fringe going the integrated route as long as they're able to maintain the momentum.

bill p said...

I also fall on the Super Hearing, not "hearing the alt-earth" side of things. She heard the fly, she heard the mutant baby underground, every soap bubble popped loudly, and she could hear her sister reading to hear neice...

I thought the mutant baby was kind of cool, though it reminded me a bit of Gollum. Brad Anderson did a good job with the atmosphere here, I thought.

Tom said...

As I watched I was remembering another great 90s-era show, and it wasn't X-Files.

No, this'll make a nice double-feature along with "Bubble Boy" from Seinfeld.

rhys said...

The super hearing incidents were:

- Fly in sheriff's office
- Breathing of monster kid in monster's dad's house
- Guy talking on cell phone at the end of the parking garage
- Peter/Astrid/Walter talking in office
- Various sounds while in her bathroom: fly, bubbles popping, people in her apartment complex talking

I think you are misinterpreting the disembodied voices in the last scene as people from alt-verse.

The side effect of traveling to another universe is that Olivia is coming into her superhuman powers from those drug treatments. One of the promos for this season has Nina Sharp saying something about "you are coming into your powers."

My guess is that the superhearing will allow her to figure out Charlie is not Charlie anymore before he has a chance to kill her. It looked like he had almost given himself away by talking about the alt-verse so casually too.

Chris said...

Karen:

I think that The Observer only shows up when incidents involving the Pattern (i.e. incidents relating to parallel universes) occur.

I might be wrong, however.

Count Screwloose said...

Olivia's newly improved hearing may be why the new opening sequence now lists 'clairaudience' (the ability to hear things not normally withing hearing range) among the fringe science topics, although I believe it's meant to refer more to sounds and voices from the dead or other planes of existance.

My guess is that Olivia's hearing is now merely amplifying sounds otherwise impossible to hear in our world, but that it's possible it may start to travel outside that. After all, the headaches haven't started yet...

RG

Anonymous said...

The meta-universe hearing is a neat idea but in practice it might be hard to implement it in a way relevant to the action going on in the present - other than to make Olivia look crazy. So while it could be both super and meta, my sense is that having both would just make the show more confusing and thus stifle the plot. And others have pointed out instances where it seems clear that yesterday's show at least had the super version operating. So I think what we have here is Olivia as Jamie Somers especially if maybe in a future episode she can get a bionic arm like Nina!

Oh, and by now the freaky super baby had become teen-creature and that's probably why he was so outta control (snicker/wince).
anonymoose

James said...

Hey Alan, I know that the move to Thursdays would lead to a ratings drop, but should we be concerned about Fringe's performance this week? Fourth place isn't exactly the best place to be.

Anna Le said...

Question: is the Observer supposedly in every single episode? Because me, I never see him...
A same query :)
http://feosco.com/thiet-ke-brochure.aspx
http://feosco.com/DICH-VU/Dich-vu-Web.aspx
http://feosco.com/phan-mem-thiet-ke-web.aspx

Adriene said...

I would have to totally disagree about Olivia hearing sounds from the alternate universe. Just because Walter said that traveling to an alternate universe would affect her, doesn't mean the effect would be hearing things from the other world. That explanation doesn't make sense. If you watch the episode, you see the camera focuses on the things she's hearing; the fly, the bubbles, the man on the cell phone. Things that are in this universe, but that she shouldn't be able to hear as well as she does because they're too far away or too small. After all, Olivia heard the Scorpion baby breathing, but she thought the sound was somewhere near her at first. Alan, I think you must have missed the scene where Olivia realizes she has superhearing herself and tells Peter that she did hear someone back at the house. That was the whole point of how they found the creature.

7s Tim said...

rhys: Excellently concise summary of the superhearing and the analysis of why Alan may have misinterpreted it. But boo to the call out to the promo (no offense)

And yeah, I obviously disagree with Alan about the alt-verse hearing, since there were such glowing arrows pointing to what she was hearing (even the stuff beyond the walls had her staring at the walls, then the car horn had her look to the window).

I generally like when the over-warcing story is touched upon in a more stand alone episode. Some times it can feel tacked on or superfluous, and some shows handle this better than others--Veronica Mars, from what I remember, did a good job of juggling an A and a B storyline, and sometimes a C, one of which would be devoted entirely to the mystery of that arc. I thought the emerging side effects of the off world travel, especially the aspects of this that harkened to the experiments done to a young Olivia, tied in nicely with the experimentation done to the young boy/mole/scorpion. And Walter's excitement at realizing what the man had done really brought back to my mind the aspects of Walter that make him kind of a bad man. Stole a baby, drugged up a bunch of others, caused in some way at least one death...

But, yeah, it's still cute he wants to fish with his son.

I want some kind of explaination of how Olivia was in a car accident in the show's main reality, it's Earth-1. Finale had her clearly avoid the car (in what was a glaringly odd scene at the time) so why would she come flying out of the windshield? Did Bell decide that was the best way to send her back? Stage a car crash, alert people to Olivia's absence, then thrust her through a piece of glass, over a hood, across the street? What a jerk. I really hope the logic of this is explained, cause I'm starting to get headaches.

Not a great episode (although I've managed to explode with enough words about it eh?), but I thought pretty decent, and I liked that they placed a mostly non-mythology episode after the mythos heavy premiere, so that we can see the pieces moving slowly and the effects on Olivia unfold, rather than have them all get brought up at once is a later episode, which might make them feel rushed.

Adriene said...

Jen, I also was strongly reminded of the X-Files episode Home. But instead of being creeped out, I was bored because it seemed too much like something I'd already seen before. What I've really liked so far about Fringe, is that it's managed (IMO) to set it's own tone despite having a premise so closely related to XF. But this one just seemed like Olivia and Peter found themselves in an XF knockoff episode. I didn't hate it, but I wasn't really engaged.

Teev said...

Yeah, I gotta go with superhearing of things in this universe too. It never even occurred to me when I was watching that it would be altiverse hearing and even though it is a neat idea I still don't think that is the case. Seems like a cool, if distracting power, but the headaches don't sound like much fun.

I don't think the overarching mythology was detracting too much from the MOTW, but I absolutely agree that all episodes should have more Peter and Walter. We didn't even get to see him all excited about Twizzlers or custard or anything!

Karen said...

bill p, my husband and I also thought of Gollum when they showed Scorpion Boy approaching. (But the idea of using scorpion DNA, or whatever it was, was itself a little too extreme on the This Is Ridiculous scale for us... )

Chris, thanks. I thought I'd read somewhere that the Observer has been in every episode, but if he has, I've not be so... observant... myself. (Then again, totally missed the Oceanic thing in Flash Forward last night, too.)

Dan said...

@7s Tim

As note on Olivia's return to Earth-Prime: it would make sense that when you're returned to the destination universe, one would return to the exact moment with the same physical properties as they arrived. Hence Olivia would have maintained the forward momentum she had while driving, but since the car was now stopped she crashed through the window.

Anonymous said...

@Dan. Thanks for pointing that out. I guess I was confused in part because I thought Olivia went to earth_ii via the elevator and assumed her return to earth_i should take the same route.
anonymoose

Debsa said...

"...the season premiere was a reminder of how much more interesting the show tends to be when the Bishops are at the forefront and Olivia is off to the side." Amen Alan, the Olivia character is just as wooden as she was last year...

Tony Hill said...

Why U people hate Olivia so much? I really like her. To the point of name my new cat Olivia.
The only reason I can guess is that you have some problem with Anna Torv´s accent, wich I don´t since I´m from Argentina and I don´t pay too much attention to accents. I watch the show with subtitles.
Anyway, here I stand for Olivia!

Gridlock said...

The observer appears in every one of the S01 episodes, even if he's just a tiny figure on a sidewalk in the background. I'm not sure if this has continued into S02 but I'd guess it has.