Sunday, December 13, 2009

Fringe, "Grey Matters": Missing pieces

Some quick, belated thoughts on last week's "Fringe" coming up just as soon as I confuse you with a Peter Lorre joke...
"I suspect that's the way it's going to be: the more answers we get, the more questions they lead to." -Broyles
"We didn't get any answers!" -Olivia
Always nice when a JJ Abrams show demonstrates a little self-awareness, isn't it?

Whether we got real answers or not, "Grey Matters" was still a strong outing, as you'd expect any episode spotlighting Walter to be. John Noble did a tremendous job at showing Walter's fear of being in the asylum, and then at giving us a brief glimpse of a whole, angry, and tremendously arrogant Walter Bishop. As much trouble as he has now getting his thoughts together, it seems clear why he and Peter have a better relationship now than they ever did before he lost (pieces of) his mind.

I do wish that when TV characters are placed in the situation Olivia found herself in at the climax would be a little more clever and/or ruthless, rather than playing the game according to the bad guy's terms, but overall our formerly headless villain is shaping up to be a worthy successor to Jared Harris.

Now, I recognize that I've been posting these reviews fairly late each week (or skipping them altogether, as I did last week), but it feels like the amount of conversation here about this show has fallen off the table. Have people just given up? Is it just that you have nothing to say by the time I've watched it and written about it? Or were you waiting for a mythology-heavy episode like this one to get to talking?

If the latter, then go for it. What did everybody else think?

31 comments:

Steve said...

Great acting by Noble (this will probably be his Emmy submission), reminding us that Walter wasn't always an eccentric, lovable kook. I'm thinking that this display of the "real Walter" further confirms the show's worst-kept secret: that alt-Walter Bishop is running the war from Earth-2.

Although it's a different actor, the formerly headless leader (Thomas Jerome Newton) reminds me of Jamey Sheridan with an English accent. And Thomas Jerome Newton, incidentally, is the name of the alien in David Bowie's The Man Who Fell to Earth.

And Olivia's license plate: 1C3P01. Heh.

Steve said...

One more thing: whatever happened to the ZFT manifesto? They made such a big deal out of it in Season 1, especially with Walter finding the missing chapter in the finale, but it hasn't been mentioned once in Season 2.

Sylar said...

I thought this was definitely in the top two of the series (behind only "There's More than One of Everything"). It really showed how good Fringe can be when it wants to, and how great John Noble really is.

TV Obsessed said...

Like all Abrams shows (minus Felicity), there is a point where things don't really tie in together, so the significance out the episode is lost on me. There are so many random pieces that while I can enjoy individual parts such as Walter, I can't enjoy the mythology.

Ben S said...

This and last week's eps were fantastic showcases for John Noble. Either one would be a deserving Emmy winner.

p.s. Please keep the Fringe reviews coming Alan.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy the show and always read your reviews, but I just think for the most part this is a show that's enjoyable to watch, but doesn't leave most people with a whole lot to say about it.

Anonymous said...

I was confused with the final scene with William Bell and Walter - was it set in the present?

akaBruno said...

I also liked the hat tip to Re-Animator, with two of the patients with parts of Walter's brain were Barbara Crampton, co-star of the film, and Stuart Gordon, Director.

Josh said...

I think my problem is that I tend to like to respond to your discussion, but Fringe tends to only get cursory discussion from you, not leaving much to respond to. Not a criticism - you have a ton that you watch - but I like reading your thoughts and then spring-boarding.

That being said, a couple of thoughts:

1. Loved all the Re-Animator references (notice all the names of the patients?)

2. How about that final reveal? It's one of those that raises as many questions as it answers (another nod to Broyles's comment), but it seems to confirm that Bell really is trying to stop travel between the two places.

3. God, was that scene with "old" Walter amazing. With just a couple of lines, John Noble really gave us a window into why he and Peter had such a bad relationship and how Walter was capable of so many horrific actions. That being said, according to the episode, Dr. "Paris" visited Walter in the asylum several times. I assumed at first that Walter lost his mind when his brain was dissected, but is it possible that the dissection was done after the insanity?

4. Any thoughts on the Blight that the new leader mentioned? It really seems like Earth-2 is a shithole, WTC notwithstanding...and you have to wonder if some of that is due to people constantly jumping back and forth in universes or generally futzing around with technology.

5. Steve - my take the ZFT manifesto that it simply means that Walter is far more than coincidentally tied into everything. We all grumbled about how every case for a while seemed to be miraculously based on Walter's old work, but it turns out that these people might be working off of his work.

Josh said...

Anonymous - the final scene (as I took it) was a flashback revealing exactly how Walter's brain got dissected and put into other people's minds, as well as showing us who "Dr. Paris" really was. (Also, I'm told that the Paris name is a nod to Nimoy's work on Mission: Impossible...)

Andrew said...

I think the reveal with the manifesto was the impending conflict with Earth 2, warriors being recruited to fight, and finally that walter/bell wrote it.

http://fringepedia.net/wiki/ZFT

CoolSid said...

Up until now I did not realize the problem with Fringe.But last week's episode was where it struck me that while JJ Abrams created shows that became franchises after their success, he wanted to create a franchise in Fringe.

Lost became a watercooler show with vast internet tie-ins and other merchandises as a sort of natural evolution. Fringe was essentially concieved as a jigsaw puzzle which would have many pieces and cool looking visuals which is supposed to get a internet fans buzzing. Hence, it sorely lacks compelling charcters and because of that the story is not compelling enough

Thus while last night's episode was very important, what I found interesting were the imagery of Jeff Perry sitting with brain for all to see and the cool device used by the formerly headless villian(There's a phrase I will be trying to get into conversations throughout the week) to get Walter to interpret the memories.

Corvus Imbrifer said...

I'm still in! There are certainly some wobbles, but none of the absurd lurches and desperate stunts that curse a few of the other shows I watch or have stopped watching. The conceit is holding up fairly well, and the science, while being nicely ludicrous, doesn't swamp the plot. I could do without the cleverclever asides, those often pull me out of the drama - I'm a viewer, not a contestant. That being said, those elements were light touches, well done when compared with some very heavy-handed meta inclusions in other programs lately.

Noble raised gooseflesh with just a couple of lines, as mentioned. And I found I have come to appreciate Ms Torv, who initially came off as blank.

CEK said...

I loved Walter's amazed "Wow" when they realized the headless guy was alive. And I love how throughout the episode, Olivia's actions were a nice reflection back of Peter's "you aren't fighting this alone." Her devotion to helping the Bishops, while tempered
with affection is not weakness.

7s Tim said...

I think the lack of excitement in the comments section has much to do with the delayed reviews, but at least as much to do with the reason for the delay: Thursday nights are crowded. I think many of us DVR or Tivo or Hulu Fringe. So, unlike Mad Men or Lost where after watching the episode bouncing thoughts off of other commenters (and, of course, reading your review) is half the enjoyment for many of us, with Fringe it almost feels like we're all late to the party.


But yeah, this episode was great. I kinda wish they had just sliced open Walter's head and put him back together. I like bumbling and inappropriate Walter as much as the next guy, but I think I'd like hardass Walter even more. And I agree with previous commenters that Bell did the excising while Walter was in the mental hosptal. He seemed concerned that Walter had lost his mind, and was trying to protect the knowledge he had from going to the exact people who just got it.

And I agree with Alan that the hackneyed "Let me go or your friend dies!" scene with the villain seemed a cop out: they wanted his loose, needed to raise the emotional level of the Walter and Peter moment, and just took the easy way out. Ok, maybe I disliked it more than Alan, but you get my point.

I think there was some hint in the first season, but I can't remember it exactly, that Walter caused the Blight in Earth-2 and much of the reason he wrote the ZFT and began looking to protect our world is because he could foresee that there would be a reprisal. I kinda don't want Earth-2 Walter to be in charge of the infiltration of our world: if he's basically the same guy, why isn't he smart enough to make the same tech our Walter made? Annoying, especially since they clearly have traveled to our side many times, since there are a whole mess o' bad guys here. I don't need a car to get somewhere I have already arrived at, ya feel me?

I want Earth-2 Bell to be in charge.
Although, how is our Bell safe in Earth-2 while Earth-1 is riddled with bad guys? or is he on a different world altogether? Alt world stories can spiral our of control. But the fourth season they'll need an arc called "Crisis on Infinite Fringes"

Pirate Alice said...

I'm still watching it, but this isn't a show I feel I need to discuss with others. My biggest issue with that final endgame with Olivia in this episode, we saw her pull up at the house and I could have sworn there was another FBI vehicle behind hers. Yet she runs out the back ALONE, with no backup knowing there are hostile and dangerous bad guys. Just ONCE I'd like to see her barge into bad guy territory with the proper FBI backup. I can't believe a manhunt for Walter would be ONLY Olivia with Peter and no one with her. That annoys me a lot and makes it hard for me to suspend my disbelief.

Eldritch said...

I'm still watching this thing because I'm a sucker for finding out how things turn out.

Beyond that addictive behavior, however, my ardor for "Fringe" is cooling. I think that's because there have been no answers. Without a few answers to let the audience (or even the characters) progress, the show becomes flash without substance. It's just empty calories.

That's how I felt about Abrams' Star Trek movie. It was good action adventure/special effects without any substance. It had a few good jokes in it, but it's nothing I'd bother seeing a second time. Now "The Wrath of Khan" on the other hand is a movie I've seen several times, because it deals with coming to terms with aging and dealing with the consequences of one's actions, sacrifice, friendship. There's enough there to reach your heart. Not so with "Fringe."

I really like Walter, and I'm fond of Olivia, Peter and Asrid. But not enough to see them re-do the same things over and over again without result.

It's not enough just to through bizarre things at the screen to entertain me. That's only fun for a while.

OldDarth said...

Very cool episode. The blow back moment between Walter and Peter is going to be intense given how close they have grown this season.

Kevin said...

I thought this was one of the better Fringe episodes ever - certainly the best in weeks. John Noble really carries this show, and like others have said this episode was a great acting showcase on his his part. Fringe is inconsistent in the sense that some episodes just fall flat and somewhere short of interesting, but this episode was Fringe at its best.

Alex Mullane said...

Thought this was a great episode.

John Noble was indeed terrific, the way he gave us a whole new character with only a few sparse lines was astonishing. (And, I suspect, a hint of what to expect from the future "big bad" in vengeful Earth2 Walter).

It moved the plot along nicely, had a new, fairly interesting bad guy, and was full of the bonkers science that I've grown to take pleasure in from this show.

Keep the reviews coming, I'm certainly still in!

Mingatie said...

Please keep the reviews coming. This show is one of the very few I consistently enjoy (although I'm usually too tired on Thurs to watch it live). I always enjoy your commentary. Please cut this show a little slack—it's the last bit of decent sci-fi on now (I think V and Flashforward are going to bite the dust hard and I thought Stargate Universe was boring). Unless of course you count Lost as sci-fi. I need some sci-fi in my life, and I really hope this show improves as it goes and gets decent ratings. I've developed a love for Joshua Jackson, Walter Noble of course is great, and Anna Torv is pretty good, getting better all the time.

I think I watch too much TV. There was Curtis from 24, Meredith's Dad, and my age-appropriate crush, Kurt Mendel from Odyssey 5 (love his voice). And of course Spock. Yeah, I need a life...bad.

Anonymous said...

Please Mr. Sepinwall put up a Dexter post soon would love to hear your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

DEFINITELY please continue to post about Fringe. I always look forward to what you and others say about it. It's not a problem that you post a day or two late, because of being busy with other stuff. But it's a great show, and you have great insight. I also would enjoy reading your thoughts on "Criminal Minds," as that is another of my personal favorites. When you write about NCIS, too, it makes my week! Thanks for all of it. Can't wait until February to be reconnected with Lost...

Davy said...

I definitely think your timing of the reviews is a part of what's keeping conversation here down. I know for many Thurs is a busy TV night, but for me I have two shows -- Bones and Fringe. Fringe is the show I'm interested in reading about the next morning, but you're busy with other things, so I read about/discuss Fringe elsewhere, and by the time you've caught up to the show I'm on to other things.

But also, because the show is at heart a procedural, there are just a ton of episodes that don't merit really deep discussions. This, I think, is where Lost finding an end date helped it -- Fringe could be similarly well served by having a defined end point.

One thought, more about last week's show than this one: I'm convinced that Olivia's niece is a bigger piece of the puzzle than we've been lead to believe. The scene at the end of last week, when the observers were watching her and her niece on the coaster -- something about that scene lead me to believe they were talking about the niece, not Oliva.

And now with two obvious Bowie references (David Robert Jones & Thomas Jerome Newton), I hope this is more than just allusions to "The Man Who Fell to Earth," but a sign that the leader of the invasion forces is none other than the Thin White Duke himself.

Nancy said...

BTW, I am still totally in to Fringe. I think the lack of comments is the delay in the posting.

Thanks so much for covering Fringe!

invisiblegc said...

I'm grateful for the reviews as well. As a UK viewer it is great to read these insights into episodes as few people I know watch the show or talk about it so knowledgeably. I hope you can continue to write about them.

rhys said...

The scene at the end was definitely a flashback to while Walter was in the mental asylum and William Bell came and extracted the parts of his brain that had the information to create a doorway to Earth2 (using that term reminds me of the show, Earth2). It was a good twist because originally I assumed Newton was Paris.

I really enjoy the show and like the write-ups. I have been confident from the beginning that the show knows where it is going. The problem is the same as any serialized show, stretching out the plots to fulfill the networks expectations of full season episodes. I feel like we need to stop being obsessed with multi-year, 22 episode seasons, and start doing a sort of long-form mini-series type set up, where there's only a set amount of seasons and a definite end date from the very beginning.

Anyways, I like that we got an explanation as to why Walter is crazy. I definitely more episodes were as strong as this and stayed on the main plotline.

Does anyone else remember how when Walter was trapped back in the hospital again he was visited by another version of himself? In that episode it came off as a hallucination. But I wonder if it was the evil (or "normal") Walter from Earth2 come to visit him.

7s Tim said...

It's official: the blog logo gets more commenters than the Fringe post. The intrigue in the logo isn't that much more than the intrigue in Fringe...

Brett said...

Marvelous episode--one of my favorite episodes of television this year. Great performance from Noble.

I strongly agree that Olivia handled Newton's trick at the end poorly. I would have liked for her to go all Jack Bauer on him, but if nothing else, at least try to have someone track him after you've saved Walter! I also thought the notion of three vials which needed to be injected in a certain order was just a little too implausible--wouldn't the body essentially process them all at the same time, anyway? Still, these were small points compared to how much I enjoyed in the episode.

Wilder said...

Love Fringe. Love your blog. May both live long and prosper. (verification word: untrap)

legion said...

Oh I love Fringe. It's some fine reliable entertainment all right. My wife and I both look forward to it and it's one of our few must-see shows. Although I don't find I'm always left with the desire to think much about it afterwards. It's a fun romp, but I'm content to let it play out in its own time and I like the mythology but I'm not moved to comment about it.