Have you been wondering about those radio ads that prompt you to find "the pattern"? What about the posters wheatpasted in several major cities that feature fake X-ray images of frogs, apples, and a six-fingered handprint (left, reminiscent of the X-Files handprint of yore, right)? Well, I think we've found a pattern for you: it's all part of Fox's not-so-stealthy stealth marketing campaign for Fringe, a new series about a mega-spy and her gang of mad scientists coming this fall from the brain of J.J. Abrams. Part of that stealth marketing campaign also included leaking pristine copies of the series pilot online. We've watched it, and have the scoop on what you can expect. Spoilers ahead.
Lots of Gross, Cool Pseudo-Science
Though our hero Olivia points out in this scene (above) that she's not dealing with "pseudo-science," but rather "fringe science," I think we're mincing words here. Nobody wanted to name the show Pseudo, so they came up with something edgier. I love this list of "sciences" in an "area called fringe science" that Olivia spouts off as she tells soon-to-be-protagonist Joshua "Dawson's Creek" Jackson all about his mad doctor dad and his experiments. It's pretty much a here's-what's-coming sign for the entire show. So get ready for some invisibility, mutation, astral projection, resurrection, etc. This means hours of amusement for people who understand real science (I couldn't stop laughing when Olivia did a search online for "dissolve + flesh"), as well as a renewed sense of purpose for people who have missed the X-Files' spooky blend of government conspiracy and para-scientific bullshit that basically boiled down to REALLY COOL ALIEN STUFF.
In the pilot episode of Fringe, I can guarantee that you will get to see no fewer than three charmingly improbable pieces of "fringe science," one of which involves somebody taking a giant dose of Ketamine mixed with LSD and lying in a sensory deprivation tank. (Hello, Altered States?)
Add Alias Intelligence Ninja, Then Sift in Some Acid-Fueled Freakery from Lost. Stir.
Inevitably, people are going to compare Fringe to X-Files, and with good reason. But I think it's much closer to being a perfect blend of two previous Abrams projects: Alias and Lost. Olivia is practically a mirror-image of Sydney from Alias — she's got the smart-newbie thing going on, as well as the hot babe in a ponytail look. Though Sydney could be an annoying character, she was likable because she was a total ninja as well as being vulnerable. Like Sydney, Olivia is clearly going to be a smartypants rule-breaker who gets some hot spy-on-spy lovin' when she can manage to overcome her trust issues.
Here's the really good news for people who enjoy Lost's what-the-fuck quality but are sick of mysteries wrapped in enigmas swaddled in conspiracies painted over with secrets. Fringe is seemingly built to be episodic. Yes, there will be an overarching mystery — probably for the whole first season — involving the "pattern" and a Genentech-esque company called Massive Dynamics. There's some kind of conspiracy, a bunch of weird "turn you into a skeleton" experiments, and Olivia and her scooby gang have to figure it out. But each week promises to solve at least one mystery, or at least if the pilot is any indication it will. Hopefully, Abrams has finally found a format where he can give us a lot of standalone episodes without sacrificing those epic, Byzantine plot arcs he loves so much.
Suddenly DHS Is Totally Awesome
Do not expect any form of realism from Fringe whatsoever — not scientifically, and not in terms of how spy shit actually works. In the pilot episode, there are a series of rapid-fire discussions of how the people involved in the "incident" Olivia is investigating are from the CIA, DHS, and the FBI. Plus local police. Olivia is a "liason" of some nebulous description, which basically means that one week she's with DHS and the next she's with the Feds or SD-6 or SHIELD. Most of the pilot, however, focused on DHS, which is probably because most people have no idea what the hell the DHS does, except for maybe wave the USA-Patriot Act around a lot. And indeed, there is some waving of the USA-Patriot Act, which apparently has the power to get you into insane asylums to interview mad scientists.
It's Not Just a Government Conspiracy — It's a Corporate Conspiracy
In the post-government terrorist era, nobody would really believe that the US could muster up enough of a spy conspiracy to satisfy TV fans week after week. So Fringe adds corporate conspiracies on top of its blooming FBI/DHS potential conspiracy. Olivia is investigating a runaway chemical compound that reduces everybody to jelly. Turns out that the elder mad scientist in her scooby gang knows how it works, and he also worked on it with the elusive, Craig Venter-esque zillionaire who runs Massive Dynamics. (A road sign helpfully tells us that Massive Dynamics "does everything," but in the episode they mostly do creepy things with genetics and cool things with bionic arms.) Somehow Massive Dynamics is working with the FBI or maybe some other even more shadowy government agency. But the point is that the conspiracy stretches beyond the spies and into the crazy terrain of Big Science. I can't wait for Fringe to do an episode about some Google-esque company that is injecting evil code into the astral plane.
Bottom Line: The pilot was creepy, cool, and kind of gross. The scooby gang could use some work: Do we really need to have the irritating Frasier-esque banter between rebel scientist son and crusty old mad scientist dad? Also there is an unexpected and wonderful use of sans-serif fonts. Really awesome.