Fringe returns to television tonight with a whole new season of dimension-hopping, biohacking, supersoldier madness. Didn't keep up with last season's mysteries, or just want a quick refresher? We tell you all you need to know for tonight's premiere.
Fringe follows the FBI's Fringe Science Division — FBI Agent Olivia Dunham, fringe scientist Walter Bishop, Walter's son Peter Bishop, and lab assistant Astrid — as they investigate bizarre occurrences related to the fringes of current scientific knowledge. Last season left us with a bioterrorist group, an alternate dimension, and supersoldier program to prepare us for the looming interdimensional war:
The FBI's Fringe Science Division was set up to investigate the Pattern, a series of bizarre occurrences happening all over the world. From a contagion that causes a plane full of people to literally melt to children disappearing and then reappearing years later, apparently unaged, the Pattern has been described as a series of experiments where the whole world is the laboratory.
It becomes increasingly clear that the Pattern is linked to Zerstörung durch Fortschritte der Technologie ("Destruction through Technological Progress") better known as ZFT. More on them below.
Agent Olivia Dunham quickly links one incidence of the Pattern with Walter Bishop. Once a respected Harvard biochemist, Walter worked for the US government on developing "fringe" sciences — teleportation, genetic engineering, and the like. But after a lab accident killed one of his research assistants, Walter's ethics were called into question, and he was accused (rightly so) of experimenting on human test subjects. As a result, he spent several years in a psychiatric facility until he was liberated by Olivia and his estranged son Peter to investigate cases with the Fringe Science Division.
Many of the cases related to the Pattern involve Walter's research, but Walter walks about in a personal fog that leaves him often unable (or perhaps unwilling) to recall his exact connections to the cases — to the extent that he can't remember whether he authored the ZFT Manifesto.
ZFT and the Alternate Dimension
Bioterrorist group ZFT is responsible for many of the experiments the Fringe team investigates. ZFT's extensive network of scientists perform bizarre and often deadly experiments on other human beings — like infecting a woman with a form of vampiric syphilis or growing fast-aging humans. In addition to their biohacks, ZFT possesses some technologies developed by Walter Bishop, including a teleportation device.
But there's also a method behind ZFT's biological madness. ZFT members operate according to a manifesto that states two key things: there is another dimension more scientifically advanced than our own, and in the coming interdimensional war, only one dimension can survive. ZFT is out to create an army of biologically enhanced supersoldiers who will fight for our dimension in that war. But there's also a chapter missing from ZFT's manifesto — one that outlines ethics.
The face of ZFT has been David Robert Jones, a genetic weapons trafficker with an obsession with Olivia. Jones was bisected in the season finale when the gateway between dimensions closed on him, but we also learned there is an even more powerful figure behind ZFT: William Bell.
William Bell and Massive Dynamic
William Bell was Walter Bishop's lab partner back in their Harvard research days, helping him develop the fringe sciences. After Walter is sent to the psychiatric facility, Bell starts on a far more lucrative career path, founding "We Make Everything" conglomerate Massive Dynamic. His company, and its COO Nina Sharp, seem to have ties to the pattern, but little is known about Bell himself until the season finale, when it's revealed that he not only is funding ZFT, he authored the ZFT Manifesto and has been chilling out in the alternate universe.
Olivia's Supersoldier Powers
Agent Olivia Dunham soon discovers that Walter isn't the only one on the Fringe Team with shades of ZFT in their past. Before he was incarcerated, Walter experimented with a drug called Cortexiphan, giving the drug to children — Olivia among them. Olivia doesn't remember the experiments (perhaps because she was instructed to forget), but after an encounter with Jones, she begins to manifest strange abilities, including the power to switch off lightbulbs with her mind and glimpse the alternate dimension.
Peter's Extradimensional Origins
Peter Bishop's strained relationship with his father improved over the first season, but Walter's sitting on a secret that could destroy not only their relationship, but Peter as well. Walter has mentioned that Peter was deathly ill as a child, something Peter has no memory of, and mentions that he once traveled to the other dimension to retrieve something he had lost. In the season finale, it's revealed that our dimension's Peter died of his illness, meaning Peter himself must be from the other universe. One imagines that somewhere there is an alternate Walter Bishop who's pretty pissed off.
Sitting in the background of every episode is the Observer, a bald fellow who watches the Fringe Team and their investigations. Very little is known about the Observer — he has little sense of taste, the ability to communicate telepathically, and a notebook where he records his observations. He's not alone in his mission, having contacted someone upon viewing a mysterious beacon, and he's apparently been watching Walter and Peter a long time. He saved the pair from falling through the ice when Peter was a boy.
Gene the Cow is a permanent fixture of the Fringe lab. Walter has explained that cows are genetically similar to humans and frequently uses her as his bovine guinea pig. She hasn't shown any mysterious qualities yet, but this being Fringe, I wouldn't rule it out.