What to expect from Fringe season three: two universes worth of WTF

If you thought Fringe was going to keep giving us tiny bites of its alternate universe, every half-dozen episodes, then season three will be a surprise, judging from what the show's producers and cast told us at Comic Con. Spoilers...

Season two of Fringe ended with our biggest visit to the "other side," the alternate universe where the Twin Towers still stand, in the show's run. And "our" Olivia was left stranded there, while her counterpart, Alt-livia, took her place. It sounds like we'll be exploring the other universe a lot more as the show progresses.

Jasika Nicole told reporters that the format of season three will be somewhat different. As in previous seasons, "really bizarre things are happening, and the Fringe team is investigating - but now you have two different Fringe teams doing the investigation."

And Nicole said we'll see more of the fact that the Fringe Division in the alt-universe is actually more of a happy family and more tightly knit than the dysfunctional Fringe team in "our" universe. This was something that came up a lot in the press interviews on Fringe: the idea that even though life is harder in the alt-universe, it's actually made everyone better people, and they're all more altruistic and caring towards each other. It's like people who lived through World War II, said producers J.H. Wyman and Jeff Pinkner.

The one exception, of course, is alt-Astrid, who is sort of an autistic savant in the alt-universe - something Nicole, who has an autistic sister, finds interesting to play. She likes the idea of people with autism or Aspergers being super-powered and being able to make a unique contribution.

"There's no waiting around" for the show to get into the dual universes storyline, Nicole said — the show dives into this stuff right away. In fact, Blair Brown told us she's not in the season opener because it takes place mostly in the alt-universe.

What to expect from Fringe season three: two universes worth of WTF

Producers J.H. Wyman and Jeff Pinkner told us they're excited to spend more time in the alt-universe. In "our" universe they get to create the world of their characters, but in the alt-universe, they get to create an entire, complete world altogether. And while it's "shockingly expensive" to create some of the visual effects of the alt-universe - like the people trapped in amber - it's really rewarding. In the alt-universe, the Bermuda Triangle is in the middle of New York Harbor, and there's a sign saying "Be Vortex Aware."

They really want audiences to invest in the alt-universe and want to see more of it. At the same time, they recognize that the "hero characters" are the "original" versions of Peter, Olivia and Walter. So we really only get to see the alt-universe when one of "our" people is over there. And don't hold your breath to see a third alternate universe - they think two are plenty for now, and they don't want to confuse casual viewers.

Other stuff:

Even though William Bell's story has ended, producer Jeff Pinkner told the panel audience that they would love to have him back. They were incredibly grateful to have him in season two. "He really was so unbelievably gracious," Pinkner recalls. "He was initially nervous that we just wanted him for promotional value, but we really wanted to give him a swansong role. Should we be able to convince him to come out of retirement again, we have another story in mind" for William Bell, Pinkner said.

One fan asked at the panel whether the reference to "First People" in the opening credits of the alt-universe Fringe was significant. And apparently it is! It has something to do with the mythology, and may be something the people in the alt-universe have found out about before people in "our" universe. And the show may be exploring that topic further this season.

And Akiva Goldsman dropped a hint to Jasika Nicole during the filming of the second season finale - in one scene, he wanted to have the subtext that maybe Astrid is in love with Broyles. Nicole actually thought her character might be the love child of Broyles and Nina Sharp, but in an upcoming episode, we'll actually hear about Astrid's parents.

The producers have been trying to do what they call "mythalone" episodes, which are stand-alone episodes that either advance one character's personal arc in some way, or tie in with the show's mythology somehow. They're sensitive to the fact that fans are impatient with standalone episodes, but casual viewers really prefer them. "Series television is challenging," J.H. Wyman told reporters. "People have so much to do with their time. It has to be understandable while you're eating dinner. It's not like you're in a movie theater and you're a captive audience."

What to expect from Fringe season three: two universes worth of WTF

The show's stars all had some interesting thoughts about their alternate-universe selves, and a common theme seemed to be not trying too hard to make the alt-versions totally different. They're still playing the same characters, just with different formative experiences. So Anna Torv told the panel audience that she wound up making Olivia and Alt-livia quite similar, but bearing in mind one crucial difference: "Olivia wants to be the best, but Alt-livia just wants to win." Meanwhile, Lance Reddick told us in roundtable interviews that alt-Broyles is more military and more of a soldier in the trenches than the more political, corporate Broyles in "our" universe.

Also, Blair Brown hinted that we'll be seeing a very different side of Nina Sharp in season three - in the second season, we started to suspect that Nina wasn't quite the villain we'd believed her to be. But in the third season, "the die will be cast," Brown said. Now that William Bell is gone for good, things will be very different at Massive Dynamic, and Nina's role will be very different. As for the Nina of the alt-universe, Brown hasn't found out anything about her yet. But Brown says "our" Nina at least has an arm in the other universe, so at least if Nina crosses over to that universe, she'll finally have two arms.

One exciting development is that Astrid is no longer homeless - that is, an upcoming episode will actually show us Astrid's apartment. Jasika Nicole told reporters that Astrid's apartment is surprisingly hippie-ish, with rugs and tapestries everywhere, and she now thinks Astrid was a total hypocrite to reprimand Walter for smoking weed. Also, Astrid has Erykah Badu albums laying around - and luckily, Astrid loves Badu too.