With season 3, Fringe becomes the most daring show on televisionS

Fringe has already proven that it's willing to take its alternate-universe concept in shocking directions. But the first two episodes of season three have so many mind-blowing, thought-provoking, can't-believe-they-went-there moments, you'll have to watch them twice. Here's our spoiler-free preview.

We were lucky enough to watch the first two episodes of Fringe's new season, premiering next week, and we were utterly blown away. And that's with high expectations to begin with — the first two hours of the season blow past any expectations you might have had. The result is genuinely creepy, funny, weird and awesome. Put together, the first two hours of Fringe season three make for one of the best science fiction movies I've seen in a while, and they leave me dying to know what happens next.

The new status quo, as anybody who saw the tail end of season two knows, is that Walter and Olivia have successfully "rescued" Peter from the other universe. But Peter now knows the truth — that Walter originally kidpnapped him from that universe — and he's seen the havoc it wrought. Plus Peter knows he's supposed to be the key component in some kind of doomsday machine. Meanwhile, the other Walter, the crafty "Walternate," substituted his universe's version of Olivia — and the "real" Olivia is trapped in the other universe while her doppleganger pretends to be her.

The good news is, the new episodes hit the ground running with this new status quo, and waste absolutely no time setting a bunch of developments in motion. There's none of the parceling out of developments that sometimes happened in season two, where people made decisions very slowly. This time around, things move quickly and you find out a lot in those first two outings. The other good news is, you may think you know where this tale of two Olivias is going, but you'd be wrong. Both Olivias very quickly take off in directions that you would never have predicted, but which actually wind up making a lot of sense. In fact, the whole decision to substitute "Bolivia" for "Olivia" turns out to have a logic behind it that wasn't immediately apparent.

With season 3, Fringe becomes the most daring show on televisionS

All of the stuff you loved in the first two seasons is back — Walter is still just as volatile and hilarious as ever, and the second episode includes some new Walter-isms that are already on my personal top ten list. Astrid still has silly nicknames, Peter is still suave and slightly skeevy. And the glimpses of the alternate universe are just as fascinating as ever, including some major revelations about their politics and science. Both episodes end with major shockers, though, and it's safe to say that in a few weeks, things will be even stranger for our heroes than they already are.

All of the questions raised in season two are dealt with some more, especially the consequences of Walter's actions and whether Walter should avoid taking crazy risks in the future. (Of course, if Walter never took any crazy risks, we wouldn't have a show.)

In any case, this looks like the season when Fringe proves once and for all that it belongs up there with Twin Peaks, The Wire and the middle seasons of Star Trek: TNG. If you have friends who've wandered away from this show, time to drag them back to it.

Here's a new cast picture, which just went up over at EW:

With season 3, Fringe becomes the most daring show on televisionS

And here's a new featurette about alternate universes, which does contain some spoilers:

Click to view

Fringe is back a week from tonight.