It's finally coming back! Fringe, the show that started as a bland X-Files clone and became a quirkily brilliant epic about interdimensional war, is finally on its way back to your television screens on Friday.
We've seen the first two episodes of the season, which offer a pretty good jumping-on point for newcomers to the series. On the minus side, though, they're probably less geared towards long-term fans of the show. Spoilers ahead...
Fringe starts right up in decently creepy style in the first two episodes. There's one monster-of-the-week adventure that may turn out to have long-term ramifications for the season's arc. And then there's a novel use of the show's "alternate universes" premise, that I've never seen done before in quite that way.
We pick up more or less where we left off — Peter Bishop is still erased from history, and nobody remembers him. Because of his absence, a few things are different here and there, including one rather startling change that actually caught me off guard. And meanwhile, there's a kind of tunnel between the two Earths, located on Liberty Island where the "First People" machine is in both universes — and people can now cross more or less freely from Earth Prime to Earth Two, or whatever we're calling them. There's an uneasy truce between the two worlds.
So thanks to Peter being erased, everything is new all over again, and we're all rediscovering the Fringe universe from scratch — newcomers and veterans alike. To make things even more "jumping-on point"-y, the Fringe team gets a new member in the season opener: the Lincoln Lee of our universe, who has never met the Fringe team before in this version of reality. We see through Lincoln's eyes, as he encounters the secretive and intense Olivia Dunham and gets swept up into a world of mystery.
So the good news is, the first two episodes have reasonably self-contained plots, with just hints about the season's arc. And we get reintroduced into the Fringe world pretty gently, with the minimum of infodump. For newbies, it's an introduction to the world, while for fans, it's a chance to see how things are different without Peter.
What's the bad news? Well, neither episode entirely knocked our socks off. They're both pretty typical of Fringe "monster of the week" episodes, in which there's some creepiness and mystery, but the stakes stay low. (Although the first episode may wind up having long-term ramifications, they're not explored much within the episode.)
And — slightly more serious spoilers here — the show is feeling seriously Bishop-deprived. Peter is basically out of the picture, although there are hints about how he could return. Meanwhile, because Walter never had his grown-up son in his life, Walter is a basket case who's afraid to leave his laboratory. This means that Walter never goes out on location to investigate cases, and instead of awesome scenes of Walter interacting with the world, we're forced to be contented with a few (admittedly terrific) scenes of Walter being a lunatic in his lab.
And it's not immediately clear what's going to replace the "war between universes" as the new axis of the show, although I think there are hints.
So, to sum up: These episodes are a pretty great entry point for your friends who haven't yet checked out Fringe. (Which is great, since we want the show's audience to grow.) And they're a fun example of what Fringe can be, when the team is out solving cases and dealing with some of the world's creepiest people/creatures. But for long-term fans of the show, they may leave you craving more of the show's great strengths: the chemistry among its three leads, and the intense mythos. No doubt, though, those things are coming.