I was originally planning to write a big throat-clearing reintroduction to Fringe as we move into the second season, but man, forget all that… how about that Freak-Meet? And how about what happened immediately afterward? I saw this first Season Two episode via screener two weeks ago and since I’ve been itching to talk about it, I’m not going to waste any more time. This will be the universe where I jump right into it.
“A New Day In The Old Town” begins in the aftermath of a car accident, as a man with a massive headwound crawls across the pavement. He pulls himself together, enters a nearby apartment, knocks the crap out of the first guy he finds, mushes his own face into a shapeless lump, shoves some kind of electrical plug into the unconscious guy's soft palate, and after a charge of electricity effectively switches identities.
Meanwhile, back at the accident scene, the FBI (including comely, curious young agent Amy Jessup) is consulting with Peter and Walter, who’ve been called in because one of the vehicles that crashed appears to belong to their friend and colleague Olivia Dunham. Except that’s Olivia’s nowhere to be found, even though there’s ample evidence that she was driving the car when it wrecked. Then Walter fiddles with the radio and Olivia appears out of thin air, hurtling through her car’s front windshield.
So… ready for a new season of Fringe?
I admired quite a bit about this Season Two opener—including the welcome reminder of how well the show has learned to mix humor, drama, action and creep-outs—but I especially admired the way the Fringe creative team tried to make the episode new-viewer-friendly without making existing fans too impatient. Hence the timely arrival of Agent Jessup (played by Meghan Markle, a little stiff in this first outing but no worse than Anna Torv was when she started), who is so intrigued by what she sees of Walter, Peter, and The Incredible Disappearing Agent Dunham that she launches her own investigation into Fringe Division—which not coincidentally allows her to explain a good chunk of what happened last season to any viewer who might be turning in for the first time.
The introduction of Jessup also allows the writers to play a little psych-out game with the audience—though I doubt anyone was really fooled. After Olivia got projected through glass onto the unforgiving pavement, the doctors pronounced her brain-dead, and there was a moment—just a moment, mind you—when I wondered if the Fringe folks were throwing a major curve, and were going to remake the show with Jessup as the new heroine, before maybe bringing in a new Olivia from that crazy World Trade Center-sporting Earth-2 in the Season One finale. For added curveball-plausibility, we see Fringe honcho Agent Broyles in Washington D.C., facing a closed-door congressional panel that threatens to shut down the unit. (We also see Broyles smooching with Nina Sharp. Ooh la la.) And when Peter shows up at HQ, he has his credentials revoked and shredded. There appears to be a whole new show developing here.
Or at least that’s the case for an act or two. Olivia eventually pops out of her coma, shouting something in Greek. (Peter explains that she said what his mother used to say all the time: “Be a better man than your father.”) Olivia has vague recollections of her trip to Earth-2 to meet William Bell, but either because the writers want to tease out a mystery or because they can't afford to sign Leonard Nimoy as a regular, it’s all too hazy for her to recall definitively. She knows she has something to do, but she's not entirely sure what it is.
In the meantime, Olivia does have a question—“Where’s Charlie?”—which proves to be an interesting question indeed. One thing lending credence to the idea that the writers might be willing to reshuffle the decks for Fringe Season Two was the off-season news that Charlie-portrayer Kirk Acevedo had been dropped from the cast. The producers insisted that this was all a misunderstanding, and that Acevedo still has a place on the show. And sure enough, there he is in this episode, showing up at Olivia's bedside to fill her in on the Fringe Division scuttlebutt. And there he is again at the end of the episode, getting killed—and replaced—by The Morpher from the pre-credits sequence. It seems that for the duration of his Fringe contract, Acevedo will be playing Evil Charlie.
Before The Morpher becomes Evil Charlie, he/she/it becomes Olivia's nurse, and before he/she/it can execute Olivia the ruse is uncovered, and The Morpher has to leap down about four stories to escape. (“Go get that bitch,” Olivia hisses.) The Morpher got its assignment transmitted via a manual typewriter, which is a wonderfully Fringe-y touch, mixing the technological with the supernatural.
And speaking of Fringe-y touches, it was good to see the lens flares back in force tonight, along with a new visual technique that had characters drifting in and out of focus. The lens flares have always been a neat way to visualize the notion of another world poking it's head into this one; and the shifting focus fits a show that's now about alternate dimensions, potentially containing alternate versions of the people we know.
That’s what’s become so fun about Fringe, yes? We can pick over the meaning of the episode title ("new" and "old" compared to what?), or how The Morpher’s single-minded super-soldier style fits the show's long-running theme of human bodies as programmable machines. Or we can just enjoy the wink with which John Noble delivers a loaded line like, “Life and death… these are relative terms.”
-Walter was the sous-chef at a chemistry lab, working under the guy who invented the Ho-Ho.
-Walter, excited about his culinary creation: “I want to see her face when she eats my pudding.”
-Walter, examining The Morpher's first victim: “Feel his anus, it’s soaking wet.”
-You know it's a festive occasion when you see a cow wearing a birthday hat.
-“Asterix” is still around, still doing little, and still having her name mangled by Walter. But I wouldn't be surprised if she didn’t end up playing a much bigger role by the end of this season. She’s such a potentially rich character, just waiting to be put to use.
-When Peter says that Jessup’s career choice “begs the question?”… it really doesn’t.
-Nice to see a reminder of the ass-kicking Olivia when she rears up in her hospital bed and begins loading her gun. It's remarkable how good Torv has become (and how strong a character Olivia has become) after such a rough start.
-So I’ve been thinking a lot about the Season One scene where Walter appears to visit himself in the institution. At the time we were speculating that Walter might actually be William Bell, or that he might have a secret twin, or clone. Now there are two more likely possibilities: 1. That Walter was visited by the Walter of Earth-2; 2. That Walter was visited by one of those face-mushing morpher dudes. I'm thinking Earth-2 (or just freaky dream), but this show does keep you guessing.
-Clever song choice: Blind Faith's “Can't Find My Way Home.” Could it be that there are still more universes, and that are heroes are more lost than they know?
-Biblical excerpts in Jessup’s notes: “Eat The Flesh” and “The Beast.” Interpreters, submit your interpretations.
-You can call him Colonel or Special Agent. You can’t call him Broyles.