Thursday, October 23, 2008

TV REVIEW: Fringe: "The Cure"

In something of a switcheroo, this week's installment of Fringe, "The Cure," plays more like an episode of Chris Carter's late, lamented Millennium (1996-1999) than of Chris Carter's The X-Files. Well, I guess that's what passes for originality on network television these days...

In "The Cure," our heroes, the Bishops (Walter and Peter) and FBI agent Olivia Dunham, investigate the strange case of a woman in Milford, Massachusetts who has been mysteriously but effectively "weaponized;" her brain transformed into a microwave generator that can "fry" innocent bystanders around her (meaning that their eyes bleed out...). The behind-the-scenes culprit is a nefarious physician working for INTREPUS, a giant pharmaceutical company (and competitor to Massive Dynamic). When a second woman is kidnapped and time starts to run out, Peter (Joshua Jackson) makes a Faustian bargain with Blair Brown's character, Nina Sharpe, and helps Olivia bring down the evil doctor with a God complex.

Meanwhile, Olivia also reveals -- rather unbelievably -- that she is being stalked by her own variation of Frank Black's Polaroid Killer (a serial killer who kept mailing photographs of Frank's family to him at his new address in Seattle.) In Olivia's case, the stalker is an abusive stepfather whom she shot several years before. Now, every year, the recovered stepfather sends her a birthday card reminding her he's still "out there." Yep. Because he cares enough to send the very creepiest.

First, this subplot is highly derivative of Millennium, right down to the coda which finds Olivia unexpectedly receiving the suspicious "card" or "mail" slipped under her front door.

Secondly, the background story that Olivia describes to Peter (about her stepfather...and shooting him...) is rather unbelievable. An incident of this nature this would have likely disqualified Olivia for consideration as an FBI agent. Not merely has she committed a crime (shooting someone several times...), but she's quite obviously become psychologically-scarred about it; or at the very least erratic. I found it even more unbelievable that her swarthy buddy in the FBI knew all about her stepfather's birthday cards, and jokes about it with her. about an investigation instead?

This hackneyed bit of character "development" feels uncomfortably like a plot point added late in the creative process; one meant to drum up some meager human interest in Olivia, since she is the series' dullest character. Actually, the element I found most interesting about this week's Fringe is that the preview for upcoming shows only revealed a single image of Olivia Dunham, and very briefly (she was almost unrecognizable too, wearing a surgical mask). Instead, this entire coming attraction focused on the increasingly amusing banter between Peter and Walter. 

As for the rest of "The Cure" it plays rather like a second-rate hybrid of several Millennium episodes. We have the human test subjects in an experiment here, familiar from such episodes such as the first season's "Walkabout" and the second season's "Sense and Anti-Sense," plus the gory, bloody demises of "The Time is Now." The Pattern this week is much more Millennium Group than Syndicate, involving an organization acquiring "cures" to diseases for some hidden agenda.

I'll end this review on a positive notation: Dr. Bishop doesn't have all the answers this week!  Fringe's rigid formula is broken in "The Cure" when Dr. Bishop admits he's never seen anything like this "weapon" before. He never worked on a case involving it, and he has no deus ex machina device standing at the ready to combat it. What a relief! Also, on the positive side, the banter between Peter and Walter is, as I noted above, growing increasingly amusing. Dr. Bishop vets some funny material this week about recreational drugs being "entertaining" and an off-the-wall reference to sexual bondage. Peter's reaction to the latter is pretty damn funny.

If Fringe is to survive, the approach to take going forward is precisely the one that "The Cure's" coming attraction adopted: minimize Olivia and play-up the quirky father/son Bishop relationship.

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