Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Fringe S1 Ep3: The Ghost Network

"Agent Dunham if I'm not always completely transparent with you there's a reason.  This little task force that you and I call our day job now, it sometimes requires, shall we say, bureaucratic maneuvering to keep it alive and free from political meddling, which means sometimes I don't tell you everything for your own protection. ... When you're ready, 'til then I suppose you'll need to trust me." 

-Phillip Broyles, Homeland security agent and senior-agent-in-charge of the Fringe Division-

The Fringe Division enters the latest installment of Fringe once again in fairly conventional territory, like The Same Old Story.  The series appears to be attempting to establish a pattern or at least a groove for its cast and writers as it plunges into the murky world of fringe science by interpreting X-Files-like ideas or conventions into its own stylish Fringe formula.  That is the impression in yet another visually stimulating exercise on a series still getting its footing but looking that much more self-assured with each passing entry despite the less than original plot lines.  We're still not there yet, but Fringe is a solid escape.

The Fringe team comes across a bus of victims frozen in amber resulting from a silicone-based aerosol gas.  The dastardly event is the work of a man named Matthew Ziegler.  The very moment Ziegler pulls out a gas mask and places it over his head viewers are immediately unnerved.  This is a terrifically unsettling image in a post-911 world.  It's another disturbing Prologue with an act of seeming terrorism as its epic opener.  Additionally, the exterior shots and genuine location shots really open up Fringe.  It gives the series an intense cinematic look. These massive event moments open each episode of Fringe and Fringe, Season One, Episode 3, The Ghost Network continues to secure that approach.  There's no shortage of talent on the technical side of Fringe.

A former test subject of Walter Bishop, the troubled but sympathetic Roy McComb, acts as a human receiver psychically experiencing events before they happen including foresight of the plane event from Hamburg to Boston in the series Pilot entry through a kind of secure human telecommunications network.  McComb sketches out his disturbed visions opening the episode in a Catholic confessional desperate for understanding and answers to his personal crisis.

Agent John Scott is honored and buried in a memorial service.  His mother glares at Agent Olivia Dunham from across the burial site.  Olivia is uncomfortable honoring a man that not only betrayed her but his country.  This is the character of Olivia Dunham.

Walter and Peter share a little time at a diner where Walter is over the moon about blueberry pancakes.  Gosh, I love them too.  More is hinted to Peter's past as he speaks firmly with a man at the bar who had been taking pictures of him.  Peter takes the camera memory card from the unknown man that tells Peter he was supposed to "check in."

Examination by the FBI's Fringe Division of an on-board bus camera reveals to exceptional investigator Dunham that a back pack is missing. Images reveal a woman on the bus did indeed possess a back pack that is now missing as denoted by the video.  It is determined she was an undercover DEA Agent named Evelina Mendoza.  Broyles and Dunham meet with DEA Agent Grant Davidson who tells them that Mendoza had stumbled upon a connection to The Pattern.  Davidson identifies her body at the morgue with oversight by Dunham and in a moment alone appears to be stroking or holding her hand but is obscured by his back.  The suggestion that he may have been intimate with her is seen in Dunham's face and she is sympathetic to his potential pain.

At the Harvard lab, Walter determines the silicone-based aerosol solidifies when contacting nitrogen in the air.  The chemicals can be traced back to Massive Dynamic.

Later, Charlie Francis and Olivia check out Roy's apartment where they find gruesome images of Pattern events, a model mock-up of Flight 627 and other disturbing drawings.

Roy is interrogated.  He receives images and must recreate them through detailed, dynamic drawings.  It began roughly nine months ago about the time the FBI became aware of The (mysterious) Pattern.

An MRI is performed on Roy and he nearly dies.  The magnets of the equipment essentially begin pulling Roy apart.  Roy has metal in his blood.  It turns out Roy was a former test subject of Walter.  Walter once handled an experiment for the US military injecting people with an organo-iridium compound in an effort to send messages directly to the brain. The compound would act as a receiver for messages over a covert radio frequency dubbed the Ghost Network.  Roy is receiving messages from individuals who have discovered the network, but those messages are being deposited into Roy's sensory cortex thus he feels and sees them.  But they need to be deposited into his auditory cortex in order for Roy to hear them.  Where's the Observer? The clever planting of the Observer serves as evidence regarding a thoughtful plan for Fringe.

Olivia and Peter retrieve a neural stimulator hidden in the walls of the Bishop's old house.  It is used on Roy's head in an effort to shift the messages.

It turns out players in this dangerous Fringe game, including Davidson and Ziegler, are going to meet at the South Station subway in Boston.  The messages indicate the item they wanted was on the body of the dead DEA agent Mendoza.  Olivia connects the puzzle pieces.  Roy's drawing of a stigmata and bloody hands laying prostate makes her realize Davidson took something off Mendoza's body that day in the morgue.  He cut her hand for it.

Davidson is killed by Ziegler and Ziegler, before being arrested, sacrifices himself by falling back into an oncoming bus.  Now that is a fanatic.  The FBI do get the item.

Later, Broyles and Olivia look at the glass disk connected to The Pattern.

The episode ends with an interesting exchange as Broyles gives the disk to Nina Sharp and the two talk ambiguously about Dunham and her future.  The scene is shrouded in terrific lighting only magnifying the mystery and covert nature of the relationship between Sharp and Broyles.  Who trusts who and how much is another matter entirely.  Sharp resides on the Oversight Committee as seen in The Same Old Story.

But trust is certainly thematically central to Fringe like it was for The X-Files [1993-2002].  These are the kind of general, overarching comparisons between the two programs of which, along with Millennium [1996-1999], Fringe is an undeniable descendant of in spirit.  The X-Files operating principle of Trust No One is definitely in play, but Dunham operates in a kind of you've got to trust someone mentality. She turns to Agent Charlie Francis, Phillip Broyles, Peter and Walter. Her perspective as a female lead isn't entirely special, but she operates from a very different place as a young female agent and it's interesting to see how Dunham approaches the characters in her sphere of influence.  Ultimately, Dunham, at this point is on a need-to-know basis and by being left in the dark she is required to place her trust or faith in those around her for whom she directly works.

At Massive Dynamic, Sharp provides the coin sized affect / disk to her scientists who indicate it is required to break the encryption.  Data streams from a lifeless, preserved John Scott across computer monitors.  Technology and Fringe continue to combine for a fascinating combination.

Criticisms varied widely The Ghost Network as many were still very much on the fence about Fringe at this point and that is still understandable.  Most felt the story was as good if not better than the previous episode but generally not by much.  IGN's Travis Fickett dubbed Fringe "a solid show, but [not] exceptional yet."  Still, there were some that were extremely generous.  Stephen Lackey of Mania.com  believed Fringe "finally ... hits that special place of TV series addiction reserved for shows like Lost and Battlestar Galactica."  I wouldn't be ready to bestow that kind of crown on the series based on the first three entries.  I'm not quite there yet, but I like the optimism.  He certainly seemed ready to praise Fringe and elevate it to one of the best series of the year.  Would it be?  He may have wish-fulfilled correctly.

Writer John Kenneth Muir offers the best, most insightful critique of the bunch and his concerns regarding what is problematic with Fringe are legitimate and ring true to me viewing the series early on.  They don't deter from the enjoyment of the episodes for me personally, but they are of sufficient concern.  Apart from referencing similarities to The X-Files' Oubliette, Blind or the feature film, I Want To Believe [2008], he explains a major issue with Fringe.  The series "only skims the surface of an interesting idea, and comes up short on the actual science on display."  These aspects are indeed noticeable as the writers get their footing.  He adds further supporting his hypothesis, "When Fringe fails to convey accurate information on routine subjects such as psychiatric drugs [like the ones Walter concocts] and surgical procedure, you have to wonder about the integrity of the series."  The scripts do handle these areas with a very cursory touch.  There are never any great details, but these were flaws I was willing to forgive from the beginning to a degree.  Muir does note that Joshua Jackson's performance continues to grow stronger and is a "brightspot."  It's the "superficial" ideas that bothered him as a viewer and I suspect bothered a number of viewers in the start.  I know precisely the scenes to which he refers and they are awkward and have me asking questions, but not enough to discount the entertainment value of the installment.  Alex Zalben, a UGO writer, actually preferred The Ghost Network to The X-Files I Want To Believe, both released within a span of two months from one another.  So feelings were indeed fairly mixed and fairly so.

And for the kinds of things that would seem to defy logic, and that I have forgiven thus far, I point to the moment Peter Bishop breaks into his old house with Olivia Dunham.  He justifies his actions to break and enter, to of all people - an FBI Agent.  The incredulous move feels a bit contrived and forced.  I felt a little better about reading that the writers and creators of the show had debated how to handle the Peter character and how this particular scene should be handled.  For me, personally, it doesn't feel right and clearly Joshua Jackson's character is a work in progress.  So I was pleased to see it wasn't just me, but rather the actual writers who were uncertain about this particular moment.  But, it's fine entertainment and thus I accept and move on, but you would prefer to see less of those kinds of moments as the series develops and progresses.  Lapses in good judgment or logic problems can take their toll.  So far, I've moved on.

My re-assessment is beginning to fortify my belief I got Fringe very wrong, but exiting the series after these first three episodes alone, while premature, is precisely what happened for me.  I needed to give it more time.  The further and deeper I go into the world of Fringe, these earlier entries are not surprisingly far less complex.  They lay the ground work in building up to something much bigger.  In many ways, you need to prepare for that much denser mythology, and these earlier seemingly more familiar stories ease you into the completely unfamiliar madness ahead quite nicely.  It's a process and The Ghost Network is part of the infrastructure of the Fringe architecture.  You're likely to appreciate it even more later.  Moments, actions, behavior, events will likely take on greater resonance the more we discover.  One thing is certain, Fringe is a meticulous production in its professionalism and technical approach and the stories while familiar thus far are certainly not forgettable.  You may have seen this ghost before but you never forget it.

The Ghost Network: B-.
Writer: David H. Goodman, J.R. Orci. Director: Frederick E. O. Toye.
Glyph Code: AEGER - Latin for SICK.


Troy L. Foreman said...


Another great write up. Let me throw my two cents worth in.

You are correct, again another episode that isn't anything new or groundbreaking, but the show is still able to make it interesting and put their FRINGE stamp on it. If you really look at it, so many shows over the years, it's kind of hard to constantly come up with a new concept or idea for an episode. As I am sure you are well aware, many shows have somewhat taken basically the same ideas and put their spin on it.

One of the things I do for television shows and movies is that I suspend my belief in things and ideas if you know what I mean. There are going to be times when something happens that doesn't make sense or the science is off or something that is out of whack. If we keep picking out all the inconsistencies, then you may not enjoy what is in front of you. Don't get me wrong, It's good to keep the writers and showrunners honest, but for me as a viewer, I take it for what its worth. Now, if they do something that is just so unbelievable than yea, I may have some issue, but by and large, I've yet to really come across something that bad! :)

I am glad you are sticking with FRINGE. As with any series, it has its ups and downs, but I can safely say, I don't think there were many really down points in the series, at least in my opinion. But, I'll look forward to your reviews in the future.

ok, I've rambled enough.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...


Hardly rambling. I love reading your commentaries on approaching Fringe. They are always welcome! Thank you.

I completely get what you mean about a Fringe STAMP. I think the deeper you go that STAMP becomes more apparent. The rhythms indeed become uniquely Fringe. So I completely understand what you mean.

It's hard not to repeat ideas and revisit popular conventions. I remember someone saying all of the best pop songs have already been recorded. Same rules apply I think. It's about reinvention and intelligent approach.

So, I agree the writers need to be on their game and they should be paid to write smart television as writers. We've certainly seen some dogs out there. In the early going the Fringe dialogue has some weak moments but as things get more comfortable and delivery gets stronger I think it really comes together.

And you'll note that even on some of these weaker [by comparison because they aren't bad at all] entries I haven't graded poorly. They are still entertaining little yarns.

As far as suspending disbelief. It's a very very fair point Troy. I do find myself from time to time wincing at the logic of a scene or my belief in a certain moment. It's rare, but when it happens I do apply your suspension of disbelief RULE. It gets me passed those rare moments.

The Transformation had one of those moments. I'll mention it when I get there, but otherwise, when you let yourself go, it's a hell of a good time.

Thanks pal,