Sunday, April 7, 2013

Fringe S1 Ep11: Bound

"Go, save the world."
-Rachel Dunham to her sister Olivia-

"You're like a question machine."
-Walter Bishop to Olivia-

Thrills are hardly in short supply on Fringe as the series hits its stride at the midway point rushing headlong into Fringe, Season One, Episode 11, Bound a direct continuation of the previously wild installment that was SafeSafe and Bound combine for an exceptional series two-parter.  If one stops to think too much about all of the questions woven into the wildly twisty world of Fringe it might reveal itself to be moving beyond the confines of those previously held expectations of The X-Files' own "extreme possibilities." But Fringe is beginning to break from conventions, coming up with its own plan to become one heck of a science fiction thrill ride into the impossible.  Conspiracy and mistrust intersect with an unsettling world(s) of mysteries for Agent Olivia Dunham.

Who do you trust? The characters in Fringe are clearly either significantly flawed or beset with questionable histories yet to be revealed from Walter and Peter Bishop to Phillip Broyles and Nina Sharp.  Those revelations will no doubt be part of this wild ride.

Olivia Dunham as action heroine.

Picking up with the abduction of Dunham, she is bound and tied to a gurney. A man wearing a rubber Halloween mask in the tradition of film criminals from The Dark Knight to The Town enters.  The man is FBI Agent Mitchell Loeb.  He flips the gurney over so that her face is facing the floor.  He places a needle directly into her back for a spinal tap.  Dunham, ever the dogged investigator, makes good use of her time staring at the floor and makes a strong mental note of the unknown man's shoes.

Upon Loeb's exit of the building.  Dunham requests water and plays the frightened victim just long enough to lull her captors (none of whom wear masks) into a false sense of security.  Dunham falls back on her training and lashes out taking down two of her captors and an unsuspecting third.  She takes aim on a fourth and fires.  She's a good shot.  You can't help but recall the ass-kicking Joanne Ostler received in Fringe, S1, Ep8, The Equation.  There are moments in Fringe where Dunham really proves herself to be a capable and sound agent and honestly makes an incredibly sound role model to women in the field interested in pursuing a career in law enforcement.  She's impressive, but not unrealistically so, contrary to perhaps some of the outlandishly wild conspiracy stuff that happens around these characters in the mind bending series.

While escaping Dunham grabs a number of items from the building stashing them in a thermos and finds a car she can drive.  A few yards away Dunham buries the thermos in dirt and contacts Broyles to report her location in Watertown, west of Boston.  It's a nice character moment because Dunham expresses her humanity with some emotion as she is overcome by the moment with tears, but quickly gathers herself.

Minutes later, instead of help from the FBI, she is taken down at gunpoint and tasered.  Again, the question of who do you trust is asked.  For one thing you don't trust Sanford Harris of Internal Affairs who abducts you in your hour of need.  You don't trust a man assigned to investigating the Fringe Division.  And you don't trust a man with a personal grudge because a female agent, Dunham, nearly ended your career, Harris, with a sexual assault conviction concerning three women. Watch out for the absolutely creepy Sanford Harris with an axe to grind because his conviction was overturned and now he works for Homeland Security.  Honestly, this is about as real life as it gets.  Harris clearly has a rail job in mind and he's the train. These events were referenced in the Pilot.

Dunham is cuffed to a bed in a Boston hospital by Harris.  It is clearly a visual play of gender politics.  This is clearly subjugation of the female dominated by male power and he makes that power very clear.  This is indeed about control.  Harris implies there is a loyalty issue regarding Dunham since she went to great lengths to save her lover John Scott, a traitor, enlisted the help of the Bishops, both with questionable histories. He implies her associations are with a traitor, a mad man and a criminal.  Fringe enjoys bright saturation in blues, reds and greens.

Oddly the man makes some degree of sense when he points to her closest associates as a crazy man institutionalized following questions surrounding a manslaughter trial and a criminal arrested seven times.  Somehow, ultimately, there is a faith and inclination that Olivia must trust these essential outsiders or castaways over her fellow agents.

Dunham proves herself quite adept at displaying her feminine side throughout Bound while also exemplifying what makes her a persistent and more than physically capable agent for the FBI.

Second-in-command Charlie Francis informs Dunham upon her arrival to work that the building where she was held was vacant.  The phone and car that Dunham accessed to escape also come back without a history.

A rather intense start to Bound sees the tension broken with a joyful visit from Olivia's sister, Rachel Dunham, who will be staying with her along with daughter Ella.

Later, Olivia, Peter and Walter retrieve the canister she hid.  Olivia asks Walter if he can identify the samples.  "Yes, I'm afraid I can."  Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Viruses, bacteria, protozoa and fungi: pathogens.  A professor at Boston College ironically falls to the floor and dies while giving a lesson on the "four musketeers" of pathogens.  Without warning, a "giant,slimy, spiky slug" creature slides out of his throat and into a screaming crowd of students.  Yes, it's been done in science fiction a thousand times in films as remote as The Hidden (1987) and in television through the years including, yes, The X-Files (Season Two's The Host and Firewalker). By the way, this event concludes what could be the most exciting or at least the longest prologue on Fringe to date.  Look carefully for The Observer.

An analysis of the scene of the crime begins with Walter's proclamation, "At least he died teaching - a righteous profession," regarding the deceased immunologist Professor Miles Kinberg.  The Fringe team captures the organism alive and bring it back to Walter's lab. The organism is made of the same material Olivia absconded with from her captors. The scene snaps along with crisp, interesting dialogue mixed with irreverent humor and now, more than ever, Fringe, to borrow a track title from Depeche Mode, is getting the balance right.

Broyles goes toe to toe with Harris who is investigating the Fringe Division and takes exception with how Olivia Dunham was handled by his investigators.  Broyles and Harris don't see eye to eye, but it's clear Broyles must proceed with caution.

As Dunham investigates the death of Kinberg, she begins with his assistant, Tara, with whom he was having an affair.  The young mistress informs Dunham that Kinberg had just taken a job with the Centers For Disease Control [the CDC].  He would be relocating to Atlanta.  Dunham discovers a Dr. Russell Simon from Cambridge who was also chosen to work for the CDC. Francis and Dunham are ordered by Broyles to bring him into protective custody, because "Why kill an epidemiologist unless you want to start an epidemic?"  Dunham is informed by fellow agent Mitchell Loeb he will be handling her abduction investigation.  He assures her he will find them.  Of course he won't have to look far.

Upon bringing Simon in, Harris pulls Dunham aside and informs her he did not approve the request for protective custody.  He asks her if Broyles approved it.  The good soldier replies, "No, he did not," out of protection of her superior.  Dunham pleads for Harris to do the right thing on this one.  He concedes Simon will be retained in protective custody.

Peter informs Olivia that it appears the samples she obtained are like eggs and the catalyst that triggers growth is stomach acid.

Elsewhere in the office Loeb provides a glass of water to Simon complete with yellow powder.  Ingesting the parasite sees it grow exponentially, very quickly.  Within seconds, Simon is begging for his life.  Simon spits blood on Francis.  You'll need to get checked out.  The giant, slimy slug kills Simon and Francis shoots the slimy thing dead.

Walter determined the organism is a single specimen of a virus of the common cold - a single cell.  "She is beautiful," Walter proclaims of the slug with admiration.  Peter looks on as Olivia leaves after admitting to her that he cares about her.  It's an oft-handed remark concerning her welfare, but clearly there is more to it for Peter.  Olivia senses that.  The dynamic between Peter and Olivia is radically different and in some ways far less mature than any relationship established between Fox Mulder and Agent Scully on the oft-compared The X-Files.

Over dinner it's clear Rachel is a single mother and the father, Greg, is missing from her daughter Ella's life.  The scene offers a little emotional grounding to the Dunham character as she offers her sister a place to stay for as long as she wishes.

Next time at the office, Dunham picks up a magic 8-ball front he ground and stops as she notices Loeb's shoes.  They are the same shoes worn by her masked captor.  She informs Francis.  She visits the Loeb residence.  Just prior to breaking in the front door Mitchell's wife interrupts Olivia and suspicious invites Olivia in for tea who tells Samantha Loeb she was checking to see how she was doing since the events surrounding Loeb's hospitalization following the parasite event in Fringe Season One, Episode 7, In Which We Meet Mr. Jones. Samantha asks why Olivia was in the Marlboro area.  She tells Samantha she is working on a case concerning a suspected double agent.

Charlie Francis pays a visit to Peter and requests a wiretap on Mitchell Loeb's residence.  Francis tells him he can't break the law because he has to obey the law.  Yet, he breaks the law to have someone break the law for him.  That doesn't quite add up, but Fringe does have its imperfections.

Peter contacts an old phone worker friend and gets a virtual tap on Loeb's home, but it doesn't work right away.  Samantha makes a call to her husband who tells Samantha she needs to kill Olivia Dunham.  Peter catches the tail end of the conversation and phones Olivia to inform her she's in jeopardy.  "Samantha Loeb is going to kill you.  Get out of the house right now!" alerts Peter.  A cat fight ensues, the second good one since the chick fight in Fringe, Season One, Episode 8, The Equation.  It ends with shots fired and we learn who is the better shot.  Olivia is last woman standing and hits Samantha square in the forehead dead.  Samantha misses Dunham by inches.

Efforts to find Mitchell Loeb are met with dead ends. Peter suggests Mitchell is unaware that Samantha is dead and they obtain her cell to make contact with Mitchell.

Broyles, Francis, Dunham and the Bishops wait for Mitchell to arrive at a location of their choosing texted to him by Samantha's phone.  Walter tells Olivia, Peter was "really worried" about her.  Mitchell arrives and he is surrounded.  He grabs his gun.  Olivia shoots his arm.  She informs him he is under arrest and he smiles. Olivia smacks him.

Dunham interrogates Loeb, but it's a bit like a newbie challenging some old warhorse, a rookie versus a veteran.  He's essentially unimpressed and offers no information.  Francis exits the room leaving Dunham alone with Loeb.  He wants to see his wife.  Olivia hands him pictures of Samantha shot and killed and credits herself for the trophy to incite Loeb.  Mitchell confesses he killed both doctors.  He launches into a tirade.  "Do you not understand the rules?  What we're up against?  Who the two sides are?  Tell me at least you know that.  We had a plan here lady.  We had a shot. And you just blew it.  We saved you.  We were going to let you go.  We saved you.  You have no idea what you've done.  Not a clue."  He was going to save her?  That's why he ordered his wife Samantha to kill her?  There's that slight wrinkle.  In truth, Loeb is speaking directly to her earlier abduction in Bound.  The plan changed when Olivia discovered Loeb's activities, thus Olivia was probably not marked for death initially. Peter submits Loeb was playing mind games.  Olivia thinks there was something to what Loeb was saying but doesn't understand.  Peter tells her to go home.  Walter sweetly tells Olivia he was worried for her too, "not as much as him of course," referring to Peter.

At home, Olivia sleeps with her niece. The book What's That Noise? rests on top of them appropriately enough as the two sleep.  Rachel kisses them goodnight.

There's a good bit of energy crackling along between Safe and Bound.  Joshua Jackson told Cinemablend he felt the two-parter really got Fringe steaming along.  IGN's Ramsey Isler compared Olivia Dunham to 24's Jack Bauer, another Fox staple.  It certainly has that kind of energy. Meanwhile, Bryant L. Griffin of Airlock Alpha made comparisons to Sydney Bristow in Alias.  Zach Handlen of The A.V. Club noted Fringe was "finally hitting its stride."  Apart from some minor criticisms, Fringe was starting to gain traction with the critics despite some sometimes shallow characterizations of secondary characters.  Jeff Jensen of Entertainment Weekly, found Fringe had moved beyond the first half of its "shaky first season," and found the second half "was billed as a reboot that applied lessons learned from earlier episodes" to formulate "a series of rookie year corrections that helped Fringe find its voice."  While personally, I've enjoyed many of the entries from the first season of Fringe, Jensen is not unfair in his assessment.

Dunham was no doubt physically bound in the latest thrilling installment, but she is also inextricably bound and connected to the ongoing mytharc and small puzzle pieces of information continue to be revealed to viewers with each passing Fringe entry.  Fringe continues to impress, excite and thrill those interested in mysterious and complex plotting with each passing episode.  Those who had problems with Fringe should be moving into a new found respect for what's in play even if it doesn't win their heart in the same fashion a classic like The X-Files did.  Warts and all Fringe is becoming an inventive mix of genre ideas with plenty of breakneck twists and turns.  I'd love to point to one episode where it changed for me, but the move to something of original quality has indeed been gradual.  Each episode has had something of interest to offer.  The Arrival was the starting point for me with its spotlight on the Observer.  In Which We Meet Mr. Jones elevated the game and introduced some new, more apparent elements to the mythology [not that each episode doesn't].  The Equation saw some of the most mesmerizing performances particularly from John Noble.  The Dreamscape offered me a glimpse of the kinds of quality science fiction beautifully filmed I had hoped for with Fringe with Torv becoming more natural in the role.  That kind of terrific entry was followed by the gripping Safe, an exhilarating heist-styled tale for FringeBound has simply proven to me Fringe is beginning to know absolutely no bounds.  You can't help but be thoroughly happy for that possibility.

The observer in me has suspected for some time that two factions are in play. A. Those involved with Massive Dynamic.  B. Those involved with Jones and ZFT.  It is conceivable Loeb was working outside of his authority to aid Dunham and had it wrong as Loeb submits.  The creators do a terrific job blurring the lines of good and evil.  It's hard to know where it ends and where it begins.  But I could have it entirely wrong.  At this point, that is a possibility.  It's entirely too soon to tell.  It's clear the series had a plan and it appears to be grabbing the jugular and going for it at this point. Bound feels about as smart as science fiction television gets and it is indeed the first episode along with Safe where I really felt the creators has crafted something truly clever and innovative to conventional ideas.  But I do think to get here, some of the stories behave like building blocks - The Equation is a good example - and those stories on their own have been solid as standalones.  But as the mytharc grows aspects of those earlier stories are merging into the latter season components lending them greater significance. It's fantastic to see Fringe coming together.  We continue to track Season One's progression into something special.

Bound: A-.
Writer: J.J. Abrams, Jeff Pinkner, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci.
Director: Frederick E. O. Toye.
Glyph Code: SAVED.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Roger Ebert (1942-2013)

"A great visionary achievement."
-Roger Ebert on Alex Proyas' Dark City (1998) though we could be referring to Roger Ebert himself-

As you've probably heard famed film critic Roger Ebert (1942-2013) passed away following a long battle with cancer that he fought courageously and publicly while he continued to write.

There's so much to say about this man who, along with his film critic partner, the late Gene Siskel (1946-1999), forged the popular At The Movies (later Siskel And Ebert At The Movies).

Of course At The Movies wasn't popular in the conventional sense of mainstream availability.  I searched high and low for that show each week.  I was relentless. The syndicated program bounced around like a ping pong ball too.  It was extremely difficult to find the show, but I managed to track it down each week, always at different times it seemed, to catch Siskel and Ebert's wonderfully insightful film reviews that captured so much in the smallest window of TV time they were given.  Their fiery repartee made it an awful lot of fun.  Even today their often fierce but fair debate seems lost from the political discourse.  Siskel and Ebert had a heck of a chemistry.

But it was Roger Ebert of The Chicago-Sun Times that I most identified with each week.  I often found I landed in his camp regarding science fiction and horror and less so with Siskel, but like Siskel, Ebert always offered a different perspective.  Whether I agreed with their assessments I always learned something about film and sometimes the human condition whether in regard to story performance or the work of the director's themselves through their art.

Eventually I tracked their segments down on the Internet once that became an option years after dodgy television channels carried it.

So much has influenced my life personally that it's impossible to point to any one thing, but apart from family, friends, people you meet, science fiction and film, it was indeed the analysis of Roger Ebert's time offered to me through television that was partly responsible for part of what I'm doing right here.  Let's face it, he was the best and he was one of the few doing it when no one else could until the advent of computers.  His work inspired my own desire to write, among other influences, but Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic certainly owes a debt of thanks to someone like Ebert who opened the eyes of so many to writing.  He, along with so many teachers along the way, asked me to dig deeper, reflect, analyze and discover the psychology behind the actions that are so fascinating in human nature through film.

Roger Ebert loved what he did and that shined through in his writing and his passion for film on television too.  He understood the pleasures of seeing the world and humanity through the coordination of visionaries, performers and writers.

I remember hanging on every word for reviews of Aliens, Black Hawk Down, Dark City and Final Fantasy, all of which he loved by the way.  I remember being stunned when he gave Ridley Scott's Gladiator Thumbs Down.  Wow.

Additionally, Roger Ebert provided two full-length audio commentaries to two of my favorite films, Isao Takahata's Grave Of The Fireflies (1988) and Alex Proyas' Dark City (1998).  Oddly, his audio commentary is conspicuously missing from many of the re-printed editions of Grave of The Fireflies on Blu-Ray and DVD.  Be sure to get the rare two-disc Collector's Edition featuring all of the bonus material including Ebert's assessment of the film as "an emotional experience so powerful that it forces a rethinking of belongs on any list of the greatest war films ever made."  An animated war classic?  He's right, but he was also one of the few thinking outside of the proverbial box.  The Dark City Blu-Ray retained Ebert's audio commentary for the release of that film's Director's Cut.

If anything the man was honest offering his always well-supported arguments for or against films.  I loved watching his breakdowns.  So a thank you and a big thumbs way up to a man who really looked at humanity in popular culture with an insightful, laser-like perceptiveness. It was indeed his love for the art form that helped shape my own approach to film and television helping me to form a more critical eye.

Roger Ebert was 70 and it was a pleasure to enjoy this prolific writer's work.