By the end of its first season, Fringe had established itself as a consistently compelling drama. The characters were unique, the direction was top-notch, and the writers seemed to have found a perfect balance between satisfying long-term fans and simultaneously staying accessible to new viewers. After the finale’s iconic shot of a standing World Trade Center in an alternate universe, Fringe became a bonafide, buzzworthy new hit for Fox heading into its second season.
And then it all fell apart. Here are 3 reasons why.
In Season 1, Walter’s scientific prowess was always the key to solving cases, whether it was burglars who could walk through lead walls, or a virus capable of turning men into monsters. Science–and its consequences–was the premise of the show. Walter’s lab experiments and last-second insights were infinitely entertaining, and unlike 95% of television, Fringe was smart.
In Season 2, cases are solved with fists and bullets. Walter has been demoted to a passive flood of exposition, and more often than not, each week’s disposable villain is brought down by a headshot from Olivia or a tackle from Peter. There’s nothing wrong with action, but that’s not what fans of Fringe tune in to see (and it’s not what Fringe directors are good at shooting, either). Sure, we want our characters to be physical and proactive, but the fierce intelligence they displayed in Season 1 has completely disappeared.
Every single week in Season 1, regardless of the episode’s plotline, we learned a little more about the Fringe universe: the characters’ pasts, the involvement of Massive Dynamic, or the mythology of ZFT. And yet halfway through the second season, I haven’t learned anything new. In fact, I have trouble remembering Season 1’s revelations, since the writers seem to have forgotten them too.
What happened to Massive Dynamic? The Pattern? ZFT? Olivia’s abilities? Peter’s mysterious past? I’m not asking for a mythology-heavy episode every single week, but each outing should feel relevant for the characters. Other continuity-killers: getting rid of Charlie; killing and/or simply dismissing villains way too quickly; introducing new characters like the bible-obsessed Agent Jessup and the bowling-alley yoda Sam Wyche for just a few episodes and then pretending like they never existed.
Walter was a joy to behold in Season 1, but he’s been reduced to food jokes. Peter just scowls a lot and over-explains everything to the audience in a voice that is blatantly deeper than Josh Jackson’s. Olivia does a lot of frowning, shooting, and walking. The rest of the ensemble is virtually nonexistent unless they’re needed for exposition.
To remember why these characters even care about these paranormal cases, you’d have to rewatch Season 1, since the writers have completely forgotten themselves. Without tangible stakes and believable motivations, what’s the point of the show? The Law and Order franchise may be the most episodic, self-contained shows on the air, but we know who those dectectives are, and why their cases matter to them.
How To Fix It
Refocus the episodes on the science and the characters. Walter should be fighting to right his earlier wrongs, to keep Peter safe from his alter-self, and to find his long-lost partner, William Bell. Peter should be trying to protect his father and discovering everything he’s responsible for. And Olivia should be determined to fully understand her abilities. At the very least, we need to understand who and what the Fringe team is up against, and they need to make progress every week.
Finally, the writers have to trust their audience again. Stop over-explaining every tiny story detail in recapitulating dialogue, and you’ll have more time to build narrative momentum.
I know from word-of-mouth that Fringe has already lost a lot of viewers this season. We saw lots of potential in Season 1, so let’s hope it’s not too late for the writers to course-correct.
What do you think is wrong this season?