Fringe Does Some Soul-Searching

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Fringe has hit a crucial moment in its life. The last two episodes have been so important to the series, not because of what's happened with our Fringe team or close calls involving the near-destruction of our universe, but because it indicates a fundamental shift in tone for a show that was predominantly about science.

"Stowaway" dealt with issues of the soul, fate, and destiny and practically dropped a halo and a harp on us as well. But whether you like the addition of these timeworn concepts to your new-school science show shouldn't depend on whether you spend your Sundays hanging out at His house or looking at biology books, because so far, Fringe has tackled the subject of spirituality in ways that even a non-believer can enjoy.

I always have my reservations when sci-fi shows suddenly go metaphysical, but instead of rolling my eyes and muttering, "Here we go again," I've decided I'm on-board with Fringe doing it, at least for now. Though Walter and William Bell's explanations of souls and the like won't send evolutionists to their knees, they work for the purpose of the story. The writers' biggest task right now is to tap into science-minded viewers' brains and plant a little doubt, and with Walter and Bell holding our hand and feeding us simple explanations based in scientific theory, they're succeeding. I'm not going to change my day-to-day thinking because of Walter's discussion of magnetic forces, but I'll buy what he says while I'm watching Fringe.

And what better subject for a scientist to investigate than the existence of souls, the afterlife, or even God? I love the childlike enthusiasm Walter and Bell share for this journey. They're not trying to disprove anything one way or another, because they are true scientists. They raise a question and investigate it objectively, rather than obsessively setting out to prove something they think to be true or false. And that's how Fringe is approaching the whole soul question as well. It's not being preachy, it's being teachy.

But enough of me trying to explain why I don't hate Fringe's new religious undertones even though I normally would—let's talk about the episode. I'm assuming the biggest question on everyone's mind has to do with the Bell-Olivia body-sharing experiment. Not everyone is thrilled with Anna Torv's performance as Bellivia, but what's making it work for me is this: The show hasn't just injected her body with the soul of a man and mined it for "I have boobs!" jokes (aside from Bell's early recognition of Olivia's bra. Bell was around in the '70s, why doesn't he just burn that sucker and let those ladies free?) like a bad Ellen Barkin movie. Fringe has put a fully formed person inside of her. I LOVED Bellivia's crush on Astrid, that little detail goes a long way when fleshing out the new Bell. John Noble's performance as a man giddy with excitement at being reunited with an old best friend also helps the situation greatly. Given the disastrous results we've seen with body-swapping in movies and on TV, Fringe has pulled it off quite well.

This week's standalone story required some suspension of disbelief (due to the events surrounding the train and the FBI investigation happening in one day, Bellivia and Walter running some quick calculations to figure out which train the bomb was on, the fortuitous meeting between Dana and the man who planted the bomb), but it was paced fantastically and posed all the questions the episode wanted to ask. The resolution was great as well: Whether you believe Dana was finally able to die as a result of carrying out her fate to save the train passengers and because she'd suffered enough in the eyes of those above, or because it was frickin' bomb, the point is that you're thinking about it. And we're all better off when television makes us think.

Notes from the Other Side

... It's a good thing Bell took over Olivia; otherwise, she would have freaked out when she saw blue-universe Lincoln Lee (Seth Gabel). I'm hoping he comes back for more episodes in our universe.

... Paula Malcolmson (Deadwood, Sons of Anarchy), who played Dana, is great in everything she does.

... Bellivia's pervy advances on Astrid were awesome (milking the cow?), and Jasika Nicole played a creeped-out Astrid perfectly. Does this storyline make way for the Fringe porn parody?

... I know I said I liked the way the show executed the body-swap, but how much longer do we really want Bell in Olivia's body? Not much longer. I'm with Peter when he said, "Weeks?! Not a chance." Hopefully Fringe will find a good home for Bell next week. Early in the episode.


Follow writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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