Season 2 Episode 13

What Lies Below

Aired Friday 9:00 PM Jan 21, 2010 on FOX

Episode Fan Reviews (11)

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  • Another stand-alone, another disappointment

    The sophomore slump for "Fringe" continues with yet another stand-alone episode. It now seems obvious that the writers are making up for the lack of balance with whatever small references to the overall story arc they can muster: in this case, Walter's slip about Peter's true nature. Certainly that played into Walter's personal desire to conquer the virus, but in terms of context, it was ephemeral at best.

    It's become a common criticism in my reviews this season, but I truly do not understand the logic behind breaking a format that was working so well in the latter half of the first season. The balance between serialized and episodic elements was nearly perfect during that stretch, and that approach seemed to be carrying into the second season. Now that momentum has been all but lost. Take the drop in the viewership into account, and it just seems like the producers are pretending that they have all the time in the world to explore the series' mythology.

    I simply don't understand it. As an audience member and fan of the show, I feel the spectre of premature cancellation looming over "Fringe", and wonder how the writers aren't feeling the same anxiety. Do they realize that they're on FOX, a network notorious for an itchy cancellation trigger finger? Or do they think that Abrams' industry cache is going to save them?

    Some critics will point to "Lost", and note that Abrams and his production staff have run into sophomore slumps in the past. Unfortunately, that was a different situation. Specific characters were brought into the show with a plan to use them for very specific functions within the narrative, and for various reasons, that didn't pan out. The end result was therefore something of a salvage operation, and reaction to that season varied depending on whether or not one noticed the seams. One way or another, it was a situation largely out of the writers' control.

    In this case, it's not a question of new characters failing to gel, or a story arc not panning out as intended. It's a conscious decision to set the larger story aside, in favor of a more episodic format. In that respect, it's entirely in the writers' control, and they are choosing to undermine the expectations they set up earlier in the season. Again and again, they astound me with what appears to be a lack of awareness.

    Had this episode been a strong entry, it would have mitigated the damage. But the episode was yet another in a string of disappointing chapters. This felt like a watered-down version of several recent zombie-esque productions, and as I've noted on several occasions, I'm thoroughly bored with zombies and their kith and kin. And there were hints and shades of the infamous "black oil virus" from "The X-Files", which I'm sure were all intentional.

    But at one point, the logic of the episode completely escaped me, and I spent the rest of the time waiting for some indication of how they would resolve the problem (and of course, they didn't even try). At one point, Walter and Astrid are testing people held in quarantine to determine if they are infected with the virus. They identify a whole bunch of people, but Peter figures out a way to defeat the test. Since the virus is driving people to leave the building so it can spread more effectively, defeating the test is the most effective means to that end.

    So when the guards at the door realize that Peter is infected, and that someone has defeated the test, why in the world would they still let anyone else that passed the test leave the building? Why wouldn't they force everyone back into the quarantine zone and declare the test invalid? Granted, Peter was ready to spew virus-laden blood as soon as he approached the threshold, but how could they be sure that all the infected would follow the same pattern? Considering that moments later, the decision to wipe out the infected was on the table, that loose containment method was awfully convenient.

    If there was one highlight, it was the ongoing evolution of the relationship between Walter and Astrid. I've often wondered about Astrid's character; for someone supposed so new to the wonderful world of "fringe science", she seems to have taken to it rather quickly and quietly. Her concern for Walter seems quite genuine. In fact, Astrid has become a vital member of the team and such an important part of Walter's stability, so often in the background, that I'm beginning to wonder if the writers have something truly nasty in mind. After all, we really know very little about Astrid.

    But now that Walter has slipped in a significant way, the writers have placed themselves in a precarious position. They can't let this subplot simmer for much longer. There are already too many plot threads on hold while the writers dawdle in the stand-alone sandbox. If the larger plot points don't come back into the limelight soon, the patience of the audience may come to a bitter end.
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