TV Review: FRINGE, 3.1 - "Olivia"

After two seasons it looks like Fringe has decided to embrace serialized storytelling, despite debuting in 2008 with the promise it would be more episodic and, thus, accessible to casual viewers. Consequently, it's moving away from a modern-day X Files format, to focus on its fanbase's preference for the mytharc. Even with the opening catch-up that condenses the past two season's events for potential newcomers, it's hard to imagine Fringe increasing its audience from hereon in. It's a shame, because this is arguably the best pure sci-fi show on the box right now, but I think it's missed its chance to grab a larger audience, sadly. Picking up from season 2's finale, FBI Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) is trapped in the alternate universe, with her duplicate having assumed her identity and crossed over to her own dimension. Intriguingly, Olivia's being given treatments by this dimension's version of Walter Bishop (John Noble), the Secretary of Defense, in order to make her believe she's the alternate-Olivia and suffering a psychotic break. Predictably, Olivia escapes from the facility she's being detained in, befriending a cab driver called Henry (The Wire's Andre Royo), determined to find a way home with this universe's version of Fringe Division hot on her tail... As the title suggests, this premiere was almost exclusively focused on Olivia's escape, and it's remarkable to see how far Anna Torv's progressed on this show. I'd never say she was a bad actress, as I saw her in the BBC's Mistresses pre-Fringe and she was perfectly fine there, but Olivia's character was once incredibly bland and Torv's choice of a droning American accent seemed to exacerbate that feeling. Things improved for her throughout season 2, but it's clear from this premiere that Torv's suddenly become passionate about her character's direction. Simply put: Torv has something to really play with now, as a woman trapped in another dimension, trying to get back home so she can united with Peter (Joshua Jackson), whom she now openly admits she fancies. Olivia felt more like the lead than a straight-woman to "mad scientist" Walter Bishop, finally. This was a fine performance from Torv on all counts, and I'm relieved that Olivia's development and role in the show has finally "clicked" for her, as she appeared far more comfortable and invigorated. There really wasn't much else going on in this episode, perhaps to try and ease us in gently after the summer break. It was fun to see more of "the other side", although I'm not convinced by some of the creative decisions the writers make. Tom Cruise as a TV star, the existence of city airships, and a brass-coloured Statue Of Liberty are all fine, but a musical called "DOGS" and people riding Penny Farthing bicycles in the park? It's amusing, but I'd prefer to see some realistic twists on our own reality. The best ones are when we can clearly imagine a parallel dimension having chosen a different path to our own history. I'm not as excited as most people are about the idea of there being another dimension, but it certainly gives the actors more interesting possibilities. In particular, the alternate-Broyles (Lance Reddick) is more compelling than our version's, and it gives Kirk Acevedo the surprisingly opportunity to return to the show despite the fact his character Charlie died last season. And it goes without saying that Noble is particularly wonderful as both his characters, from the steely determination of Walternate to the delightfully scatterbrained Walter. Overall, as a premiere episode "Olivia" was very good. It pushed the story on, revamped Olivia's role, and wasn't impenetrable to anyone who hasn't seen Fringe before. Best of all, it set up clear narrative arcs for season 3: Olivia's attempt to get home and fight the medication that has started to make her believe she's her alternate double, Walternate's secret plan to attack the other reality (which is particularly juicy because, frankly, his motives are understandable), and the fact the alt-Olivia has infiltrated Fringe for nefarious reasons. The episode didn't really cause a major ground shift, but it was a proficient and enjoyable opening hour that teased the possibilities and direction of season 3.
WRITERS: J.H Wyman & Jeff Pinkner DIRECTOR: Joe Chappelle CAST: Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, Lance Reddick, John Noble, Jasika Nicole, Seth Gabel, Gabrielle Rose & Andre Royo TRANSMISSION: 23 September 2010 €“ FOX, 9/8c
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