“Fringe” opened with what was a decent but unspectacular first season. Definitely watchable, sometimes even enjoyable, it was a sci-fi procedural that boasted a cast outstanding enough to look past its faults: The charming and dry Joshua Jackson (RIP); the attractive but appropriately wooden Anna Torv; and the spectacular John Noble, who all along has been the real reason to watch the show.
The second season soared, at least among those who have an affinity for “Doctor Who” science, timey-wimey, and alternate dimensions. It had some slow spots, but overall, I liked where it was heading and what it was playing with, and though it wasn’t grounded in real science, it felt grounded in the science of season two of “Doctor Who” and that was good enough for me.
But this third season? It’s become almost impossible to watch. There have been momentary glimpses of the “Fringe” that I once enjoyed, but for the most part, it’s jumped the shark, overshot the whale, and crashed head first into the side of a building. The biggest fault with this season’s “Fringe” is that — unlike another J.J. Abrams show, “Lost,” which remained shrouded in mystery until the bitter disappointing end — “Fringe” tries to explain its science as it goes along. And at this point, series producer Jeff Pinkner and his writing crew are fumbling, madly throwing out science-sounding words and hoping that they’ll stick. It’s gone way past the point of absurdity.
The most previous episode of “Fringe” is where I finally decided to jump off; not even Joshua Jackson’s dimples and John Noble’s antics could compensate for the strange direction that the show has taken. It was bad enough that, last month, we discovered that the dimension that would survive — either our Earth or alterna-Earth — would be decided based upon which Olivia Dunham Peter Bishop would fall in love with. Really? Two-and-a-half seasons, and the entire fate of the planet rests upon who one person falls in love with? That’s some Fifth Element shit right there.
But now, the soul of a man who had been dead for six months jumped into the body of Olivia Dunham because of “soul magnet,” because she drank a particular cup of tea, and because someone rang a bell? Are you kidding me? And where is Olivia Dunham? Oh, she’s hanging out in limbo’s green room, comfortably enjoying some snacks while Leonard Nimoy inhabits the body of Anna Torv (and Jesus Christ, that Nimoy impression is embarrassing).
And the science of that individual episode? Alan Ruck somehow combines the two densest elements in existence (one of which, of course, comes from a meteorite) and that combination, when injected into people who can’t walk, allows them to float. Because two heavy elements create an combination lighter than air? How does Walter explain this? Well, it’s because the two dimensions are merging, and anything can happen. And that’s going to be the issue with the remainder of the series (which I assume, based on the ratings, will be cancelled after this season): They don’t have to explain anything logically anymore. They don’t have to ground anything in real science. The writers can always default to, “The dimensions are merging. Anything can happen.”
That’s when I jump ship: When a show no longer even has to abide by the rules of its own made-up science. I’m glad I stuck with “Lost,” even though I was ultimately disappointed with the way it ended. I enjoyed the episodes, for the most part. I liked believing there was something bigger, some magical way to solve the island’s mysteries, even if they couldn’t satisfactorily wrap it up. And like “Lost,” “Fringe” is creating story lines that it never follows up on. But unlike “Lost,” “Fringe” is not creating a mystery — it’s telegraphed an ending point, and it’s killing time while it’s getting there while simultaneously shoehorning elements into the serial plot line to steer us toward a predetermined conclusion. Worst of all, however, it’s not following any rules, either real-world, or it’s own made-up logic. And where there are no rules, there are no real stakes — it becomes to easy to write yourself out of a quandary by simply stating, “Anything can happen.”
And so I’m jumping off of “Fringe,” probably past the point that many of you have already jumped off. But for those among you who have also been wrestling with whether to stick with it or not, maybe this will give you the impetus to take back that hour of your week and devote it to another show, a better show, a show that doesn’t toss aside the foundation it built and resort to an “anything can happen” approach.