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Fringe: My Take So Far

After seeing it come up in my Netflix "Recommended" list for many years, I decided recently to give the TV series Fringe a try. So far, I've seen eight episodes, and while I can't speak for the series as a whole (it lasted five seasons), I can say that what I've seen so far is unprecedented in American television history.

The focus of the show is a team: Olivia Dunham, an FBI agent; Doctor Walter Bishop, a brilliant but crazy scientist; Peter Bishop, Walter's son, equally brilliant but something of a shady character; Astrid Farnsworth, another FBI agent whose job is specifically to help Walter in the lab; and Charlie Francis, an FBI agent who is technically not part of the group, but upon whom Olivia calls for assistance regularly. Their boss is Philip Broyles of DHS. Their job is to investigate "weird" cases and "fringe science".

A hell of a lot of character development has happened in the first eight episodes, and several things have become clear. Although Broyles is the nominal "boss", the field leader is Dunham. Everyone else reports to her, and she reports to Broyles. Also, the focus of the show is Dunham. The two Bishops play very large roles, and their characters are developing just as much as Dunham's is, but Dunham is unambiguously the one who makes the final decisions as to what they are going to do and how they are going to do it. She is occasionally overridden by Broyles, and she definitely listens to every member of her team, but she's the Captain of this ship.

What's unprecedented about it is this: She doesn't overcompensate. She's not Superwoman. She's not better at everything than everybody in the way that Kathryn Janeway was. She's a very good FBI investigator, and generally a very smart person, but she makes mistakes and she delegates well. She trusts her instincts, and she trusts her team, but she's not afraid to change tactics when new evidence arises. Most tellingly, thinking back on everything Olivia Dunham has done so far, both personally and as a team leader, I cannot think of any decision she has made or action she has undertaken that a male character in her position would not have done in pretty much exactly the same way. Maybe in one or two instances her response to something has been more measured or reserved than a male character's would be, but that speaks more to a male character's ability to get away with shit (on the basis of "Well, he's a guy, what do you expect?") than to her being written substantially differently than a male character would be.

Now . . . I wrote all that so that I could write this: She has a speech in episode number six that blew me away. In the scene, she's talking to Broyles, who previously in the episode has accused Dunham of letting her emotions get in the way of her work. When he seems about to come down on her for it again, this is what she says:

I understand that you think I acted too emotionally. And putting aside the fact that men always say that about women they work with, I’ll get straight to the point. I am emotional. I do bring it into my work. It’s what motivates me. It helps me to get into the headspace of our victims, see what they’ve seen. Even if I don’t want to; even if it horrifies me. And I think it makes me a better agent. If you have a problem with that, sorry.

My jaw just about hit the floor. Just the line "men always say that about women they work with" was astonishing. And the rest of it was just as brilliant. The only thing I would have added to it would be something along the lines of "The best male agents are just as emotional, and for exactly the same reasons." But even without that, it's a hell of a powerful speech. And it's one that very few TV writers would ever give a female character.

I'm definitely looking forward to seeing how the show and its characters develop over the next four-and-a-half seasons.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 15th, 2014 10:02 pm (UTC)
I was just as amazed at that speech as you were.

Every other thing in this comment has been repeatedly written, deleted, re-written, deleted and so on because of hints or spoilers. Just keep watching. Just. Keep. Watching. (John Noble deserves all the Emmys
Feb. 16th, 2014 01:26 am (UTC)
Well, I definitely will. It's got my attention a lot more solidly than either Alphas or Terra Nova did.
Feb. 15th, 2014 10:09 pm (UTC)
Olivia is an incredible character, and the way she--and the others, especially Peter and Walter--develop is what turns the show from "okay post-X-Files weirdness show" to "fantastic SF." It was only ever nominated for one Hugo, but it deserved more nominations and at least one win (unfortunately the Doctor Who bloc is too strong).

I have further spoilery comments too.
Feb. 16th, 2014 01:27 am (UTC)
Well, if I like it this much already, I have a feeling I'm going to quite solidly love it by season 2 or 3. ;-)
Feb. 16th, 2014 04:57 am (UTC)
Yeah. Though there were a lot of comments early on about the show's weaknesses. I guess I can say this--at about where you are on original airing, there were two major complaints: Anna Torv's (Olivia) wooden acting, and the lack of central plot, with just monster-of-the-week stories.

Keep that in mind.

Edited at 2014-02-16 08:57 am (UTC)
Feb. 17th, 2014 04:52 pm (UTC)
So, wait a sec. Critics accused Anna Torv of wooden acting for displaying the same range of emotion as a male actor would be praised for in the same role and in the same situations?

Feb. 17th, 2014 03:21 am (UTC)
The first season wasn't my favorite, but it got better. A lot better. The last season is almost completely worth skipping. And for me, Walter was my hook. John Noble is amazing.
Feb. 17th, 2014 04:53 pm (UTC)
Oh, dear. The last season is bad? I'm sorry to hear that. I'm still looking forward to watching the rest of it, though.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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