Top Five Standalone Fringe Episodes

by Amy Yen

With Fringe finally, FINALLY returning this week (unfortunately, that’s the only good news), I thought I’d do my top 5 standalone episodes to go along with the mythology episode guide that I recently posted. Fringe is one of the few mytharc-based shows where monster-of-the-week episodes can be some of its most compelling & engrossing stories, & although, as I’ve mentioned before, the mythology is what makes the show what it is, many of the standalones are definitely worth checking out.

PS: Regarding the bad news out of the FOX TCAs, I still think there’s a chance Warner Brothers works out a deal for a 13-episode final season, but I do think we need to be realistic. This is the first time Reilly & FOX have been so candid about the financial hit the network is taking on the show & while I think part of it is a negotiation ploy to put the ball (& the blame for the cancellation if it comes to it) in the WB’s court, I also think Reilly is trying to prepare us for the inevitable. I mean honestly, it’s a miracle we’ve gotten four seasons with the ratings being what they are.

I think the bigger issue is, if there really are only 15 episodes left, whether the producers can wrap this thing up in a satisfying way. I’m as big of a fan as there is, but I think there’s a lot of validity to the criticisms about the Peter storyline from the beginning of this season. For the show’s status being what it is, with this in all likelihood being the final season, the amber-verse storyline just hasn’t paid off nearly enough for all the time that has been spent setting it up. It just feels like we have a limited time left in this world & I just want to  spend as much of it as possible with the characters we’ve grown to care about the most, that being the blue-verse & red-verse versions of these people.

For all we know, the payoff is still to come & the promo for this week’s intended fall finale does look incredible, but if this is the end, I desperately hope this thing goes out with a bang & not a whimper. It’s a great story that deserves a great ending.

Still catching up? Here’s my top five standalone Fringe episodes:

Note: This post contains spoilers for aired episodes.

Honorable Mention: Northwest Passage
This episode didn’t work for everyone because it lacked the defining “team” dynamic that’s at the heart of Fringe, but I really liked it. It’s a moody Twin Peaks-esque episode that features an appealing guest spot by Martha Plimpton & just enough mythology tie-in, in the form of our old friend Thomas Jerome Newton, to keep things interesting.

5) One Night in October
An extremely clever exercise in how to execute a cross-universe adventure, this story also crystalizes the main idea of the multi-verse premise of the series: that little changes, the smallest of differences, can change who you are drastically. John McClennan from the red-verse is a serial killer who steals people’s happiest memories, while John McClennan of the blue-verse has the same impulses but learned to control them after he met a woman named Marjorie, one night in October. Fauxlivia’s mom is still alive, so she didn’t have to live with an abusive stepfather who she was eventually forced to kill, so she’s more carefree, more happy, than our Olivia. And Fringe once again proves to be the gold standard when it comes to actors acting against themselves. (Whatever, Ringer.)

4) Marionette
This is cheating a bit because if you go back & look, I actually included “Marionette” on my mythology episode list. But in actuality, it’s more of a standalone dealing with the emotional fallout of all the mythology episodes preceding it. This is a particularly good example of something Fringe does extremely well, which is tie the themes of a standalone story in with what’s happening with its main characters. Olivia’s “She’s taken everything” speech to Peter at the end is heartbreaking & you feel awful for both of them at the same time & it’s just devastating.

3) And Those We Left Behind
Besides that both deal with time travel, this episode shares a common theme with my top pick, “White Tulip”: the lengths people will go to to be with the ones they love. It’s that theme that also makes Peter’s dilemma in season 4 so tragic. (I would argue Peter’s realization of not belonging to the world he’s found himself in reflects our feelings that the amber-verse is not quite the show we’ve all loved for three years.) There are lovely guest spots from real life husband & wife, Stephen Root & Romy Rosemont, and a very cool execution of Lost-esque plays with time. Like many of Fringe’s best standalones, the strength of the episode lies in its ability to build very complex, textured one-off characters whose stories we become invested in very quickly.

2) The Plateau
From a pure narrative standpoint, this is one of the most riveting stories the show has ever told. Michael Eklund makes a brilliant guest spot as the one-off “monster-of-the-week,” Milo comes off, like many Fringe antagonists, largely sympathetic, even as he is killing innocent people. I also love the clever mytharc tie-in where the fact that Olivia, brainwashed into thinking she is Fauxlivia, isn’t from that universe that saves her life & allows her to capture Milo. Plus, it’s just fun watching all the Rube Goldberg scenarios Milo sets into motion using a pen (another fun red-verse detail).

1) White Tulip
This episode manages to tell a poignant and deeply romantic story using probably the most sci-fi device Fringe has ever touched (besides, you know, the whole alternate universe thing), time travel. Peter Weller’s terrific Alistair Peck’s tragic story mirrors Walter’s own overwhelming guilt over the grief-induced mistake he made all those years ago & their conversation is the highlight of the episode. Even more than usual for Fringe, which has feature-level cinematography, this episode is beautifully filmed & scored. I especially liked how there wasn’t sound in the scene when Alistair finally makes it back in time to his fiance & you realize (as is a theme with many Fringe “monsters” of the week), this man isn’t a monster at all. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone & he is, in fact, acting on the most human of instincts, to find where belongs. He know it’s not where is he now, in a world without his love. He’s just trying to right a wrong, to go with her when he should have. He even gives Walter the sign he so desperately needs, a tremendous act of kindness. “White Tulip” isn’t an alternate universe story, it doesn’t involve Observers or Cortexiphan or Massive Dynamic. In fact, it’s standalone story in the ultimate sense: by the end of it, it’s like it never happened at all, at least to our main characters. But it actually has everything to do with the emotional condition of our beloved characters & their relationships with each other at this point in the series, & that’s what makes it excellent.

Fringe: The Comprehensive Mythology Episode Guide to the Best Drama on TV

by Amy Yen

In case you are wondering, yes, this is where I’m going to pretend like the World Series didn’t happen. Think of it like the denial stage of grief, although, after it was all over, I did anger & depression together, like a misery cocktail of doom & despair. Ugh. And on top of everything, Game 7 pre-empted Fringe. Seriously? Kick me when I’m down already.

In preparation of the show coming back this week after what has been a two-week hiatus, I thought I’d do a post about how people—& by people, I mean the majority of the American television viewing public, since they spend their time watching NCIS & terrible VH1 reality shows—can catch up on Fringe, which they should, because it is, in fact, the best drama on TV.

I say this, but I’m aware that Fringe is a particularly hard show to get caught up on. Worse than Lost even. At least when you’re watching Lost, even when it’s meandering around throwing out questions that will never be answered, you don’t usually know that what you’re watching isn’t really important. The main problem with Fringe is, throughout most of its run, it’s insisted on trying to stay somewhat accessible to casual viewers, which means a solid half of its episodes, maybe more, are of the standalone monster-of-the-week variety, where you can tune in randomly & be able to mostly follow what’s going on. And while those episodes are fun to watch, as fun even as most X-Files standalones, when you’re trying to get caught up on 3+ seasons of an extremely dense mythology, they feel like treading water.

So, when I lent my co-worker my Fringe DVDs, I eventually also provided him a guide of mythology episodes, the ones you really need to watch to understand the core story of Fringe, the real reason it’s such a great show. If you’re going through it for the first time trying to catch up to the live episodes, I would recommend watching these first, then going back & watching the monster-of-the-weeks over the summer when you have more time to sit around & be grossed out by mole-rat babies & mutant fungi.

PS: I really liked this post, which does something similar. Her “things you should know about Fringe” are especially good.

Warning: This episode guide contains minor spoilers. Click More to read on.

Update [01.27.13]: Updated through end of series! Of 100 total episodes, I ended up recommending 55. 55 essential episodes to getting the gist of Fringe. I’d love to hear if someone tries to watch the series using this guide & what your experience is like. If you do, please drop me a comment! Thanks again for reading.

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It’s Time! (Again!)

Texas Rangers: 2011 American League Champions

Guys. I’m not just saying this. I feel really good about this team this year. Like, better than last year. Last year was just so emotional, because it was our first ALCS & it was the Yankees & maybe they were just happy to be in the World Series. This year, everyone’s more experienced & we made some really good additions & the bullpen is just lights out & Nelson Cruz cannot be stopped. Yeah. I feel really good. Let’s do this.

We’re going (back) to the World Series, y’all!

Thoughts on Doctor Who Series 6 Finale The Wedding of River Song

by Amy Yen

“I got too big, Dorium. Too noisy. Time to step back into the shadows.”

It’s because of that line I can’t completely dislike “The Wedding of River Song,” the series 6 finale of Doctor Who. It’s the same thing I liked about “A Good Man Goes to War,” although that story was infinitely more satisfying. It’s gotten increasingly uncomfortable, in Steven Moffat’s Who, that the Doctor is so universally known, so feared & more disturbingly, that he doesn’t mind it. Like I’ve said before, it’s fun to watch Matt Smith show off, to yell at the skies, “Remember every black day I ever stopped you!” But that isn’t the Doctor, not really. And so, it’s nice to see him realize that.

It’s also fitting that it’s River calls him out that first time, that she realizes it too. I liked the way the wedding played out, the meta nods to the endless speculation about who River Song was. “The woman who marries him or the woman who kills him.” Although, honestly, it’s still a little off to have the Doctor, so long removed from all romantic entanglements, be so overtly committed. And anyway, I always found the fun in the Doctor & River’s interaction to be more in the mystery & promise than the melodrama (“I can’t let you die without knowing by so many & so much, and none more than me”).

A lot of my dissatisfaction with the episode comes from the solution to the Doctor’s death. There was a lot of speculation that it would turn out to be a flesh Doctor & when the Teselecta reappeared early in this episode, I even momentarily thought this might be what it was, but I think maybe I was expecting, or hoping, for something just a little more clever than that from Moffat. It seemed like the easy way out. Maybe that’s unfair. But I also think if that was the solution all along, they should have planted more clues. When we saw the Teselecta Amy in “Let’s Kill Hitler,” the robot clearly didn’t act like Amy. It acted like a robot. But when we see the Doctor through this episode &, even more significantly, in “The Impossible Astronaut,” he is clearly acting like the Doctor. Even in the tiny nuances & the moments where no one else is looking, it’s clearly the Doctor. I mean, we’re talking a straight-up legit looking beginning of a regeneration. Could the Teselecta really be that good, even with the Doctor inside? In a way, it would actually make more sense if it had been a flesh Doctor, since at least then it’s already been established the flesh is basically just like the real thing.

Finally, we get the Question, the oldest question in the universe, hiding in plain sight. “Doctor Who?” Yeah, I don’t understand. I mean, I get it, it’s obviously the question. What else could it be? But how it is oldest question? Obviously the Doctor is old, but the universe is much older, so how can the oldest question possibly be related only to him? And why will silence fall if it’s answered? I’m guessing the whole “fall of the Eleventh” thing means we won’t get the answer until Matt Smith turns in his bow tie.

More random thoughts on “The Wedding of River Song”:

  • So I guess we do still have to see the Doctor tell River his name, otherwise what did she tell Ten in “Forest of the Dead“? I was trying to think if it would make sense for River to tell him that she knew he didn’t die at Lake Silencio, but it hadn’t happened to the Doctor yet. Plus, we still have to see him give her the screwdriver, so we know this isn’t the last we’ll see of River.
  • Cute callbacks to Rose Tyler & Jack Harkness in this episode, but the loveliest moment is the nod to Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart, as a goodbye to Nicholas Courtney.
  • “I’m his wife.” “And I’m his…mother-in-law.” HA!
  • “And Doctor Song? Imprisoned all her days?” “Her days, yes. Her nights, well. That’s between her & me, eh?” I can’t tell you how much I want to see about 3-6 more episodes about the Doctor coming to whisk River away from the stormcage to go on random adventures together. I wonder how many of these we were cheated out of seeing in the 200 years between “The God Complex” & “Closing Time.”
  • I would totally go to a live chess tournament.
  • “I can remember it. So it happened. So I did it.” On one hand, I’ve never been a big fan of the unwritten timeline, when something is solved by making it so that it never happened. But I like that the show doesn’t usually ignore that the characters are still affected by it, even when it technically didn’t happen. Like Martha & the Year That Never Was, or Rory’s 2000 years as the Lone Centurian. Amy would feel conflicted about Madame Kovarian, even if it was an awesome move. I also like that it calls back to River killing the Dalek in “The Big Bang.” “River Song didn’t get it all from you, sweetie.”
  • So, the Doctor really did send those envelopes just so he wouldn’t die alone? That’s kind of messed up. Or is it just because of the time paradox that exists because the Doctor knows he & the others receive the envelopes so he knows later on that he has to send them?
  • I love the idea of River visiting her parents after her adventures (although, didn’t she go straight back to jail after the Byzantium? not that that’s stopped her before). River says explicitly to Amy this episode that she has had to pretend she didn’t know she was her mother, that she didn’t recognize the spacesuit. But all that still feels like lazy retcon for the lack of continuality. Supposedly Steven Moffat told Alex Kingston who River was long before anyone else. If they knew, I don’t really see what the excuse was not to plant more clues earlier on. Or maybe Moffat should tell more people what the plan is so they don’t have to retroactively explain things away. Just saying.
  • “You took my baby from me & hurt her. And now she’s all grown up & she’s fine. But I’ll never see my baby again.” Well. I guess that answers that question. On one hand, it’s not like I was ever clamoring to have a baby on board the TARDIS. That would have seriously put a clamp on all the life-risking adventures. On the other hand, I remain completely underwhelmed by the lack of exploration they’ve done on how losing their baby affected Amy & Rory emotionally. Besides “Let’s Kill Hitler,” they’ve basically acted like they’re totally cool with the fact that they were robbed out of raising their child (& “raising” Mels doesn’t count, come on). I think it’s one of the big failures of this series.
  • I’ve read several reviews that suggest most people liked the finale more than I did, but I want to point out this one from io9, which does a particularly excellent job of laying out the major flaws in River Song’s story, including many disturbing bits from this episode that I’d somehow forgotten about. (“You embarrass me.” I can’t believe that was a real line of dialogue.) It also has an interesting analysis of how Moffat plays with time & where the whole Question storyline might be going. Highly recommended read.

Top 5 “New Who” Doctor Who Episodes

by Amy Yen

In anticipation to the series 6 finale of Doctor Who this Saturday, I thought I’d do a post on my top 5 episodes since the show came back in 2005. Like a lot of people, I never saw Classic Who & honestly, as much as I like the show, I don’t really think I’ll ever feel the need to go back & watch those old episodes, with the low production values & cardstock companions who only function as damsels-in-distress. But since Russell T. Davies brought the series back, the characters have been admirably fleshed out & the season arcs have always been interesting, if not always successfully executed.

I should specify that this is my personal favorite top 5 episodes, not necessarily the 5 very best episodes, although my choices are all pretty popular episodes. I also changed my mind on a few of them, just to not always pick the Steven Moffat timey-wimey choice, although I am obviously a huge sucker for those stories. Here are my picks:

Honorable Mentions: Human Nature/The Family of Blood, The Big Bang, The Girl in the Fireplace

5) The Girl Who Waited
Interesting, it’s one of two “Doctor-light” episodes in my choices. Not that I don’t love The Doctor, but this episode in particular is the best Rory & Amy story thus far & one of the best companion stories period of the new series. It’s a terrific standalone adventure, but it is also explores one of series 6’s most interesting aspects, the idea of a married couple in the TARDIS. What’s most wonderful about is, there are plenty of examples of how much Rory loves Amy, but this is one of the few stories that really shows how much Amy loves Rory. Rory is what separates Amy from Rose, why she’ll eventually be able to walk away from the Doctor for good.

4) The Doctor Dances
The second half of Moffat’s first two-parter that introduced one of his most famous creations, John Barrowman’s dashing, tragic Captain Jack Harkness, this episode features one of the Doctor’s greatest goosebump-raising, cheer-inducing speeches. “Everybody lives!” To me, it remains the high point of Christopher Eccleston’s short run as the Ninth Doctor.

3) The Eleventh Hour
Matt Smith’s first full adventure as the Eleventh Doctor was full of joy & wonder & magic, & to me, it got Doctor Who back to what it is when it’s at its best, in stark contrast to the cloudiness around it for Ten’s last few stories. And while Eleven’s run certainly has its ultra-dark moments, Matt Smith is such an energetic, compelling presence, the Doctor seems a little less weighed down by his past. “The Eleventh Hour” also introduces Amy Pond in one of the most creative & tragic companion backstories ever. What I remember most about it is its fantastical fairy tale imagery: Amelia Pond in her red jacket, the Doctor landing in her garden & the TARDIS in its bluest blue, ever.

2) The Doctor’s Wife
Neil Gaiman does Doctor Who, I mean, what can you say? What an amazing episode. I will admit, when I first saw “The Doctor’s Wife” in the episode titles, I was momentarily fooled into thinking this might be a River Song story, but the real story is so much better than that. The TARDIS personified is an inspired creation (“Did you wish really, really hard?”) & the best part of the episode might be that final scene, with the Doctor running around the console gleefully. “It’s always going to be you & her, isn’t it? Long after the rest of us have gone.”

1) Blink
I almost don’t want to put this as number 1 because it is both a Doctor-light & companion-light episode—Ten & Martha make the briefest of appearances—and my actual appreciation of the show has everything to do with the fundamental relationship between The Doctor & his companions. But “Blink” is a masterpiece, the original Moffat timey-wimey story. Because at the end of the day, it’s a show about time travel & nobody writes time travel like Moffat (I also think of “The Big Bang” as a great example of this, but “Blink” has the stronger narrative). “Blink” is also just a remarkable piece of storytelling, featuring possibly the scariest Who monsters ever, beautiful photography (those gorgeous, terrifying stone statues in the rain) & a one-off companion who feels as three-dimensional as anyone else in this universe. If it didn’t feature so little of the Doctor, I would call it the perfect Doctor Who story, if only for the brilliance of this scene:

So those are my picks, would love to hear yours in the comments. Doctor Who’s Series 6 finale, “The Wedding of River Song” airs on BBC America tomorrow, October 1 at 9pm ET.

Thoughts on Fringe Season 4 Premiere Neither Here Nor There

by Amy Yen

More than almost any other show on TV, it’s wonderful to have Fringe back, just in terms of my almost complete certainty that I will get an enjoyable hour of television. The only other show I would put in its class would be Parks and Recreation (whose premiere was excellent, btw). Fringe is wonderful because even when it’s not quite what you want it to be, it has so many layers & interesting things to think about, it will still almost always be better than 95% of everything else on TV.

So, the season 4 premiere, “Neither Here Nor There,” wasn’t quite the epic mythology piece we were all not-so-secretly hoping for. Instead, the producers (or more likely, the network) decided to backtrack on last year’s (wise, I thought) decision to abandon all notion that they were going to attract any new viewers & just went neck-deep into the mythology. Maybe it’s that the sudden surge in genre-friendly Friday programming re-opens up the possibility of people discovering the show…but I have to say, as much as I thought this episode (& from what I understand the first part of this season) was trying to be as accessible as possible, I can’t imagine someone tuning in for the first time & the first scene being Olivia Dunham arguing with an alternate version of herself.

So, maybe I don’t know so much about this new direction, but I did think this episode did do a good job of setting up the new dynamics of the season, at least for the blueverse, & also introducing a lot of very interesting questions about how characters are affected by Peter Bishop’s being erased from the timeline. It did a particularly good job of re-introducing the blueverse version of Lincoln Lee, who in this timeline, never investigated the “Stowaway” case with Peter & Bellivia last year.

I loved the first scene with Lincoln at his partner’s house. What a remarkable little scene. Think about it, it’s the only scene with the partner & it makes you care about him in about three minutes. And it makes you care about, understand, this Lincoln we barely know, with the combed-down hair & the dorky glasses & buttoned-up suit & tie. (Again, such a simple & elegant job of contrasting him with the cocky, wild-haired Lincoln we know from the redverse.) But in three minutes, you get him.

As dorktastic as this Lincoln is, he is both completely capable on handling himself & also shows himself to be as naturally brilliant of an investigator as he is on the other side. It’s again smart writing because this Lincoln is totally different from the one we know, but you can see that they’re still the same person, the same way Walter & Walternate and Olivia & Fauxlivia are.

I really liked Olivia’s slow acceptance of Lincoln throughout the episode, how difficult it was, despite the fact we knew it was going to happen. Lincoln has to prove several times that he is a good investigator & a worthy partner for this Olivia, who has been alone for so long (“There is no one else. There is only me”). It is because Seth Gabel is so compelling in portraying this version of him (essentially a brand new character) that I didn’t miss Peter’s presence much at all this episode.

Not to say I wasn’t constantly thinking about how Peter’s absence affected things (more about this in the bullets), it’s just that Lincoln being there makes it less urgent to me that they bring him back immediately. I think they can take their time & let the story play out. Of course, I have no idea how it will. I’m still confused about September the Observer & his increasingly bizarre actions. Wasn’t Peter being erased from the timeline what he predicted (& presumably caused somehow)? Why is he suddenly so queasy about finishing the job?

So, overall, I’m still not convinced on whether this whole Peter storyline is a good one or not, but Fringe is one of those shows that has earned itself a lot of blind trust on my part. It’s not like I won’t be tuning in. And you should too.

Other random thoughts about “Neither Here Nor There”:

  • Orange (oh as EW pointed out, amber!) credits. Among the new phrases listed: Viral therapy, quantum entanglement, time paradox, psychic surgery, gravitons, existence. As vague as usual, except for quantum entanglement, which we’ve already dealt with. And existence, which seems…ominous.
  • “He just never had anything to tether him to the world.” The subtle & not-so-subtle differences in all the characters, the Peter-shaped hole in their lives, are all pretty fascinating. Olivia & Walter are pretty obvious, but the brief bits we get with Fauxlivia seem telling too. She’s definitely not quite as likable as she had grown to be last year. She’s back to who she was in Over There Part 2, when she first made the switch & infiltrated our side. Except in this timeline, she didn’t fall for Peter, didn’t change & start to care, didn’t ever come to want to stop Walternate.
  • I wonder if that also means that redverse Lincoln & Charlie never came to suspect Walternate’s evil ways, since Fauxlivia’s non-pregnancy means they probably never found out about the switch. Can’t wait to see how things are changed in the redverse.
  • Interesting that the blueverse Fringe division is both more official (& has seemingly more resources) & more secret in this timeline. Wonder why that would change, based on Peter not being there.
  • The translucent people/pseudo-shape-shifters quite deliberately called back to John Scott’s condition in the pilot. I even thought for a second this might turn out to be the same case…a situation in which Olivia & John never caught up to the bad guy from that episode, so he never exploded his lab or John.
  • “Just so you know, I know what it’s like.” So in this timeline, John Scott never recovered at all? Is that because Peter never forced the suspect to talk using completely illegal interrogation techniques?
  • “There’s more than one.” Oh, we know. We know.
  • One glaring thing that does still need to be explained regarding the new timeline: if Peter never existed or died as a child, how did the chain of events leading up to the universes merging even happen? Because we know in the original timeline, it all started when Walter ripped a hole between universes to try to save the Peter from over there. If he never did that, what caused all the damage on both sides that is referenced by the Olivias in this episode?
  • “What I do know is that this tech isn’t from here.” “Not from here? You mean like, from China?” “No. Not China.” Heh.
  • The red room scan totally gave me Alias flashbacks.
  • Love the grin on Fauxlivia’s face when she spots Lincoln. Seriously can’t wait for the Lincolns to meet each other.
  • After seeing Ringer, I’ve gained a whole new appreciation of just how good the Fringe cast, particularly Anna Torv & John Noble, is at playing against themselves.
  • “Sometimes answers lead to more questions.” I would say, almost always, in a JJ-verse.