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Sci-Fi Summer Television We Love to Watch: J.J. Abrams and "Fringe"


Teleportation. Precognition. Suspended Animation. Dark Matter. Fringe.

From the mind of J.J. Abrams (who brought you Alias, the Cloverfield monster, and an updated Star Trek movie, to name just a few) comes the story of a mad scientist, his estranged son, and the F.B.I. Agent who brought them all together. A large part of Fringe tells the story of the fictitious Dr. Walter Bishop, a scientist on the fringe of the mainstream academic community who tested a variety of incredible theories but did not necessarily have the proper evidence to validate them. One such idea was the possible existence of a parallel world (which, if you’ve ever heard or read about Fringe, you know is something we’re eventually going to talk about). Along with his colleague William Bell (Leonard Nimoy, for all you Trekkies) and their friend Nina Sharp, he made many early discoveries and tapped the potential of the nearly unbelievable. The Dr. Bishop presented in the 1970s is shown to be committed to scientific progress, but is a less relatable and more morally corrupt figure. He is even shown at one point to experiment on children, exposing them to a fictional drug known as “cortexiphan” — a substance that allows children to retain higher brain functions with age that could lead their adult selves to have “powers,” such as telepathy, pyrokinesis, and limited psychic abilities.
It’s hard to talk about Fringe without giving away a lot of the plot. Early episodes are reminiscent of The X-Files, as Dr. Bishop and his jack-of-all-trades son Peter work with F.B.I. Agent Olivia Dunham. Dunham is a blonde bombshell who’s willing to look at things from all angles, even the crazy one that Walter sees things from. Dunham was responsible for getting Walter Bishop out of a mental institution during the "Pilot" episode of the first season. Bishop had been committed after a mental break following the accidental death of his lab assistant in a fire he was most likely responsible for. After being deemed mentally unfit, he was put in St. Claire’s Mental Institution in 1991. Dunham tracks down Walter’s only son and surviving relative, Peter Bishop. Although initially resistant to help, Peter eventually acquiesces and helps Dunham by petitioning St. Claire’s to have Walter put in his custody. Peter is resentful of his father for being absent during much of his childhood; the death of Peter’s mother seemed to be the final wedge that drove them apart. Much of the first season’s story follows Walter’s reemergence into society and Walter and Peter mending their father/son relationship.
Dunham and the two Bishops form a team, based out of Walter’s old lab at Harvard University, that investigates odd happenings in and around Boston. During the second season, it’s revealed that many of these occurrences have to do with a mysterious parallel world that Walter and William Bell inadvertently discovered during their experimental drug use in the 1970s. After Walter crosses over to the other side, he creates a destabilization that begins to slowly destroy both universes. Many of the incidents that the Fringe team investigate are a result of this destabilization. Some episodes of Fringe take place entirely in this parallel world, where Dunham is a brunette and Walter Bishop, having never been committed, is the U.S. Secretary of Defense. It also allows characters who die in the “prime” universe to be brought back as alternate versions, and in the case of one character (Seth Gabel as Lincoln Lee) to introduce his alternate version before his prime world counterpart. If you couldn't already guess, to miss one episode of Fringe is to be utterly confused.
I hope you are enjoying Mid-Manhattan Library's series of Sci-Fi Summer blog posts. Star Trek: The Next Generation, The X-Files, Battlestar Galactica, V, The 4400, and now Fringe are only the beginning... we still have quite a few weeks to go! Use the comments section below to tell us your favorite science fiction show! 


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