The first episode of the paranormal investigations series Fringe from producer J.J. Abrams coming this fall to FOX (series premieres August 26) has leaked online. From the trailer FOX presented during the up-fronts, this promised to be a X-Files for a new generation, and after watching most of the first episode, that is definitely the most obvious comparison. It’s got the same Law and Order: Alien Unit feel to it.
The episode opens on an airplane (“You know J.J., always with the airplanes” — J.J. Abrams’s mom) flying through an electrical storm. One passenger is so nervous by the turbulence and lack of in-flight movie that he injects himself with an insulin pen (because insulin is also an anti-fear-of-turbulence medication.) Still freaking out, he gets up to go to the bathroom, and when the lights flicker back on, his face is dissolving and he’s screaming.
Warning, the rest of this review has SPOILERS up until the point where I stopped watching.
Suddenly everyone’s face is falling apart and the plane is full of sloppy zombies. Even your boyfriend.
Luckily, the plane was flying into Logan airport, which is the first airport with the Pearl Autopilot system meaning they could land the plane even when the pilot has turned to mush. This is when agents Olivia Dunham and John Scott are called to the scene JUST AFTER declaring their love for each other in a motel. They don’t want the chief to know because then he will ship them off to a really bad place for FBI’ing. Oh, also Lance Reddick shows up to be in charge, but he hates agent Olivia Dunham. Their relationship throughout the show primarily consists of her asking for something, him being rude and sassy to her, her asking again, and him giving it to her, but still a little sassily. She’s like “I demand to go on that plane and investigate,” and he’s like “I’m in charge here … so if you want to get on that plane, but on a Hazmat suit.” What? OK. A spooky van pulls up at the gate to the airport and asks what is going on and a security guard says “there’s been an incident, you can’t go over there, dude” and this WASP-y guy pokes his head out of the shadows and is like “OK.” Spooky WASP!
No one knows what happened to the plane, but they get a lead that someone is keeping something in a storage unit. Dunham is sent to investigate, which makes her mad even though Scott is sent with her? She hates investigating with her boyfriend. They look through the trash and find some empty canisters of ammonia, so they’re like “obviously whatever caused everyone’s flesh to melt on an international flight from Hamburg is in one of these storage closets.” After not finding it for thirty seconds, they do find it. A secret laboratory with computers and ferrets. Then the spooky WASP-y guy comes out of another lab across the street and the FBI agents chase him, but he sets off an explosion with his cell phone. When Dunham wakes up she discovers that Agent Smith didn’t die in the explosion, but he was sprayed with a chemical that is making his skin go translucent, and they are keeping him in quarantine. A careful analysis of the explosion shows that this makes sense.
Dunham finds out that research on a chemical agent that would dissolve flesh was done before by a scientist named Walter Bishop, but he’s in an insane asylum (obviously). Dunham asks Lance Reddick to help her, and he’s like “You can’t talk to him,” and she’s like “But I need to,” and he’s like “Go talk to him, and then I’ll see if I believe you”? What? They are so weird. But the only way to get to Walter Bishop is if she’s related to him or has a relative escort her, so she tracks down his son Peter Bishop, who is in Iraq doing some business (relevant). She is like “help me,” and he’s like “I’d rather be in Iraq than see my father,” so you know it’s bad, but then she’s like “I have a file on you,” and he’s like “OK,” and they fly back in the luxury private jet that I’ve heard most FBI agents travel on all the time.
Walter Bishop is crazy (obviously), like when Dunham is telling him about the horrifying incident on the airplane he starts crying and she’s like “Dr. Bishop?” and he’s like “they have such horrible pudding here,” and that’s when you realize this guy is going to be pretty wacky. At some point Agent Dunham threatens to put Peter Bishop in jail if Peter Bishop doesn’t take legal guardianship of his father? No, that’s right. I just forgot how the FBI worked for a second, that’s totally right. In the car on the way to the hospital, Dr. Bishop says that the only person who knows what he was working on (skin melting gas) in his old lab was William Bell, with whom he shared the lab. It turns out that William Bell is basically like Bill Gates, and owns a company called Massive Dynamics, which has my favorite corporate slogan of all time.
They go to visit Agent Smith’s Invisible Man body, and Dr. Bishop is like “I need to analyze this flesh sample in my lab” and they are like “um, you’ve been in prison for 20 years,” and he goes crazy. Then Dunham goes to see Lance Reddick and is like “Dr. Bishop needs his lab” and Lance Reddick is like “what are you talking about,” and she’s like “get me a basement lab at Harvard with a full staff and anything this madman from the hospital needs,” and Reddick is like “There’s no way you’re getting all of that unless I begrudgingly authorize it” and then he authorizes it? What?
Luckily, the lab is still right where he left it. Harvard was just like “What do we have an unlimited number of with no particular need for more? That’s right labs.” There’s a long montage showing them setting up the lab and getting all the equipment in order, which is why it is hilarious when Dr. Bishop says that although there might be a cure for Agent Smith, he only has 24 hours until his degeneration proves fatal. Sure. There was enough time for Dunham to recover in the hospital, discover Dr. Bishop existed, go to Iraq to get Peter Bishop, go to the asylum, get clearance for a lab, build a lab, but now there are only 24 hours. So close!
But, and here is where I stopped watching: the key to curing him might be a shared dream state. SHARED DREAM STATE. WHAT? The way to reverse a devastating (and disgusting) physical disintegration via biological or chemical agent is by getting inside the victim’s dream? I need 50 cc’s of too many premises, STAT.
So, most of the episode was great. This looks like a very promising series. But will it collapse under the weight of its abundant premises? You’ll have to watch the second half to know for sure. You can download the episode here, and judge for yourself. NO SPOILERS, you guys, I haven’t gotten that far yet.