‘Fringe’: Actually Getting Good!

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Walter wonders if the person taking this picture is trying to steal his soul. Photo: Courtesy Fox

After two dud episodes, Fringe righted the ship a bit last night, concocting a silly but fun mystery that finally demonstrated how this show’s uneasy mix of scientific nonsense and creepy-crawly paranoia could work. It seems our paranoia about this paranormal series might just be on the wane … for now.

The Evil: Bus passengers are killed by a noxious gas that solidifies once it hits air, trapping them in its amber casing.

The Determination: The bus attack has been foreseen by a corporate office drone with psychic powers who draws or constructs models of his horrible visions right before they occur. He got his powers from an experiment conducted by Dr. Walter Bishop years ago, and he’s the only person who can stop those responsible for the attack.

Intel on Massive Dynamic: In a surprise to absolutely nobody, we discover at the end of the episode that Massive Dynamic’s Nina Sharp and FBI Agent Phillip Broyles are in cahoots, discussing how Agent Dunham will fit into their plans. Here’s the problem, Fringe writers: If we’re told from the series’ outset not to trust anybody, it doesn’t make sense to try to “surprise” us with rather obvious backroom dealings between side characters who ooze shadiness. (And while we have your attention, how much longer do we have to wait until Agent Scott comes back to life and starts screwing with Dunham’s fragile psyche?)

Wacky Factor: Walter had his now-obligatory weekly Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer moment – in fact, he had two! Walter was confused by a vibrating cell phone and amused by a stack of Post-it Notes. This is probably setting up a future episode where he has to go into a Staples to solve a crime – that is, of course, if he can keep his mind from being blown by all the frightening office supplies.

Paranoia Level: Medium. Though the concept of a psychic who draws his prophetic visions is swiped from Heroes, the episode cleverly explained his condition medically without sounding like a lot of made-up hogwash. Even better, it lead to a funny, disturbing sequence where Walter nonchalantly drilled into the psychic’s head in order to rewire his brain to pick up a clandestine radio frequency used by the baddies. Of course it was all ludicrous, but at least the show finally managed to wring some good macabre laughs out of its ghoulish look-at-this-gross-thing! tendencies. While it was hardly brilliant, last night’s episode was solid guilty-pleasure fun. Maybe we’ve just lowered our expectations appropriately — or maybe the show’s writers have lowered theirs.