Fox’s ‘Fringe’ a Not-So-Distant Mirror of Our Era
On this planet, Americans are the ultimate outsiders. If you go back far enough, almost all of us come from families that crossed an ocean or braved long odds to get here. This is a land where memories of being on society’s edges inform our ability to be in the middle of it.
No wonder, then, that the American entertainment tradition is rich with unusual explorations of what it means to be an outsider — mirrors that distort our reflections and imagine what it might be like to be impostors in our own world.
Consider George Bailey of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” who got an unsettling glimpse of a world where he never existed. Or “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” in which aliens replaced a town’s residents with soulless replicas, one by one, until the originals — the “real” human beings — were pushed to the edges.
Lately, compelling drama about the outsider-insider contrast is everywhere. The alien-invasion remake “V,” the vampires and other creatures of “True Blood,” the zombified versions of friends and family in “The Walking Dead,” even Clark Kent in “Smallville” — all are meditations about who is “us” and who, exactly, isn’t.
That’s why Fox’s “Fringe,” which returns at 9 p.m. ET Friday after a hiatus of two months, is so compelling. The law-enforcement-meets-unexplained events saga postulates a world — two, if you include its parallel universe — in which everyone seems to be struggling with how to belong.
The basic premise, without any short-term spoilers, is this: An erratic genius named Walter Bishop (John Noble), whose son fell ill and died in this universe many years ago, found a gateway to a parallel one in which the boy is still alive. He slipped across to the other, very similar world, stole its version of his son and spirited him home.
That single act — an act of deep love and deep evil, simultaneously — left Walter’s counterpart in the other world angry and hellbent on revenge against our world and on reclaiming the now-adult Peter (Joshua Jackson) for both familial and, apparently, nefarious purposes.