Commentary on Movies and TV by Brian Holcomb

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

FRINGE: "Bad Dreams"

An Idiot Box Review by Brian Holcomb

So last night's episode "Bad Dreams" was the work of writer and debuting director Akiva Goldsman. This is the man behind the worst Batman script ever written, Batman and Robin. He also won an Academy Award for the worst script ever to be nominated for an Academy Award, A Beautiful Mind. So, one can say that expectations were quite low, lower in fact than those for many of the episodes of this still wet behind the ears series. But this turned out to be a pleasant surprise, probably the best episode yet.

Olivia ( Anna Torv) is having terrible nightmares in which she sees herself killing people. At least that's what she thinks she's doing when she dreams of pushing a young mother off a subway platform to be crushed by the incoming train. Of course, the dream has occurred in real life-in Grand Central Station in NYC-but the woman is seen on the security cam to just jump off the platform by herself, leaving her child in her stroller to witness the horrible event.

The Fringe team gets together to help Olivia solve her problem which turns out to be more complex than the usual "seeing through the eyes of the killer" trope expected. It turns out to be more of a "feeling what the killer is feeling" experience and is directly connected to the series' developing mytharc involving the US government's secret drug testing on children. Like much of Abrams' other work, the central concept may be derivative (in this case a twist on Cronenberg's Scanners) but the end product swallows up ideas at such a prodigious rate that it becomes less about what idea came from where than in how many of these ideas can be consumed in one sitting as one twist gives way to the next. Where Chris Carter cherry picked one classic horror-sci-fi movie idea at a time for each episode of The X-files, Fringe has no problem starting with a scene that looks to be an homage to Brian DePalma's homage to Battleship Potemkin in The Untouchables and ending with a final act that's a much more effective version of M. Night Shyamalan's endless and lame The Happening.

It's a tightly crafted little story that weaves its "monster of the week" very well within its bigger serial story. We learn more about Olivia's past and the secret that Walter (John Noble) is holding from her. We get some more foreshadowing of a romance between Olivia and Peter (Joshua Jackson). As in all the episodes thus far, there's always some eruption of strangeness or quirkiness that suggests a madman hiding among the writing staff. This week we get a surprising moment of Torv kissing a female stripper while in a hypnotic trance and her "experiencing" the male killer's orgasm following intercourse. The show ends with an old videotape that Walter digs up featuring a young girl in what appears to be a cruel experiment. Offscreen a sinister and gravelly voiced scientist can be heard giving Walter instructions. I wonder who this could be...

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