Tuesday, March 22, 2011

TV Episode Review: Fringe "Stowaways"

So given that I’m coming out with this review so late as to be almost pointless for religious Friday night “live” viewers of the show, I’ll try to be succinct with this write-up and not drift too far off onto tangents or stray observations.  I thought this episode was among the worst in memory; the story wasn’t all that intriguing (nor did it make sense on several levels) and its wrap-up failed in almost every sense of the word.  To make matters worse, Anna Torv was forced to continue doing her embarrassingly awkward Leonard Nimoy impression the entire episode which went beyond being painful within, say, the first sentence she spoke.  It’s a noble (but not quite a John Noble) effort on her part, but it just comes off as someone doing a mediocre impression and it takes so much of her effort to accomplish it that she forgets to act from time to time.  I didn’t mind the “soul magnet” concept last week since it’s not really any more or less within the realm of the conceivable than anything else this show tosses at us, just a bit less scientific in its fictional trappings.  It’s not working as a storyline though—it’s taking a great actress out of her rhythm and keeping us from what I presumed would be the real outcome of all this shenaniganery—the return of Bell himself in the phenomenal and hideous form of an aged Leonard Nimoy.  Just get to it already, Fringe.  And don’t have characters say things like “There is hope in raindrops”.  Geez, is there a writers’ strike I didn’t hear about?

Dana Gray (because she’s between worlds—get it?) as the freak o’ the week was not particularly interesting, but that would’ve been forgivable had the writers made the proceedings in tracking her down and preventing disaster a bit more intriguing.  The show gets some bonus points for casting the excellent actress who fans of good television will recognize as Trixie from Deadwood, but not enough bonus points to save this episode’s score.  She does a nice job with what she’s given, but by the time she’s forced to emote as a nun tells her a heavy handed tale called “The Ascension of Azrael” about a soul in purgatory who gets to heaven by tying a bunch of angels together and floating up there kind of like the old man from “Up” except presumably less grumpy, you can’t help but feel bad for her.  What the hell are we talking about here?  If she’s caught in a purgatory, then why is she engaging in deeds which might be considered, well, purgatorily binding, at best?  The story suggests God doesn’t answer Azrael’s pleas but accepts him once the angels lift him up—but that’s because he’s guilty of something.  As far as I could tell, she’s merely “guilty” of being lightning-jacked twice, which is about as unlucky as you can get. 

Also, she handles grief really, really poorly—her family was murdered and she just wants to end it all as quickly as possible to be with them, which makes sense as a motivator if you’re a codependent twelve-year-old.  But for sharper viewers, one might wonder why the show didn’t bother to pose interesting questions like “Why doesn’t she try to earn or pray her way into heaven if she believes in the afterlife so literally?”  Another good question is why a person trying to get her soul into heaven to be with her family would think that holding a bomb in her lap on a train and watching as innocent people all around her unknowingly make their final phone calls and bathroom runs would be a good way to achieve that goal.  Again, if she’s reading extensively on how souls/heaven work, is it really realistic to think she’s not sharp enough to consider that whatever act she engages in had best be ethical and objectively “good” in order to make sure that if she DOES defeat her indestructibility her soul isn’t released only to visit the less savory members of the family, like homicidal Uncle Steve who’s hanging out in the hotter of the two afterlife destinations?  It just doesn’t make sense (and don’t tell me “she ends up saving their lives” because she sits on the train for what seems like almost 20 minutes within the show’s timeline, and that’s not counting all of the time it took her to go from the suicidal killer’s house to the train and find the bag in the first place, and all that time with the intention of destroying the whole train) that someone obsessed with rejoining her family in heaven would go about it in a manner that an elementary school student in her first year of Sunday School could find the flawed reasoning in.

The “harrowing” final sequence doesn’t help matters any—the scene resorts to the cheapest efforts to sell the drama, as a bearded passenger who looks like Al Borland from Home Improvement calls home and talks way too loudly about seeing the kids and stops just shy of a monologue on how much he loves his life and would really feel ripped off if, say, this train car were to explode right now and cut his life short.  And then, just to stress how emotional all of this really is, the writers actually have him mention family to Dana directly, to which she replies “I’m on my way to see family too.”  Cue the wah wahhhhhhh trombone, please.  Maybe make it a tuba just to stress how groan-inducingly awful that dialogue is.

The Fringe team, meanwhile, engages Agent Lee, who in this universe is apparently a bit of a nerd, especially compared to his trendy alterna-self on Earth 2.  But he’s engaged with no particular usefulness except to provide the convenient background info about the indestructible Dana Gray.  I’m sure he’ll be put to better use in the future, but it wasn’t much of a welcome party for his character this week.  He figures out some things here and there, but it’s nothing another team member couldn’t have put together without him, which really weakens his presence as a new character—if he doesn’t bring something unique to the table then he really adds nothing to a group of characters who already go from week to week “discovering” key clues within the 44 minutes each episode allows for them to solve mysteries in.  Disappointing.

Finally, after dragging us through nothing of particular interest for the final 15 or so minutes, the Fringe team witnesses the bomb detonating in an empty field outside the train—which they are calmly walking about on knowing there’s a bomb on board.  I believe someone muttered something about the bomb having eight minutes to detonation, but where they gathered that little tidbit of information is beyond me—and I’d be willing to bet it would be beyond the writers to explain too, because the writing tonight was sloppier than feeding time at a St. Bernard breeding farm.  If those exist.  Anyway, fireball of an explosion, team runs to investigate, unnamed agent calls their attention to a dead (why are they so certain so soon?  She’s gotten up from death before.) Dana.  Here’s the best part:  their explanation for why she died this time is that the bomb (The electronics?  The explosion itself?) somehow realigned those pesky ions in her body so that they were destructible again, which is fine as far as this stupid episode goes (though not at all clever or interesting), except why didn’t she then get torn to pieces the way normal, non-lightning-struck mortal people do when they hold a bomb in their arms as it detonates?  But hey, it turns out God hit her twice with lightning to make her indestructible so that she could save all those people on the train and then commit suicide with the same bomb meant for them so that she could be with her family again; the family God apparently did not want saved from a vicious murderer by providing them with some sort of indestructible savior, which Dana might think to bring up when she meets him up there.  Apparently the Lord works in shitty, ineffective ways (Dana might have appreciated it if God had just made the detonation mechanism defective on this particular device instead of making her a living corpse forced to live in a state of endless grief and suffering for a year and a half). 

Next week brings some hope in a few forms.  The exit of Bell from Olivia (sounds dirtier than it is) should prove interesting, and I won’t deny that I’m dying to find out who he takes on as his permanent surrogate body (I like the idea of the cow, simply because Walter was so amused at the idea of milking his old partner—and because Bell likes the idea of having Astrid do it).  Based on the preview for next week, we also have the promise of something being born from Fauxlivia which she didn’t plan on, and I assume it will play into the master plot (does anybody think they would actually kill her off?  I don’t, but I’m interested to see what they are going to do with her).  Finally, there’s some intrigue to be had from the final moments this episode where Bell realizes he can’t just hang out in Olivia indefinitely (chicks hate that) and there’s a moment where Olivia “takes control” again (played very effectively and disconcertingly by Torv) and seems more than a bit panicked before being subverted again by Bell. 

Overall Rating:  6.8/10

Great Lines, Interesting Moments, What Not and Occasionally What-Have-You:

Okay, so the one redeeming quality of this episode was the interplay between Walter and Bell, which was gleeful and fun to watch, though to imagine what it would have looked like with Nimoy playing back and forth with Noble instead of Olivia’s character standing in weakly for Walter’s real partner is a bit disheartening to think about.  Anyway, they got most of the great moments tonight—

Bell:  “I never realized that a bra was so binding.”

Walter:  “Me and Belly collecting human tissue and specimens—just like when we were kids!”

I already mentioned the dialogue about him taking over the cow’s consciousness, but I really did find it hilarious—especially the moment of confirmation that Bell has a somewhat dirty-old-man type crush on Astrid.

It was a very clever joke that Bell and Walter have to do the old “two trains traveling…” math problem to solve this week’s mystery, and Torv and Noble handle the scene with the right kind of energy to sell the joke.  Astrid gets to steal the show though:  “They’re doing that thing again where they don’t finish sentences.”

1 comment:

  1. The preview for next week is reminiscent of "The Same Old Story." http://www.fringepedia.net/wiki/The_Same_Old_Story

    When I saw it, I immediately thought that Peter Jr. was growing rapidly and ready to see the world.