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Author's Note: Having grown tired of what's currently available on TV I've decided to rewatch some of my all time favorite shows. I'm limiting myself to one episode per week in order to experience the storytelling as it was originally intended, which hopefully will preserve the thrill of having to wait a week to see what happens next. This article covers the Fringe episode “The Arrival", which originally aired on September 30th, 2008.
Previously on Fringe: Special Agent Olivia Dunham continues to work with mad scientist Walter Bishop and his son Peter, solving the strangest cases that come across the FBI desk.
Nobody does “weird” better than Fringe. While shows like Twin Peaks often took their eccentricities to the point of confusion, Fringe manages to present a strange and interesting narrative that remains cohesive. It uses symbolism to enhance the story rather than relying on its viewers to decipher what is going on, and while I appreciate shows that require a certain level of cerebral participation it shouldn’t come at the expense of comprehension.
The opening scene of “The Arrival” is a good exhibition of how well Fringe is able to present the odd in a traditional manner. The episode starts within a diner where a man who appears to be completely hairless is ordering lunch, a bizarre request of a severely-undercooked beef sandwich with a very specific eleven jalapeño peppers on the side. He asks for a room temperature glass of water to wash it all down, and while waiting for his food he uses a pair of high tech binoculars to watch a construction site across the street, recording what he sees in his notebook using an unrecognizable language. As the confused waitress watches he proceeds to pour the entire contents of a pepper shaker onto his food before ravenously devouring it.
Immediately after he finishes his meal the ground begins to shake as the construction site falls victim to a mini-earthquake that is strong enough to bring their Crain tumbling to the ground. Our new bald friend leaves a twenty dollar bill on the table before casually walking out the door, calling someone on his cell phone to announce “It has arrived.”
From here the show reunites us with the Bishops, and just like in the previous episode their interactions continue to offer a beautiful blend of humor and family drama. Four episodes into the show John Nobel and Joshua Jackson are beginning to display some real chemistry, as Walter’s eccentricities continue to drive his son to the edges of insanity. These moments continue to feel more natural and organic after coming across as clunky and forced in the pilot, but Fringe isn’t the only show that took a few episodes for the actors to find their rhythm with one another. While their banter is funny to the audience, his father’s bizarre behavior is beginning to grate on Peter, along with the fact that he isn’t used to staying in one place for this long.
The team is soon called in to investigate a mysterious object that has appeared at the construction site. The cylindrical-shaped item is humming at a particular frequency, and Broyles lets Olivia know that this isn’t the first time one of these unusual things has turned up. She heads out to follow up this lead which leaves Walter, Peter, and the ever-patient Astrid in the lab where they begin to study the object. Walter once again allows his paranoia to dictate his actions, and after sending his son out for tin foil he sedates Astrid and steals the object.
While this is going on a man shows up to the location where the object was originally being stored, and proceeds to murder everyone there with some kind of futuristic weapon. While his appearance is normal he obviously has access to advanced technology, some of which he puts to a nefarious use when he proceeds to torture a man with knowledge of the prior object. He eventually tracks down Peter who he interrogates, using his technology to extract the item’s location from the younger Bishop’s mind. This leads the stranger, now identified as John Mosley, Peter, and eventually Olivia to a cemetery where Walter has hidden the item, and after a shootout that leaves Mosley dead the item burrows itself deep into the earth. Peter has an encounter with the bald man and there appears to be some kind of psychic connection between the two, the odd man is able to copy Peter's words as he says them.
After the main plot is resolved we get some nice character development for Peter as he receives his FBI clearance, giving him a reason aside from his father to stay for awhile. We also get another nice moment between father and son where Walter recalls a car accident that nearly killed them both, with Walter revealing that they had been saved by a hairless man. While on the surface this story might look like nothing more than a way to establish a past relationship between Walter and The Observer (this episode is the first time these bald men get that official title), but we’ll find out down the road that there’s much more to the accident than the elder Bishop is telling us.
While “The Arrival” might seem like the first time an Observer has shown up on Fringe, eagle-eyed viewers will have caught a glimpse of them already. They have appeared in every episode up to this point, but only as background characters. I caught an Observer in last week’s “The Ghost Network” but didn’t notice them in either of the first two episodes. Their role in this story is about to get much bigger, up to this point they’ve been little more than Easter eggs but that’s all about to change.
The episode ends with a cliffhanger as Olivia finds herself visited by her former lover John Scott, who was presumed dead after the events of the pilot. Unlike LOST and Battlestar Galactica enough time has passed since I last watched Fringe that I honestly can’t remember how all this is going to play out!