Fringe: Altered States of America

I was watching Fringe recently and thought about the on-screen weirdness that permeates the series. I thought about how most people view the show and think of it mainly as the next iteration of X-Files-ish storytelling, but realized the vast differences between the two. Without getting into the complexities of it all, let’s just say that the X-Files was just nutty, sci-fi storytelling. This isn’t a slight, but the nature of the show.

Fringe is based on the exploration of fringe sciences: scientific inquiry in an established field of study that departs significantly from mainstream or orthodox theories, and is classified in the “fringes” of a credible mainstream academic discipline. For all intents and purposes, this is a show about what could be ’right around the corner’ in terms of scientific discovery. It’s positing what could be and, very likely, what SHOULD be.

As of late, the show has dropped our characters into a battle with an alternate universe. Familiar, yet ever so different versions of the characters we’ve come to know and love are the enemy. They run around, let’s call it ‘Earth-2’, engaging in adventures not unlike those of our beloved Walter, Peter and Olivia. And while many fans dismiss it simply as cool sci-fi, we’ve gotten glimpses of things that bring up some interesting ideas about how different Earth-2 is from the reality we call home.

In the first episode of this season, titled ‘Olivia’, we see the erstwhile Agent Dunham attempting to escape her Bizarro-Fringe Division captors. What’s interesting is that, while avoiding capture, she makes her way to what she thinks is the location of Massive-Dynamic. When she arrives, she comes to the realization that this is a world without Massive-Dynamic. In its place is a park, but not just any public park. The plaque in front reads, “Martin Luther King-Eldrige Cleaver Memorial Park: We Have a Dream.” Hmmm, I feel like this is the point where you readers are staring at the screen, saying ‘So?’ Well, this is kind of a big deal.

Most shows of this kind will just show an alternate reality that is different and never really give us a reason why. The producers of Fringe are going out of their way to give us little tidbits to paint a picture of why this world is the way it is. We all know who Dr. King is, but a lot of folks might not know about Eldrige Cleaver; a once prominent member of the Black Panthers and extreme left-wing journalist.

I sat in awe thinking that this is a world where the two sides of the Civil Rights movement presented a united front and enacted meaningful and lasting change. In fact, this concept is consistent with the two alternate (and seemingly) militant versions of Agent Broyles, known here as ‘Colonel Broyles’, and Agent Farnsworth, who sports a very Panther-esque uniform, complete with beret. It makes me giddy to think of a fully imagined world where the Civil Rights movement gave us a group of newly empowered individuals who wanted peace and understanding, but weren’t afraid to crack some heads in the process. Yes, I’m understating it a bit, but this isn’t my soap box for socio-political commentary.

Furthermore, we’ve been given numerous Easter Eggs hinting at a variety of differences; the least of which is that John F. Kennedy is still alive…and married to Marilyn Monroe! In this universe, Superman never died…but Batman did? A US $20 bill has the face of…Martin Luther King Jr! The NBA Most Valuable Player Award was won by…Len Bias! Back to the Future was a hit in theatres, thanks to its star… Eric Stoltz! I could explain it all, but it’s not worth a hand cramp for me and eye-strain for you. Wikipedia is useful in situations like this, so sally forth and get knowledgeable.

Suffice to say, it’s fun to see a show that gives a world that is different from our own for understandable and relatable reasons. I’d like to see some more of these little hints. Why this version of the US is is more overtly militaristic and fascist. What is the cause of the global environmental meltdown? Why is Richard Nixon on the head of a silver dollar?! Only time (and reality)will tell.

Bonus: The Walking Dead

This weekend I was lucky enough to attend the three-day love letter to geekdom that is the New York Comic-Con. Awash in a sea of comics, movies, television and unwashed nerds; I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of product thrown at me. What stood out was obviously a television show that comic book fans and discerning viewers have been looking forward to. That show is ‘The Walking Dead.’

If you haven’t heard of it, then you’re missing out. If you have, you know that it’s a zombie survival story heavy on character. It’s been described as ‘the zombie movie that never ends’ and looks to be the breakout hit of what is shaping up to be a lackluster television season.

The producers and cast were at Comic Con promoting the series and even previewed two scenes from the pilot. Unfortunately, I can’t show you those scenes. What I can do is recommend you set your DVR to record this show. It’s been noted that the initial six episode season is extremely faithful to the comic book it’s based on, and that is a good thing. A VERY GOOD thing. Interested? Head on over to Comic Book Resources and check out the 17-minute ‘Making of’ documentary.

“The Walking Dead” debuts on AMC Halloween night at 9PM.

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