Over the past year, Fringe has become one of my favorite shows on television. I was really looking forward to welcoming it back after a month-long hiatus. My hopes were particularly high because Grey Matters, the last episode before the break, was such a perfect blend of character development and mythological advancement. Other viewers apparently shared my sense of anticipation. Airing on Monday night, instead of in its usual Thursday time slot, Fringe decimated Heroes in the ratings.
All I can think after watching, however, is what a tremendous opportunity they wasted.
Instead of building on the promise of Grey Matters, we got a bland standalone offering. Even more bizarre, the dearly departed Agent Charlie Francis reappeared without any explanation at all. Fans will recall that Charlie was murdered earlier this season by a shapeshifter from the mirror universe, who assumed his identity. Olivia eventually discovered the ruse and killed the shapeshifter, ending actor Kirk Acevedo's run on the show. Or so I presumed until Charlie's mysterious return.
I couldn't believe the show would resurrect a character with no explanation. So, was this Charlie the real deal but from the mirror universe like Peter? Did he cross over as some sort of liason in an episode I missed? Perplexed, I logged on after watching and learned that Agent Francis was not, in fact, a mirror twin. According to Ain't It Cool News, the episode was actually filmed back in Season 1, but remained unaired until now for reasons that remain unclear.
So why not promote it explicitly as "one from the vault"? And why end the hiatus on such a confusing note?
I'm confident I wasn't the only one with such questions. Clearly, FOX miscalculated, which doesn't bode well for the show. There's always network pressure to do more standalone episodes -- procedurals like the monsters of the week on the X-Files -- which appeal to casual viewers. I prefer longer story arcs myself. But I can see a place for standalones, particularly after a break, as long as they're well written and observe continuity. This episode did neither.
The flagrant disregard for continuity is what really concerns me. It suggests the network may be winning some internal battle with the creators to make this a even more of a procedural. Let's hope the high ratings and backlash at this blunder will serve as a wake-up call for FOX.
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