Friday, December 10, 2010

FRINGE 3.09 "Marionette" Review

3.09 "Marionette"
Written by Alison Schapker & Monica Breen
Directed by Joe Chappelle

Say goodbye to Fringe for until January 21st, folks.  And when it returns, it's going to be on Friday nights.  You know, the Friday nights on FOX that signals the end of all things Sci-Fi on the damned channel.  Let's face it.  Nothing has survived Friday nights since The X-Files, and while one might argue that Fringe is the natural successor to that show, the ratings aren't great.  And if they're not great on Thursdays, what are they going to be like on Fridays?

Remember, Friday scheduling helped kill Firefly.  It helped kill The Sarah Conner Chronicles.  It helped kill Dollhouse.  Hell, just check out this: The Friday Night Death Slot.  While one might argue that Friday isn't instant death for a show, this is FOX we're talking about.  Look at those numbers.

Hopefully we'll at least get to see the rest of the season, but I have no hope for a fourth.  I mean, the first episode back on Friday the 21st is called "Firefly" for Pete's sake.

Anyway, back to this week's episode, "Marionette". 

Look!  Spoilers!

I will admit that my hopes weren't very high for this episode.  We've just wrapped a chapter of the biggest event in the show's short history, which was one of the most daring science fiction concepts ever actualized in a network TV show, and it's the breather episode before taking a short break for the holidays.  If there was ever a place for a "filler" episode, this would be it.

But lo and behold!  While this is your standard "Science Crime of the Week" episode, it's a darned twisted one.  Plus, they didn't hold out on the inevitable Olivia (Anna Torv) / Peter (Joshua Jackson) "discussion".  You know the one.  The "I was bedding your double in your bed and never noticed it wasn't you" discussion.

And yes, that goes about like you'd expect it to.

This is one of those moments in Fringe where the actors really have to be on their game to make us feel and sympathize with them.  Surprisingly, it's Torv who hits all the right notes this week, and Jackson who ends up falling short.  Granted, Torv is always best when she's either physically reacting as if by instinct, or really having to work through some serious emotional trauma, much like Ben Browder's Crichton on Farscape only without the solid emotional grounding (but really, no one can compare to Crichton!).  Torv's performance in these situations always seems to be a bit on the manic side.

And this is understandable, given the moments she's playing.  It's not subtle, but it's appropriate, especially this week.  Her attempts to force herself to be okay with Peter's failings are pretty much what one has come to expect from Olivia's coping mechanisms.  So, while they're a bit melodramatic, they suit the character and the situation. 

Peter, on the other hand...

Jackson's attempts to underplay the emotion of the scene just didn't work for me.  I can see what he was going for, and understand the psychological motivation for playing the scene that way.  But he just isn't expressive enough to pull off that sort of subtlety.  Instead of seeming hesitant and internal, it comes off as flat and emotionless.  His quiet "I'm sorry" is nowhere near effective enough to make the scene work. 

This is pulp melodrama.  Stiff silence doesn't cut it.

Luckily, Torv carries the scenes between the two (who would have thought someone would ever type that sentence, eh?) and makes them work despite Jackson's shortcomings.  I hate to put it like that, but I really don't think the way he's playing the character is effective.  I don't know if it's his decision or if it's the urging of the director, but it's not working for me.

I'm right there with Olivia when she walks away, wanting nothing to do with him.  That felt right.

As for this week's mystery, I really wasn't on board with the whole "Re-Animator" vibe in the beginning.  I appreciated the fundamental concept, and liked the idea of the chemical retardant to cellular decay, as well as the "regretful organ-thief" character.  Those little details were what drew me into the idea.

But it was the "marionette" dance routine that won me over completely.

You see, the dead girl that our Antagonist is attempting to reanimate, was a ballerina.  So, once he's re-harvested all of her donated organs, he naturally straps her up in a huge wire and lever contraption to make her dance like a marionette while he works the levers and pedals.  It's a truly twisted moment that is made awesome by the sheer amount of detail involved with the marionette machine workings.  From the system of pull-levers to the big, sewing-machine-like foot pedal, this was a masterwork of disturbed obsession.

And the choreography as our villain (I can't find his name at the moment - I'll update later) performs a dance routine with the dead girl is a high point in the series. 

Of course, things don't go right, but this is one of those episodes where it's not about shooting a crazed villain before they do something that will kill everyone.  This one's a bit more quiet, emotionally.  He brings the dead girl back to life, if only for a few minutes, but he immediately knows that he didn't bring her back; he brought back a shell.

It's a nice, touching moment that really works well when tied to the events occurring with Olivia and Peter.  Because this episode, as twisted and romantic as it is, is really all about Olivia's emotional trauma.  The fact that our villain knew just by looking into the dead girl's reanimated eyes that she wasn't the same, triggers Olivia's disgust and anger at Peter for not knowing Fauxlivia wasn't her.

And while I can sympathize with Peter's urge to explain away the little differences in Fauxlivia, in the end, Olivia is right.  Peter failed.  And had a lot of sexual fun in Olivia's bed, while failing her.

If I have any problem with the situation, it's this: Peter, the character that we've been introduced to and learned to connect with, shouldn't have fallen for her.  And that's on the writers.  The conflict that we've now got with Olivia and Peter feels extremely contrived, with Peter (and the others, really) behaving stupidly in order to force a manipulative romantic conflict into the foreground.  Someone on this side should have suspected something, especially given the obviousness of Fauxlivia's actions at times.

I understand and appreciate the dramatic possibilities that this scenario provides, but getting there was poorly planned, poorly written, and reflects poorly on all the characters.  I'd be much more emotionally engaged if Peter knew that Fauxlivia was a spy and bedded her anyway in an attempt to subvert her mission, and then had to explain that to Olivia.  Then it would have been a questionable moral choice, instead of him just being stupid.

It's a writing shortcut and undermines the quality of the show.  But at least the reanimator was nicely written and acted.  That really made this episode worth while.

Oh, and there was a pretty entertaining nod to Dexter in the reanimator's approach to organ thieving.  That was amusing.

Oddly enough, while Dr Girlfriend and I were watching this episode, I casually mentioned that I missed seeing the Observers lurking around in the background of each episode.  I can't remember when we've last seen them.  Then, who should step into the foreground in the final shots of the episode, but a familiar bald fellow in a fedora.  Yes, the Observers are back and are setting something in motion.  As if I wasn't already dreading the long wait 'til January 21st!


  1. Torv carries the show? Jeepers, the rest of the acting must be bad.

    I don't think we've seen the Observers since the end of the second series. I was quite happy without them, to be honest.

  2. Well, she carries the scenes she's in with Jackson.

    I like the Observers. :)

  3. I like the Observers, too.
    I thought the A plot was pretty awful. It reeked of the "let's have a main plot that connects to the character plot even if it's horribly forced." Hey, he's putting her back together again, the way Olivia is putting her life back together. And then he looks into her eyes and just knows the way she thinks Peter should have!
    I actually found Jackson's performance perfectly fine, but I thought writing was a bit flat. It's clear that Peter had his suspicions about Olivia, but he ignored them out of a desire for them to be together -- but that never comes up. That seems like the kind of self-analysis that Peter would offer up.