Fringe Query

I’m going to be talking to someone about treatments of parallel worlds in popular media next week, and as the only going mass media concern with a parallel-worlds plot seems to be the show Fringe, it would be helpful for me to be able to talk sensibly about it. Thus, two questions:

1) Where is the best place to look for an explanation of the show’s mythology, particularly in the parallel worlds area?

2) Can you suggest a smallish (ideally single digits) number of episodes to watch to get the idea of how this plays out in the show?

I am aware that, the Internet being what it is, there will be dozens of fan sites and the like just a quick Google away. I have also been around the Internet long enough to know that 90% of these will be utter crap, which is why I’m asking here for suggestions from people who already know something about the subject, and can pre-filter material for me.

Thanks in advance for any help you can provide.


  1. #1 Nathan
    July 30, 2011

    Season premieres and finales from the past two seasons or so may suffice.

    The whole last season took place in both universe, switching off every other episode. I’d take a look at the wikipedia or fringepedia summaries of the episodes in the past two seasons or so to get a good idea about the parallel universe arc.

  2. #2 rpenner
    July 30, 2011

    In the 1970’s Drs. Walter Bishop and William Bell are up-and-coming multidisciplinary mad scientists somewhere in space described by Tim Leary – Bill Gates – Buckaroo Banzai – Ian Malcolm – Hans Zarkov. Bishop builds a window which allows him to look into an alternate Earth where dirigibles float above NYC. This alternate universe is very similar to ours, but electronics and biochemistry are a few decades more advanced. Walter’s son Peter is sickly and passes away, and Walter retreats for a while watching his alternate universe counterpart “Walternate” and his attempts to save his son “Peter II”. One day Walter is watching Walternate in the lab trying a new approach when a bald-headed man enters the alternate universe lab. With Walternate distracted, only Walter notices that the experiment showed transient signs of success, and is stuck on “this side” unable to stop Walternate from ending that line of investigation and thus dooming Peter II. Travel between the universes or signaling are “impossible” — a word with a different meaning in the Fringe show.

    Walter recklessly builds a doorway between the universes on top of a frozen lake to deliver the completed cure to save the much-spyed-upon Peter II — drops the cure — and decides to kidnap “his son” back through the doorway. The energies released have weakened the ice and Walter and “his son” almost drown on this side, when they are saved by a bald headed man who says that Peter is very important. On the “other side” this is the kidnapping of the century.

    Peter, being bright, knows something is wrong and the guilt his parents on this side drives his “mother” to self-destruction and Walter to experiment on children to try and create psychic soldiers for a future interuniversal conflict. One of these children Olivia “Olive” Dunham develops pyrokenisis, extrasensory perception of the universal origin of objects (and people) and a safer mechanism of inter-universal travel — and briefly appears in front of Walternate during this time, giving the distraught father a clue to who stole his son.

    At some point “our” Walter requests William Bell cut out parts of his brain related to universal travel and what he feels are his darker impulses. Bell does this and preserves the tissue in the heads of 3 other individuals. William forms a company called “Massive Dynamic”. Walterate goes on to become Secretary of Defense of the United States, publishes a book predicting a world-wide plague of destruction and alteration of physical laws. Walter has a death in his lab in 1991 and is permanently consigned to a madhouse.

    The series begins reuniting Peter (slightly shady), Olivia (ignorant of her psychic history) and ultimately Walter to investigate what the FBI calls “The Pattern” which seems to revolve about Massive Dynamic and it’s reclusive head, William Bell but are actually mostly the result of incursions from the alternate universe which has adopted desperate measures to combat the day-to-day problems cause by two universe colliding and one cracking like an egg.

    Big themes:
    “There is more than one of everything” — We meet familiar faces
    Vibrations and resonance form the basis of most inter-universal travel which is damaging to the subject in a cumulative manner akin to but distinct from radiation exposure
    In both universes there was a group called “the first people” who left behind parts of a machine which could be used to act on the other universe. Peter, it turns out, is one of the components.
    Mad (deranged) scientist Walter versus Mad (incensed) scientist Walternate.
    The bald headed men know a lot more than the let on, and something big is coming up.

  3. #3 rpenner
    July 30, 2011

    As Fringe doesn’t cover this ground like Star Trek — why are goatees so popular in those parallel universes with a moral inversion?

  4. #4 Teddie Goldenberg
    July 30, 2011

    Things about the Fringe multiverse that bother me:

    — Even though the two universes have radically different histories going back decades, the exact same (genetically identical) people exist in both, despite historical timelines having to have diverged before their birth. Seems to me that if history is changed, then a lot of people would be not-born (or simply put, the exact same combinations of sperm and eggs would not result)

    — A couple episodes involved time travel. Unless you’re going to embrace time travel and make a major element of the show, putting it in casually is just so annoying to me.

    — Where are the other alternate universes? So far the show makes no mention of them and treats the two shown as the only universes in existence.

    — “monster of the week” episodes: more of this was early on in the series. Somehow they try to make it relevant to the framing story, but mostly it comes off as a stretch, like a square peg forcefully rammed into a star-shaped hole.

    — paradoxes galore

    — pseudoscience galore

    That being said, the series is watchable simply because it’s entertaining; there’s humor, action, romance, etc. The characters are quirky and fun. But a serious treatment of parallel worlds it is not.

  5. #5 rpenner
    July 31, 2011

    Teddie — it’s on Fox.
    Only two universes are shown to cultivate an us-vs-them mindset. :)

  6. #6 Janne
    July 31, 2011

    Check out the following episodes:

    2×15 Jacksonville
    2×16 Peter
    (2×19 The Man from the Other Side)
    2×22, 2×23 Over There (Parts 1 & 2)
    3×1 Olivia
    3×14 6B
    (3×20 6:02 AM EST)
    (3×21 The Last Sam Weiss)
    3×22 The Day We Died

    You can skip the ones in parentheses if you want to save time, they mainly serve for a better understanding of the story.

  7. #7 Copernic
    August 1, 2011

    I’ll be interested in how this conversation went. I’m immensely curious how parallel universes can be presented in a way that doesn’t cause science-types to roll their eyes and not enjoy the ride.

    I’ve got a short story that I’m trying to develop into a novel that employs a Hugh Everett-style many worlds premise and am struggling how to pull it off.

New comments have been temporarily disabled. Please check back soon.