Last week, I asked for advice on the show Fringe, because I need to be able to speak sensibly about it for the purpose of talking about parallel universes. I’ve been working through Janne’s list of recommended episodes, watching on my laptop while SteelyKid goes to sleep, and have got up through the Season 3 premiere. So, what’s the verdict?
The three-word review is “Entertaining but maddening.” Because it’s pretty well done in an X-Files kind of way, but partakes of all the things that drive me nuts about the portrayal of science in fiction.
The chief problem with this is that, in fine Hollywood tradition, they treat all of science as a unified whole– call it SCIENCE!, said like a Thomas Dolby sample. Walter Bishop is an expert not in any field of science, but in SCIENCE! He ran illegal drug trials back in the day, but he can also copy a cell phone from a parallel universe, and slap together a portable gateway into another universe. Physics, biology, chemistry, medicine, engineering– it’s all one undifferentiated mass. It’s SCIENCE!
I understand that there are dramatic-convention reasons for this, mostly having to do with keeping the set of characters finite. It’s easier on the writers and non-scientist readers to have Walter dealing with everything, rather than an ensemble of characters playing different sorts of scientists. But, really, it never ceases to annoy me.
Someday, somebody is going to make a show where a detective and a scientist come across a dead body, and the detective asks “What killed him?” and the scientist replies “How the hell should I know? I’m a physicist, not a doctor,” and I will cheer. It will, of course, be cancelled immediately, but I will enjoy the hell out of it for that brief, glorious moment.
As for the parallel universe business, it doesn’t make a lick of sense. Let’s leave aside for the moment all the problems with there being only one other universe, and it being accessible, because, again, there are dramatic reasons for those– an infinite number of utterly inaccessible parallel universes is kind of difficult to work with for a writer. Even taken those elements as given, the other universe is totally incoherent.
So, we have a universe in which, just to run down some of the differences I’ve noticed, John F. Kennedy wasn’t assassinated, the Lindbergh kidnapping never happened, Martin Luther King is on the $20 bill, and zeppelins are a common mode of travel. OK, fine, those are unlikely, but somewhere out in the multiverse, maybe.
But in spite of all those differences, both universes contain near-exact duplicates of everyone in our universe (with the exception of William Bell, because while John Noble in a curly wig might plausibly look like he was in 1985, no amount of special-effects work could make anybody believe that Leonard Nimoy isn’t old), with the same parents, jobs, and improbable only-on-tv NYC apartments.
That makes absolutely no sense at all. Not even a tiny bit. If the points of divergence start even back in the 1930’s (presumably even earlier, if nobody knows who Andrew Jackson was), that should change nearly everything, including things like preventing people’s parents (or, hell, grandparents) from meeting in the first place.
Again, this is a bit of a personal hot-button– it ruins most of the alternate history genre for me, because a book has to be really good in some other respects for me to get past this– but while my feelings are not sufficiently widely shared, it still bugs me.
With that said, if you can look past the many utterly daft aspects of the setting, the show is very competently done. The acting is mostly good, the scripts are very melodramatic but not too badly overdone, the visuals are terrific. It’s reasonably good pulp entertainment. So, while it’s not something I’m going to start watching on a regular basis, I’ve enjoyed watching this bit of it.