As for me and my house, the fall television season began last night with the premiere of Fringe, Fox’s new J. J. Abrams sci-fi drama. While my primary reason for watching was in hopes of a Lost-esque epic mystery to solve, I was reminded during the first episode of one of the other reasons I loved Lost: its’ relentless exploration of the hard-to-swallow issues that many people simply choose to ignore. The Fringe not only continues that trend, but begins the series exploring one of the most unsettling of those issues.
Fringe sounds at first like a remake of the X-Files: an FBI agent is forced to investigate and combat various unexplainable phenomena and disasters, all the while trying to decide if she believes in any of this stuff. After watching for the first of two hours and enduring some pretty horrific dialogue (unfortunately, in addition to Abrams the show was written by the same guys who wrote Transformers), I was ready to write off the show completely, but before I could delete the series from my DVR the show began to delve into some pretty serious questions about the nature of life.
After realizing what a huge threat they face, one FBI Agent says to another FBI Agent, our hero:
“Job isn’t what it was ten years ago. We’re supposed to protect a world where one breath of the wrong air can incinerate you from the inside out. I mean, how do we protect people when corporations have higher security clearances than we do; when we’re not fully briefed on half the things we’re investigating? You know, when the truth… the truth is we’re obsolete.”
And immediately we are thrust into the apparent helplessness and hopelessness of a fallen world. Everyone has an opportunity to confront this truth. Many choose to ignore it.
The thing is, shows like Fringe show us that ignoring the problem of a hopeless world often leads to a misguided attempt to save it. The result is a series of towers, systems, programs, companies and corporations built on a faulty premise: that they are the savior the world has been waiting for. These are the people that are faced with the hopelessness of the world and try in vain to save it anyway. In Fringe (and perhaps even in Lost), it appears that these people just might be the villains.