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Fringe: The Complete Third Season(TV) (2010-2011)
Fringe revolves around three unlikely colleagues – a beautiful, young and determined FBI agent (Anna Torv), a brilliant but off-the-wall scientist (John Noble), and his sardonic, roguish son (Joshua Jackson) – who team up to investigate a series of peculiar deaths and disasters known as “The Pattern.” The trio suspects that someone is using the world as a laboratory. And many of the clues lead them to Massive Dynamic, a shadowy global corporation that may be more powerful than any nation.
For more about Fringe: The Complete Third Season and the Fringe: The Complete Third Season Blu-ray release, see Fringe: The Complete Third Season Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on August 29, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Noble, Jasika Nicole, Lance Reddick, Blair Brown
Director: Norberto Barba
» See full cast & crew
Fringe: The Complete Third Season Blu-ray Review
Wait... if Peter... then Walter and Walternate wouldn't... but... that doesn't make... wait... what?
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, August 29, 2011
Updated (11/15): My review of Fringe's third season was written in August of 2011. I'm currently adding this brief introductory update in November, after watching the first six episodes of Season Four. While the body of my third season review remains unaltered, I am officially a full-fledged Fringe fan once again. Season Four not only addresses the vast majority of issues I had with the final episodes of Season Three, it's turning out to be one of the best of the series. So keep that in mind as you proceed below. I still stand by many of the points I originally made, but my analysis of the last four episodes is, to cut to the chase, shortsighted. If you feel the same frustration and disappointment I did at the end of Season Three, hold onto hope. Season Four justifies almost every climactic twist, turn and disappearance made in those last four episodes, and makes Season Three a more satisfying entry in the saga than I initially thought. I'm still convinced Fox did the series a great disservice, but that'll teach me to doubt the know-how and quick-thinking of the Fringe showrunners...
Fringe had me. It had me. After two daring seasons, the J.J. Abrams-born series was nipping at The X-Files' heels, juggling alternate universes with Trekish ease, and filling the hole Lost left in my heart. And then -- pffft -- just like that, the thrill was gone. The last five minutes of Season Three were, as far as I'm concerned, the most infuriating five minutes of television in recent memory. I wasn't shocked, I was outraged. I wasn't intrigued, I was baffled. I wasn't hungry for Season Four, I wanted to delete the entire series from my TiVo queue. I'm sure some fans got a kick out of the last-minute game-changer, but it didn't drop my jaw, it simply dropped the ball... along with logic, plausibility and good sense, even by Fringe standards. (And that's saying a lot.) The problem didn't start there, though. Despite a string of bold twists and a heap of terrific episodes, the third season began unraveling from, well, the beginning. But the problem didn't start there either. No, it started in the Fox boardroom; festered as, week after week, the series was threatened with cancellation; worsened once the series was unceremoniously moved to the dreaded Friday Night Death Slot; and metastasized when, after months of shoulder shrugging, the powers-that-be still couldn't decide whether to drop the ax or give Fringe a reprieve. Showrunners Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman, in turn, were stuck in the worst of creative corners, unsure as to whether they should answer looming questions and bring their saga to a satisfying close or raise new questions and set the stage for another season. Make no mistake: Fox may have spared Fringe's life at the eleventh hour, but, creatively, the network put a bullet in the series long before that.
You know the drill. First and second season spoilers lurk ahead, so proceed with caution. When Season Two winked out of existence, Peter (Joshua Jackson) had left the comfy confines of the Prime Universe to join his real father, the not-so-affectionately dubbed Walternate (John Noble), on the Other Side (capital O, capital S)... only to return after learning a certain FBI agent of the Dunham persuasion has a crush on him; Prime Walter (Noble as well) was still struggling to come to terms with his dark days of son-napping, experimenting on children and, you know, well-intentioned universe cracking; Prime Olivia (Anna Torv) was locked away in a cell on the Other Side while Fauxlivia (Torv) was preparing to infiltrate the Fringe Division ranks in the Prime Universe; Walter's old friend and partner William Bell (Leonard Nimoy) was doing his enigmatic best to save both universes, only to sacrifice himself to send Walter, Peter and Olivia (or, rather, Fauxlivia in disguise) back to the Prime Universe; and weekly devotees (myself included) were dizzy, giddy and chomping at the bit to find out what would happen next. Whew. Season Two may not have been perfect, and may have made a few missteps with its Prime Universe/Other Side bait-n-switches, but everything somehow made sense, so long as you were willing to keep up with every twist and turn, save your bathroom or kitchen runs for commercial breaks, and piece things together as our heroes and their eeeevil doppelgängers (or perhaps just miiiiisunderstood counterparts) tried to outwit one another.
Season Three spends even more time universe-hopping (sometimes to its detriment), with several episodes set almost entirely on the Other Side. Thankfully, Pinkner and Wyman abandon the eeeevil schtick early on as Walternate, Fauxlivia and their fellow alt-twins are promoted from black-leather villains to more complex antagonists. Walternate, in particular, is fleshed out to fascinating ends, and it soon becomes difficult to figure out which Walter -- '80s Walter Prime, 21st Century Walter Prime or Present-Day Walternate -- is the series' Big Bad, if any of them could even be classified with such a broad, ultimately misleading title. Walternate may be hellbent on shattering a universe or two, but Walter shaped him; Walter might not intend to do harm, but his actions do so all the same. Not that either man has a power vacuum to plug. There are plenty of enemy agents, reality terrorists, silver-seeping shapeshifters and rogue villains-of-the-week whose dastardly deeds and gruesome special powers make their villainy easier to peg. Even then, Fringe continues a proud tradition of giving every baddie a tasty little backstory; one that typically involves tragedy, heartbreak or desperate circumstances. And while the layers of each backstory are often peeled back in rather formulaic fashion, very few episodes follow a predictable path.
To the showrunners' credit, there's also a nice balance between (seemingly) standalone episodes, mythology expansions and lofty head-trips, enough to keep things from growing repetitive or, worse, muddled. Even when late-season storylines come up short, even when a Peter-Olivia-Fauxlivia love triangle nearly turns the series into a glorified soap opera, even when it becomes apparent that Fox's indecision is taking a heavy toll on Pinkner and Wyman's ability to tell the story they want to tell, the cast help the show sidestep many a pitfall. Noble's dual performance is extraordinary (so extraordinary it's the fabric that holds Fringe's time and space together), Lance Reddick brings a commanding presence to the screen (on this side and the Other), Jasika Nicole is as sweetly affecting as ever (even though her OS alternate is a one-note bore), Kirk Acevedo and Seth Gabel keep things clicking in the alternate universe (especially when alt-Torv's soul-searching grows tiresome) and Andre Royo (The Wire's Bubbles) walks away with the entire season, as a taxi driver of all things. Exposition runs rampant in Season Three -- far more time is spent explaining than exploring or evolving -- but the actors spit out the worst of the season's plot synopses with sincerity and conviction, and almost, almost make it easy to swallow.
But as Season Three inched along earlier this year, I couldn't shake the feeling that something was off. The feeling intensified as the season plowed ahead, grew stronger over the course of the last ten episodes, and became downright unbearable in the two-part season finale as a third reality worm-holed its way into existence and Peter... spoilers, spoilers, spoilers. (Don't worry, I have no intention of letting anything slip.) Even now, watching the last few episodes again, I'm struck by how uneven, unspectacular and anticlimactic it all is. Olivia is squandered, Sam (Kevin Corrigan) and The Observer (Michael Cerveris) are hung out to dry, Fauxlivia and the Other Side aren't given their just due, and Peter is reduced to a walking, talking MacGuffin. Worse, several developments border on ludicrous -- Bell's possession of Olivia isn't too bad... until she opens her mouth and croaks out her best Old-Man-Nimoy impression -- and some episodes are downright awful. Never mind the fact that "Lysergic Acid Diethylamide" swipes entire scenes and ideas from Inception; its animated sequences are jarring, hurried, stocky and, to put it kindly, silly. (Not to mention uninspired. It's clear the animated bits only exist because scheduling conflicts prevented Nimoy from lending anything more to the episode than his voice.) More distressingly, questions are answered much too quickly and much too haphazardly, and new mysteries are introduced that, frankly, don't interest me in the slightest. At least not yet. I'll admit I'll be tuning in for Season Four this September, but I gotta say, Pinkner and Wyman will have to work some serious magic to keep me on board for another twenty-two episodes after painting the series into such a tight (and, for the moment, nonsensical) corner. And while I'd love to rant and rail about why it doesn't make a lick of sense, or how many gaping plot holes proceed it, this isn't the place to do so. Don't get me wrong, there are some fantastic episodes -- "Olivia," "The Plateau," "The Abducted," "Entrada," "Marionette," "The Firefly" and, my personal favorite, "Subject 13" -- but Season Three isn't Fringe's finest hour.
Fringe: The Complete Third Season Blu-ray, Video Quality
Like The Complete Second Season, Warner has spread The Complete Third Season's twenty-two episodes across four BD-50 discs. It isn't HBO-roomy, mind you, but it'll certainly do. Backed by a capable, altogether resourceful 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer, Fringe's latest outing hits the ground running. Chilly but lifelike colors, striking primaries, natural skintones and satisfying black levels make their presence known from the get-go, contrast is strong and fairly consistent, and detail is quite impressive. While closeups will win the most attention -- be it by way of Broyles' pores, Sam's tangled beard, Olivia and Fauxlivia's dueling hair, the lint on Walter's jackets, the seared skin peeling at the edges of Lincoln's burns, or the stomach-turning contents of whatever sludge happens to be seeping out of a corpse -- fine textures are well-resolved on the whole, edge definition is nice and clean, and delineation is suitably revealing (or suitably secretive, as is often case). A soft shot here, a soft shot there, sure. ("Subject 13," set in the '80s, is extremely soft, hazy even, but only by intention.) Nothing so distracting, though, that it spoils the proceedings. That said, the faint, film-like grain that hangs over the image spikes wildly on occasion, minor artifacting wavers into existence in a few scenes, and slight banding appears as well. Fortunately, none of it amounts to a deal-breaker or, really, much of a distraction. (Most people won't even notice.) Significant macroblocking, aliasing, ringing and other nuisances aren't a factor, and the intermittent eyesores that creep in are gone before they cause any serious problems. As it stands, The Complete Third Season's high-def presentation is comparable to its Second Season predecessor, and that shouldn't worry anyone.
Fringe: The Complete Third Season Blu-ray, Audio Quality
What's this? Doth my eyes deceive me? No!? Fringe: The Complete Third Season arrives on This Side and the Other with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track; an exciting development that marks a big change in Warner's upcoming television releases. (The first season of Nikita, the second season of Vampire Diaries and, joy of joys, the sixth season of Supernatural are also set to offer lossless audio.) And it's a change Fringe takes full advantage of. Dialogue is nicely centered and perfectly intelligible, crowd chatter and panicked screams swell convincingly in the rear speakers, and the most subtle sound effects -- the slick schlerk shirk schrick of a knife cutting through a brain, the squishy squelch squerch scoosh of an autopsy, or the faint shzzz pssst szztt of a rift between universes -- are exacting and, when called upon, utterly nauseating. But that's not all, Fringe fanatics. Directionality is precise, ambience is engaging, acoustics are convincing and the soundfield is, as you may have already gathered, wonderfully immersive. Cars hurtle past as Henry does his best to help the strange woman in his cab. Olivia's labored breaths rise and fall as she races to escape Walternate's labs. The warble that fills the room as a quantum entanglement wreaks havoc. And it all comes complete with weighty, floor-thrumming LFE output that grants every explosion, implosion, gunshot and portal real authority in the mix. Ultimately, my enthusiasm may have tapped my score from a 4.5 to a 5.0 -- it's hard to be completely objective when I've been writing about Warner's use of lossy audio for four years now -- but I can live with a little bit of subjectivity every now and then. Regardless, fans will be thrilled with the results.
Fringe: The Complete Third Season Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The 4-disc Blu-ray release of Fringe: The Complete Third Season isn't exhaustive -- two audio commentaries and an hour of extras doesn't amount to much -- but it does feature a first for a Warner television release: a Maximum Episode Mode Picture-in-Picture experience. Sure, it's only available for one episode, but if future Warner releases follow suit (particularly if more episodes are explored per season), TV fans are in for a real treat.
Fringe: The Complete Third Season Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
In an alternate universe, I loved every minute of Fringe's third season. On the Other Side, I'm penning an entirely different review. But here, in the good ol' U.S. of Prime, Season Three started strong, fizzled as it neared its endgame and finally deflated with a pffft. I hope Season Four puts things in perspective -- I hope it inspires me to update my impressions in light of some brilliant revelation or series-defining twist -- but, at this point, it would take a miracle. (Pinkner and Wyman have worked plenty of miracles in the past, though, so I'm not quite ready to give up.) Fortunately, the 4-disc Blu-ray release of The Complete Third Season isn't disappointing at all. A fuller selection of special features would have been more ideal, but Warner's excellent video transfer and exceptional DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track more than make up for it.
Fringe: Other Seasons
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• Fringe: The Complete Third Season Blu-ray (Updated) - June 9, 2011
This September, Season Three of the acclaimed sci-fi television show "Fringe" will arrive on Blu-ray. Created by "Alias" mastermind J.J. Abrams and writers Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci (Star Trek, Transformers), "Fringe" follows the adventures of the CIA's Fringe ...
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