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Fringe is an American science fiction television series created by J. J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci. It premiered on the Fox television network on September 9, 2008, and concluded on January 18, 2013, after five seasons comprising 100 episodes. An FBI agent, Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv); a genius but dysfunctional scientist, Walter Bishop (John Noble); and his son with a troubled past, Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), are all members of a newly formed Fringe Division in the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Based in Boston, Massachusetts, and under the supervision of Homeland Security, the team uses fringe science along with traditional FBI investigative techniques to investigate a series of unexplained, often ghastly occurrences, which are related to mysteries surrounding a parallel universe.
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The series has been described as a hybrid of fantasy, procedural dramas and serials, influenced by films like Altered States and television shows such as Lost, The X-Files and The Twilight Zone. The series began as a traditional mystery-of-the-week series and became more serialized in later seasons. Most episodes contain a standalone plot, with several others also exploring the series' overarching mythology.
Critical reception was lukewarm at first but became more favorable after the first season, when the series began to explore its mythology, including parallel universes and alternate timelines. The show, along with cast and crew, were nominated for many major awards. Despite its move to the "Friday night death slot" and low ratings, the series developed a cult following. It also spawned two six-part comic book series, an alternate reality game, and three novels.
Fringe follows the casework of the Fringe Division, a Joint Federal Task Force supported primarily by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which includes Agent Olivia Dunham; Dr. Walter Bishop, the archetypal mad scientist; and Peter Bishop, Walter's estranged son and jack-of-all-trades. They are supported by Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick), the force's director, and Agent Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole), who assists Walter in laboratory research. The Fringe Division investigates cases relating to fringe science, ranging from transhumanist experiments gone wrong to the prospect of a destructive technological singularity to a possible collision of two parallel universes. The Fringe Division's work often intersects with advanced biotechnology developed by a company called Massive Dynamic, founded by Walter's former partner, Dr. William Bell (Leonard Nimoy), and run by their common friend, Nina Sharp (Blair Brown). The team is also watched silently by a group of bald, pale white men who are called "Observers".
The producers were strongly interested in "world-building," and the alternate universe allowed them to create a very similar world with a large amount of detail to fill in the texture of the world. An alternate universe also allowed them to show "how small choices that you make define you as a person and can change your life in large ways down the line," according to co-director Jeff Pinkner. However, the producers also realized the concept of the alternate universe could be confusing to viewers. To avoid this, elements of the world were introduced in small pieces over the course of the first two seasons before the larger revelation in the second-season finale and the third season. J. H. Wyman stated that he would often pass the story ideas for the alternate universe by his father to see if it made sense, and would rework the script if his father found it confusing. Such world building also gave them a risky opportunity to create stories that focused solely on characters from the alternate universe with nearly no ties to the main characters; as stated by Wyman, they would be able to "make two shows about one show," a concept that the network executives embraced.
The show's standard opening sequence interplays images of the glyph symbols alongside words representing fringe science topics, such as "teleportation" and "dark matter." Within the third season, with episodes that took place primarily in the parallel universe, a new set of titles was used, following a similar format, though tinted red instead of blue and using alternate fringe science concepts like "hypnosis" and "neuroscience". The difference in color has led some fans to call the prime universe the Blue one in contrast to the parallel Red one. In the third-season episode "Entrada", the titles used a mix of both the blue- and red-tinted versions, given that the episode took place equally in each universe. In the two flashback episodes, "Peter" and "Subject 13," a variation on the sequence, using retro graphics akin to 1980s technology and phrases like "personal computing" and "genetic engineering," was used. For the dystopian future third-season episode "The Day We Died," a black-toned theme, with more dire phrases like "hope" and "water," was used. The fourth-season premiere, "Neither Here Nor There" introduced an amber-toned title sequence with additional new terms that is used for nearly all fourth-season episodes. The fourth-season episode "Letters of Transit," which returned to the future dystopian universe, and the subsequent fifth-season episodes, feature a cold-toned title sequence with phrases such as "joy," "private thought," "free will," and "freedom," ideas which have been lost in this future. There is one frame in the opening sequence in which the words "Observers are here" flash very quickly, and the opening sequence must be paused to see them.
Though the team saw this as a way of presenting "mystery of the week"-type episodes, they wanted to focus more on how these stories were told in unpredictable ways rather than the actual mystery, recognizing that most of their target audience has seen such mysteries before through previous shows and films. Instead, they wanted their storytelling to be original and unexpected, and, as claimed by Kurtzman, one of the most challenging aspects of developing the individual episodes. Serialization of the show was important to tell their overall story with larger plot elements, but Abrams recognized the difficulties that his earlier serialized shows, such as Lost and Alias, had in attracting and maintaining viewers that had not seen these shows from the start or who missed episodes sporadically. For Fringe, Abrams instead sought to create, as stated by David Itzkoff of the New York Times, "a show that suggested complexity but was comprehensible in any given episode". The writers aimed to balance a line between stand-alone episodes, a factor requested by Fox, and a heavily serialized show; they balanced these by moving the serialization aspect to the growth and development of their characters. This gave them the ability to write self-contained episodes that still contained elements related to the overall mythos. However, as production continued, the creative staff found the show itself took on a more serialized nature and opted towards this approach in later seasons while still balancing self-contained episodes.
One method was by introducing overarching themes that individual episodes could be tied to, such as "The Pattern" in Season 1, providing information repeatedly about the larger plot over the course of several episodes or seasons. Abrams also created characters whose alliances to the larger narrative were clear, avoiding a similar problem that had occurred during the first and second seasons of Alias. A final step taken was to script out all of the major long-running plot elements, including the show's finale, prior to full-time production. Abrams contrasted this to the process used in Lost, where ideas like character flashbacks and the hatch from the second season were introduced haphazardly and made difficulties in defining when they should be presented to the viewers. Instead, with Fringe, they were able to create "clearly defined goalposts" (in Itzkoff's words) that could be altered as necessary with network and seasonal changes but always provided a clear target for the overarching plot. These approaches also allowed the team to introduce unique plot elements to be introduced in time that would have altered the show's fate if known at the start. Abrams stated that "There are certain details that are hugely important that I believe, if shared, will destroy any chance of actually getting on the air." Abrams noted that they are able to benefit from "how open Fox as a network has been to a show that is embracing the weirdness and the long-term stories that we want to tell". During the third season, executive producer Jeff Pinkner noted that "We have six to eight seasons worth of material. We see it as having certain chapters that would enrich the overall story, but aren't necessary to tell the overall story. God willing, the network allows us the time to tell our complete story."
As part of the larger story, the writers have placed elements in earlier episodes that are referenced in episodes seasons later. For example, in the first-season episode "The Ghost Network", the Fringe team encounters an amber-like substance, which is later shown to be a critical means to combat the breakdown of the parallel universe and eventually for the same in the prime universe with the third-season episode "6B". Pinkner compared this aspect to "planting seeds", some which they know how they plan to use later in the show's story, while others they can find ways of incorporating into these later episodes.
Certain elements of the show's mythology were established from the start. The parallel universe was always part of the original concept, though aspects of when and how to intro