To say that Special Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) has been on an out-of-this-world journey is a bit misleading, seeing as she didn't vacate the planet Earth... but she still visited an entirely different Earth nonetheless.
Confused? Well, welcome to "Fringe."
The first season of the J.J. Abrams-created television series concluded with Dunham's relocation to an alternate reality in the presence of the mystifying Dr. William Bell (Leonard Nimoy), who has set up shop inside of the still-standing World Trade Center in one of presumably many distinctions between the two worlds.
But that's not where we are when the second season premiere begins. The episode, penned by Abrams and Oscar-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, opens with a car crash.
The victim is a partially amnesiac Olivia Dunham, clearly returned from the alternate universe but with no memories of her excursion. On her trail is a murderous shape-shifter (mostly played by "Hellboy II" actor Luke Goss), an alternate reality agent trying to ascertain crucial information that Olivia can't recall. Hot on his trail are Fringe division's snarky Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), his deranged but brilliant father Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), the ever-trustworthy agent Charlie Francis (Kirk Acevedo) and rookie agent Amy Jessup (Meghan Markle) -- and not all of them make it out of the premiere alive.
Titled "A New Day in the Old Town," the second season premiere of "Fringe" is a riveting reminder that fall TV is back. It's also a reminder that the series isn't just a science fiction procedural with hints of an overarching mythology anymore -- whereas "The X-Files" was defined by its alien mysteries, so too is "Fringe" driven by a central concept, namely the theory of alternate realities. It's a mostly unexplored territory on prime time television, one that I'm personally psyched to see play out.
Still, those expecting an immediate pick-up from where season one left off are in for a let down. Not only do we not follow through on Olivia's conversation with Dr. Bell, but Olivia herself has no memory of the conversation... meaning we'll have to wait some time before we fully realize the scope of the second world. It's as frustrating as a carrot on a stick, and it's a gutsy move on the part of "Fringe's" creative team -- if the ultimate reveal of Olivia's time in the alternate reality is anything but awe-inspiring, fans are going to be dangerously disappointed.
Although the premiere lacked concrete answers, it harkened back to many of the show's lingering mysteries -- like the fact that Peter is likely from the alternate reality, abducted as a child by Walter in order to replace Peter's deceased real world counterpart -- without offering firm resolution on these issues. No, we don't have the answers yet, but the Abrams-led creative staff clearly knows we want these answers... and if they know what's good for them, they'll cough 'em up sooner or later.
Of course, not enough can be said for the performances. The dynamic between the Bishops is as hilarious and touching as it ever was and Anna Torv once again delivers a solid performance as the show's emotional center. But the real winner this time around is Kirk Acevedo as Charlie, who gets an excellent monologue towards the middle of the hour that, unknown to us at the time, serves as his own eulogy.
By episode's end, Charlie is dead and replaced by the shape-shifter, which isn't terribly surprising given the report of Acevedo's impending departure from the series last May. While I loved the character and always support more work from "Oz" veterans, Acevedo's final episodes as a shape-shifting bad-ass should be pretty fun to behold.
Certainly, "Fringe's" second season is off to a strong start, with maintaining the premiere's momentum throughout the course of the year being the tricky part. But if Peter Bishop's words to Agent Broyles (Lance Reddick) near the episode's conclusion are any indication, the show and its viewers should be in good hands.
"We're done reacting," Peter says. "We're not going to be too late anymore. After all, someone's gotta save their asses, right?"
What did you think of "Fringe's" second season premiere? Hit the comments section with your thoughts, and tune in next Thursday night for another weekly round-up!