meets The X-Files
" is a not inappropriate description of Fox TV's Fringe
, especially considering that cocreator J.J. Abrams was also one of the Lost
masterminds. But this ambitious and often exciting series (with all 22 episodes from its second season, plus plenty of bonus material, released here on six discs) merits more than that glib label. As before, the members of the Fringe Division, an obscure wing of the FBI barely recognized (and this season threatened with elimination) by the government at large, are the "cleanup crew" summoned when the universe is on the verge of shredding at the seams. Led by Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), brilliant but mad scientist Walter Bishop (with John Noble as the show's most appealing character), and Bishop's son Peter (Joshua Jackson), they investigate crimes and occurrences involving the seemingly inexplicable, ranging from garden-variety phenomena like ESP, mind control, and hypnosis to really strange stuff like "clairaudience" (receiving messages or thoughts from another realm), cryonics (as in frozen, disembodied heads), and the existence of a parallel universe. Once again there's also a healthy dose of scary monsters, including a hideous mutant who drags its victims underground before devouring them, a community of deformed victims of scientific tests gone awry, two-foot-long parasites with human hosts, and a walking shadow that renders whoever it passes through into dust and ash. But it all gets more personal for our three heroes this time around, as they realize that Walter's long-ago research and experiments had serious consequences not only for him (he spent 17 years locked up in a rubber room) but especially for Olivia and Peter, who must deal with shocking revelations about their childhoods.
If Fringe has a weakness, it's that its reach sometimes exceeds its grasp. There are so many ideas here that overarching themes like "the Pattern" (a series of terrifying, synchronous events throughout the world) disappear for episodes at a time; the notion of "the other side," a parallel universe where things are largely similar but different in very peculiar details (JFK lived to be an old man, while the Department of Defense is housed beneath the Statue of Liberty), is introduced in the first episode but then rarely mentioned until the second half of the season, which culminates with the Fringe team traveling to the other side and confronting their alternate selves (fortunately, the final two episodes help tie up various loose ends from this season and set the stage for the next one). But a surfeit of good ideas is a lot better than a shortage of them, and the series is rarely less than interesting even when it loses its focus, and the direction, sets, special effects, and other technical elements are consistently excellent. As was the case the first time out, bonus material is generous and varied. It includes a newly "unearthed episode," audio commentary, deleted scenes, features like "The Mythology of Fringe" and "Analyzing the Scene" (brief explications of key scenes in six episodes), and more. --Sam Graham