The Mad Science of Fringe: This is How Musicals Go Bad
I have been excited about the musical episode of Fringe, "Brown Betty," for weeks. For some reason, I expected a production of the proportions of Buffy's much-loved Once More with Feeling. But, despite some lovely, deeply saturated noir action and a few genuine, if not heavy-handed metaphors (Peter stole Walter's glass heart. Aw.), this episode's musical elements fell much too far on the side of gimmick to merit their inclusion. Read on for an analysis of the catalysts that tanked this once-so-promising episode.
Last week, Peter found out Walter took him from the other world when he was little. Angrily and with much melodrama, he packed up and left town, not to be seen or heard from again until next week. Our "Brown Betty" was born both of Walter's grief and his Brown Betty (some kind of pot) intoxication, as he tells Olivia's niece a story very loosely based on the events of the series so far.
· Walter's caricature of all the major players
Nina Sharp's real motivation (I hope) isn't that she's desperately in love with William Bell (Leonard Nimoy). And Walter doesn't really steal the dreams of little children so he can invent flannel pajamas and rainbows. But it's hilarious at first -- though ultimately quite sad -- to realize he's such a villain in his own damaged brain. And of course, though it lacked some nuance, Peter and Walter fighting over the same, mechanical heart wasn't an entirely unwelcome metaphor.
· Ironic anachronism
Pay no attention to those cell phones, etc! Just because it looks like the '40s doesn't mean it has to maintain all the characteristics of the '40s. You have to giggle -- slightly -- when you realize that, though it doesn't make sense that fast-talking P.I. Olivia Dunham is jawing away on her fancy mobile device, it doesn't really matter anyway.
What didn't work:
· A single one of those musical interludes
I wanted this to be so good, dammit! But of the four numbers sprawled haphazardly throughout last night's episode, not one felt timely or appropriate. (Looking at you, singing corpses.) If you were expecting full musical numbers, the closest you got last night was Broyles's impromptu piano session. The rest -- Walter's Head over Heels, Astrid's strange lyrical plea for a job, and Olivia's For Once in My Life -- well, fell quite flat, like very contrived additions to an otherwise fairly complete episode.
Did the music theme actually work for anyone? Did you just try to ignore it? Speak up!