Fringe Episode Review: The No-Brainer ~ Fringe Television - Fan Site for the FOX TV Series Fringe

Fringe Episode Review: The No-Brainer

      Email Post       1/29/2009 08:36:00 PM      

Adam Morgan is a writer for both the page and screen in Chicago, and blogs daily on writing, film, pop culture, and strange news at Mount Helicon.

I wish I could write glowing reviews for every episode of Fringe, reviews like the one I wrote last week. Bound showed us just how great this story can be when everything clicks into place. The No-Brainer wasn't bad, but it was certainly a step backwards. Obviously, the task of writing even one full season of television is a daunting one, and the kind of brilliance we saw in Bound can't be constantly sustained over twenty-something hours. And production-wise, The No-Brainer was still top-notch. But the script left me underwhelmed.

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Should've Used Norton Antivirus
The first victim.
The cold open was the creepiest yet. I liked the spooky cyber-hand, despite the fact that in reality it would only look three-dimensional from the victim's eyeline. This week's mystery probably asked for the most suspension of disbelief thus far on Fringe: a web video that liquefies brains. And the video's 657 megabytes, nonetheless (what kind of compression rate is that, I wonder?). I was content to accept this potentially cheesy plotline, so long as it justified itself.
But for the first time on the show, the mystery had no overt ties to the Pattern. The villain was just a criminal with his own agenda. Which bothered me, because it's considerably less compelling from a narrative standpoint. Why should the audience care about a bitter, deadbeat Dad? From a logical standpoint, if he's angry at a few people, there are ways to seek revenge more efficient than designing an impossible virus to liquefy their loved ones' brains. I just didn't buy it. I kept hoping the picture would get bigger, and it never did.
Family Matters
The Dunham Family
Ari Graynor was great once again as Dunham's sister, and little Ella impressed me too. The three actresses feel like a family, but their role on the show also disconcerted me here. Making Ella a target felt like a heavy-handed attempt at incorporating her and Rachel into the main storyline. Obviously the writers introduced them for a reason, but why would this week's villain target Ella? He didn't have a vendetta against Olivia, unless he was angry about her investigation. But even in that case, targeting someone close to her would only further compel Olivia to find the culprit.
Speaking of, I was shocked at Olivia's lack of conviction after Ella's incident. From what we know about her, she should've been furious and hellbent on finding whoever threatened to harm one of her own. Instead, she was calm and inquisitive in the following scene. Wouldn't the natural response be anger? Paranoia? Especially given the way Olivia's emotions have driven her in the past.
The Other Kind of Chemistry
Is it just me, or was everyone googly-eyed in this episode? Peter and Rachel. Walter and Jessica Warren. Maybe even Peter and Astrid. After Walter made his comment on male-female relations, Astrid's eyes went straight to Peter. But maybe she was just intrigued by the letter. I'm hoping her character gets fleshed out by the end of the season; right now she's just a plot device who conveniently has a degree in whatever the script calls for.
Non-chemistry also abounded in The No-Brainer. Peter and Olivia had their first fight, and it just didn't come across as authentic to me. I saw no reason for Olivia to push Peter on the subject of his father, and I saw no reason for Peter to get defensive. As a result, their quibble (and their reconciliation) felt forced and flat, like most of the inter-character drama in The No-Brainer. I could almost hear the writers: "We need to drive a wedge between Peter and Olivia. We need to involve Olivia's family directly." The results were a little tedious and predictable, like that whole spiel at the end with Walter and Warren.
And please, please get rid of Sanford Harris soon. An antagonist should be a natural obstacle, but his one-note villainy seems to exist solely to frustrate Olivia ("We need an obstacle for Olivia..."). It was nice to hear Broyles tell him off, though. I got the impression Philip's more powerful than he lets on.
So in the end, not much to theorize about this week. The story was self-contained, as far as I can tell, with no new insights into character or mythology. I understand that Fringe isn't a completely serialized drama like Lost; it's a procedural hybrid. That's fine when it works, but frustrating when an episode feels like it's stalling. Or maybe that's not the problem. I'd still enjoy a completely stand-alone episode if the mystery was believable and the drama compelling, but The No-Brainer didn't quite work for this fan. Luckily, next week's outing, The Transformation, looks gripping!
So what do you think? Does Fringe work as a procedural, or as a serialized drama? Do you want to see any more non-Pattern mysteries? Do you buy the introduction of Olivia's family? Sanford Harris? Let your voice be heard in the comments.
Stray Observations
  • Best Line of the Night: "I hope she doesn't notice the $2,000 for the baboon seminal fluid I ordered."
  • Worst Lines of the Night: "Why would he protect a murderer?" "Because it's his father."
  • Am I the only one who enjoyed Peter's visit to Akim? I wouldn't mind seeing him again, in a tech-advisor role. Maybe I'm just that desperate for information on Peter's past.
  • What was with all of the pop music? It didn't sit well with me. You've got one of the world's most talented composers on staff. Use him. The Killers and Beyonce dilute the show's tension and sincerity.
  • Chuck fans: Did the virus video remind you of Chuck's first encounter with the Intersect database?
  • I counted at least two of those unexplained lens flares.
  • John Polson did a great job in the director's chair. I loved all the long tracking shots, and Olivia just looks great when they shoot her at a low frame-rate.
  • Speaking of Polson, he was the chopper pilot in Mission Impossible: II.


Count Screwloose said...

You've pretty much hit all the reasons why I was disappointed with this one as well, but let me reinforce a few things:

I think there are good non-pattern stories to be told (we can't, in fact, actually know if this was a non-pattern story yet), but in a Pattern story it's easier to dismiss the "Just-So-Happens" element, i.e., this stuff seems to keep happening within, er, driving distance. Here the non-pattern element made the story seem a little ludicrous, not to mention the fact that the answer seemed to elude them for an uncomfortable amount of time.

Amen on the pop music: it would appear that the first 15-20 minutes are now going to be devoted to wooing the American Idol audience by any means necessary. I'm sorry, but "if you liked it then you should have put a ring on it" just doesn't fit here.

The thing that really shocked me was the lack of floating titles. What were there, maybe two? Are they that desperate to retool themselves for Idol? This isn't the show I started watching last year. There were moments when I thought I was watching a thirtysomething rerun.

Ditto Harris. Yeesh!

In this episode, and the last, John Noble seems to be playing Walter too over-the-top, loud, and agitated. Walter works much better when he is understated. Compare some of his appearance earlier in the episode with the quiet, nuanced moments at the end. All at once he became the tragic, flawed character that I loved last year, and who touched me emotionally as well as made me laugh.

This show is, incredibly, losing me. And I really don't want it to.

Anonymous said...

I agree with almost everything you said... for the lensflares, I think they're used to mask some editing (i noticed when Liv gets out of her car in front of the car dealer and there's the flare, it seems to be a slight scene change).
also, one tech note: if hard drives are torched like those, and you still want to try to recover anything out of it, opening them in anything but a white room would destroy any data on it. even astrid says that: just a single particle of dust on it could damage it permanently. but they are in what seems to be a dust-prone ambient. it doesn't make any sense

Anonymous said...

I think having episodes that are not directly related to The Pattern is a good idea. As it potentially helps breaks things up and, hopefully keeps things fresh.

The premise of this episode reminded me slightly of the pilot episode of 80's series "Max Headroom", where the highly compressed "blipverts" shown on TV made people explode due to the build up of electrical impulses in their nervous systems.

Large parts of the episode were a bit too sentimental though for my taste. And I'm a bit worried that they are lining-up a potential romance between Olivia and Peter.

I'd like to see a series where there WASN'T a romantic angle between any of the main characters, and they just got on with their jobs. But maybe that's because I've never had an office romance... lol.

Adam Morgan said...

Glad to see some fans feel the same way. I don't have a problem with stand-alone episodes. I love Law and Order: SVU. The No-Brainer just wasn't a compelling story. The mystery was a little trite, and the characters were all very one-note, making the drama tedious and the sentimentality painful.

Unknown said...

There was red and green in the computer lab of the killer dad. So maybe it was more related to the pattern than we are being told. Of course i was upset with this episode as well so maybe im just trying to make it better by saying it has something to do with anything thus far in the series.

Also, i really hate when there is unbelievable technology in shows, being in the industry i know that a virus couldn't fuse hard drive platters. And if you doing data recovery you wouldn't need to open the case anyway, unless, like the other posts say, your in a clean room. But astrid didn't have the equipment to get the data off in her little lab so why bother anyway.

Also assuming they could get the data off the hard drive how could he possibly see its currently being downloaded and lastly under 1 gb is not a huge file as she stated... its still under the capacity of a standard cdr

Anonymous said...

I think that this episode was really pushing it. I have loved this show from the start and was very disappointed. It reeked of The Ring. Too cliché for me. I don't mind non-pattern shows, it makes sense that there would be other people capable of Fringe science, but keep it original. Though I can say it didn't dawn on me that they are competing for the Idol audience. Knowing that, I can see why they would do something that resembles a very popular teen fad.

I like the idea of Olivia's family being in the picture. She's lightened up and seems much more likable. But I do agree with the other comments about her conviction not being there when this treat focused on her niece. Which, again, I agree that I did not see the purpose to that other than to bring them to the front on the show.

Not cool with the "sparks" between Peter and Olivia's sister. I think that it's totally the wrong way for this show to go. They will lose a lot of viewers if they take that route because it will then be just like every other show. Olivia and Peter have had chemistry since day one and it adds to the show to see it developing, even as slowly as it is. Though if they do decide to not bring them together at least let them be with other people besides each other's family. Peter carries a lot of baggage from a very strange childhood. Not to mention that people are looking for him that could put Olivia’s sister and niece in danger.

Anonymous said...

This episode wasn't as exciting as I hoped. And the lack of the Pattern connections to this case disappointed me as well. However, I am hopeful that this case does come back and relates to the Pattern.
What if the computer program is put in the wrong hands? We already know of one rogue agent - could there be another who gets the evidence from this case and passes it along?

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