Who Is Controlling The Transmission Or: What Else Can You Call A Fringe? ~ Fringe Television - Fan Site for the FOX TV Series Fringe

Who Is Controlling The Transmission Or: What Else Can You Call A Fringe?

      Email Post       10/26/2011 02:01:00 AM      

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to... The Outer Limits!

- Opening voiceover for The Outer Limits

(Much of what you are about to experience is a continuation of the thoughts expressed here.)

It was the night of September 16th, 1963. I still had a month to go before my 8th birthday and my young mind was terribly excited about what was scheduled to broadcast on the television that evening. Even at this age, I found I had an appetite for the fantastic and the imaginative (which has not left me to this day).

What I would never have imagined that night, however, is that I would continue to be haunted by not only this particular episode of this particular program, but that many of its episodes would become the warp and woof of the sci-fi department in my brain.

It was, of course, the premiere of The Outer Limits.

This first episode of what would be a groundbreaking series was called The Galaxy Being and I watched in awe and hushed silence as a radio engineer played by the late Cliff Robertson somehow managed to tune in a creature from the Andromeda galaxy. Cliff is called away, though, and in his absence The Galaxy Being, a strange gleaming figure crackling with electricity, begins to wander the streets, unintentionally creating havoc and bringing the wrath of the human race, which can’t help but misunderstand who he is or why he’s there, down upon him.

He is met with violence that means less than nothing to him (he restores Robertson’s wife to life after she’s hit with a stray bullet) and leaves his attackers with this grim farewell:

I warn you! There are powers in the Universe beyond anything you know! There is much you have to learn. You must explore. You must reach out. Go to your homes – go and give thought to the mysteries of the Universe. I will leave you now… in peace.

As David J. Schow points out in his indispensable guide to the program The Outer Limits Companion (from which much of this information comes), the episode functioned as a sort of pocket version of The Day The Earth Stood Still. As such, The Outer Limits had a great deal in common with other sci-fi entertainments of the 1960’s. They reflected the anxiety of the Cold War years and the fear that we now not only possessed the means to destroy ourselves, but the will to do it.

The rest of that night passed for me in a sort of daze. I was scared out of my wits by The Galaxy Being and could barely sleep, but I also couldn’t help repeating the images in my head in a sort of combination of delight and dread. As time passed, the night the show aired became a highly anticipated one for me as I placed myself eagerly in front of the tube, more than eager to be taken for the ride that The Control Voice promised at the beginning of every program. The spooky intro always sent shivers down me as I allowed myself to think that our TV signal had actually been hijacked by something from beyond the stars. (I like to think that the reason that September needs television parts to fully erase Peter is because, well, he is "controlling transmission"!)

My instant love for FRINGE reminded me from time to time of those early hours I spent cowering on a sofa, but I eventually decided that something far more than coincidence was at work here. If Cloverfield was an update of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, I’ve decided that FRINGE is a very, very direct attempt to create an updated version of The Outer Limits.

(Yes, there was one done in the mid-1990's, but I'm talking more about the spirit and purpose of the project.)

Obviously, FRINGE is a continuing story with the same characters, whereas The Outer Limits was (dare I use the phrase) a Monster-Of-The-Week program. Examine for a moment, though, some of the stories the show offered:

During a séance intended to make contact with the dead son of industrialist Dwight Hartley, the medium is exposed as a fake. The grieving man is offered another path to the afterlife. Attending physicist Ian Frazer’s left hand was recently trapped in an electrical field during an experiment and his two perfect right hands convince the magnate to fund an attempt to pry open the doorway to an alternate dimension.
- "The Borderland"

In the end, Mr. Hartley vanishes in a shower of ionic rain as he attempts to join his dead son.

Or take the second episode The Hundred Days Of The Dragon, in which a Chinese scientist invents a serum that allows the flash of the human face to become “pliable and putty-like.”

Or just take titles like The Sixth Finger, Second Chance and The Man Who Was Never Born. And this is just scraping the surface. The bottom line is that I think that if FRINGE has any specific antecedent, it’s very much The Outer Limits.

What’s another word for describing the outer limit of something? It’s FRINGE.

Limbus, the glyph word in One Night In October, is the Latin word we derive limit from and is defined as “an edge, fringe, or border.” It means both LIMIT and FRINGE.

In one of its most striking and famous episodes The Man Who Was Never Born, Martin Landau is the lone survivor on an Earth ravaged by an alien bacteria who manages to travel from his own 2148 back to the Earth of 1963 in order to prevent the birth of the man who will cause the catastrophe. He’s obtained this information from an astronaut who’s somehow passed through a gateway in space from the past and together, they hope to rewrite the future. On this return trip, though, the astronaut disappears while traveling back through the time warp, leaving Landau alone to fend for himself in 1963.

(Those of you interested in a more detailed look at the episode may want to check out this excellent piece over at the A.V. Club)

The twist in the tale is that Landau falls in love with the mother of the man who will destroy the world and she reciprocates his feelings. The two attempt to travel back to 2148, but with tragic consequences:

As they pass back into 2148, he realizes his plan to change the world has succeeded – he immediately vanishes, having created a future world into which he was never born.

And when was this episode, The Man Who Was Never Born, broadcast?

October 28, 1963.

48 years to the day that Peter Bishop returns to FRINGE.

The planet Earth is a speck of dust, remote and alone in the void. There are powers in the universe inscrutable and profound. Fear cannot save us. Rage cannot help us. We must see the stranger in a new light – the light of understanding. And to achieve this, we must begin to understand ourselves, and each other.

- Concluding voiceover to The Galaxy Being.

Special Houdini Update!

For those folks who've followed some of my theorizing on the part that the life and career of Harry Houdini has played on FRINGE, I'd just like to mention that it only recently occurred to me that many of The Great Escapist's escapes have been very specifically referenced on the show. Peter, of course, replicates not only Houdini's escape from being shackled at the hands and feet, but also his plunge off of a bridge into and underneath the ice of a frozen lake. David Robert Jones pays tribute to Houdini's famous jail cell escapes. And Walter, of course, manages to escape from a straitjacket!


fringeobsessed said...

So I wonder who the "Outer Limits" fans are on the Fringe staff? Joel Wyman? Jeff Pinkner?
Or both?
Or should we add "Outer Limits" to "Alice In Wonderland" on our list of things JJ Abrams really likes?

itten said...

A bit out of contest, but since you have mentioned , a very young Josh Jackson has acted in one episode of The Outer Limits (during the nineties), I can't recall the title but I remember he played alongside an even younger Kirstin Dunst as brother and sister.

Count Screwloose said...

I'm guessing JJ is responsible, but perhaps Mssrs. Wyman and Pinkner are running with it! There's much more to say on the subject of the shows' similarities that's worth exploring, too.

I'm sure a great many would disagree, but I don't think this Friday's airdate is coincidental. Didn't Wyman announce the show's latest renewal on Houdini's birthday?

I remember the very same episode! Something about an alien bit of music or pulsebeat that goes viral and changes teenagers into strange large-domed golden creatures? Wasn't the payoff that the Earth was about to become engulfed in ultraviolet rays and a benign race had conceived the plan as a way to allow humans to adapt and survive? Pretty good as I recall, and compulsory viewing for anyone who's wondered what Joshua Jackson would look like with a bulbous golden head!

milostanfield said...

itten - it was called "Music Of The Spheres" link

Count Screwloose - thanks for a nice read. Hope to see more of your articles

Anonymous said...

--add "Outer Limits" to list of things JJ Abrams likes?

Abrahms hasn't touched the show in more than two years. He is only in the credits because he runs Ad Robot and pays the salaries of those that actually create the show. He is an idea guy. Pitch it and move on. He rarely stays on a prjoect unless he has tasked himself to direct it.


Count Screwloose said...

Which doesn't mean that Abrams didn't use Outer Limits as a template for his conception of what FRINGE would be. In fact, I think it's interesting that when he would be interviewed about his inspirations for the show, he'd rattle off names like X-Files, Twilight Zone and Night Stalker. The Outer Limits is conspicuous by its absence, which is certainly how I'd play it if I didn't want to give the game away. Further, FRINGE was far closer to Outer Limits when it started out, being just as much of a MOTW program as OL.

With a show like FRINGE, of course, it eventually becomes difficult, if not impossible, to consider it in any sort of auteur sense: how much is Abrams or Kurtzman or Orci or Goldsman or Wyman or Pinkner? But it's also ridiculous to say that Abrams doesn't know where it's going, especially when he's quoted early on as saying "We believe it has an overall story and we know its end game..."

Amusingly, many of the battles between the writers and producers of Outer Limits and the network execs holding the pursestrings were over the execs demands that there be a monster in every episode. They feared that more atmospheric or psychological sci-fi would lead to viewers turning out. The more things change...

Count Screwloose said...

Sorry, meant "tuning out," of course. "Turning out" is the good thing...

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