Shipper Nation: A Valentine's Day treat for 'Fringe' lovers and a salute to TV's most romantic, creative (and arguably strangest) fans-by Jeff Jensen
by Jeff Jensen
Last Friday, Fringe fans were treated to an instant-classic installment of the Fox sci-fi series, one that significantly advanced the season’s defining storyline: Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) — marooned in a new rendering of history in which he has not existed since he was a child – trying to return home to his own timeline. Yet for one particular, peculiar subset of loyal Fringe viewers, “Welcome to Westfield” was nothing short of an early Valentine’s Day gift. They’re the fans for whom the dream sequence spectacle of Peter and Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) making love was a dream come true. They’re the fans that got goosebumps when Olivia planted a kiss on Peter, as if this “reboot” version of his ladylove had suddenly reverted back to the original iteration of her. They’re fans known as ‘shippers, and if you’re a Web-chatty TV watcher or pop culture aficionado who tends to fixate on romantic relationships in your favorite fiction or fantasize about the mere possibility of amorous activity between your favorite make-believe people, then you’re probably one of them.
In the current issue of Entertainment Weekly, we explore how the shipper phenomenon — which began with The X-Files and until recently has been more associated with sci-fi and fantasy fandom — has gone mainstream and how shippers themselves can impact the creative process. An added bonus for Fringe fans: Exec producers Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman tell EW that an episode scheduled to air next month, entitled “A Short Story About Love,” will be a shipper milestone. “We’ve always said that no great love story is worth telling unless it’s a twisty, long road,” says Wyman of a season that has left some Peter/Olivia shippers frustrated because the story has essentially kept the pair — or at least, the versions of the characters who love each other — heartbreakingly apart. Adds Pinkner: “You have to have a setback before you have a victory, otherwise the storytelling becomes flat and boring.” Wyman adds that “A Short Story About Love” should be “the be-all and end-all in terms of people’s expectations of the Peter/Olivia relationship.”
Who are shippers? They’re people like Gillian Bromfield, a Fringe fan from the United Kingdom who’s been invested in the growing rapport between Olivia (her favorite character) and Peter since the pilot. She expresses her affection by producing music videos and posting shippy clips about the couple on her Fringe-dedicated YouTube channel. “The episode that took me headfirst into shipper territory was ‘The Cure.’ [The sixth episode from season 1.] The scene at the end when Olivia speaks to Peter outside the hotel just had me squealing with delight,” writes Bromfield in an e-mail interview. “What do I like about them as a couple? Well, I see them as two damaged people that come to respect and love each other, and the deeper the mythology of the show goes, the more it appears they were always destined to be together.”
Shipper Nation is a varied, dynamic, sometimes combative community whose members desire romance from — or project romance onto — almost any kind of pop culture pairing, from Stefan and Elena (or Damon and Elena) on The Vampire Diaries, to Liz and Jack on 30 Rock, to Simon and Paula on The X-Factor, to even Harry Potter and Little Red Riding Hood on Once Upon a Time. (Okay, we made that last one up, although “crossover” shipping — coupling characters from different fictions — is very common.)
Read the rest of Jeff's Entertainment Weekly post here.