MSRP: $59.98
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 1012 minutes
•    Audio Commentary on 4 Episodes
•    The Unearthed Episode
•    The Mythology of Fringe
•    Analyzing the Scene
•    In the Lab with John Noble and Prop Master Rob Smith
•    Unusual Side Effects: Gag Reel
•    Dissected Files: Unaired Scenes

The Pitch

The X-Files for post-Lost television.

The Humans

Appearing on Screen: Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, Lance Reddick, Kirk Acevedo, Blair Brown, Jasika Nicole, John Noble, Leonard Nemoy

Behind the scenes: J.J. Abrams, Jeff Pinkner, J.H. Wyman, Bryan Burk, Akiva Goldsman, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci

“Fill it up again! Fill it up again! Once it hits your lips, it’s so good!”

The Nutshell

The FBI investigates “The Pattern”, a series of mysterious and science-related events tied to one Doctor Walter Bishop and his son Peter. This is the season Fringe found its footing, making Season Two an overall enjoyable experience that balances monsters of the week and an overarching storyline. A good supplement of extras buoys the set.

The Lowdown

When Fringe’s first season initially aired, I watched. As a diehard fan of Lost, I was ready to take on a new series from J.J. Abrams that would mix drama and science fiction.  But after a few episodes my interest waned, and I dropped the show. The “monsters attack, they investigate” formula had been done to death, and I just wasn’t hooked. What’s more, I felt like I had seen this very show before in the form of The X-Files. After all, there are only so many “FBI division that explores mysterious creatures” stories to be told.

But then I heard about how the show got better in Season Two. Inventive ideas, cool twists, and a variety of developments that separated the show from its X-Lite sigma. What’s more, there had been a parallel universe that had been introduced, and at the end of Season One (SPOILERS) Leonard Nemoy showed up as the often mentioned but never seen William Bell- in the World Trade Center buildings, still standing in present day. (END SPOILERS)

“Honey, this isn’t what it looks like.”
“It looks like you’ve turned your body in some kind of machine that can travel back in time.”
“…Then perhaps this is what it looks like.”

That was enough to sell me. Now sitting through my first complete season of Fringe, I quickly I devoured all 23 Season Two episodes. What’s most remarkable is that the series is willing to tackle their concepts head on. What could have otherwise been just another creature episode is often tied nicely into the overall concept, giving the audience a few more clues into “the pattern” that unites the parallel universes that are key to the show. When most of the episodes do this, combined with the “payoff” episodes, it really helps tell a fuller tale. Imagine if in season two of The X-Files it was confirmed that aliens definitely existed, and then they travelled to an alien planet and had to then deal with the ramifications of that. That kind of direct revelation was always held back, but now it is precisely that kind of directness that pushes the momentum of a show like Fringe.

The downside of the show is the formulaic nature of the set up, theory, and pay off with a narrow rescue. Also, the science used is often half-baked. Naturally, a 42 minute time constraint only allows for so much wiggle room in ill-conceived theories from the characters, but it would be nice to see them truly stumped for a change and not solve a run of the mill case. There are more than a few episodes that seem too neatly tied up, but they are offset enough to not make it overly tiresome.

Dirty Pacey.

This is the season where things got extremely inventive in the ways the stories could be told. Surprising the first episode did not pick up right where the First Season concluded, making a good story while leaving you hanging on to see where they go from the previous finale’s cliffhanger for a touch longer than expected. Also included for playfulness while promoting the overall story are an episode set in the 1980’s, complete with a retro opening sequence, and an episode set in the film noir/ musical, stoned imagination of Dr. Bishop. Both succeed where others may have failed, and they do what every good drama should do, which is put you in the emotional core of your protagonists.

At the center of all the creatures, effects, and wild science fiction are three wonderful characters. Anna Torv keeps getting better as FBI Agent Olivia Dunham, and Joshua Jackson has completely shed his Dawson’s Creek sigma for me due to the seemingly effortless way he handles the torn-between-lives Peter Bishop. Truly however, John Noble stands above them all with his portrayal of Dr. Walter Bishop. For an example of how brilliant Noble is, just watch the episode “Grey Matters” and see Bishop suddenly and temporarily transform from his helpless and forgetful self to a confident, capable person for a moment while he is reunited with his lost memories. (SPOILER) When we finally see the “Walternate” in the parallel universe at the end of this season, he is played in such a stark contrast to our Walter that the divide between a crippled and crazy Walter and this well established man of power truly lets Noble run wild with his skills. (END SPOILER)

The board had been set, and the greatest game of Twister in the history of mankind was about to commence.

The production value of the show is quite good, even if they have to stretch Vancouver to represent Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and many other northeastern states. Come to think of it, why aren’t there any Fringe cases outside the northeast? The best explanation I can give is that the events are tied to Dr. Bishop, whose work was based in Boston. But it still seems odd.

Overall, Fringe – The Complete Second Season is very impressive. Action, excitement, and other things Jedis are not supposed to crave is on display, along with creatures, mysteries, and at the heart of it all, family drama. The season did drag slightly in the middle while season-long stories sporadically stepped aside for simple monster of the week episodes but the overall experience was enjoyable enough to make me want to see what happens in the currently airing Season Three.

The Package

The set is spread across six discs in a thick amaray case, housed inside a slipcase. The standard outer art picture refers to the “real world”, while the inner box art shows the same image colored in red tones to reference the alternate universe of the show, making a clever little nod to the content of the series. The picture quality of the episodes is very clean with only minor compression, expected since this is a recent series. I’m sure it looks great on blu-ray. The audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound, and is of a similar high quality. There is also a smattering of subtitle options available.

Patrick Stewart died suddenly, but he had already seen everything.

 The special features are spread across all discs, with at least one or two appearing on each, except Disc Six, which houses the bulk of the lengthier featurettes. Six episodes get “Analyzing the Scene” featurettes, which run a few minutes long and reveal behind the scenes footage of a major scene from that episode, usually featuring a complex effect or pyrotechnic. They’re quick but enjoyable and include talking heads from cast and crew. On four key episodes there are audio commentaries, all of which feature a different set of crew members ranging from Producers to Writers to Music Supervisors and more. They seem well moderated and you get a lot more facts than just the typical “that was fun” drivel.

 “In the Lab with John Noble and Prop Master Rob Smith” features Noble (dressed as Walternate and speaking with his native Australian tongue), is reintroduced to many of the inventive props (and there are many) from Season Two in the setting of Dr. Bishop’s laboratory. It’s fun seeing the gadgets the prop and fabrication people create outside of the context of the episodes, because most of them are simple light-up or spring mechanism toys made to look good on camera. What’s even more fascinating is how much these guys can do with an incredibly short, vague description in the script of what the tool is.

No one knew where they were headed.

Also included is “Dissected Files”, which is a fancy way of saying deleted scenes. None are major plot points and all were obviously cut for time, but they’re nice to have. An “Unusual Side Effects” Gag Reel is included, to show how much fun the cast and crew have on the set. Nothing is actually that amusing about it, so move on to the other extras. “The Mythology of Fringe” is a sort of behind the scenes/ talking head interview-style recap of the season’s arc. Seeing as the show found its footing, storyline-wise over the course this year, this is a worthy addition. Anyone who would want a quick review of major points leading up to Season Three should watch this.

Finally, the special features are capped off with “The Unearthed Episode”, which puzzled many viewers when it originally aired in the middle of Season Two’s televised broadcast. This is a full length, monster of the week episode that falls outside of the normal canon. It was obviously produced as part of Season One and never shown, and was aired in the middle of a storyline where one of the main characters helping our heroes had already been killed off and turned evil and killed off again. So for completists, here’s your missing episode. Truly, this is indicative of how fans of the show have been rewarded with additional content time and time again.

8.9 out of 10