Fringe 2.11: "Unearthed"

FOX tried to frame this episode as some sort of “lost” episode from the first season of the series, as if the producers found it under a pile of pizza boxes one morning. At least, that’s the way they handled the description of the episode in recent press releases. There’s nothing before or during the episode to tell the audience that it takes place earlier in the series’ timeline beyond a few subtle character cues and Charlie’s jarring presence.

Fans with a good memory will recall that the first season ended not with the finale, but with the production of an extra episode that was originally going to be slipped into the early part of the second season. Of course, that was before the writers worked out the second season story arc, which effectively precluded the insertion of an episode like this. The second season has seen the characters in a different psychological space, and “Charlie” was never acting like his old self enough for this episode to make sense.

The end result is an episode that just doesn’t seem to fit. It’s still a “Fringe” episode, but it just seems out of place. I’m reminded of how editors will take previously unaired footage and insert it into a recap montage at the beginning of an episode. This feels like the full-hour version of that practice. Or, to step back into a previous era of television, like watching a re-run of an episode from an earlier season that you never knew you missed.

Unfortunately, I know better, so the lack of proper context made it hard to enjoy the episode. As episodic as “Fringe” tends to be, often to its own detriment, there are still subtle points of character continuity that keep the forward momentum flowing. As I’ve already noted, the characters have all changed slightly from who they were in the first season, especially as the danger to the world has escalated.

Perhaps this, more than anything, helps to illustrate my point regarding “X-Files” and the lessons that should have been learned from mistakes of the past. The case at the center of this episode could, in fact, have taken place at any time in the series’ run. There’s nothing about it that demands it take place in any particular season. Very little about the case pertains to the circumstance of the characters at a specific point in the overall plot.

But there’s the rub: those connections should exist. Shows like “Supernatural”, another heir to the “X-Files” legacy, demonstrate that a show like this is invariably stronger when the external conflicts of a particular case pertain to an internal conflict. Some of the most beloved stand-alone episodes of “X-Files” were centered on how hunting down evidence of a particular entity or killer provided insight into the psychological state of Mulder and Scully at that precise point in their lives.

In other words, episodes shouldn’t feel generic. They shouldn’t feel like filler. And despite some minor attempt to explore the main characters’ ideas on faith, there wasn’t much to the episode. The scenario underscored the already-established notion that human consciousness is separate from the body, and thus able to be accessed in all sorts of unusual ways. There’s nothing new under this particular sun.

Lest I forget to give credit where credit is due, the cast is still going some great work in this episode. They couldn’t have known at the time that the episode wouldn’t fit within the framework of the early second season, so they are clearly doing their best to keep up the progress from the end of the first season.

Considering that the second season has felt very uneven and disconnected, this only adds to my growing frustration. For all my criticisms over the growing imbalance between the serialized and episodic elements, the more stand-alone installments of the second season have still contained enough character context to make it clear that it belongs within the second season. The generic nature of the story and the misleading presentation This episode doesn’t fit in more ways than one.



Default avatar cat
Jan 14, 2010 6:57PM EST

See, I didn't realise it was a "lost" episode so I spent most of the time wondering why Charlie wasn't dead and a lot less time actually paying attention to the episode.
Well played FOX...

Default avatar cat
Jan 14, 2010 10:01PM EST

same i thought it was just an abrams twist

Default avatar cat
Jan 15, 2010 8:16PM EST

Well, I honestly thought it is just a mis-placed early episode from season 1 (and i was wondering why I have never seen it!!), and the "correct" one will be online the next day...... of course, I never assumed that they are "THAT" stupid, coz there is nothing in this episode that has to do with this season

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