If you haven't begun watching 'Fringe,' this is certainly not the place to start. There's so much taking place over the previous seasons in terms of plot and character development that to fully appreciate the stories being told, you need to start from the beginning.
Created by J. J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci, 'Fringe' debuted in 2008 as a science fiction procedural reminiscent of 'The X-Files' with the alien-government conspiracy replaced by much stranger doings. FBI Special Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) transfers to the Department of Homeland Security's Fringe division, led by Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick), to investigate a series of events dubbed "The Pattern." The events have a connection to the fringe-science work of Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), who has been in a mental institution for over 17 years. Walter walks the line between brilliance and madness, and with the help of his estranged son Peter (Joshua Jackson), they work with Olivia to solve cases. Other major players in the 'Fringe' mythology are the Massive Dynamics company, owned by Walter's former associate William Bell (Leonard Nimoy) and run by Nina Sharp (Blair Brown), and the pan-dimensional being known as The Observer (Michael Cerveris) and later as September.
Over the course of the first season, we learn Walter and William conducted experiments on children like Olivia to prepare them for a war against a parallel universe. In the second season, the war escalates as shape-shifting soldiers make their way over to the prime universe. The viewer also learns the origins for the war, which is being waged by the parallel universe's Walter, referred to as Walternate. Peter learns things as well. He is an important factor in the war between the universes, and Olivia reveals her love for him. The second season wasn't as good as the first, in part because the storylines about the war were much more compelling than the "monster of the week" episodes.
The war intensifies in Season Three. As it opens, Olivia and her parallel universe counterpart, referred to as Fauxlivia, have switched places. Olivia is a prisoner and Walternate tries brainwashing her into thinking she's Fauxlivia. Meanwhile, Fauxlivia has infiltrated the prime universe and its Fringe team by posing as Olivia. One way she does this is by acting on the feelings Olivia has for Peter, resulting in Peter finding himself involved in a bizarre love triangle with one woman, which unfortunately leads to scenes better suited for a soap opera.
Olivia mopes about too much after learning about Peter and Fauxlivia. Those moments don't work well because they were repetitive and added nothing. Though the revelation of their mutual affection was rather new, I understood Olivia having hurt feelings over Peter and Fauxlivia, especially after the betrayal by her previous lover, but I didn't understand how she couldn't see Peter's side. The writers would have been better served having Olivia ponder the existential questions about herself that Peter's "affair" brought up. Also troubling is having the fate of the universes hinge on which one of them Peter loves.
This season strikes a great balance with its storytelling as it bounces back and forth between universes. The writers improved upon the previous season's failing by incorporating series mythology into the MOTW episodes. One of the most inventive episodes was "Lysergic Acid Diethylamide," which found Walter and Peter taking LSD and entering an animated world within Olivia's mind. This allowed producers to get around Leonard Nimoy's retirement from acting, as he only had to provide his voice. The three-episode story arc that concludes the season opens up a new avenue of storytelling potential and offers a rather shocking conclusion that rivals the ending to the third season of 'Lost'. There were some plot points that didn't quite work, assuming they happened. Walter appears to create a paradox with the doomsday device and the identity of the First People comes off as one story idea too many in a series filled with them. Yet, all in all, it's a well-written season.
The main cast does a great job over the course of the season playing variations on their characters. Most notable are John Noble, because the Walters are the most different from each other, and Anna Torv, who plays three characters. The parallel universe also allowed the return of Kirk Acevedo as Charlie Francis. The multiple universes are fun for viewers as well. Aside from the color changes in opening credits signifying in which universe the story was set, there are many visual clues, some obvious, some subtle, which do the same thing.
'Fringe: The Complete Third Season' was arguably the best science fiction series of the 2010-11 season. It fulfilled the promise of the First, overcame the problems of the second, and left fans eager for the Fourth.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Fringe: The Complete Third Season' comes on four 50GB Region Free Blu-ray discs housed in a blue case, which fits into a slipcase, like previous seasons. After a noticeable time to load, the discs boot up to the menu screen. Included is a small booklet offering a listing of the episodes, with brief synopses, and special features.
This season finds Warner Brothers changing the high-def presentation of the series. Changing from the previous VC-1 encode of the past two season releases, the Third Season transfer is encoded in 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4, displayed at 1.78:1, and is very satisfying.
Colors are clean and come through in strong hues, evidenced in the blue and red seen in the opening credits. Blacks, which are frequently used in the series' production design, are rich and inky. Shadow delineation is strong, particularly in the animated segments of "Lysergic Acid Diethylamide," though the animators had an advantage. Fine details can be seen, such as facial pores like that of the Observer, and textures of objects and locations. Scenes exhibit realistic depth throughout the season.
Occasional artifacts do pop up, such as aliasing, seen in places like Walter's sweater, and spots of banding near bright light sources, but these issues aren't enough to distract from the experience. In "Subject 13," sunlight is over exposed at times, like when it comes in through the blinds. Scenes are very blurry at times, though I am not sure if this is supposed to replicate old footage from the episode's 1985 setting, or if there's a problem with the transfer. Since I only noticed it here, I presume it's an intentional artistic decision.
The upgrade to DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 offers a louder, more dynamic experience than the previous season releases. The dialogue is always clear as it plays out the center and is balanced well with the music, which fills the surrounds nicely, and the effects. Also, filling the surrounds is ambiance, from the louder sounds, such as in episode "6955 kHz" where thunder cracks and the metal of an airplane can be heard rattling metal to subtler sounds like the equipment in Walter's lab.
The gunfire and explosions come through with great power, thanks to the subwoofer's output. There's very good imaging throughout the series as cars can be heard passing by, as well as the loud whoosh accompanying a moving train. When Fauxlivia knocks over equipment in "Bloodline," items can be heard clanging across the front speakers.
Although you need to have seen the first two seasons, the third season of 'Fringe' is a very rewarding experience. It offers smart stories brought to life by a talented cast. And for those paying attention, the occasional Easter egg appears (Dr. Jacoby's glasses should look familiar to TV buffs).
The combination of the tech upgrade, which certainly makes the audio experience more satisfying, and the Maximum Episode Mode extra alone should secure this a place in your TV-on-Blu-ray library. Highly recommended.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.