Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Sync Log: Fringe Division

I've had a strange relationship with Fringe. I thought the pilot was great but the first half of the first season had a particularly irritating corporate/team-building/authority-boosting vibe I found particularly galling. 

But it recovered beautifully midway through the first season and answered my prayers by picking up stakes and moving up to Vancouver.

"I was subjected to the Cortexiphan trials
and all I got was this lousy sweatshirt"

Fringe did more than supply me with a desperately needed dose of X-Files nostalgia, though- it resonated with me on some very deep and intimate levels. Despite the New York/Vancouver filming locations, most of the stories are set within the 42º lat/71º long radius that I spent all but a tiny handful of days in the first 18 years of my life.

The heart of Fringe Division - Walter Bishop's lab - is set in the engineering/computer milieu of Harvard University, a world I was familiar with as a kid through my grandfather and one of my uncles, both of whom were Harvard men who went on to work in sensitive high-tech fields.

I grew up taking for granted that my grandfather could never talk about his work at MITRE; in fact, my uncle would reveal one Christmas that he was told my grandfather worked in black projects, and couldn't even discuss his work with superiors in other divisions there.*

And then there was another Harvard-connected lunatic named "Dr. Bishop" involved in Fringe science that found her way into the orbit of The Secret Sun:
Not long after Amy Bishop was identified as the professor who had been arrested in the shooting of six faculty members at the University of Alabama in Huntsville on Feb. 12, the campus police received a series of reports even stranger than the shooting itself.

Several people with connections to the university’s biology department warned that Dr. Bishop, a neuroscientist with a Harvard Ph.D., might have booby-trapped the science building with some sort of “herpes bomb,” police officials said, designed to spread the dangerous virus.
I went to Braintree High with Amy and her brother Seth, whom she murdered in 1986. Strangely enough, I was in a science fiction lit class with Amy in 1983 and used to talk comics a bit with Seth in the lunchroom. I'm grateful I didn't get to know Amy very well.

You can read about the Amy Bishop drama and the insanity and violence and police cover-ups here and here: it makes your average episode of Fringe look like Clarissa Explains It All.

It will give you a good sense of the Twin Peaks reality of Braintree of my youth (around the time of the Bishop mass shootings, another Braintree High alumnus from my era was being convicted for a gruesome murder as well- he also claimed during the trial that a neurological disorder was involved).

So with all of that as preamble, this season of Fringe has been a big letdown for me and I'm not quite sure why. 

The elements are all there; Vancouver, the endless X-Files nods, and so on. My gut tells me that the ratings have a lot to do with it. When you kill yourself trying to put a quality product in front of the public and the public replies with almost total disinterest, it tends to take a lot of the spirit out of it.

I'd also offer that that the writers left way too little to the imagination with the alternate universe and the Observers and pushed the Peter/Oliver relationship way too hard (the two have absolutely no chemistry at all), but it doesn't matter: the missus and I are still there every week to watch the new episodes. When it's bad, we do the old Mystery Science Theater routine, so we always get our money's worth. Plus, did I mention Vancouver?

Then there's this, which is kind of a capper for the kind of month March has been for me....

This past week's episode (on 3/30) was a sequel to a first-season episode called 'The Transformation'. However, in this new timeline, the linear causality matrix has been reset and bla bla bla

Let's just say there was a scene where a winged were-porcupine (seriously) was about to go through his metamorphosis on an airliner (which he does in the old timeline) but ends up getting grilled by the TSA at a New York airport.

Then it turns out one of the TSA agents is named "Knowles," which the missus points out. OK, it's a common-enough name (or not uncommon, rather). Let's see what else they else they have in store for us.

Of course, the closed-caption writer misspells "Knowles", but I did notice what under other circumstances could be interpreted as the old voice-over trick, having an off-camera actor identify himself while we see another character onscreen

The character's name is Walker. Who plays him?

Martin Christopher. Huh. 'Christopher' and 'Knowles'. TSA agents, of all things.

I started wondering if the Fringe writers didn't appreciate my last post on their show and were resorting to some Ten Thirteen-worthy cryptography in response. Then I realized the odds of them giving two shits what I think about their show are somewhere between slim and none.

And I'm not the only Christopher Knowles on the planet (though I'm probably the only one with a relatively direct - if not oblique - link to J.J. Abrams). So I kept watching. After all, March was that kind of month.

But still, something was bugging me. That weird sensation I get in my sinuses when some synchitude is in the offing was acting up.

More CC typos, but Peter and the gang talk about the case at Walter's lab at Harvard. Then, completely, out of nowhere....

...more zany hijinks from Walter!
Walter celebrates Peter's birthday, except it's not his birthday, it's just an excuse for some comedy relief. But it did start to shake a few marbles loose in my head.

After Lincoln tries to get everyone's attention back on track, Peter offers this...

...and that's what I remembered from the first season episode....

... Marshall Bowman** and I had
the same birthday:
At the crash site, Charlie showed Olivia a copy of the biographical pages of passengers passports. Olivia was able to pinpoint Bowman from the group because he had met John Scott before and the memory trace was now in Olivia's memory. The passport page showed that Bowman was born in Flemington, NJ on July 1, 1963.
Jesus; Flemington. That's literally right down the highway from me, the proverbial stone's throw. 

So let's look again at that scene....

That's... yeah. Huh. The actor who plays Bowman?

One Neal Huff. I'm going to gild all sorts of lilies here, but in for a penny, in for a pound. Plus, we're just pals here, tossing little syncs around for giggles and grins, but...

...Huff Street was my first official address in New Jersey after I left Braintree.

Huff also played alongside another (non-fictional) Massachusetts father-son team in John Adams, playing Captain Tucker, who took the Braintree-born Presidents on a diplomatic mission to France via Braintree (now Quincy) Harbor.

Believe it or not (actually, I included the jpeg above so you will believe it), my first full time job was directly in the shadow of the Church of the Presidents, where the Adams family worshiped and were interned for some time. 

Note: I saved the paycheck because The Clash autographed the other side of it.

Then there's this: a lot of people don't realize this but Leonard Nimoy was not from Boston proper, he was originally from Mattapan, which used to be a Jewish neighborhood. 

I knew this all along because my mother's family grew up in Milton not far from the Mattapan border (the church I attended as a kid was right on it) and knew that my grandmother was friendly with Nimoy's mother. I forget exactly how (it might have been through Eastern Star) but next time I speak with her I'll find out...

Then there's this, but that's a lily to gild for another day. It's blowing my mind, though.

Now, Fringe producers: where the hell is that Braintree-themed episode already? I mean, talk about a gimme...

UPDATE: Reader Lawrence adds this to the Gyre: "You mention Chris that you took a science fiction lit class with Amy Bishop who would later go on a killing spree at the university where she worked! (I remember that tragedy)"

It's worth mentioning that the well-known science fiction writer Michael Bishop had a son Christopher James 'Jamie' Bishop who was killed in the Virginia Tech massacre in April 2007 - the deadliest ever mass shooting by a lone gunman in US history. Jamie Bishop taught at Virginia Tech."

*Which reminds me of something I wrote in the recent Stanley Kubrick opus, since it's a meme you read a lot in skepdick media, and is one of my major pet peeves:

One of the most dangerous myths of our time is that the government can't keep secrets. The whole notion that the government can't keep secrets is a comforting conceit for delusional folks who still believe we live in an open society. Having grown up with a grandfather who worked as an engineer for MITRE I know that the government can in fact keep secrets, and has a whole kitbag of punishments for people who can't.
Seriously, anyone who tells you otherwise is either an idiot or a liar. Or both.

** Speaking of the Bowman, I'm a Cancer, or Moon Child, but my Ascendant is Sagittarius, or the Bowman. My Jupiter is in Cancer as well.

Note: From what I've read Nimoy was born in Mattapan but the family moved to the West End at some point. His father ran a successful barber shop in Mattapan for many years, however.