In 2008, Fox's much-buzzed about paranormal drama Fringe began with a plane mysteriously landing on autopilot at Boston's Logan International Airport. When officials pried the doors open, they found that the jet contained dozens of bodies with flesh melting off their skeletons like reheated Jell-O.
That oozing introduction told potential fans exactly what to expect from creator J.J. Abrams' Frankensteinian effort at piecing together shows such as CSI, The X-Files and his very own Lost into a living, breathing sci-fi classic. And though the show has transformed from a freaky (but little watched) cop procedural into a sprawling (but still little watched) saga full of alternate realities and parallel universes, Abrams' strange creation remains as grisly and creepy as ever.
The title refers to fringe science: psychokinesis, parapsychology, reanimation, you name it. And the Fringe Division at the center of the investigatory action is a joint federal task force supported primarily by the FBI. But that doesn't mean the characters are all dark-suited agents sporting Joe Friday cool. Instead, we get a truly mad scientist named Walter Bishop, whose last full-time job was downing the pudding at a local insane asylum. While the glad-to-be-free Dr. Bishop is busy dissecting brains and experimenting with psychotropic drugs, FBI agent Olivia Dunham busts the show's ne'er-do-wells, and Bishop's jack-of-all-trades son, Peter, makes sure Pops doesn't wander away.
Since the show's debut, the team has been knitting a paranormal sweater out of a lot of creepy dangling threads. The resulting tangle has revealed an all-out war with an parallel universe that centers around the fact that Walter, years before, actually kidnapped Peter from a counterpart Walter on the other side. (Cue The Twilight Zone music.) The baddies that be hope to eventually destroy both universes and create a new one—under their control of course.
None of Fringe's alternate realities have been able to void some real-world concerns. Episodes can contain a smattering of language, and while sexuality isn't a pervasive issue, Peter has had intimate relations with the Olivias from both sides of the universal divide. But the drama's real showstoppers are its blood, gore and squirm-inducing torture scenes. Each week at least one or two victims meet a goopy end, ranging from liquefied brains to spilled entrails to plucked-out eyeballs.
"I want [Olivia] to vomit one time when she sees one of these things," actress Anna Torv told the Los Angeles Times when the show first launched, "because I think she would legitimately feel that way." If a hardened FBI agent would react that way, what about the families stumbling upon this sci-fi scarefest?
"Brave New World (Part 1)"
Bad things always seem to happen at Boston's airport. This time, dozens die from what appears to be spontaneous combustion: Smoke pours from mouths as lips char. The culprit? Nanites—tiny robots absorbed via inhalation and designed to overheat as the host body moves. Walter says only one person in the world could've designed such devious devices: William Bell. But Billy's supposed to be dead twice over. Even if he survived the 2009 car crash (which might've been suicidal), the lymphoma he suffered should've spelled his end soon afterwards. Is it possible that this plague might be coming from the alternate universe?
Also: Astrid is shot in the gut. (We see a blot of blood on her blouse.) Half of an evildoer's face seems to burn or decay into dust. Olivia discovers she can control other people's bodies and uses her ability to help Peter beat up an evildoer. An errant ray of sun destroys a building. Peter and Olivia are shown (clothed) in bed together, talking about buying a new place that includes a nursery. There's a mild sexual double entendre. Someone drinks a glass of wine. After Olivia cuts her finger while chopping onions, Peter says, "That's what happens when you drink and mince." Someone blurts out "b‑‑tard." God's name is misused once or twice.
As its third season moves toward a close, Fringe focuses on the parallel universe. We watch (alternative) Olivia and her Fringe Division as they track down a homicidal Dr. Silva. For the sake of scientific glory and immortality, the bad doc is experimenting on innocents by lacing their drinks with rapidly propagating beetle larvae that grow and eat their way out of the unknowing host.
In the meantime, Olivia—after recently returning from our universe and a fling with Peter—receives a marriage proposal from her live-in boyfriend, Frank. But when she's seemingly infected by the killer doc's beetles, a sonogram scan reveals there is something very human living within her, and Frank realizes the painful truth. It's a truth that Walter, however, wants to exploit—plotting to use pregnant Olivia and her child as bait to draw Peter back home.
Insects crawl beneath a person's skin and pour out through open orifices and cuts—while the victim chokes, vomits and agonizes through painful convulsions. These scenes are both wince-worthy and gratuitously gory. We see Olivia in her underwear. Profanities include "d‑‑n" and "h‑‑‑."