“How can you not like House?” people ask. “Or Monk?” And it’s a chronic weakness of mine, not being able to endure the plots.
See, I love the characters House and Monk. But to justify their screen-time, every week the writers have to have them solve a mystery of some sort. The mystery is invariably not as interesting to me as the characters, since the mystery is usually overblown and trying too hard to be WEIRD AS YOUR CENTRAL CHARACTER, and so I get bored.
If there was a half-hour sitcom called “HOUSE IS A DICK,” then I’d watch. But you have this so unique character, and you’re strapping him to bog-standard mystery/medical plots, and that bothers me. So I don’t watch.
I am, however, loving Fringe.
Fringe is basically an updated X-Files, with a mad scientist thrown in for good measure. And it’s interesting how little I’ve come to expect from J.J. Abrams. Reading the Wikipedia summaries of each show after I’ve watched it, I see the reviews for the monster-of-the-week shows are pretty universally, “WHO CARES ABOUT THE MONSTER OF THE WEEK? SHOW US MORE OF THE OBSERVER, OF MASSIVE DYNAMIC, OF THE SHOW’S MYTHOLOGY!”
And I’m all like, “I don’t give a shit about the show’s mythology because, just like Lost and X-Files before it, none of it will ultimately make any sense.” I know they don’t have a master plan in place, no matter what they claim, and when Fringe ends that mythology will be revealed to be a mess of incomprehensible plotlines and unsatisfying explanations.
So for me, Fringe is the House of science-fiction shows – I turn up to watch the characters, and mostly ignore the stereotypical weird mystery of the week. And I was wondering, “Why? Why can I do this with Fringe, but not House?”
The reason, I realized yesterday, is Walter Bishop.
Walter is perhaps the best mad scientist in all of science-fiction – an old man who spent seventeen years in an insane asylum, but has an IQ of 196. He can create devices that will read the minds of dead brains, but can’t remember the name of his loyal assistant Asterix or the conversation he had ten minutes ago.
The thing is, unlike most mad scientists, who laugh manically a lot but seem to function well otherwise, Walter is genuinely damaged. He has these absolute moments of brilliance, but can’t live in normal society without the help of his son. There’s a heartbreaking episode where Walter, sick of being coddled, runs out to investigate the mystery of the week by himself – then gets lost after talking to a few shopkeepers, can’t remember his son’s phone number to call, loses his money for the bus, and eventually winds up weeping on a bus stop until some poor Chinese lady takes pity on him.
That’s when it occurred to me: I am Walter Bishop.
I’m not as smart or as damaged as Walter, but I feel every inch of his condition. I am absolutely brilliant at some moments and then hopelessly dysfunctional at the things everyone else takes for granted. I understand on some levels how deeply damaged I am, and get by only thanks to the kindness and love of the people around me – a love I don’t fully deserve, but they recognize the shattered bits inside me and try to help out. And the moments I’m really on my game don’t quite balance out the gigantic pain in the ass I am, but you can at least see why people would stick around.
And like Walter, I’m semi-lovable now, but you probably don’t want to dig too deeply into my past.
So I’m not watching Fringe because of the mystery of the week, or the show mythology – I’m watching it because in some strange and parallel universe, there’s a copy of my soul working through difficulties, and I have to find out how it turns out. For Walter, I’ll endure the nonsense travails of ZOMG OTHER DIMENSIONS to find out how he’s doing.
I hope it’s well. But I know it’s not going to be easy, Walter. It never is for us.
(NOTE: I am halfway through Season 2, and if you spoil me in any way as to what happens I WILL CUT YOU. If you’re unfamiliar with Walter Bishop, well, have some choice quotes.)
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.