The Fox sci-fi series Fringe returns for a third mind-bending season a week from today, and in the past two seasons, it’s become one of the best shows on TV with strong writing, great characters and impressive success at pulling off something that has slipped up many a series: alternate worlds. Last season, it became a large part of the show’s mythology, in which Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) learned he was the Peter from the other universe; viewers got a peek at his father Walter’s ruthless alter-ago, aka “Walternate” (both played exquisitely by John Noble); and FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) crossed over to the other side to bring Peter back in the May season finale, only to be trapped there, while her doppelganger ended up on this side. There’s a lot going on, so I made sure to catch up with producers J.H. Wyman and Jeff Pinkner at Comic-Con to talk about what’s coming up this season. Read below for their (mostly) spoiler-free thoughts on alternate Earths and that long-awaited kiss between Peter and Olivia in the season finale.
Photos courtesy of Fox
What can you say about the new season?
Pinkner: Nothing. [Laughs]
Wyman: It’s like Christmas: We want to open up the presents on Christmas Day
Pinkner: There are lots of lovely presents. They’re all wrapped nice, with colored paper and bows. Hopefully there’ll be 22 of them.
Wyman: We’re going to be over there, we’re going to be over here.
Pinkner: Every season, we try to keep opening up the show more and more, and at the end of Season 2, we went over and spent some time in the alternate universe. In fact, we left a character there. This season, we want to continue to further really explore what it means to have two universes. Season 2 in many ways was secrets withheld and secrets coming out, largely the secret about Peter’s origin. And now this season, we’re playing the consequence of those secrets.
Will there be a whole episode set in the alternate world?
Pinkner: Absolutely. In fact, several.
Wyman: What we like about it is we kinda have two shows. It’s on us to make the mythology over there just as compelling as the mythology here, so we will enjoy both of them. We have our characters going back and forth, there or here, but there’s a whole set of nice characters that you’ll become very interested in very quickly. It’s interesting because it gives you that gearshift. There is so much fun to look into.
Pinkner: One of the themes of the show is very much mirrors and the road not taken. We get to explore that theme through two versions of a character who is genetically the same — nature vs. nurture — but they made different choices or different things happened to them along the way, and now who have they ended up being?
Is it going to get easier for the characters to cross back and forth?
Pinkner: No, it’s not easy to cross and it will never be. The show is about Olivia, Peter and Walter, so while we say we have two worlds to explore, we will be exploring both from their point of view. There will be episodes that take place all in the alternate universe, but they’ll be with our core characters, or at least some of them in each instance. They will continue to have difficulty traveling back and forth. We’re not suddenly going to say, “Oh, it’s a revolving door!”
How long is the original Olivia going to stay over there?
Wyman: We can’t tell you.
Pinkner: Just the exact amount of time. On Christmas, when you open the presents. [Laughs]
Is being over there going to have a major impact on her character?
Pinkner: Oh yeah. It already has.
Wyman: Presuming that there still is an Olivia original. Presuming that she doesn’t die, presuming that the alternate doesn’t take over. Just sayin’, I don’t know.
Pinkner: He does know, but he’s not allowed to tell you. [Laughs]
Wyman: The whole thing of duplicity and duality are really entertaining to us right now, and we’re finding a lot of gasoline in those notions. It’s amazing how many people get it. At first, with a parallel universe, there’s been such a breakdown in political belief or religion. People are trying to look for something that they can figure out and grab a handle on and find some meaning in their life, and I’m really shocked how such a science-fiction notion can really grab people who aren’t science-fiction fans and say, “Wow, I wonder if there is something else I don’t know that I don’t know, and I wonder if there is another universe as well. Maybe there is something after this and maybe I have a doppelganger on the other side who made different choices.” People are really getting it in a faith aspect. We’re really enthralled with that notion right now. What would you be like? You might be like Bill Gates in the other universe!
If I may be nerdy for a second, is there an alternate set of the mysterious Observers that exist in the other world, just like there is an alternate Walter and Olivia?
Pinkner: They are a race, a group of Observers, and they observe both sides.
The other universe has the Twin Towers still standing and last season showed neat alternate covers to famous comic books. How much more of that will we see?
Pinkner: A lot.
Wyman: We love that, too. John Lennon’s alive over there, man. Awesome! And Martin Luther King Jr. There are so many good things and so many bad things. That’s our favorite stuff to look at, when you catch a peek at what happened over there.
Pinkner: We’re interested in world building and all that stuff is the texture that actually makes it a world. The richness of detail is what makes it feel real.
Wyman: It’s hard and expensive.
Pinkner: We’ve been over there just for a couple of episodes, so it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Is it hard to maintain the balance of describing what a parallel universe is for the fans but not confusing them?
Pinkner: There are so many analogies. Everybody knows what dreams are, everybody knows the dream state is different than the waking state. Well, that’s just a parallel universe that you just explore when you go to sleep. Our barometer is if we can tell our parents there is a parallel universe and they get it, then we go, “OK, we’re safe.”
Wyman: I always run it by my dad, he runs it by his dad, and so we’re like, “You understand this?” And he’s like, “That makes no effing sense.”
Pinkner: We’re like, “Perfect. Wait for episode 5.”
Wyman: And we’re like, “Oh no! But it’s so clear, Dad!” But it’s not, so you have to rework it in the writer’s room every day. All that hooey we’re talking about makes perfect sense to us, but for some guy who just wants to enjoy the show for 43 minutes, and he doesn’t understand what we’re saying, it’s frustrating for him.
Pinkner: We talked about a parallel universe before we saw it. In Jurassic Park, they talked about amber and they explored how dinosaurs were, and then when you see the dinosaur, you go, “Oh, I buy it.” We talked about a parallel universe, and then finally we started to tease it and Olivia went over for a moment. Our barometer is really how quickly we can do things.
Wyman: We don’t want to alienate anybody. That’s no fun.
Pinkner: And as long as it’s not just about ideas but it’s really about emotion and heart, then we feel like we have a foundation.
Wyman: We think of the themes in the episode before we write it, so we know what we’re trying to say. And it’s always emotional for us.
Pinkner: When we’re successful, it’s about the emotion.
How difficult was it to finally work the kiss in?
Pinkner: All we had to is say, “You guys kiss.” It was easy for us!
Wyman: And now we have a love triangle.
Pinkner: It’s a triangle with one guy and two of the same women, with is a uniquely Fringe-like concept. We talked a long time about what would be right, and the moment that was right was “I can give you a million reasons to come back, but come back for me. I need you.” It’s all about a version of family. The reason the show is called Fringe is because ultimately it’s about these characters who are the fringe of society and, by finding each other, have found where they connect and where they fit. The best television is, in one way or another, a family drama masquerading as something else. ER was a family drama masquerading as a medical show. This is a family drama masquerading as a science-fiction show.
Are we going to find out more about how Peter’s body is holding up in this dimension? Walter asks about him looking tired.
Pinkner: Maybe it’s not really a question of dimension but something about Peter himself.
Wyman: We’re going to investigate that this year.
So with Olivia being in the other dimension, will her body start breaking down?
Pinkner: She’s uniquely suited to go back and forth
Wyman: She’s treated with Cortexiphan.
Ah, yes. Point to you.
Wyman: You can’t get me! [Laughs] But what about the other one? There’s lots of repercussions. The alternate universe is really fun once you understand the wacky concept. You’re like, “Alright, I’ll buy that.” Then once you’re in it, it’s really fun and there are lots of toys to play with.