It’s around late January, so you know what that means: It’s time to check in with Fringe executive producers Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman for the sci-fi show’s midseason premiere! During the last episode in December, Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) had revealed to federal agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) after she returned from the alternate world that he had been unknowingly involved romantically with her doppelganger from the other side — aka “Bolivia” (also Torv). Awkward! Meanwhile Walter Bishop (John Noble) and the rest of the crew were still trying to figure out how to foil Walternate (also Noble), who’s begun his own war against our reality and is piecing together a doomsday-like device. And on tonight’s premiere, Bishop helps out a member of his favorite band, played by guest star Christopher Lloyd, and also comes face to face again with the enigmatic yet well-dressed Observers. But what’s even more intriguing (at least in our reality) is Fox moving the show from Thursday nights — where it went head-to-head with ratings heavyweights CSI, The Office and Grey’s Anatomy — to Fridays and the so-called “death slot” where Fox shows such as Firefly, Dollhouse, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and others have met their televised doom. But Pinkner and Wyman are staying positive because they have a lot of story still left to tell with Fringe. I talked with them this afternoon about what the rest of the season holds — including a return to the 1980s — so read below for the interview and check out a clip from tonight’s episode of Fringe featuring Jackson and Torv.
Photos courtesy of Fox
“Entrada,” the second-to-last episode, before the hiatus, brought Olivia back to this world, but then you went one more hour before going on break with the deliciously creepy “Marionette.” Was there a thought to have “Entrada” be the midseason finale at any point?
Pinkner: We like go one step further. We’re always interested in giving an answer and then what questions does that answer lead to. We’re always more interested in the “And then what?” After “Entrada,” what are the consequences of what we witnessed for the first eight episodes? We very much wanted to play that before the break.
Wyman: It’s true, “Entrada” could be construed as a good season-ender, but that was on a physical level. You can anticipate the emotion of what’s going to happen in the return, but the complexities of the end of “Marionette,” of really that coming to a head, we felt that was a really great story to leave people with: “Oh, boy, what’s gonna happen now?!”
What was it always in the plan to get both versions of Olivia to their specific sides in the middle of the season, or had you thought of having that as a storyline for the whole season?
Wyman: There are two levels for us: There’s the narrative of having the two Olivias on their respective sides, and then there’s the emotional story. We found there was so much power in the emotional story of, yeah, we’re able to do something nobody else has done — literally have a character destroyed by a relationship with herself — and we just realized this is a lot of stuff we could use throughout the season. It spawned so many great stories for us emotionally that it became a huge part of the strategy.
Pinkner: We always knew that we were going to bring Olivia home. There was push and pull between us and the network. The network was initially nervous that that storytelling was going to work They were concerned that the other characters on the other side wouldn’t be engaging enough, and we had very high expectations that it would work. Initially, our conversations with our network and studio partners were, how long can we sustain this? They were like, “Can we please bring her home after three episodes?” [Laughs] But we knew there was so much story we wanted to tell over there.
The first half of the season bounced between realities from week to week. Going forward, will that stay the same or will it be less predictable when we go back over there?
Pinkner: It’ll definitely be less predictable. We will still tell stories on the other side, but more of the focus will be on Olivia, Peter and Walter. More infrequently but absolutely we’ll be going back to the other side as well. And we’ll also be going back in time to 1986 — last year, we told an episode from 1985 and this year we’re going to go back and sort of see the consequences of that as well.
The 1985 episode last season was a Walter-centric one. Is 1986 similar in that way?
Pinkner: It’s Walter-, Peter- and Olivia-centric.
Wyman: It’s another perspective.
There’s also talk of Olivia’s stepfather entering the picture.
Pinkner: It’s part of the same episode.
Have you cast him yet, and if so can you say who it is?
Pinkner: We have. The truth is, no, we can’t say but it’s not an episode that’s about him. It’s more an episode about her, but he plays a role.
A lot of people are already tolling the cancellation bells with the move to the Fridays. Forget the haters. What is the biggest positive about your new night?
Pinkner: We’re not facing the decimating competition of spectacularly produced shows that we were up against on Thursday night. [Laughs] Ironically, our fans for a year and a half have been asking Fox to move the show off of Thursdays. And as soon as Fox moves the show to Friday, everybody freaks out!
Wyman: You never know right now with television. Thursday night is a tough thing. We really believe that psychologically, the viewer on Thursday nights has been programmed to go after that romantic comedy slate, starting with Bones and then they’re hopping over to Grey’s Anatomy or The Office, and people are really interested in that. To plop a sci-fi drama in the middle of it that has a mythology that requires you to get invested and pay attention and really show up for, it’s a psychological shift. It’s not just a “Hey, this show’s good” or not. It’s like, well, what do I feel like watching on Thursday nights? If anything, we’ve learned from our DVR numbers that people are definitely watching because our DVR numbers go up like crazy! They’re saying they want to watch the show — they’re just telling us when. They’re just saying, “We don’t watch it on Thursdays. We have too many choices.” Our core audience is going to follow us to Fridays. Who knows, this story could end where Fringe discovered that maybe there are some chances on Friday night and get rid of all the negative publicity. When they call it a “death spot” and things like that, the shows that did not survive there didn’t go in there on creative highs. We believe that if it’s good, people are going to show and at least say, “Hey, that’s a show with integrity.” And hopefully, people will not go out on Friday nights and check out Fringe.
The last thing we saw in the midseason finale was an Observer looking at Walter and saying to one of his counterparts by phone, “He is still alive.” How much will that line play in what happens next on the show?
Wyman: A lot.
Pinkner: The Observers are very much like a foreshadowing element for our show of stories to come and what’s at risk moving forward.
The Observers haven’t been seen a whole lot this season with the focus on the Olivias on both sides, Walternate and all the complications there. Is it cool for you guys to get them involved again?
Wyman: They’re always part of it and always there. We’re really looking at this season so far, the end of last season and the end of this season as we approach as chapters. That’s a good organizing principle for us. When you read a great novel, you’re really invested in it. You know there are characters happening in the first one that are very key and important, but you just don’t see them in every chapter. In our minds, the Observers are consistently there. It’s just they’re not really in the spotlight at this point. When we get them back, people are like, “Oh yeah, the Observers!” But they’re always part of our platform and architecture.
What are the chances of us seeing a third reality by the time we get to the season finale?
Pinkner: The truth is that the Observers come from a third reality. We’ve already discussed the first people who may or may not live in a third reality. You’ve touched on in a couple of different ways, God willing, in our imagined future this show goes on for several years. In much the way that early books in the Harry Potter series talked about things in the background that became the focus of later books, we imagine a world where an entire season is ultimately about the Observers and what they’re up to. As J.H. says, there are characters and there are seeds that we’ve planted in our show that have a much bigger planned future. Hopefully, we’ll get there.
There’s all these Observers, we’ve seen more than one together, but we keep seeing the same one. Here’s my nerdy theory: There’s one Observer for each reality. Am I close?
Pinkner: We know that the Observers are named after the months of the year, so we can assume there’s 12 of them. Although in our reality, a new astrological sign was just discovered and it went from 12 to 13, so you never know. Everything’s always being reimagined and [messed] with. So there are 12 of them. Clearly, September is assigned to the Peter Bishop story. And clearly, the older guy who we know is named December who he consults with is in some way a CEO. The question is whether the other ones are assigned to other universes or just other characters that we have yet to meet.
You titled this episode tonight “The Firefly”…
Pinkner: It’s not an homage to that show we all loved. It was titled long before we were informed we were moving to Friday. Otherwise, we would have titled it “X-Files” or “Dollhouse.”
Wyman: “The Firefly” was just the inception of the story, the creature firefly.
Pinkner: It’s a take on the butterfly effect.
Will we meet more alternate-reality versions of the characters we know and love?
Pinkner: We will. And maybe in some ways that are unexpected.
The Peter/Olivia/Alt-livia love triangle really brought out your cast’s talents.
Pinkner: All of our actors are world class. The subtleties you saw Lance [Reddick] bring to Broyles and Alternate-Broyles. We have yet to meet an Alternate-Nina [played by Blair Brown]. We’ve already met the Alternate-Peter and he’s dead, so Josh doesn’t get to do that same thing. But they’re amazing. If anything, getting to play alternate versions of their characters just shows how wonderful they are with the original characters. Anna unfairly got a knock early on in the history of the show that she hadn’t found her way as an actor. But she was doing what we had asked her to do because she was a character who hadn’t found her way yet in this new world. She owned the character owning her world, and now we’ve shown this whole other side of her. By design, the story’s about holding up mirrors to yourself, both as a society and as a person. Her performance on the other side just holds up a mirror to what she’s been doing for three years. It’s just amazing.
How mindblowing will this year’s season finale be? Please rate on a scale of 1 to Awesome.
Wyman: [Laughs] Well, we find it acceptable and we’re excited about it. We work in a vacuum so the things that Jeff and I feel are great — when we look at each other and go, “Yeah, that just feels right” — that’s usually the stuff people really respond to. We feel like we’re in that wheelhouse and hopefully people will feel the same way. It’s the end of a chapter, beginning of another.
Pinkner: It’s another season finale that will hopefully make you excited to see next season and then frustrated you have to wait.
Is it too soon to start thinking about a fourth season?
Pinkner: We know the headlines for the fourth season.
Wyman: And five! Stories are our cross to bear. For a sci-fi show to get this much acclaim is great. That’s what we just need to continue so people will show up and keep digging what we do.