Over the course of two seasons on the air, Fringe has explored some very strange topics ranging from time travel and teleportation to mind reading and resurrection. But in tonight’s episode, Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) and her allies are about to enter uncharted waters even by Fringe standards: a musical episode, titled “Brown Betty.”
Last month, I had the pleasure of traveling to the Vancouver set of Fringe where I spoke to several of the cast members about the episode. Sure enough, each and every core cast member will get their turn in the spotlight — something that several of them were quite nervous for.
“I sing and play the piano [in the episode], and when I found out that I had to play the piano, I kind of freaked out a little bit,” admitted Lance Reddick, who plays special agent Phillip Broyles on the show. Reddick, a Julliard-trained musician, confessed that he “can play the piano, but I’m not a pianist. So they sent me the recording of what I was going to play and I had to learn it by rope pretty much.”
The theatrical turn of events wasn’t too much of a stretch for many of the show’s actors — Jasika Nicole, who plays FBI agent Astrid Farnsworth, excitedly recalled that the episode “was so much fun to do.” Tony-winning actress Blair Brown, who plays Massive Dynamic executive Nina Sharp, explained that she gets to sing David Bowie’s “Heroes,” but that she sings it to “a very unusual person with a very unusual attitude.”
Fringe has taken several turns for the weird before, but a musical episode might come off as especially surprising for several fans of the series. In a conference call with the press, executive producers Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman explained that the episode makes sense given the context of recent events. In the previous episode, titled “The Man From The Other Side,” Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) finally learned the truth about his alternate reality origins, leading to some harsh words for his father, Walter (John Noble).
“We knew we wanted to tell an episode that really explored… we have this phenomenal actor in John Noble and this great character and we wanted to explore how [Peter’s discovery] affects Walter before we sort of plunge forward into the end of the season,” said Pinkner. “We came up with a narrative device to really explore Walter’s feelings. We had largely all the elements of the episode in place and FOX called and said, ‘Hey, how would you guys feel about if we asked you to have some musical element in the show? Anything, like just feature a song playing.’ They didn’t ask us to do Glee. And we instantly, before we got off the phone, said, ‘Well, this is what we’re thinking for the episode and here’s an idea how that could work for us.'”
The result is “Brown Betty,” an episode that explores the eccentric scientist’s state of mind as he relates a noir-themed musical story to Olivia’s young niece.
“I was wondering how to play Nina [in the episode], but it’s interesting, because this is Walter’s point of view,” Brown explained of the episode’s storytelling device. “I think it gave [all of the actors] a great freedom, because we can step out of our characters … because this isn’t real. This is just Walter’s idea. We can make it up as we go along. So it was very, very fun to do.”
Tonight’s episode of Fringe, titled “Brown Betty,” premieres at 9:00 PM / 8:00 PM central time on FOX.