There's more than one of everything in the world of Fringe, but at this year's Comic-Con International in San Diego, there was only one panel dedicated entirely to Fox's science fiction television series. Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly moderated a panel filled with all of the show's key cast members — Anna Torv (Agent Olivia Dunham), Joshua Jackson (Peter Bishop), John Noble (Dr. Walter Bishop), Lance Reddick (Agent Phillip Broyles), Blair Brown (Nina Sharp) and Jasika Nicole (Astrid Farnsworth) — and executive producers and showrunners Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman. The panel gathered together before a crowd of thousands to discuss the provocative season two finale and what's in store for our heroes as Fringe gears up for its third season, premiering on September 23.
According to Pinkner and Wyman, season three of Fringe will focus largely on "the road not taken," signaling a shift towards more character-focused episodes as opposed to the previous monster-of-the-week format. Specifically, with main characters currently inhabiting both the normal universe as well as the alternate one, Fringe fans can expect to see how Olivia, Walter and others would have turned out had they made different choices earlier in their life.
Of the show's many cast members, Anna Torv's Olivia is in for a particularly wild ride. The Fringe heroine that fans know and love is currently imprisoned in the alternate universe, while the colder, less familiar parallel Olivia has infiltrated our world's Fringe team on Walternate's request.
"I was so excited when I first found out I was going to get to do that," Torv told the audience of the opportunity to play two different versions of Olivia. Initially, the actress focused on ironing out the differences between her characters, but eventually realized that they have a lot more in common than she initially gave credit to — they're fundamentally the same, she said, but have made different choices in their lives. "It's so subtle the differences, but our Olivia, I always think she really wants to be the best. She just wants to be the best, whereas the other Olivia just wants to win. That's the swagger to her. But you can see that they're cut from the same cloth."
Torv isn't alone in exploring new facets of her character, as John Noble has the opportunity to further flesh out the ruthless Walternate. "It's interesting," the soft-spoken actor said of playing the dual roles. "Having to research Walter and go back to what he was like prior to Peter [dying], that gave me the background of Walter. I knew the background of Walternate already — he just made different choices."
The argument was made that Fringe doesn't place moral values on the notions of science and knowledge — instead, "it's the way that you use it [that's] for good or evil." As a result, one of the season's biggest themes — indeed, one of the central ideas of the series — focuses on Walter's decision to save his alternate son's life so many years ago. "If you can cross universes for this very emotional reason of saving your son's life, but at the same time you're playing God, is that acceptable under any circumstances?"
Lance Reddick spoke about his alternate version of Broyles, a man who works directly for Walternate. "I have an enormous respect for this man," the actor said, gesturing towards Noble. "I believe he's a great patriot and a great model, but at the same time, Broyles has a mind of his own and is pretty smart himself. I guess we'll see just how that loyalty and relationship plays out as things go on."
Blair Brown was asked about the alternate Nina Sharp, who she lovingly referred to as Nina Sharper. Fans did not meet the Alternate Nina in the final episode of season two, "although I kept hoping someone would step over her arm in the finale," the actress joked. For her part, Brown theorized that Alternate Nina might have more in common with our familiar Walter than her own normal, rigid self.
"Maybe Nina spent a little too much time with Timothy Leary, Walter and William," she posited. "If she's about control in this world, maybe she's about lack of control over there." Brown also pointed out that there's a lot of history to explore between her character, Walter and Peter, "but we have three or four more years to go to get there," she added to applause.
Jasika Nicole viewed the alternate Astrid as having Asperger syndrome, lacking the emotional communication that our Astrid is quite capable of. "She makes decisions based on logic, not feelings," she described. "She's a little mechanic in a certain way." Nicole added that fans will get to see more of Astrid in this coming season, including the first ever look at her character's place of residence.
Of course, one actor who won't explore an alternate version of his character is Joshua Jackson. With our world's Peter dead since childhood, viewers finally learned last season that the familiar Peter actually hails from the alternate reality. While everyone else is exploring new facets of their characters, Jackson is more than content to kick back and watch the action.
"It gives me the opportunity to just be an audience member of the other side," he explained to the crowd. "It allows me to step back and look at it with your eyes and just watch Fringe — and judging. 'You know what this [scene] is missing? More Peter!'"
Sadly, it's very likely that fans have seen the last of Leonard Nimoy as William Bell. The iconic actor announced his retirement some months ago, with his character's apparent demise in the season two finale likely to be the last performance of his esteemed career. "We had a story for Leonard Nimoy that we wanted and got to tell," the producers said, adding that they do have another story they would like to tell with Bell. Considering that they were able to lure Nimoy out of retirement once before, Pinkner and Wyman are hopeful that they can pull him out once again. "We'll see if we get there," they said.
With or without the return of William Bell, the third season of Fringe is very much committed to the exploration of characters and the two universes — in other words, fans can expect less of the monster-of-the-week format and more mythologically-driven episodes. Pinkner and Wyman spoke to a type of episode they have dubbed the "mythalone," in which an episode pushes characters and mythology forward while still maintaining something of a standalone mission. The producers cited the Peter Weller-starring "White Tulip" episode as an example of the mythalone format, where fans still followed Walter's evolving journey through a specifically focused lens.
"Narratively, we feel like this is the right balance for us," they said. "We're going to have hard mythology episodes, but we're going to have mythalones as well."
The third season of Fringe debuts on September 23 on Fox. The second season arrives on DVD and Blu-ray one week earlier on September 14.