The only thing that originally got me hooked on Fringe was a terrible cold over Christmas when all my flatmates were out of town. Unable to do very much, I managed to stick the show out long enough that now I honestly delight in it. I’m a sucker for absurd tv science, what can I say? What I’m going to talk about involves the third season, so if you feel like you’re coming down with something and want to watch the show unspoiled you should stop reading here. [Although I should note I'm a few weeks behind on episodes so maybe they've fixed all the things I'm going to point out, but I sort of doubt it].
As I’ve said, I really do enjoy Fringe. This doesn’t mean there aren’t things about it I find really disappointing, and I’m not talking about the usual JJ Abrams trademark mystery-plot holes that exist never to be filled. This show essentially focuses on straight white people, as they imperil the world (Past Walter, Walternate) and save the world (Present Everybody). At the show’s start, the only actors of color were Phillip Broyles [Lance Reddick], Astrid Farnsworth [Jasika Nicole], and Charlie Francis [Kirk Acevedo]. Charlie gets shot in the head, dumped in a furnace, and replaced with a shape-shifting jerk. Later, said jerk is also shot in the head.
As for Broyles, initially Broyles is super antagonistic to Dunham because she put a friend of his behind bars on sexual assault charges, and is generally a dick. Good gravy I’m glad they left that thread dangling and moved on to their current relationship. I love seeing how much Broyles’ cares about Olivia now, particularly a scene when he and Peter [Joshua Jackson] go get their drink on because they think Olivia is going to die at the start of season two.
Astrid’s presence as part of the team is never really explained very well. She stays in the lab looking after Walter [John Noble] but her main function in the show is to provide weirdly specific knowledge when the plot demands it. Is there a difficult code? Phew, Astrid is great at codes. Are the bad guys saying something no one understands? Phew, Astrid speaks Latin. She pops up when needed and fades out other than that. We know nothing about any relationships she might have or any real back-story at all. If Fringe has time to create a wacky film noire episode for shits and giggles, it can dedicate a little time and attention to Astrid. Walter isn’t the only one taking her for granted.
That is how the show starts. By the current season, they have created an entire alternate universe with whole episodes dedicated to this other world of characters. Each character there is similar in many ways to the original universe but has definite differences. Here is an amazing opportunity for Fringe to improve their casting diversity and character development. So how do they do? POORLY.
Astrid has lost any minimal scraps of personality and humanity she had. Now she appears only in military garb at headquarters and is exclusively focused on robot-like recitations of numbers and statistics. Maybe I would be interested if the show seemed invested in portraying a character that was autistic or differently-abled, but they’re not doing that. They’re frankly being lazy and I guess more honest about the fact that Astrid just functions to forward the plot with facts and isn’t really valued as a character.
Holy nuggets, what happens to Broyles is even worse. Firstly we learn that his son has been abducted and abused. And Broyles’ own story ends with him being murdered, mutilated, and having his corpse shipped out of his universe. Yikes, Fringe. Yikes.
We do get one more actor of color on the show. The taxi driver Henry [Andre Royo] is there for a few episodes to be threatened by Dunham and ultimately help her escape. Much as I think Lincoln is a charming new character and I can’t begin to express my joy that gravel-voiced Charlie is back, why couldn’t there be a better role for Royo?
In a universe where even the Statue of Liberty can be a new color, why can’t we get any more diversity in main characters? It’s a whole new world out there but it looks like a lot of the problems are pretty much the same.
[EDIT: Bowling alley guy is played by Sam Weiss, who is also an actor of color. Sorry, that plot thread completely slipped my mind. Nothing terrible has happened to him yet, so I guess points for that.]