karen_w_newton (karen_w_newton) wrote,

When the writing lets you down

Like many people who read spec fic, I'm also a fan of a lot of spec fic TV and movie franchises. The new Fox show Fringe sounded it like it was an attempt to update a really excellent, well-written show The X-Files, so I watched the pilot.

It had some good things going for it. The actor who played the crazy scientist was very good, and that character is very intriguing. The guy who plays his son is pretty good, too, and their family dynamic added some interest to the plot. I was ambivalent about the office romance; it seemed a pretty tired trope to me. Likewise the seemingly nasty boss who might not be so bad after all. But in the end I felt totally let down by the writing. The first hint was the plane landing by itself because there is now (somehow) an automated system that can safely land a jet airplane at its intended destination once the pilot flicks a single switch. Excuse me? If you want to set the series 30 years in the future I might buy that, but this show appears to be very now. There's a lot of talk about how things are different because of the Department of Homeland Security. So that was one strike against the writers—lazy writing! They wanted everyone on the plane dead, so they just made up a spiffy new invention that can let a plane full of dead people land at Logan, an airport that's on the edge of major city and very near the water.

Turns out that was just the beginning. If you want to see the show but you missed the pilot, don't click the link below because it's hiding a total spoiler.

A main thrust of the plot is the love affair between two FBI agents, John and Olivia. After the plane full of dead people lands, the two of them are investigating a self-storage facility, and John comes upon a suspect. He starts running after him but manages to whip out his cell phone and call Olivia. He asks for her help in chasing the suspect, saying "We need him alive." Olivia has not seen the suspect, mind you. She joins the chase, and then the suspect blows up a lab and exposes John to a lot of dangerous chemicals. A lot of the rest of the pilot covered Olivia's efforts to save her lover's life, part of which included a bad-science Vulcan mind meld scene where she's virtually in his brain so she can get a picture of the suspect. She finds the bomber, he's caught, he tells them what the chemicals were, they save John, and this is where it's gets really bad.

I don't mind the bad science so much—no one ever said Star Trek was plausible—but the writers wanted to pull a rabbit out of their hats, so they have John turn out to be a bad guy, working for the evil giant corporation that's behind the whole plot. He smothers the suspect, whom he knew well, and who is conveniently restrained but completely unguarded in a hospital room.

Oh, come on! It's totally cheating! If John had been a bad guy from the get-go, he would never have called Olivia. He would either have shot the suspect or told him to get lost, depending on whether he needed the guy alive or dead. Plus, there was no hint of any malice in John when he and Olivia played their tender love scene in his brain, where presumably he couldn't lie to her. It's not that the lover-as-a-bad-guy twist wasn't a good one, it's that they didn't bother to set it up and make it plausible. Lazy, lazy, lazy!

It's writing like this that gives science fiction a bad name. The X-Files it ain't.

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Tags: science fiction, tv

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