In anticipation of Fringe‘s return on Thursday, EW spoke with executive producers Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman about revisiting that crazy parallel universe, the (romantic?) relationship between Peter (Joshua Jackson) and Olivia (Anna Torv), and whether we’ll see more of Leonard Nimoy’s Dr. William Bell this season.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When we talked to you at the beginning of the year, we assumed that the show would be spending more time in the parallel universe. But you didn’t really go there earlier in the season. Did you pull back on that plan?
JEFF PINKNER: Before the season started, we sat down and did our version of a mini-camp and laid out the season. We knew the tentpoles we were shooting for. We didn’t know how we would get there. We’ve stayed shockingly and surprisingly true to that. I think we always knew this season, Olivia would come back from the alternative universe armed with information and that we, the audience, wouldn’t spend too much time over there until the back half of the season. We’re sticking to that plan.
Remind us where you left it with Olivia and Peter.
JP: At the end of the last episode, our mid-winter break — it was so arbitrary! — Olivia, to her surprise, discovered what the audience has known for a long time: that Peter came from the other side. When we come back, as we’ve always said, we want to use backstory to drive front-story and consequences rather than to plug mystery just for mystery — not that that’s a bad thing and we’ll do that too! In this instance, when we come back, we’ll sort of reveal the entirety of that story and how it came to pass. We’ll let that drive our storytelling for the rest of the season.
Are you really gunning for a romance between Peter and Olivia? We always thought they’d be better off apart.
J.H. WYMAN: I think your views are shared by a lot of people. I personally agree – if there’s ever going to be a romantic notion, it needs to be earned. We think we have a great dynamic, but…
JP: …Having said that, at the beginning of the next episode, they’re in bed together [Laughs].
JHW: But we hear you. We don’t want to do anything that’s not earned. I think that the end of the season will tip the hand to a lot of revelations about their relationships and who they are.
JP: We think the best television shows are family dramas masquerading as something else, which is what this program is. All of our main players and even the ancillary ones are these broken people who are being brought together by this insane, crazy adventure they find themselves in. By looking through the looking glass, they’re finding themselves and who they belong with. We’re going to remain true to that. That doesn’t mean that they don’t harbor feelings for each other. They might just not be romantic feelings.
JHW: This is more of a journey about the characters’ self-actualization, and in those existential crises, you look to other people to —
So wait, are you saying they could just end up being, say, brother and sister?
JHW: No, we’re not saying that.
JP: It probably wouldn’t shock us if we found out that they were, but no. Peter’s from the other side. Olivia’s from here. By the end of the season, things will have developed a lot.
So when will you start to spend more time in the parallel universe?
JP: In the next episode, we’re going to spend a good chunk of time there. And we will continue to as the season moves forward.
Will we see more of Leonard Nimoy’s Dr. Bell?
JP: You will definitely see more of Leonard. He’s not going to appear on stage again until deep into the season, but he’s in the show.
What do you want the takeaway to be for fans at the end of the season?
JHW: We want them to come away compelled and absolutely ready to see where we’re going next year. We will open up a new chapter at the end of this season like we did last year. That will be entirely satisfying, I hope, for those who stuck with it and could be entirely engaging for a whole new crop of viewers.
JP: What we’ve dialed into more than anything is how emotion drives the storytelling. Our best stories, whether it’s a plot-of-the-week or a story that deals more with mythology, they’re only as good as the feeling you come away with. We fail all the time, but I think we’re finding that — on the margin — we’re getting a little bit better at it and making emotion the forefront of the storytelling. By the end of the season, we’re hoping to push that further and flip it on its head at some point.
So are you backing away from the notion of a coming war in the Fringe universe?
JP: All of this, hopefully, is taking place again as an epic backdrop. What appeals to us much more is the machinations on the way toward a war — sort of like a war is won before the first bullet is ever fired. Whether or not their side or our side is looking to instigate or avoid a war will definitely be a part of the storytelling, but I don’t think we ever want to get to a place where it’s only about the spectacle.
How do you feel about airing on ultra-competitive Thursdays?
JHW: When it was first being kicked around, we were really worried about it. DVRs became the saving grace. Our numbers go up substantially and keep getting better. People are starting to come. If you build a great show, yes, they will come. One of my favorite science fiction writers — Isaac Asimov — said that any story that’s about sci-fi is really about the human condition. The more sci-fi they get, the more human it becomes. As long as we keep our eye on that while keeping a foot in reality, viewers will come.
JP: And then show a scene in which we’ll open somebody’s body and maggots come out!