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October 29, 2008 at 04:31 PM EDT

Call me an X-Files diehard with a soft spot for Alias, but Fox’s new series Fringe isn’t measuring up to either of those classic series. (And that bland Anna Torv—oh, do I miss Gillian Anderson’s Dana Scully.) Yet I’ll say one thing for J.J. Abrams: He does serve up a class-A roster of supporting actors. Kirk Acevedo from Oz, Lance Reddick from the dear departed The Wire, and most especially, the incomparable Blair Brown. Speaking of the erstwhile Molly Dodd, why has Abrams thus far relegated her to the show’s, ahem, fringes…and saddled her wily corporate COO with that hoary horror fixture, an artificial arm?

To give Abrams his due, prosthetic hands have clawed their way through pop culture from Peter Pan’s Captain Hook to many a film and urban folktale. James Bond fanatics will, of course, recall Joseph Wiseman’s deadly metallic digits in Dr. No. Barely a year later, Peter Sellers mock-choked himself on screen with an artificial hand as the wheelchair-bound Dr. Strangelove. In the ‘90s, slasher films like Candyman, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Urban Legend accessorized marauding madmen with prosthetic weaponry. Most recently, there was the murderous hook-handed T-Bag of Prison Break. Admittedly, not only mad scientists and killers have sported artificial appendages—witness William Devane’s Vietnam-vet vigilante in 1977’s Rolling Thunder.

With that history in mind, consider Brown’s Nina Sharp: Is her physical impairment a tip-off to her possibly villainous nature? Or, more hopefully, does her willingness to display it infuse this tough, steely survivor of cancer and corporate intrigue with a glimmer of vulnerability? Does her prosthetics portend future revelations about Massive Dynamics’ excursions into bionics, nanotechnology, and human enhancement? Is there a tie-in with the show’s theme of humanity enmeshed in technology gone wild, in a world blurring the boundaries of nature and artifice? Ponder this, PopWatchers, and set your fingers to talking…be they God-given or man-made.

More on Fringe:
Review: Fringe
PopWatch: Fringe Snap Judgment
Fringe premiere ratings
Fringe vs. Terminator: Which has the cooler office?

Joshua Jackson, Anna Torv, and John Noble star in J.J. Abrams’ sci-fi drama
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