Fringe executive producer Roberto Orci (he of Transformers fame) gave me the official word on some of your burning questions about Tuesday's premiere episode. His answers were at times enlightening, at times frustrating, and, frankly, mostly kind of weird, all apropos for a show that sprung from the odd, fertile mind of J.J. Abrams. — Mickey O'Connor
What's up with those symbols (leaf, frog, etc.) that appear before commercial breaks? Are they some kind of puzzle that we're supposed to "figure out"?
Well, not exactly. "They are all things that look natural, but have more to them; they've been altered," says Orci. For now, he advises only that you note the order in which they appear on the series. For the record, so far we've only seen the leaf, which was floating around inside the Massive Dynamic handprint scanner in the final scene.
Why was Walter Bishop institutionalized in the first place? Sure, he's eccentric, but most of the time he seems perfectly lucid.
"He's certainly not cured of his ailments," Orci warns. "There will always be two steps forward, one step back [with Walter]." He said that viewers should be asking themselves: Was Walter's therapy in his best interest? How will being away from that therapy affect him? "If he seems lucid, it's just a fake comfort zone to put the audience in," he says.
Why do they have a cow in the lab? I know they said something about similar DNA, but why not a monkey or rats like they usually have in a lab?
"The question is, who is the cow really working for?" Orci jokes. He echoes what Peter Bishop says in the script: A cow is an ethical test subject, and its blood was used to synthesize the concoctions that saved Agent Scott's life. It probably doesn't hurt that walking a cow through the hallowed halls of Harvard makes for better TV than, say, a cage of rats.
Who is going to play Dr. William Bell? And when will we meet him? J.J. said it'll be before the end of Season 1.
"Even the actor who is going to play William Bell doesn't know that they're William Bell yet," he says, choosing his words very carefully and cryptically avoiding a gender-specific pronoun. (Note: He didn't say they haven't found the actor who will play Dr. Bell, although I suppose that could also be true.) Nevertheless, I press on. Has the actor been contracted for an unspecified role? "Not necessarily." Are they just overconfident that the actor will accept? "I think it's even more cryptic than that." Have we already met William Bell? "No." Um, OK, huh...? "It's a closely guarded secret," he says. Yeah, no kidding! My snap-judgment guess: Dr. Bell is now a cyborg.
When is Greg Grunberg going to show up?
He's not scheduled to appear yet, but never say never. Of course, Abrams' reputed good luck charm (he played the doomed pilot who gets eaten by the monster in Lost) has a full-time gig over on NBC's Heroes, so Orci jokes that he'll appear on Fringe "as soon as they kill him off."
Any chance the show's cool title cards ("Essex County, Massachusetts," etc.) were created by the same people who did the opening credits of David Fincher's Panic Room? They look similar.
Nope. As he did with Lost, Abrams designed the titles himself, which were then rendered by visual effects supervisor Kevin Blank, a longtime Abrams associate.
Will there be flashbacks to a) Walter's research days or b) Peter's unsavory past?
While Orci says that flashbacks are "not part of the DNA of what we've constructed," he allows that there might be episodes that deal with the Bishops' backstories anecdotally, but they will be contained, not a series of flashbacks over time.
What did they use to make Mark Valley's skin look so gross and translucent?
Like those long-suffering Sports Illustrated models who have their swimsuits painted on, Valley endured some time in the chair as the effects of his mystery illness were essentially (temporarily) tattooed on his skin. "We wanted to be able to see the actor breathing," says Orci.
While we're on the subject, Mark is a cast regular, despite his last scene ending with him on a gurney with a sheet drawn over his face. Is he dead, alive, or does it even matter?
Orci answers my question with a question. "Does [Agent Scott] live on merely in Olivia's mind, solely as a memory, or something else?" While Nina Sharp's final words — "Question him" — might indicate that Scott will be reanimated in some way, Orci says not so fast, Frankenstein. "She may have some technology to read his brain — while it's still fresh."
Do planes really land themselves at Logan Airport?
Apparently, planes can land themselves! According to Orci, the technology has existed since World War II, but isn't often used in commercial aviation.
I don't understand the twins' suicide mission... why would they want to kill everyone on board?
"Who says they're twins?" asks Orci of the two identical men, which makes my head explode. "Are they clones?" I ask. "I didn't say that!" he responds helpfully except not really at all. Clones? Oy, I need to lie down.
How did they film that scene with Blair Brown's cool robot arm? Does it have any unusual features or abilities?
Brown wore a "green screen" sleeve; the arm's Lucite casing and its intricate guts were rendered with CGI. Nevertheless, Orci assures me that there's nothing more to the quixotic Nina Sharp's iArm (it looks like Apple designed it, right?) than a standard medical prosthesis.
Is the Massive Dynamic headquarters a real building? Both the interior and the exterior looked way CGI to me.
Here's a tricky answer. In the early preview version of the pilot that I watched, MD's HQ looked an awful lot like the spiky forms of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto (see photo here). Orci says that since production has moved to New York City, Massive Dynamic has been recast, and will be played by a young, up-and-coming actor named World Trade Center 7 (photo here). He did say that the building's futuristic interior graphics and animation were their addition for the TV show. Hey, guess what? Massive Dynamic has a Web site! Let the conspiracy theories begin!
How often will Lance Reddick appear, and has his casting on Fringe changed his role on Lost at all?
Reddick is in every episode, says Orci, but will still have time to hop over to Hawaii to shoot his appearances on Lost. "We have a good relationship with those Lost people," he deadpans, about Abrams' other series. He goes on to say that Reddick's casting on Fringe was done with full knowledge of his Lost obligations.
Will Olivia Dunham ever crack a smile?
"Not if we can help it," snarks Orci. "As you know, we like to make women cry," an apparent reference to Jennifer Garner's teary Sydney Bristow on Alias.
To re-watch the premiere, either tune in to Fox on Sunday, Sept. 14 at 8 pm/ET or watch it now in our Online Video Guide