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The time-travel pseudo-political mindfuck Continuum has vehemently established its second season as the sort of no-holds-barred affair that turns a good show with a cult following to a great show that all should dedicate some DVR and hard drive space for. The question of what makes a hero, the grey area between revolutionary and terrorist, and our basic comprehension of time travel, were explored adeptly in the first season with certain lines drawn, alliances created, and, most importantly, explosions. This week’s episode, “Second Last,” puts a dead body in a trunk and teaches us that there’s still dirtier, grittier, darker places to go than political corruption and corporate tyranny.

The most striking and compelling aspect of this episode, which can also be said for the last few, has to be how carefully the pacing takes care of and develops each of our characters. Alec is in love with an adorable redhead with some skeletons in her closet (which she probably beat to death). Kiera genuinely feels that she’s closer to the future, her home, than she’s ever been, literally having her hand on the contraption that brought her here. The weight is coming down on Carlos due to his close proximity and loyalty to Kiera and her more secreted extracurriculars. Liber8 is, for all intents and purposes, back together (sans Lucas in the crazy house) with Travis and Sonia rekindling the sort of semi-abusive bi-racial lovemaking that would yield the most cheek-pinchable little Canadian anarchist babies.

There are a lot of moving parts to this series, which at times seems cumbersome, but in this episode feel as if they’re all moving collective towards one climactic point. The trajectory is thoroughly set by: Emily’s decision to be with Alec despite her secrets and the questionable origins of their relationship; Alec’s belief that he has found his biological father (while completely ignoring the fundamental logic of a time travel-based familial drama); Liber8 finally re-focusing their energies on not only killing Kiera but also Escher; Carlos’s white knight complex; and Kiera’s one-future-tracked mind that will put getting home above all else. It’s unclear that the dynamics we’ve grown comfortable with can withstand all of these conflicting and distinct interests. And trust has always been an issue in the series, or at least it should be to anyone paying attention.

Interestingly enough, the build-up doesn’t amount to much in this episode. Nothing that the viewer doesn’t already know or see coming. And if you couldn’t see the most expendable character to date, Emily, being shot with so many bullets flying through the air without hitting anything but rooftop, you were either too enamored by the flame-kissed locks or a sucker for a love story not ending in heartbreak. Silly you.

But still, what this episode does set us up for is the future. The faraway time of Kiera and Liber8 has in some ways been meticulously preserved and even utilized to greater affect this season, this episode in particular. Flashforwards are no longer blatant overtures of what we need to remember about Kiera to understand her next monologue. They’ve become a hint at what’s to come in the future-present (tell your primary school English teacher about that shit!) and a pretty coherent framing device for present-day shenanigans. This episode from beginning to end, establishes that there is obviously more to fear than Liber8, perhaps even more to Alec and Sadtech than we previously thought. The episode ends with his heart breaking and a fire igniting, which may be the firmly planted bridge between the two times we’ve been waiting for. The next episode is bound to have more to digest, being the season finale and consisting of some sort of a Escher-Alec showdown. Fingers crossed for more explosions and a thorough reconfiguration of how we see Continuum. Emily’s (or is it Maya?) death should mean at least that much.

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We all knew it was coming. There’s truly something endearing about the guy who first appeared in the alternate universe, only to catch our eye and manifest later in our universe, noticeably more meek and bespectacled. Lincoln Lee, perhaps more than any other character, implicitly speaks to what FOX’s Fringe and its sci-fi entrenched multi-universes aim to teach us about identity, destiny, and its play-science. In our understanding of the world, Lincoln was part of the Fringe team literally before he even knew it. And this isn’t a coy interpretation of the story presented, not even a technicality. Just as the adorable Seth Gabel certainly doesn’t receive separate checks for playing multiple versions, Lincoln is one cohesive identity—one that is at some times confidence personified, while at other points, too docile to punch Peter in the face for stealing his crush (and her memories.) This week’s “Everything In Its Right Place” is thorough in its reveal that both Lincoln and alt-Lincoln share identical histories, visages, and relatives named Tyrone. Alt-Lincoln suggests that perhaps he just made a decision to not be our Lincoln, which, for all intents and purposes, may be true. But that still suggests that Lincoln is in no way an exclusive identity.

Contrast this with shape shifters apparently running amok throughout this episode and the alt-universe, in general. The freak-of-the-week, next-generation shapeshifting prototype is faulty but goes about violently confiscating the identities of several crooks in order to survive, in order to preserve his own identity. With the image of a loved one tucked in his wallet, the sympathetic shapeshifter is faulty mainly because of his earnest desire to sustain his own identity, unlike a good shape shifter, leading to the murder and face distortion of several corpses, exactly like a good shape shifter – the statement being that although identity and humanity are things truly resilient, they aren’t truly copiable, despite how it may seem sometimes. People have to die for our guy to even ostensibly become them. The clones, old and new, have always worked this ‘there can only be one’, Highlander sort of way, but this episode exposes how deeply rooted the sentiment is in the Fringe universe, perhaps more than any other before.

Spoiler-alert: alt-Lincoln dies. For clarification, Lincoln doesn’t die because there can’t be two guys named Lincoln (but there is a case to be made as to why Abraham and the Ford model are mysteriously not present in this episode.) It is very much the case that alt-Lincoln died because he was shot. But there does to be an interesting amount of baton passing from alt-Lincoln to our Lincoln, who only came to this universe in the first place on an angst riddled soul searching expedition (and, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention, to deliver a box of stuff, and Astrid was assigned the job at first simply because Broyles apparently doesn’t respect her much.) Lincoln had questions and anxieties and uncertainties. The death of alt-Lincoln, if not addressing those things directly, coincided with certain revelations Lincoln may have discovered throughout this case. He became a hero today. He made that decision. Also, maybe more subtly (maybe not), there’s a whole other Olivia to fawn over stupid pouty faced Lincoln! And now you’re one of a kind.

He always was. Lincoln, like some of the other characters of the show (sorry Peter), has a unique opportunity to see themselves in a poignantly dynamic mirror. Of course, the Olivias, both Faux and not, are the sort to scoff at this chance, too stubborn and head strong to appreciate it for what it is unless it’s a threat, but it takes a special character like Lincoln to give us a sample to what the rest of us would see if we could see ourselves outside of the perspectives we’re metaphysically limited to. And in experiencing that sort of Lacanian mirror-stage of self-realization, would a part of us have to die?

Yup. There’s an intentional pun in that title. And it refers dutifully to Wednesday nights of yore, way back in 2004 when committed sci-fi fanatics and casual remote control wielding Americans alike were first introduced to the ABC ratings goliath choreographed by J.J. Abrams and company, set on some island somewhere. It follows then that déjà vu abounds when J.J. Abrams stamps his name on a new series for FOX focused on another island that may be more infamous than the one where viewers first fell in love the Oceanic Flight 815 survivors, if in name alone. In its two-hour series premiere, Alcatraz makes it abundantly clear that it aims to aggressively court the viewers with a keen eye for nerd-bait as well as the regular chums with expendable incomes and Nielsen boxes – the bread and butter of the once resplendent Lost fandom.

Jorge Garcia fundamentally reprises perhaps the most iconically uncontroversial character in recent television history without even bothering to get a haircut. New Hurley does and says old Hurley things as he obsesses over this new old island and explores this new 50 year-old mystery (about supposedly old inmates turned new.) He’s a bit taken aback by the possibility of supernatural time-traveling crooks, but only a bit because he’s the protector of the Island now, or that’s what we’re meant to infer. On occasion you may even catch him mid-soliloquy, discussing how familiar he is with the Island and some but not all of its secrets.
There’s certainly other Lost easter eggs here and there but just like its titlecard font, Alcatraz is reminiscent of but clearly not Lost. In fact, Alcatraz is J.J. Abrams’ new sci-fi police procedural hybrid darling on FOX. A series for those in need of a serving of smart, intuitive, young blonde detective with a problematic history that she somehow uses to fuel an ambition to solve unconventional cases. Maybe she’s an FBI agent. Maybe her partner’s dead. Maybe give her a specialist/consultant/expert as a partner in his stead. She uses unorthodox methodologies anyway and kicks enough ass for the both of them. Right?

When Fringe first premiered on FOX in the fall of 2008, during the fourth season of Lost, Lance Reddick seemed to carry intrigue and enigma from one universe to another – along with strong acting chops exercised on the Wire. Fringe enjoys a bit of the Lost-but-not treatment as well, subtly for the most part (an Oceanic boarding pass here or there), but has developed into something wholly independent with some of the most ambitious and original storytelling on television today, in its fourth season. But alas, the numbers, as they’re wont to do, fall short in supporting this fact. In fact, besides ratings, Fringe is getting increasingly more expensive to produce as time progresses, an unattractive position to be in.

Then comes Alcatraz. Plainly put, Alcatraz is Fringe with less. Less cost. Less plot. Less science. Rebecca Madsen (played by Sarah Jones), the lead detective closely following the supernatural events surrounding Alcatraz island, even has significantly less blonde hair than Olivia Dunham (played by Anna Torv), the lead FBI agent of the Fringe division. There’s a leanness to Alcatraz that positions it in opposition to Fringe, even while on the same network. Fringe has been on cancellation watch since nearly its onset because of attributes that simultaneously limit its viewership yet contribute to its remarkably consistent quality – almost everyone now plays two characters in two parallel universes just for kicks. And sadly, the old tricks to save both worlds, like Warner Bros finding lucrative licensing deals, may not work this time around.

In a very real way, Alcatraz represents a faith worst than death for Fringe and its loyal fanbase: the knowledge that in an alternate universe where Fringe wasn’t as creative and Anna Torv’s hair wasn’t as long and Joshua Jackson wasn’t as fit, things might be different. It’s important to know this if Fringe doesn’t make it and the Others on the island somehow thrive. Alcatraz is a series with promise that may or may not meet expectations, but Fringe is undeniably in the company of Alias and Lost when it comes to Abrams productions that contributed greatly to sci-fi action dramas on primetime.

So when asked what they died for (the Lost pun game isn’t easy), be sure to tell them that. The End.

P.S. Did you know J.J. Abrams created Felicity? And in other news that you don’t necessarily want or need, here’s a map of Fringe ratings throughout the US courtesy of tvbythenumbers. That is all