Oh yes, J.J. Abrams knows from personal experience that TV viewers have a rather desperate craving for narrative closure and an annoying tendency to threaten mutiny when their big questions don’t come with rapid answers.
Over the years, the Felicity, Alias and Lost mastermind has almost made a running joke of posing myriad quandaries and then, rather than resolving them, doing an end-around and raising new mysteries instead.
J.J. Abrams: You want answers?
Viewers: We think we’re entitled.
J.J. Abrams: You want answers?
Viewers: We want the truth!
J.J. Abrams: You can’t handle the truth!
Abrams’ new show, the FOX drama Fringe, hasn’t made it through even a half-a-season, but certain viewers are already experiencing deja vu. Every time we’re told something new about The Pattern or Massive Dynamic or Walter Bishop’s past experiments, a dozen fresh unknowns emerge.
In a spectacularly meta moment, Tuesday (Nov. 11) night’s Fringe — scripted by Abrams and showrunner Jeff Pinker — addressed the issue head-long. After an episode in which Anna Torv’s Olivia Dunham had to fly to Germany to rescue a man from a Little Shop of Horrors-type parasite latched onto its heart, the eternally fresh-faced Dunham got a little petulant.
"But what about answers?" she mewled to the ever-enigmatic Agent Broyles. "We don’t know anything!"
Viewers at home were probably crying the same thing, which is why Broyles practically stared into the camera to give his next monologue.
"You have a problem, Agent Dunham," Broyles said, really speaking to the audience. "You’re not easily satisfied. You want everything and you want it now. In your mind, somehow a small victory is no victory. What you did was save a man’s life, but that does nothing for you. I would tell you to snap the hell out of it, to stop whining about what you can’t know, can’t control, can’t change. I would tell you to get some sleep while you can, because tomorrow we’ll do this all over again and guess what, you’ll have a million new answers and a million-and-one new questions. I would tell you those things. But I won’t. Because your dissatisfaction is what makes you so damned good, someone I’m proud to say I work with."
To which Dunham practically blushed and just muttered, "Thank you."
When what she should have done was said, "Dude. Stop handling me. I’m tired of the fact that every single episode, I do a lot of leg work and research without any background. I come to you with what I’ve learned at you say, ‘Oh yes. This relates back to these three cases we were already pursuing.’ Every week we do this. Maybe if you’d just properly brief me, I’d be a much more efficient agent."
Sigh. Nobody on J.J. Abrams shows ever asks the questions they’re supposed to ask, so they never get the responses viewers hope for. It’s actually an authorial trademark at this point.
So I ask you, readers…
Is the journey good enough for you, or are you one of those people who aren’t easily satisfied?
And does it matter to your dissatisfaction whether the show is great as Lost sometimes is or as inconsistent as Fringe has proven to be?
Were you properly mollified by Broyles’ speech or did it just remind you that Fringe is probably never going to tell you what you want to know?