Fringe premiered last night on Fox with all the right ingredients (in a way). I mean, it’s got JJ Abrams, the dude who’s producing the next Star Trek movie (although without Capt. Picard…), and who did Felicity (never watched it), Alias (didn’t like it), and Lost (sooo addictive when it’s good!). Starting next week, Fringe will have House (Oh yes!) for a lead-in, so it’ll probably do well. And the pilot was pretty good, a little like X-Files with a dash of Bones or Law & Order or something — it’s being replayed on Sunday if you missed it.
BUT (and there’s always a but, no?), there was this one part where someone needs information from someone else and OF COURSE the way to get this information was to beat his fingers with a mug. I am starting to wonder if shows on Fox have a contract where they are supposed to show some sort of torture or physical duress and have it Save Lives at least once per season. In the last season of 24 there was a scene that was so gruesome I could not watch it, but Jack got the information he needed in the time available, so I guess I’m supposed to think it was ok. Yes in Fringe, it was just a mug banged a couple of times, but really? This is ok?
The difference between Fox and other stations is especially stark because when other networks broadcast instances of torture or brutality, there are usually consequences that show that this sort of behavior isn’t ok, or doesn’t work. Like (speaking of Star Trek), when Captain Picard was captured by the Cardassians (Chain of Command, parts 1 and 2): after they realized that Picard wasn’t going to give them any strategic information, the Cardassians nevertheless kept asking him how many lights were on a particular fixture, and insisting that there were five when there were really four lights. Despite the torture, Picard truthfully said that there were four lights every time. Towards the end of the episode, he was offered a choice: the torture could stop, all he had to do was to say that there were five lights or the torture could continue, if he was obstinate. He later admitted that, “I was ready to tell him anything he wanted… anything at all.” Picard had proven his own point, that “torture has never been a reliable means of extracting information. It is ultimately self-defeating as a means of control.” Even if Picard had given them information, it would have been useless — he was ready to say that there were five lights, even though there were four.
This episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation aired in 1992, but I remember it pretty well. And I think that’s the insidious thing about the shows that are airing on Fox. They are portraying torture as a legitimate means to an end in the case of an emergency, and in the instances that I can think of, there are NO consequences for these actions, or maybe even some amount of admiration for the people willing to get their hands dirty, and Do the Hard Thing to Save Lives. Yes, it’s just a tv show, but to some degree television is a reflection on our culture, which makes this trend disturbing.