The Walking Dead

So much coming and going in the volatile, fragile world of fantasy/horror TV. Once again, we're bidding adieu to Fox's freaky Fringe (Friday, 9/8c) for a month. (Upside: The alternative is repeats. Downside: So much for momentum.)

The "winter finale" is titled "The End of All Things," an ominous signal for those fearing that this might well be the beginning of the end, that whatever happens in the few remaining episodes this spring when the show returns March 23 could be the end of the line — on Fox, anyway. We'll save speculation for later, but for now, if you've been following Fringe's crazy but emotionally intense story this far, tonight's trippy episode is likely to push many of your buttons. Though I'm sure uber-villain David Robert Jones (the smirk-tastic Jared Harris) won't be the only one surveying the madness and declaring, "I'm a bit confused myself."

As were we when last week's episode ended with Olivia finding herself captive in a strange basement with Nina. Olivia's Cortexiphan-enhanced powers are the key to her latest dilemma — as they were once upon a time back in the original timeline — and while she struggles against her captors' manipulations, Peter continues to struggle with his attraction toward this new Olivia (who's begun to channel the other Olivia's feelings for Peter) and his aching desire to return home. Into this mystifying mess enters the Observer we now know as "September" (Michael Cerveris, quietly and eerily moving as ever) to take Peter on one of Fringe's most surreal and illuminating head trips to date. Which is saying something.

I suppose there are elements of the fan base (such as it is) that have grown as twitchy and impatient as Peter to escape the alt-world of this fourth season, which presented yet new iterations of the Olivia/Walter/Broyles/Nina/Astrid, etc. characters to contend with. But in recent episodes, as Walter has warmed up (as he would in any world) to Peter, and Olivia and Peter have reconnected against his own better judgment, and even Astrid got a chance to play off her other damaged self, Fringe demonstrates a recklessly exhilarating willingness to follow its own path down the most daunting of rabbit holes. Even when (in the terrifically entertaining "Welcome to Westfield" episode) it reverts to The X-Files model that defined the show's earliest days, Fringe feels like nothing else we've ever seen. As is often the case with such originals, for better and for worse. This week, I vote "for better."

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OH THE HUMANITY:
There really is no point in comparing the BBC America and Syfy versions of Being Human any more. As the fourth season of the British original kicks off this weekend (Saturday, 9/8c), it quickly evolves into an entirely new show with an almost entirely different cast. It's as if Supernatural had decided to continue with a new set of Winchester brothers, or if The X-Files had gone on without Mulder. (Oh wait.) Maybe the Brits are simply better able to handle such radical transformations between seasons, given the number of times they've seen Doctor Who and his companions change over the years.

Human's wrenching dislocation began at the end of last season, as Mitchell the vampire (Aidan Turner) was staked to oblivion by his best friend/werewolf George (Russell Tovey) in a memorably traumatic act of defiance and mercy, after which it was pretty obvious things would never be the same in this supernatural household. Flash forward a few weeks as the new season begins, with much game-changing mayhem having occurred off-camera — which is, needless to say, less than satisfying, while also terribly unnerving. If that wasn't enough, the story also flashes forward 25 years to a post-apocalyptic future in which vampires rule the world, Terminator-style, and where a resistance movement appears to be beholden to a mysterious prophecy that has something to do with the magical offspring of George and his beloved Nina.

Back to the present, and let's just say Being Human is no longer merely the clever saga of a vampire, werewolf and a ghost (Lenora Crichlow as the larger-than-life-and-death Annie) co-existing in a B&B and yearning to be normal. The stakes, literally and figuratively, are much higher now, with the arrival of ancient vampires on the horizon and a newborn babe to protect as a full moon ominously looms. (This being a show that thankfully still has a sense of humor, there's a terrific joke involving a modified crib for a werewolf baby.)

The rebirth of Being Human involves bringing orphaned wolf-boy Tom (the amusing if often unintelligible Michael Socha) into this fractured family, and eventually welcoming a new hot vamp, Hal (Damien Molony), first shown living in a similar domestic situation as Annie-Mitchell-George used to enjoy, although there's no happily ever after for this threesome, either. In the early going of this new series, there's an awful lot of tragedy to process, but if you can get past all of what happened off camera between seasons, what's happening on camera is as powerfully, provocatively entertaining as ever.

THE DEAD ZONE: Still going gangbusters on AMC, The Walking Dead (Sunday, 10/9c) brings its two alpha males, Rick and Shane, to a literal crossroads in another riveting episode where it's not always easy to tell who the monsters are. With all kinds of bad blood bubbling under the surface of what used to be a fine Southern bromance, these former lawmen in a now lawless society are forced to face the reality that there's no place for a "good guy" in this bleak world. Their current task involves deciding the fate of the young guy (Rescue Me's Michael Zegen) they saved from the zombies last week, but the conflict between these men runs far deeper. And when it gets ugly, the animal rage and aggression goes savagely primal, even by this show's horrific standards.

Back at the farm, the tension is quieter but no less palpable among the women, especially Laurie and Andrea, when it comes to how to cope with someone who appears to be dead inside. The spiritual zombie being Beth, Hershel's distraught daughter who has been pretty much catatonic since the barn massacre and whose suicidal hopelessness is of grave concern to Laurie and sister Maggie.

"Sometimes you have to cross the line," declares one of the survivors as more blood is spilled. One of the strengths of The Walking Dead is that it keeps redefining the line that separates man from beast.

FROM BROADWAY TO HOLLYWOOD: According to PBS, Friday night's special Great Performances telecast of Memphis (check local listings) is the first time a Tony-winning best musical has aired on national TV, featuring its original stars (Tony nominees Montego Glover and Chad Kimball), while still running on Broadway and on national tour. ... And who'd have believed even a few months ago that a virtually silent movie would be the front-runner at this year's Oscars? Break a leg, Billy Crystal. Good to have you back on board after last year's debacle.

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