Memo to the Academy: Nominate John Noble Already!

E:  Let’s be frank.  Fringe is one of the best shows on television, but the audience isn’t there.  Sure, the show has buzz and the respect of critics, but that’s not what the network bosses most crave; it’s ratings, and Fringe hasn’t got ’em.

M: I’d argue that it had them before Fox started yanking it around the schedule, eventually dumping it in the graveyard know as Friday nights, but that’s irrelevant at this point.  Continue.

E: Thankfully we’re getting at least a half season to say goodbye to one of the best, brightest shows on television, but beyond those precious thirteen episodes, our love affair with the Fringe Division seems doomed.

C: Which is tragic. On par with the burned papers of a great author or the loss of the only copy of a symphony. And I mean that.

M: I agree.  I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve exclaimed while watching it “I LOVE THIS SHOW!”  One consolation is, as far as total number of episodes, it will only end up about 15 episodes behind LOST, because of that show’s the three shortened seasons.  Still, it’s not enough.

E: Right, because LOST went out when the creators wanted, & after floundering a while mid-run.  Fringe has never floundered (unless you count when it was finding its feet), and there’s way more story to be told.  Still, there is one thing the folks in the know – the ones who get how fantastic this show is, how brilliantly plotted, how original, how emotional, how daring – can do to make the loss a little less tragic.  At least the ones in the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. And that’s nominate John Noble for a supporting actor Emmy.

Walter Bishop is cooler than us all.

C: Because boy, does he deserve one.

M: Does he ever.  Heck, for my money it shouldn’t even be “nominate,” it should be “just give him the award”.  But right now I’ll take a nomination.

E: Like any Emmy watcher, I know the Academy repeatedly nominate the same performances.  I know how difficult it is to break into that club, and the fact that Fringe is a genre show…

M: …in a genre that rarely gets respect…

E: …makes the struggle that much harder.  But how he has escaped notice this long genuinely confounds me.

C: Now, if you’re new to the show be warned: it’s full of dramatic twists, and we aren’t going to be shy about mentioning plot details from here on out. Coming into Fringe, I knew Noble only as the detestable Denethor in The Return of the King, a character defined by his fraught relationships with his sons (Sean Bean’s Boromir and David Wenham’s Faramir). Walter Bishop, Noble’s character on Fringe, has two things in common with Denethor: being the cause of some major daddy issues, and being unhinged. There, however, the resemblance ends.

M: I’m not so sure about that, as his Denethor had elements that made the viewer, in a fleeting moment or two, sympathetic to him – while his Walter at times shows the self-loathing we saw in Denethor, and at others is as stern, cross and disagreeable as Denethor. Especially when you take Walternate into account, but I think I’m getting ahead of things, we’ll get there.

C: Trust you to jump up and down on my oversimplified generalization.

M: I’m glad I can be counted on.

C: The point is, Walter Bishop is a totally unique, complex, and brilliant artistic creation.

E: Though utterly mercurial, Walter is also the still center from which the entire show spins itself out.  If we don’t believe in his genius, everything fails.  If we don’t buy his solutions to the crazy situations the good people of two worlds find themselves in – if he cannot sell those ideas utterly – then there is no show.  He isn’t the main character, but he’s the show’s essence.

C: Where Noble really distinguishes himself in this role is in the mixture of lovable and hilarious wacko with rational and ruthless genius. He’s responsible for most of the show’s funniest moments, whether he’s pitying the papaya he’s about to detonate for a lab test (“the friendliest of fruits!”), sharing inappropriate stories about his extensive drug use, egging on Peter and Olivia’s romance, or maniacally seeking his latest food obsession (be it licorice or the perfect milkshake).

M: Don’t forget his lamenting that vampires are not real, “sadly”… or his constant intentional bungling of Astrid’s name!

E: Or his way too personal confessions dealing with bodily functions and fluids, all expressed artlessly, without a trace of inhibition.

C: Yes, and Noble radiates warmth and glee in these moments, which never feel even a little bit overdone or strained, as fictional TV madness so easily can.

M: True enough, he infuses these moments with a true child-like innocence that makes you think of him as part giddy little boy, and part brilliant man in early stages of Alzheimer’s.  It’s remarkable to watch.

E: And the fact that he can do all this and still remain believable as a man of mindboggling intelligence? Amazing.

C: This often comes out most strongly in his interactions with his son (and while this post is about John Noble, both Joshua Jackson and especially Anna Torv deserve shout outs for their dynamite performances too), when the two men seem to trade off roles as father figure, seamlessly, multiple times within a conversation. For proof: this scene from a season two episode, “Night of Desirable Objects,” is one of their nicest small moments.

E: Were all that not impressive enough, Noble also plays Bishop’s brutal alternate reality doppleganger, known as “Walternate.”

M: See, I knew I was getting ahead of myself.  Continue.

C: Walternate is what Walter chose not to become, but in some ways he is also a better and stronger man. Where Walter was warped by committing a self-centered (or at least family-centered) act that literally devastated the world, leaving him burdened with guilt and monomania, Walternate was warped by something terrible done to his whole world, but more personally to him. John Noble plays the two characters so deftly that at times they seem like completely different people – impossible to confuse! – but at others, you see the same essence in both. It’s a brilliant study in how our circumstances and choices shape who we become. And while some of that’s in the writing, a lot of it is in Noble’s performance.

E: It’s their brokenness in combination with their intellect that make both men so compelling, so real.

M: I think it’s when you can see the same essence in the two that has been the most amazing.  When they first introduced Walternate, it seemed like an easier balancing act to me, as they were very different, very distinct characters.  Which is not to say that that’s easy to pull off, it’s obviously hard.  However, to pull aspects of each of those characters into the other, while playing both distinctly, is unreal.  And to make Walternate, who had been largely unsympathetic, and had made amazingly unsympathetic choices, sympathetic?  To have us care about him and more so to have Walter care about him?  And to have them comfort each other in the end when their universes were being torn back apart?  Wow.

C: Although the fact that Walter stole his doppleganger’s son (when Peter was a boy) makes Walternate’s implied forgiveness just as incredible. You can check out that scene in this clip, starting at 1:57.

M: I have to say, and this is more to the writers than to Noble, it has frustrated me the level of animosity they have built up over the “kidnapping”.  If Walter hadn’t done that, Peter would have died within days.  Now, of course he should have returned him, or just administered the cure in the alternate universe then left, but preventing his imminent death should count for something.  With as brilliant a mind as Walter and Walternate share that realization, and appreciation for it, should have been something the writers accounted for.  But again, that’s beside the point.

C: The fourth season, which this nomination would recognize, has thrown John Noble some of the biggest curveballs yet.

E: In the three previous seasons, Walter has deepened his relationship with his son, the two finding healing from the wounds of their past.  But when the Observers erased adult Peter’s existence to heal the wound between universes, Walter returned to the fragile state we first found him in, a frail mental patient, quivering, frightened, consumed with self doubt.  In many senses, this is the third iteration of Walter Bishop, one who in the course of a single season had to retrace the path to harmony his predecessor had taken in all three seasons before.  Yet again, he’s playing different and the same.

M: And with an amazing ability to make the audience feel what he is feeling.  When he was seeing images of the deleted Peter, and tried to drive a spike through his eye socket into his temporal lobe because he assumed he was hallucinating, and preferred self-lobotomy to going back to the mental institution?  Heart-wrenching, to say the least.

C: So to all the Academy members who read our blog (surely one of you might be out there? possibly?), don’t do anybody any favors. We’re not asking for that. We’re asking for recognition that not all the great acting happens on pay cable channels. Do justice to an incredible, indelible television performance.

M: And nominate John Noble already!

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