For previous installments:
Season Three predominantly dealt with the war between the prime and parallel universes, with the red title sequence signifying an episode taking place in the parallel universe, and the blue title sequence taking place in the prime universe.
The Plateau, 6955 kHz, Entrada, Reciprocity, Immortality, 6B, Os, Stowaway, and Bloodline
Rather than go over each episode tied to the reviews, I will (like prior) simply sum up blurbs here about them:
- The Plateau is the first episode taking place over there that I truly adored. The integration of Olivia Dunham in the team was particularly interesting, including that because of her real origins over here, she did not follow protocol that saved her life. The apparition of Peter at the episodes end signaled a long story between both universes;
- Not only does 6955 kHz continue the fantastic story of the universe crossing story at the end, but also delves deeply into the doomsday device;
- Entrada takes place after the ending of The Abducted in which Peter receives the phone call (originally that Olivia made in Amber 31422). It’s a pretty massive cliffhanger that leads to a fantastic episode finally bringing Olivia Dunham back to our universe;
- Reciprocity continues the doomsday device story and it’s inexplicable connection to Peter;
- Immortality and Bloodline both take place over there following the aftermath of Entrada. This, of course, leads to the birth of Henry who gets erased from existance in The Day We Died;
- Although 6B was not the most outstanding episode, it is quite a nice episode about love, suggesting there is a real transcendent quality to it which can bridge universes;
- Os was really cool with individuals who use to alter their center of gravity, going a little Matrix; and,
- Stowaway is awesome in bringing back William Bell last seen in Over There, this time, taking over the body of Olivia Dunham with a soul magnet.
According to The A.V. Club review of The Plateau:
What is a Fringe Event? On Earth-2, the Fringe Division is a lot more sophisticated—working as they do in an open, glass-walled office with touch-screen desk computers, for example, rather than in a dark old lab with a cow—so unlike on Earth-1 where our Fringers visit freaky crime scenes and then send their findings up to Broyles to be filed under “P” for “Pattern” in some squeaky-drawered cabinet, the E2 Fringe team has isolated the properties that make a case one for their books. Properties like air quality. If the air quality’s good… must not be a Fringe Event.
So what is Fringe Division supposed to do with Milo Stanfield, a mentally handicapped man who’s been administered four doses of a smart-drug that’s enhanced his intellect to such a degree that he can predict human behavior down to its minutest movements? What do they do when Milo uses a ballpoint pen—an item that’s as much of a relic on Earth-2 as a manual typewriter would be here—to distract people, create disruptions, and ultimately cause the death of people who are trying to restore him to his original non-brilliant state? The air’s fine around Milo, so is this a proper Fringe case or not? Well, to quote the Ghost Peter who haunts Ourlivia’s subconscious throughout this episode: It’s “a matter of perception.”
I’m a cautious person when it comes to handing out top grades for the shows I like, but once “The Plateau” was over, my wife said, “That was awesome,” and the more I thought about it, the harder I found it to disagree. So I scrolled down to the bottom of my document and erased the “-” I’d reflexively appended to my “A.” I can’t really find anything to complain about here. The direction was effectively moody and snappy, the performances were sharp, and the case was cool. Moreover, even though the plight of Milo Stanfield has naught to do with the clash of universes or the dual Olivias—at least in terms of advancing either of those plots—it has everything to do with the moral issues at play this season, and the idea that the lines dividing how two different items are classified can be awfully permeable.
Last week, for example, I suggested that the Earth-2 leaders might be baiting us—putting us in circumstances where we breach their world and give them an excuse to attack. And now this week we have Milo telling his sister Madeline that he’s calculated her every word and gesture and that “most of your actions are inaction.” And we have Milo creating circumstances in which people he wants dead get killed, even though he himself doesn’t do the killing. So is that murder? (And can a person be so smart that he’s practically magic?)
As always, I also enjoyed the little touches that reminded us that we’re not in our familiar world anymore. Like Olivia’s Earth-2 boyfriend being called away to help fight a smallpox outbreak in Texas, or the way Agent Lee’s charred skin begins to bubble and decay if he doesn’t get back in his special chamber within eight hours, or the way citizens have to “follow protocol” and carry special injections and handheld oxygen tanks just in case they stumble into a dangerously Fringe-y area.
And I thought that director Brad Anderson did his usual exceptional job of giving the episode’s action sequences a real jolt. I love the scene where Milo escapes Olivia by jumping off a bridge right when a truck rolls by. I loved the way Anderson and the Fringe technical team visualized Milo’s predictive powers, by using split-screens to show all the branching possibilities. Specifically, there’s a very exciting scene late in “The Plateau” when Milo figures out the various ways that he can lure Agent Dunham into getting crushed by cinderblocks. I have to say, the shot of Olivia sliding on the ground as a stack of cinderblocks fall on her… very realistic.
And how does Olivia escape her fate? Inadvertently. When Olivia and Charlie find out where Milo is hiding out from his sister, they have a moment of philosophical debate. Given that Milo surely knows they’re coming, and has surely laid a trap for them, how can they avoid getting killed? If they zag instead of zigging, surely he’s predicted that zag already. So they consult with Astrid, their own high priestess of probability, but she can’t help them, because that kind of thing is incalculable. They decide to go after Milo anyway and see what happens, but when they run past an area in which oxygen is required, and rather than pulling out her tank, Olivia keeps running—something Milo couldn’t have predicted, because he had no way of knowing that she’d be from another Earth, and unfamiliar with the protocols. She avoids the blocks and nicks Milo. A nifty way out of an impossible trap.
While I was left with some questions at the end of “The Plateau,” they weren’t about how Olivia could have so many of Fauxlivia’s memories but not know the oxygen protocol. (I just assume that the process is going to be glitchy.) No, the reason I know “The Plateau” was a good episode was because it had me asking questions like, “If you destroy Milo’s intellect, is that tantamount to murder? If he tries to stop you, is it self-defense?”
As it happens, the whole Flowers For Algernon process proves irreversible with Milo. Instead of dumbing back down, his genius keeps accelerating, to the point where he can only converse with computers, and even the toy horse that his sister usually uses to snap him back to humanity fails to stir him. (I don’t know about you, but that just about broke my heart.) It’s almost as though Milo has traveled so far that he’s back where he started. He’s so smart that he’s effectively handicapped again. So tough to draw, these lines.
According to The A.V. Club review of 6995 kHz:
In a Maine lighthouse and in New York’s Chinatown and in the home of a young New Hampshire family, people in the same internet chatroom all tune in to 6955 kHz, to listen to one of those mysterious “number stations”—shortwave radio broadcasts of strings of numbers, originating from no clear place, for no clear reason—to try to see if they can break the code. But on this night, the numbers seem to bore into their brains, causing them to clutch their heads in agony. When they come to, they don’t recognize their surroundings or any of their friends or family. One woman looks at her husband and can’t tell who he is. Then she asks a pertinent question: “Who am I?”
That’s always a good question in the world of Fringe, where people can be replaced by their doubles from another universe or where their brains and bodies can be used as dumping grounds for biological weaponry or secret data. But there’s always hope, too, at least according to Walter. “It’s all still in there,” he tells the New Hampshire amnesiac. “Whether or not you’re conscious of that.”
“6955 kHz” was an strange Fringe for me. The dialogue was often painfully expository, with liberal doses of ADR to make sure that we viewers didn’t miss any of the massive amounts of significant information we need to understand as the story moves forward. On a technical level, it didn’t work as well as it should’ve.
And yet the episode was also funky and philosophical in the way I like my Fringe to be, using the plot and even the setting to put across more than just pieces of the series’ mythology. And it certainly served that mythology too. After “6955 kHz,” we understand a lot more about what Walternate is up to, but we also know a lot more about why the Fringe creators are so obsessed with vintage tech and brain damage. It’s not just an affectation for the sake of cool stories with twinges of nostalgia and pathos; it has to do with the bones of those cool stories.
But back to the amnesiacs. Walter determines that there’s a pulse beneath the number broadcasts that caused the listeners’ memories to get wiped, and Peter deduces that whoever sent that pulse must’ve done so because the people in that code-breaking chatroom were getting close to an actual solution. Cut to Alford, Mass., where Agent Broyles discovers a strange piece of machinery that floats in midair, perhaps due to magnets. (At this point, I’m tempted to ask, “How do they work?” But that reference is probably played-out.) Broyles dusts a piece of the machinery for prints and identifies the perp as Joseph Feller, played by Kevin Weisman of Alias fame. In what should come as no surprise to Fringe fans, Feller turns out to be a shapeshifter working for Earth-2, and is in contact with Fauxlivia, who warns him that Fringe Division is on his tail—right before she shoots him and sends him flying out a high window to his death, splattering his mercury all over the pavement.
Meanwhile, Walter is struggling to crack the number-code himself, with the help of Astrid and a book that Peter retrieves from diminutive, lecherous, rare book dealer Markham. The book: Seamus Wiles’ rare 1897 tome The First People, which reveals the secret of the human society that existed long before our own. This society discovered the secret of “the vacuum,” which sustained them and then wiped them out. Armed with that insight, Walter encourages Astrid to think like a whole other culture might’ve, and by doing that, Astrid becomes more like her Earth-2 counterpart, and sees combinations everyone else missed before. She pins the numbers to locations around the world, and the Fringe team heads to the nearest one, in Jersey City, where they unearth another piece of Walternate’s mysterious machine.
While “6955 kHz” doles out one big reveal after another, it also continues the ongoing debates over the moral imperatives of Fringe’s respective universes. Before Fauxlivia kills Feller, he makes the case for what they’re up to, saying of Earth-1, “If they were in our shoes, they’d be doing exactly what we’re doing.” Fauxlivia then floats that same notion in front of Peter, who considers it, then stands up for the billions of innocent people who will die if Earth-2 demolishes Earth-1. “I gotta believe there’s another way,” Peter says.
Part of Peter’s other way involves building Walternate’s doomsday machine, so that he can figure out how it works and understand Earth-2’s plans a little better. Walter is dead-set against this plan—“If you end up breaking the universe, this time it’s on your head!”—but Nina tries to convince him, by reminding him of their wild youth, and how they took big risks. It’s a tantalizing question for Walter, a man who knows where curiosity can lead. Ultimately, when they make their find in Jersey City, knowing that there are more pieces to gather if they want to, Walter decides to let Peter go for it. “Creation or destruction?” he sighs. “I suppose we’ll have to hope for the former.”
The introduction of The First People is a masterstroke on the part of the Fringe writers, especially as it ties to what Walter was saying to the woman with wiped memory. “It’s all still in there,” Walter says. On an unconscious level, Walter’s not just talking about the memories of our own lives, but our memories of the people who’ve gone before us, including those people who disappeared. And so it goes when Walter rigs up a machine using a children’s toy and a guitar pedal, or when he serves Astrid a sandwich he concocted decades ago, or when he gets a faraway look upon glimpsing a reel-to-reel tape machine, or when he listens to Bach at Astrid’s urging. The people on Fringe are always reaching back to the old, because whether they realize it or not, that’s where the answers are.
Another masterful introduction in this episode? The notion of “the vacuum.” Here’s this “key to the universe” level of power that The First People wielded, until it destroyed them. Walternate’s machine appears to be designed to bring “the vacuum” back, presumably to wipe out Earth-1. (And in keeping with Walternate’s usual method, it’ll be a self-obliteration that Earth-1 brings upon itself. Not his fault, man.) But what if it does the opposite? What if it makes Earth-1 unbeatable? It’s a big gamble our heroes are taking, figuring that they’re smart enough to understand this power without having to actually activate it. It’s like that pulse embedded in the number-broadcasts. Walter has to study it in order to understand how it blasts people’s minds. But how do you study it without listening to it? And how do you listen to it without wrecking yourself?
According to The A.V. Club review of Entrada:
If you’re a fan of seeing Anna Torv get injected with stuff, this week’s Fringe should’ve been right up your alley. In fact, if you’re a fan of Ms. Torv in general, you had to be happy with “Entrada,” which featured ample helpings of Ourlivia and Fauxlivia, each operating on both sides of the dual-universe divide. (Even the opening credits this week were both red and blue.) Torv got to play playful, hurt, scared, ruthless, foxy, vulnerable, and bad-ass all over the space of about 45 minutes. It was a tour-de-force for an actress who’d been widely derided as Fringe’s weak link early in Season One—including by yours truly.
But hey, I’m often wrong. Like, remember last week, when I wrote about how we could look forward to Fringe playing around with the tension of Peter knowing Fauxlivia’s secret on Earth-1 while Broyles worked behind the scenes on Earth-2 to help Ourlivia? Well, I was right about that, but only sort of. I had expected this tension to play out over the course of several episodes. Instead, Broyles helped Ourlivia escape in this episode—and paid a price for it—while Peter and Fauxlivia had their stand-off in the first five minutes, before those bi-colored credits even rolled.
I’d be concerned about Fringe burning through potential stories so quickly if “Entrada” weren’t so gripping. That opening “does he know?”/“does she know?” dance between Peter and Fauxlivia is a masterfully written and staged piece of suspense, with Peter trying to find a way to check on his lover/interloper without her realizing he’s doing it. After Peter gets the phone call from the New York gift-shop janitor, warning him that the Olivia sleeping next to him is not his Olivia, he stares into space for several hours, then gets up and sneaks into the other room to take a peek at Fauxlivia’s laptop. But he accidentally wakes her up, and then lies that he’s been corresponding with a friend in Greece. He throws a Greek phrase at her—the same one that Ourlivia threw at him when she emerged from her coma early in Season Two—and his face falls a little when she doesn’t recognize it. Peter heads into the kitchen and when he comes back out, Fauxlivia’s pointing a gun at him, saying, “I failed the test, didn’t I?” with a rueful smile. Then she ties him to a chair, injects him with a red fluid that paralyzes him for a few hours, grabs a laptop and leaves, but not before Peter warns her, “If I find out that you did anything to Olivia, then I’m gonna kill you.”
That’s not all she wrote for Peter and Fauxlivia though, because she takes off with the computer that Peter wasn’t using, which is his computer. So while Fauxlivia hustles off to the vintage typewriter shop to send a “COVER BLOWN EXTRACTION NEEDED” message to the other side, our Fringe team rushes to analyze whatever data they can extract from her laptop. The answer? Not much, though Astrid proves to be a big help when she notes that the pastries Fauxlivia always brought to the lab are from a Bronx bakery. The team canvasses the neighborhood, and finds the typewriter shop, where he sees his computer. He and Walter check out the typewriter Fauxlivia used to communicate and on the ribbon, they see her destination: Penn Station in Newark.
Meanwhile, on Earth-2—a phrase I’ll never get tired of typing, by the way—Colonel Broyles is wrestling with what to do about Ourlivia. Walternate, perhaps sensing Broyles’ tentativeness, reminds him of their “goals,” which is reinforced later when Broyles is having a drink in a bar and he sees footage on TV of one of the first major Fringe Events. (The bartender then piles on by buying Broyles’ beer, saying, “Times are tough. Nice to know we have heroes.”) But the colonel, inspired by the pleas of Ourlivia, can’t help but think that there’s bound to be another solution to E2’s troubles than just destroying billions of E1-ers, and his wife agrees. Plus, he owes Ourlivia for saving his son’s life, and he can’t let Walternate and Brandon cut out her brain—as is their plan—before sending her back across.
And so we get dueling races against time—on each Earth. On Earth-2, Broyles frees Ourlivia from the bizarre, flippable operating table where Brandon’s preparing to scoop out her grey matter. He stabs her in the heart with a needle full of adrenaline, Pulp Fiction/American Boy-style (while she mutters “ohpleasedontgiveme… [GASP]!”) and then they head down to Walternate’s lab, where they find an empty sensory deprivation tank. So she asks Broyles to take her to Boston, where she’s sure she’ll find another tank in Walternate’s old lab.
On Earth-1, Fauxlivia is rendezvousing with a shape-shifter, who commiserates with her over the good coffee she’s going to miss when she gets back home. (“I thought your kind didn’t care,” Fauxlivia says about her contact’s sudden bout of sentimentality.) She gets injected in her hands and spine, but then Peter and company storm into Penn Station, and quickly suss out that the hostage Fauxlivia is holding is the shape-shifter, posing as a middle-aged mother. (Peter, chillingly, yells out, “What’s your daughter’s name?” and then plugs the shape-shifter in its mercury-filled head when he gets no answer.)
After several consecutive Fringes in a more thoughtful and/or mythological mode, “Entrada” is pretty much all action—and well-handled, I thought. The pace crackles, and a lot happens, but the emotions underlying all the chasing and dodging are fully in play, as evidenced by the final moments between Peter and Fauxlivia. As she’s led away in shackles, they stare at each other, both awkwardly and semi-longingly (mirroring last week’s discussion of the ending of Casablanca). She tries to say the right words—“This started out as an assignment …”—but he’s not having it. Still, he’s touched to see that in her bag of personal effects, she packed a strip of photobooth pictures of him and Ourlivia together.
In the end, Ourlivia crosses over into Walter’s Boston tank, where she’s discovered by Astrid. And Fauxlivia, using the resonating chimes in her hands and spine, vibrates her way back to Earth-2, swapping places with Colonel Broyles, who comes over dead and mutilated.
So … where do we go from here? Will Fringe continue to jump between Earth-1 and Earth-2 Fringe cases, and will those cases be related to the Crisis On Two Earths? Or will we pick up from the end of this episode—which has the clerk at typewriter shop passing along a piece of Walternate’s doomsday machine in exchange for new legs—and have stories that deal directly with the two sides at odds?
My prediction: On Earth-2, Fauxlivia will be promoted to the job formerly held by Colonel Broyles, and in that position, she’ll investigate what Walternate’s really up to, with some healthy skepticism about how evil Earth-1 really is. And on Earth-1, our Fringe team will consider strategies by investigating The First People and The Vacuum.
That’s my guess, anyway. Lately, though, this show’s been defying my predictions.
According to The A.V. Club review of Reciprocity:
I was 7 years old the first time I saw Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, and I still remember the way I felt at the end of the movie, when after all of Richard Dreyfuss’ and Melinda Dillon’s struggles to get to Devils Tower, they clambered up and found a sprawling government facility, built in preparation for the arrival of the extra-terrestrials. And I remember how I felt as the mothership landed and began communicating with the assembled scientists, soldiers and civilians, via lights and booming sound. The feeling throughout was one of awe, mixed with a sense of satisfaction that the previous two hours of action, drama and mystery had been well-worth my time.
Tonight’s Fringe, “Reciprocity,” opens at one of those big Close Encounters-style facilities, where Massive Dynamic has been working with the government to assemble Walternate’s possible doomsday machine, under the supervision of Dr. James Falcon. The Machine is big—“just big enough to destroy a couple of universes”—but its purpose remains inscrutable. Dr. Falcon and company aren’t even sure what makes it go. But when Peter walks onto the site, suddenly metal objects begin moving towards The Machine, and Peter’s nose starts bleeding, as The Machine starts to move. We’ve long known that Peter is essential to the operation of The Machine. Now we know that he’s not just the pilot; he’s the key to the ignition.
The opening scene of “Reciprocity” inspired plenty of awe. The rest of the episode? Not so much, despite a few surprises and at least one potentially juicy revelation.
We finally learn who’s behind the shape-shifter slaughter when we see one of the merculoids fleeing through an alley, where it comes upon a homeless man and decides to take his form. But before it can holler, “Hallelujah, I’m a bum!” it gets shot… by Peter! Apparently, Peter’s been hard at work cracking The Fauxlivia Code, tracking down shape-shifters and swiping their data so that he can find out what’s in store for him before anyone else does. (Because he’s tired of being behind the info-curve.) But Walter finds out what Peter’s up to and catches up to him right as he’s chopping the fingers off of his last victim. Peter admits to Walter that he learned nothing from his kill-spree, but that he doesn’t regret it. “They’re not even human,” he says. “I’m not doing anything wrong.” (And I don’t know about you, but I immediately flashed back to all those shape-shifters we’ve seen in the past who’ve come to enjoy their new identities, and I felt bad for the ones that Peter killed. Harsh stuff, Fringe.)
Until those final revelations, I found “Reciprocity” solid but largely unexceptional. The investigation into who’s killing shape-shifters lacked a certain frisson, and while I’ve found the Olivia/Peter interactions in the past two episodes to be moving and tense, this week all the dithering over whether Peter and/or Olivia should read Fauxlivia’s notes (and all her thoughts on Peter as a man and a lover) was more of a drag.
That said, the way the episode ends sets up whole new possibilities for ways our heroes can wound each other. Walter suggests that Peter’s secretiveness and cold-bloodedness are a direct result of his encounter with The Machine, which has “weaponized” his son. Nevertheless, he agrees to keep Peter’s secret, in large part because he’s still trying to make up for the ways he’s mistreated Peter in the past. So when Olivia cracks her counterpart’s code on her own—using their mutual nickname “Olive” as a key—and finds the last shape-shifter just after Peter has killed it, Walter stays mum, even as Olivia kicks herself for being “always just a step behind.” When she catches up, will she be awed? Or just angry?
According to The A.V. Club review of Immortality:
After last week’s semi-misfire, it was reassuring to see Fringe back in good form this week, with a creepy case, a great villain, and a pertinent plot twist. And of course, as always, it’s fun to spend time on Earth-2, a world that hasn’t let its horrible bouts of blight get its spirits down.
Then again, who could be bummed on a planet with airships? “Immortality” was a good episode for blimpheads, with one awe-inspiring shot of an airship passing over the camera and multiple scenes set in the Empire Docking Station. It’s there where Olivia meets her beau Frank, who’s back from North Texas and ready to reconnect with his lady. He’s been a little concerned because when he called Olivia while he was away she sounded “distant… not like yourself.” (Which, y’know, she wasn’t.) But maybe it’s the romance of the skies, or maybe it’s that absence makes the heart go fonder, but after one night back together, Frank is mooning about how much he missed watching Olivia get dressed in the morning, and he’s talking about the two of them grabbing an airship down to Annapolis for a few days.
But there’s an obstacle in their way. While Frank and Olivia were playing cutesy “Do I know you?” games at EDS, another man was sitting at the station bar, repeating Samuel Clemens’ famous quote about how everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it. The man’s name is Dr. Anton Silva, and he does plan to do something. He’s on the path to a vaccine to protect against the avian flu—a vaccine that would’ve saved millions during the last outbreak on Earth-2—but he’s been stymied in his research because he needs a certain type of beetle that disappeared when all the sheep died off in 2001. So he’s bringing the bug back, through a process that involves slipping unsuspecting strangers a spiked drink, then letting the little critters hatch inside his victims’ convulsing, vomiting bodies.
Dr. Silva is my kind of Fringe villain: the kind with a disgusting M.O. and a righteous cause. Granted, Silva’s as interested in medial science as a pathway to fame and fortune as he is in saving humanity, but still, he’s so chillingly driven as he stands over his victims with a plastic tub to catch the escaping insects. And he’s even a little badass as he looks at the guy sitting next to him at a diner and says, “I’ll have what he’s having.”
Fringe Division tracks down Silva smartly, first by using their house entomologist Mona Foster to isolate the species of beetle, then by issuing a Fringe Alert (as suggested by Astrid) to get the citizenry to pass along any info they might have about bug-obsessed neighbors. Once they get Silva’s name and learn more about his research, they speculate on what kind of equipment he’d need to conduct his experiments, which leads them to his lab.
But everything goes hinky when Olivia and Lincoln show up at Silva’s. She gets spooked by a baboon and falls through a rickety floor into the main lab, where loose bugs crawl all over her body until Silva pulls her up and ties her to a chair. Meanwhile, Linc gets stuck in a freezer with no comm signal, where he surely dreams about those happier days when he was on fire.
“Immortality” is a good episode for Linc fans as well. We get to see him grappling with his insecurity as the replacement for Broyles—insecurity not helped by Charlie’s unwillingness to treat his old buddy with the deference due a boss—and we get to see him make tentative advances towards Olivia, to see if she’s really as committed to Frank as she claims to be. In fact, when Frank comes to Lincoln and tells him that he’s planning to propose to Olivia, Linc immediately spills the secret to her, just to gauge her reaction. She reveals nothing, though later, after Frank proposes, and she says yes, Olivia tells Linc about it. He claims to be happy if she’s happy.
So all of that is in the air as Lincoln escapes the freezer and frees Olivia, right as she’s doubled-over and puking on the floor. Frank and Charlie rush in as well, and Frank hustles Olivia to an ambulance, promising to treat her with an anti-parasitic that will kill any bugs inside of her (though the process won’t be pretty). Meanwhile, Linc and Charlie play bad-cop/bad-cop with Silva, threatening to beat the crap out of him if he doesn’t tell them how to fix Olivia. Silva’s already given his big speech about how the most brilliant scientists sacrifice human lives for the greater good, and how “the world changed and robbed me of my legacy,” so after some token resistance, he comes clean and tells them that Olivia is not the final host. Silva chose to sacrifice himself instead. “Make sure they spell my name right,” he croaks (as he croaks).
So what’s ailing Olivia? Just garden-variety morning sickness, confirmed by an ultrasound before Frank can spike her with the anti-parasitic. This would be happy news, except that Olivia’s only six weeks pregnant, and Frank’s been in North Texas longer than that. So it’s happy news only for Lincoln (who no longer has Frank to elbow aside) and for Walter Bishop.
Our old foe Walternate only appears in a few scenes in “Immortality,” but in a way, he casts a shadow over the whole episode. Early on, Brandon reports that the chemicals synthesized from Ourlivia’s brain-juice (the makeshift Cortexiphan, in other words) work best on younger subjects, including one who’s developed a rudimentary telekinesis. Walternate, though, flatly refuses to experiment on children, which seems to set him apart from Walter and from Dr. Silva. He’s a mad scientist with a conscience. Except that when he hears about Fauxlivia’s little bundle of joy, he breaks into a creepy little smile, and thinks about how he can leverage his grandchild-to-be to bring his Peter back. Walternate won’t use children—unless he’s related to them.
According to The A.V. Club review of 6B:
I’ve been thinking a lot about Fringe this week, because I was genuinely taken aback by how many of you disliked last week’s “Immortality.” I thought it was a slam-dunk episode: exciting, good character development, great villain, and a surprising twist ending. Some of you were put off because it was exclusively an Earth-2 episode with no Earth-1 characters, so it struck you as a waste of time. And some of you—a whole lot of you, in fact—were bothered by the twist, complaining that the surprise pregnancy was both a dramatic cliché and and a continuation of the drippy “Who will Peter love?” business that made the previous week’s “Concentrate And Ask Again” such a bummer.
But honestly, it never occurred to me that people would have a problem with Fauxlivia being pregnant with Peter’s baby, because I was so knocked out by the clever way it was revealed. It was the opposite of “Concentrate,” where Sam explained the function of Walternate’s doomsday device in terms so corny that they got in the way of the greater significance of what he was saying. Only after I thought more about Fringe’s series-long interest in how the human complicates the mechanical (and vice-versa) did I realize that making the effect of Walternate’s device contingent on Peter’s capricious affections fits what the show is trying to say and do (even though that retroactive revelation didn’t make the final scene of “Concentrate” any better). With “Immortality,” by contrast, I was so caught up in the storytelling that I didn’t think much about the long-term implications.
So now, a week later, what do I think about Fauxlivia being pregnant, and Walternate using the baby to lure Peter back to his side, thereby potentially destroying “our” world? Well, it’s pretty melodramatic, I’ll grant, but I’m fine with it, so long as the way the story is told remains as strong as it’s been on Fringe for much of the last year. There are always trade-off with shows like Fringe, which try to deliver complete-in-one episodes and a long-form narrative simultaneously. The introduction of serialized elements are always—understandably—are going to make some fans impatient for payoffs, such that even a fast-paced, action-packed episode like “Immortality” will be dismissed as unsatisfying because it barely moves the main story along. Also, to give long-form plotting the proper weight, TV writers often go to some familiar wells, apparently assuming that the fate of the entire freakin’ universe will only connect with viewers at home if it’s tied to whether two crazy kids will ever find happiness in each other’s arms, or if parents and their children will ever get past decades of hurt feelings, or something similarly Hallmark Hall Of Fame-y.
It can be a drag, I know. That kind of sap is what made many people—myself included—roll their eyes occasionally down the homestretch of shows like Battlestar Galactica and Lost. But even with those two, it was always more a matter of how the relationship drama was played—and how much it dominated any given episode to the exclusion of the other elements—that bugged me far, far more than the very fact of it. A pregnant Fauxlivia doesn’t automatically sound any warning bells with me, and more than the furtive romance between Peter and Ourlivia has so far. It’s only when “Polivia” (or “Oter”… pick your ‘shipper portmanteau) moves from the genuinely emotional heart-to-hearts of “Marionette” to the “wait, didn’t they already have this conversation a couple of times?” of “Concentrate And Ask Again” that I start clearing my throat impatiently.
I cleared my throat a lot during “6B,” because although the episode has some nice moments (including a strong start and a sweet finish), there’s not a lot of plot, and the gaps are filled in by a few too many “love is the answer” scenes. For example, when Walter invites Olivia to breakfast, the scene starts out well. Walter offers a big stack of blueberry pancakes—“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day… I proved it in 1973”—along with candles and romantic music, and then he leaves Peter alone with Olivia to talk. But then Peter and Olivia go around and around yet again about how Peter betrayed Ourlivia by sleeping with Fauxlivia, to which Peter repeats yet again that he only loved her because he’d wanted Ourlivia for so long. (And Walter, on hearing that this conversation didn’t go as well as he’d hoped, says, “Perhaps I should have made a frittata.”)
There is some progress on the relationship front in “6B” though. Perhaps softened by Peter’s insistence that “I’ve seen what the two of us look like, and it’s beautiful,” Olivia takes a moment later in the episode to have a quick drink with Peter and tell him that she’s ready to see what he’s seen. Except that when she gives him a smooch, he starts to glimmer, and she panics a little.
Given what happens in the case this week, perhaps Olivia has reason to panic. “6B” begins with an especially freaky Freak-Meet, in which the freak is an entire building. In Park Slope, The Rosencrantz Building seems to be haunted, with lights flickering for no reason and objects moving on their own. One night, at a party, six people standing on a balcony suddenly fall to their deaths, surrounded by patio furniture. When Fringe Division investigates, they discover that these people couldn’t have leapt off the balcony—they must’ve dropped through it. Walter’s conclusion: The Rosencrantz Building is about to become the location of the first vortex on Earth-1, like the ones that have been destroying Earth-2.
On further investigation though, Peter and Olivia learn that the impending vortex may be tied to a person: an old woman named Alice Merchant, who’s been seeing a spectral image of her husband Derek in her apartment for months. He died when he was electrocuted by a short-circuit, because he lost the coin toss between them to decide who would go check on the wiring of their apartment. Walter figures that what Alice is really seeing is the Earth-2 version of Derek, since on the other side, Alice would have been the one to lose the toss. He theorizes a kind of “emotional quantum entanglement”… a “spooky action at a distance.”
So after Walter and Broyles grill Olivia about how Earth-2 sealed off vortexes via amber, Peter and Olivia rush to convince Alice that this Derek is not her Derek, and that she needs to disengage from him emotionally or risk destroying half of Brooklyn. All of which sets up the big climax, where the FBI has their amber-gas canisters in place, Broyles is on the walkie urging Peter and Olivia to “Get out now!” and Peter is giving a big, emotional speech to Alice about how she had a life with Derek that any single person—hint, hint, Olivia—would envy.
Like I said, there wasn’t a lot of plot here, and while I appreciated some of the details of Alice and Derek’s marriage—like the pointless-but-nice tidbit that he pretended to be a National Geographic photographer on vacations, so that they’d get special access—I found the big climactic stopping-the-vortex scene too over-the-top with the heartstring-tugging.
That said, “6B” was saved for me by some of its small touches, like the way Alice is finally convinced that the Earth-2 Derek isn’t hers when he says, “The girls miss you.” (Our Merchants were childless.) I also liked that the episode ended with Earth-2 Derek looking at pictures of his Alice, as a reminder that “emotional quantum entanglement” may persist even after the threat of a vortex fades. To underscore that, the episode ends with Olivia trying again with Peter, bringing a bottle of booze to his house and giving him another kiss before pulling up the stairs to bed. And on the soundtrack: The Velvet Underground, with Lou Reed singing, “Linger on… pale blue eyes.”
I wasn’t wild about “6B” as a whole, but there were signs here and there of the better Fringe—the one that lingers.
According to The A.V. Club review of Os:
Fringe, obviously, is a fairly silly show. I mean this in a good way. The show plays around with ideas and concepts that are downright nutty, and it somehow makes them the stuff of high drama. The central device of the last two seasons could have been ripped right out of that cheesy old Fox show Sliders, but the show has turned it into something trenchant and deeply emotional and real. But every so often, the show will come up with an idea that’s just so goofy that it’s almost too much for me to handle. And while I liked a great deal of “Os,” I’m not sure how seriously I’m going to be able to take the idea of “Soul Magnets” (which I keep wanting to pronounce “SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOUL MAGNETS!”), no matter how good Anna Torv’s Leonard Nimoy impression is. (As it turns out, it’s pretty damn good.) I’ll be the first to admit that the science in Fringe’s science fiction is more science-ish than actual science, and I’ll be the first to defend a genre show getting all metaphysical. But an actual case of spiritual possession from beyond the grave? That just strikes me as one weird step too far.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. What’s the case in “Os”? Well, a security guard at the Massachusetts Metal Depository discovers two thieves landing on the ground, having apparently scaled the walls of the building to break into the un-alarmed top floor windows. The men have put on some sort of weird boots, and the sequence is shot in such a way as to suggest that they’re walking on the ceiling before the truth is revealed. (Perhaps this is meant to show that in a weightless situation, “up” and “down” lose all context. Mostly, it’s just a touch confusing, though the show orients us quickly enough.) The security guard shoots one of the two thieves, and the other escapes into the night. But the one the guard shot slowly begins to float from the ground, into the sky, as does his blood. Somehow, his corpse can defy gravity when not wearing the boots. Interesting.
After many weeks when the show went out of its way to come up with stories that tied into the greater idea of the characters preparing for war with the other universe, “Os” has a fairly light number of connections to the ongoing arc. Sure, we get Walter’s discovery of Bell’s old office (complete with help from a cameo-ing Jorge Garcia), and we see what Peter’s been up to in his secret room full of mystery-solving equipment. But there’s not really a larger connection to the storyline, until the show tries to force one in a way that doesn’t feel as elegant as the show usually makes this stuff feel. Instead, we’ve just got a good, old-fashioned mystery, filled with a mad scientist and men with atrophied legs but properly muscled arms and chests. If they were weightless all of the time, then their entire bodies would have atrophied muscles. The weird atrophy patterns leave Walter at a loss.
The answer is so ingenious it skipped right by me: The men recruited for this series of heists—which are carried out to steal the rare, ultra-dense element osmium—are all in wheelchairs, suffering from degenerative disorders like muscular dystrophy, the sorts of disorders that would make the mere idea of being able to fly something that could keep them compliant and ready to do just about anything for their new boss, the devious (and well-cast) Alan Ruck. The Ruck storyline, honestly, could have used a little fleshing out here and there, but I enjoyed it almost entirely because Ruck is a great bad guy. He’s the kind of guy who completely seems like someone who could start out with good intentions—figure out a way to capitalize on his grand discovery to help his wheelchair-bound son move without the chair again—and end up killing multiple people in his attempts to experiment. The show is always strongest when it parallels Walter’s desperate measures to the desperate measures of other men, also trying to save themselves or their children through science, and “Os” very nearly managed that feat.
What keeps it from doing so, I think, is the fact that Ruck’s son is barely a character. He’s in three scenes, and one of them pretty much just features him getting some praise from his dad, then heading back into the game he’s playing. As motivations go, “Oh, I have to help my child” is a good one, but this is a show that’s come up with the ultimate mad scientist with a guilty father complex character, so the bar to clear is much higher than it would be on some other paranormal mystery show. Ruck is a good enough actor to imbue his character with some degree of weight, but the script (or possibly the editing) doesn’t do him any favors. His son is there merely to be a kind of device, the whole reason for Ruck’s initial disappearance into evil-doing. I liked the mystery, and I liked the way elements combined unexpectedly, but the core of it needed a little work.
The same goes for the ultimate discovery: The rip in the fabric of the universe Walter made all those years ago is finally starting to cause our universe to go wonky. We got a vision of this a few weeks ago in “6B,” and I loved that episode. But I find the idea that Walter’s works would somehow cause a combination of osmium and rhenium to become lighter than air kind of bizarre. The show gets away with it (and I’m willing to forgive it here) because it’s always good to see when Walter realizes that his work has had unintended, far-reaching, and devastating consequences, but the conclusion is arrived at so abruptly that it’s a little disappointing. It almost feels like the show blaming Walter for this because it couldn’t think of anything better and enjoys blaming things on him. (I also find Walter and Nina’s excitement about the Peter/Olivia pairing a little strange, but it’s fun to see John Noble smile, so I’ll allow it.)
Which, of course, has to bring us back to the soul magnets. Honestly, I expect the idea of the deceased spirit of William Bell possessing Olivia to be an amusing enough premise for an episode (or maybe even two), and I’m looking forward to seeing how this all plays out next week. And I’ll even admit that Anna Torv’s Nimoy impression is good enough to make me look past the wince-y stuff. But the whole idea that Bell’s consciousness is floating around in the ether and can be called forth to possess the body of a living woman simply by having Walter ring a—sigh—bell is so strange that it’s hard to move past it. Plus, they’re called “soul magnets”? Suspension of disbelief is always required when watching Fringe, but the introduction of this whole concept and the introduction of Bell-in-Olivia requires so much of it that it all but derails the episode.
That’s kind of how I felt about “Os” as a whole. There are a lot of great ideas, and there are a lot of terrible ones, but the show’s consistent, rock solid execution keeps it from embarrassing itself too much. It’s only as I sit down to write about it now that I realize how dangerously close this episode came to being utterly ridiculous. And to a degree, that’s what’s so great about Fringe this season: It walks the line between perfect and ridiculous so well and walks it with such a straight face that it almost deserves points just for trying. And in its best episodes, you forget about the ridiculousness and just marvel at how great the tightrope walk act is. In the lesser episodes, though, like this one, there’s always the fear that everything will fall wildly apart, even if it’s still entertaining.
According to The A.V. Club review of Stowaway:
Since I missed covering last week’s Fringe due to family obligations, I missed weighing in on the whole “soul magnet” controversy, so before we move on to “Stowaway,” a quick note on that particular bit of craziness. By and large, I didn’t mind it. I admit that I preferred Walter’s earlier conception of collaborating with Bell from beyond the grave—by assembling his old partner’s notes and possessions, operating under the principle that what we leave behind constitutes our “selves”—because that struck me as both a down-to-Earth and Fringe-y idea. Still, when Olivia looked into the mirror and started speaking in a creaky old man voice, my first reaction was to laugh with genuine delight, not to roll my eyes. Too crazy a twist? Possibly. Potentially series-wrecking? Maybe. But Fringe has been taking some wild chances over the past year, and a lot of them have paid off as exciting, thought-provoking, unpredictable television. Olivia possessed by William Bell? Sure, I’ll give it a shot. If nothing else, when all is said and done and we look back on Fringe’s third season, we’re sure as hell going to remember this plot twist.
That said, after the initial giddy shock wore off last week, I told my wife, “It’s one thing for Anna Torv to do a Leonard Nimoy voice for a minute. Let’s see if it works for a full hour.” And after “Stowaway,” I have to say… Yeah, it kinda does.
It’s a fragile thing, to be sure. If Torv were to croak too much or stoop too much, the impression would look like just that: an impression, not a possession. To my eye and ear, she never did. I can accept that others would disagree. I can also accept that others would find it hard to get behind the premise itself. To hear Bellivia tell it, Bell slipped the “soul magnets” into Olivia’s tea when she visited him on Earth-2 at the end of the first season. Now his brainwaves are active while hers are dormant, and Bellivia believes the situation will be sustainable for several weeks, though he’d prefer to find another host as soon as possible. Nutty stuff. Though to my mind it’s not much nuttier than Bell removing pieces of Walter’s brain and lodging them in the heads of the unsuspecting. (As was suggested here by some of you last week, if it weren’t for the use of the word “soul” and the requirement that Torv talk funny, Fringe fans might not be so divided about where this new plot development is headed.)
Anyway, Bellivia finds a potential host when s/he hears about Dana Gray (played by geek TV fave Paula Malcomson), a woman who was murdered along with her husband and kids 18 months ago, and yet still walks the Earth, possibly because she was struck by lightning twice and now her soul is bound by magnets. (Honestly, I’d rather not think too hard about how that works.) Dana spends her days searching for the suicidal, so that she can be near them when they snuff it. Is she a soul-vampire, sucking their life forces as they expire? Or is she a soul-hitchhiker, trying to get to the afterlife by tagging along with other folks? More importantly, if she really doesn’t want her body any more, can William Bell have it?
Dana sees her big chance to leave this spiritual realm at last and be with her family when she meets a crazy dude named Brian, who tells her that he’s planted a bag of explosives on Train 67, Car 2, Seat 17, just before he shoots himself in the head. One of the main reasons why I thought “Stowaway” was an effective episode despite all its metaphysical mumbo-jumbo was that Dana’s predicament was a legitimately tense one. As she stepped on the train, I didn’t know if she was planning to save the passengers or send their souls a-scattering, with her own in tow. And then once she hugged the bomb-bag and said, “I’m on my way to see family,” I didn’t know how—or if—she was going to be stopped. Whatever the wild set-up for the suspense, the suspense itself was palpable.
As it happens, Dana is found by Fringe Division with the help of a long-awaited special guest: The Lincoln Lee Of Earth-1, who works for the Bureau in the Hartford office, and had been tracking Dana’s case for over a year. Lincoln and Peter have an instant rapport, and bounce ideas off each other (in between Sesame Street quotes) as they track their zombie. When they find Brian’s phone, they get the bright idea to check out his last dialed numbers and find Dana’s phone. And then Peter gets the even brighter idea to have the FBI modify the data coming from Brian’s phone so that Dana will think she’s getting a call from her dead husband. Cruel, but effective. With the help of Walter and Bellivia’s calculations, the FBI is able to intercept the train before the bomb goes off, and then when Dana tries to sneak away into a field, the bag finally explodes and Dana dies at last.
I’m not letting “Stowaway” completely off the hook for its weird explanations. If the “villain” weren’t so sympathetic, or if the action weren’t so breathless, or if I didn’t find the Bellivia material so funny, I’d probably be annoyed by the wacky way the Fringe writers have found to bring William Bell back. As it is, I’m bothered by all the talk of “raindrops with a purpose” and how “trying to avoid fate leads you right to fate’s doorstep,” which if not handled properly can lead to the laziest kind of narrative development. (In essence, it give the writers free reign to say that every plot hole or implausibility in the series, past and present, can be be chalked up to “destiny.” It all happened because it had to happen, no matter how convoluted.)
But damn it: “Stowaway” was really entertaining. I’ll reel off some of my favorite moments in the Stray Observations, but before I get to that, I have to end the main part of this review with a nod of appreciation to the multi-layered performance of Joshua Jackson, who’s in cool supercop mode in “Stowaway” whenever Peter’s working with Lincoln, then carries a look of flat-out disgruntlement whenever Peter’s dealing with Bellivia. And why wouldn’t he? He’s lost his girlfriend again to the machinations of some meddling old man, who doesn’t seem overly concerned about the ramifications of his actions. (An old man who hears all Peter’s complaints—some of which echo the worries of some Fringe fans—and irritatingly dismisses them with a glib, “It’s best to try not to be reductive.”)
Peter’s also genuinely concerned at the end of the episode, when Bellivia hears a bell in the distance and briefly becomes Olivia again. If there’s anything that might calm the skittish among you, it may be this: For all his smugness about soul-transference and fate, Bell may in fact have no idea what the hell he’s talking about.
According to The A.V. Club review of Bloodline:
If you’re one of those who’s been annoyed with the recent direction of Fringe, I have bad news: the show has been renewed for a 22-episode fourth season, and given that next season probably will be its last (barring a surprise surge in popularity next year), I wouldn’t expect the writers to dial down the lunacy. The Fringe team has been going flat-out since the middle of season two, pushing both their story and their storytelling to new and unexpected places. The show that was once an erratic but basically entertaining diversion has developed a mythology and self-assuredness to rival the classics of sci-fi television. One of the biggest knocks against Fringe in its first season was that it was a little generic. Now, I think it’s fair to say that Fringe is wholly Fringe.
That’s not to say the show is perfect. This week’s “Bloodline,” for example, starts out intense and crazy, then becomes fairly predictable in its second half. (I figured out who was behind Olivia’s kidnapping about halfway through the episode, and I’m not that smart.) But I’m on record as a fan of just about any story set on Earth-2, which has his own enjoyable energy: a gung-ho spirit that belies the deep, deep tragedy that the world “over there” has experienced. On Earth-2, for example, a pregnant woman can sit in a doctor’s office and get tested for the presence of Viral Propagated Eclampsia (which killed her sister and niece during childbirth), and simultaneously enjoy the animated artwork on the wall. Sometimes Earth-2 feels more like our world than Earth-1 does. Sure, the world’s falling apart, but have you seen the new iPad?
The pregnant woman in “Bloodline” is, of course, Olivia, who in addition to dealing with her anxiety over the VPE test (and her certainty that she’s going to have to get an abortion) is afraid that she’s being followed. Sure enough, not long after she tells to Lincoln about how spooked she is on the phone (or on whatever you call those weird Earth-2 ear-communicators), she gets zapped in her apartment and abducted… thus continuing the tradition of Earth-2 stories that make me jump at least once before the opening credits.
As it happens, Olivia’s being watched thrice over. The Observers are keeping tabs on her, tracking the momentous fetus she’s carrying. She’s also being tailed by Henry Arliss Higgins, the cab driver who helped Ourlivia escape to Earth-1. A few days after Ourlivia left, Henry saw Fauxlivia walking around, and she didn’t acknowledge him at all; so he’s been keeping an eye on her, to make sure she’s okay. After Olivia gets abducted, Lincoln and Charlie track Henry down with Autistic Astrid’s help, and after some brief confusion about how to handle him—which is it, hands on the wheel or get out of the car?—they take him in for questioning/detention, because his offhand comment that he didn’t expect Olivia “would come back here” strikes them as, if not suspicious, then at least highly classified.
Naturally, neither Henry nor the Observers had anything to do with Olivia’s kidnapping. When she comes to, she finds she’s being held by a team of medical specialists, who have to restrain her—“She’s a fighter, like they said”—as they inject something into her stomach. In no time, the baby in her womb begins to grow, pressing against her stomach in a creepy fashion. Olivia tries to plead with one of the nurses that the possibility of VPE is going to put both her and the baby in danger. But the medical team continues on coldly, talking about “joint expanders” and insisting that Olivia empty her bladder so that they can proceed with “Phase 2,” the delivery. Instead, she slugs and scalpels her way out of her makeshift maternity ward.
Not long before this, I’d realized that Walternate had to be the one who sent the medical team in to accelerate Olivia’s pregnancy. Right around the time that Lincoln and Charlie figure out that the kidnapping was probably an inside job—given that no one outside of Fringe Division would’ve been able to override Olivia’s genetically-coded satellite tracker—it’s pretty obvious who the insider must be. But to its credit, “Bloodline” doesn’t make that revelation the episode’s sole dramatic ingredient. There are multiple threads of suspense in “Bloodline,” tied to the atmosphere of the episode and the perspectives of the characters.
For example, when we’re with Olivia—who really has no idea what the hell is going on—the mood is sinister. Even when she escapes, she wonders into the exotica of Chinatown (where it’s the Year Of The Rabbit!) and is so disoriented that when she calls Lincoln, all she can say about her location is that she’s near a red dragon and a noodle store, which doesn’t really narrow it down much. Nevertheless, Fringe Division finds her before the threatening-looking men and women in scrubs do, and Lincoln assists in delivering her now full-term baby with the help of Henry—because Henry’s a cabbie and cabbies know how to do such things. (This sets up a sweet moment where Fauxlivia looks at Ourlivia’s friend and says, “Nice to meet you, Henry.” Also a sweet moment between Lincoln and Olivia as she’s about to give birth… and possibly die.)
When the story’s from the perspective of Lincoln and Charlie on the other hand, it has a different kind of tension—more like an All The President’s Men-style conspiracy-busting thriller. After hearing Henry talk about Olivia “coming back,” Lincoln and Charlie wonder if he’s talking about “the other Olivia,” and so Lincoln confronts Walternate, who hesitates and then admits that yes, Ourlivia stayed on Earth-2 while Fauxlivia crossed over. He does not, however, admit his culpability in the kidnapping. (When Lincoln asks, “Do you think she could’ve been taken by invaders from the other side?” Walter responds with a non-committal, “It’s possible.”) After Olivia’s been rescued and is safely ensconced in the hospital—now safe from VPE as well, because of the accelerated pregnancy—Lincoln and Charlie begin to reflect on what happened and decide that Walternate should’ve told them what was going on. So now, along with Olivia (in her own way), two other key members of Fringe Division have reason to believe that Walternate isn’t above reproach.
Ultimately, “Bloodline” is more of a plot-mover than most episodes of Fringe. There’s no additional case to solve, and no profound theme to explore. If anything, it’s like the writers decided to inject a serum into the belly of show and accelerate the story, to get Fauxlivia’s baby out and to get on to the next phase. That’s the way Fringe is these days. And it’s good to know now that we can count on the show to continue to rocket ahead for at least 26 more episodes. Because as the Observers would say, “It is happening.”
Do Shapeshifters Dream of Electric Sheep?, Marionette, The Firefly, and Lysergic Acid Diethylamide
Just like above, in form:
- What I found most unappealing about Do Shapeshifters Dream of Electric Sheep? was the relationship between the obvious Faulivia and Peter. In some way, Faulivia does fit the Evil Demon Seductress (see Feminist Frequency‘s #4) by them sleeping together, unbeknownst to Peter, not the prime universe’s Olivia Dunham. At least in How to Get Away with Murder this plot device is more interesting.
- Marionette was not atypical in its idea, as neither was when came back either.
- I wasn’t too wowed with Christopher Lloyd as Roscoe Joyce in The Firefly, because of my aversion to the more eccentric side of Walter Bishop.
- Similar to Black Blotter, I was not a fan of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide even though episodes with William Bell I have found largely favorable.
“It is neither and both. Part machine, part organic.” That’s the way Walter describes the Earth-2 Shapeshifters. To which I would add: But ain’t we all?
“Do Shapeshifters Dream Of Electric Sheep?” brings back one of my favorite Fringe concepts: those crazy super-powered shapeshifters, who have a device that they plug into the soft palate of the people they become, so that they can download the memories along with the appearance. But this week we learned that the shapeshifters also download the emotional connections of their victims, so that they can better play the part they’ve been assigned to play.
We see the inevitable end to this process when Thomas Jerome Omega Head Newton knocks on a door in Yonkers one windy night and calls on Ray, who’s having a warm family dinner with his wife and son. Ray hasn’t seen Newton in about five years, and in that time he’s gotten pretty comfortably settled into his home, and his job as a police officer. Nevertheless, when Newton tells Ray that he’ll have to shift into a new body, infiltrate Massive Dynamic, and remove the data chip from another shapeshifter there, making sure there’s “no traces left behind,” Ray assents immediately, giving no indication that this task’ll be difficult for him. Only later, after Newton’s gone, does Ray wake up his son to tell him that “sometimes monsters aren’t all that bad.” And then Ray does the job, but without shapeshifting, and without killing his family, as he was supposed to. When he gets home, he finds Newton waiting. Then Newton shoots him in the head.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The whole reason Newton needs Ray in the first place is because one of their fellow shapeshifters is down behind enemy lines. A shifter posing as Senator James Van Horn has been hit by a truck at a lemonade stand, and when Newton tries to clean up the mess at the hospital, he fails, and has to shoot the Senator in the head, causing the shifters’ telltale mercury to start leaking out. Fauxlivia calls Newton to bitch him out both for not telling her that he had a man in the Senate and for causing a ruckus at the hospital, but when she does, she learns that Senator Van Horn knew about her. Or I should say knows, because even though Van Horn is dead, “dead” has a different meaning for a half-organic/half-mechanical entity. Van Horn may be dead now, but Walter’s got his tools out and is trying his best to fix him—or at least to map his memories and figure out what he knows about Earth-2’s whole operation.
It helps that Walter now has access to Massive Dynamic’s technologically advanced labs—and their awesome employee cafeteria—though to properly map Van Horn’s mind, he needs something else as well. He needs Patricia Van Horn, the wife, to come in and whisper sweet nothings into her faux-husband’s ear and caress his skin and generally stimulate the part of his circuitry that makes all the emotional and mnemonic connections.
Like the scene of Van Horn buying lemonade and purposefully overpaying—and the scene of Ray talking to his son about monsters—I thought the scene of Patricia Van Horn talking to the-thing-that-looks-like-her-husband was a high point of a very strong episode. Hearing her say “I’m sorry I didn’t know you were gone” to the absent man she loved was heartbreaking. I found myself thinking about what it would be like to see the body of deceased loved one—even an impostor—and to get to say everything you feel you need to say, for closure. It’s a powerful idea.
It’s also an idea that Fringe has often tackled, in different ways. What makes us human? What makes us us? What distinguishes us from other biological creatures, or from other complicated systems of framework and wires? How does technology allow us to alter ourselves in such a way that those distinctions become increasingly meaningless? Nearly everything about “Do Shapeshifters Dream Of Electric Sheep?” was actively engaged with those questions, right down to Walter having a staff meeting at MD while “tripping his brains out” and chastising his fellow scientists for not having the vision to see that the brain is little more than a hunk of meat with an amazing consistency, or that a pretty head of blonde hair is “like lemon diamonds.” Because when you get deep into the metaphor, the metaphor becomes real, because man made the words and can remake the words if he wants to and… well, anyway. Maybe that’s all a bit much. Perhaps we should stick closer to planet Earth here.
I liked also how this episode bookended Walter’s LSD excursion with an imprisoned Newton dropping what looked like a tab of micro-circuitry provided by Fauxlivia and literally “tripping his brains out”… as in, the episode ends with his mercury-brains leaking all over the floor of his cell. Fearful symmetry there.
I can’t say that “Electric Sheep” is quite up to the level of last week’s equally philosophical “The Plateau” (though it was damned close). I found some of the suspense-plot machinations a little corny. I’m a big fan of the Big Clock/No Way Out-style story, where one of the people investigating a crime is trying to keep his or her colleagues from uncovering certain embarrassing facts, but this episode went to the well once too often with Fauxlivia thinking that Peter had found her out: first when he holds up her picture in Van Horn’s office, and then later in the cafeteria when he tells her that she’s been “different” since she got back from Earth-2.
That said, Peter’s reactions to Fauxlivia fit perfectly with what this episode is about. Fauxlivia’s trying to get close to him, and has been thwarted over and over in her efforts to get him to have sex with her, until finally at the end of this episode she just calls him over to her place and jumps his bones. Given what Peter says earlier about how he can imagine Patricia Van Horn getting used to a husband who wasn’t her husband, it’s clear that Peter could just as easily get used to an Olivia that’s not Olivia, so long as he has time to adjust. After all, we’re all changing all the time, right? And besides, what we want from other people and what they want from us in return boils down to a matter of emotional commerce. “Relationships are all transactional,” he says.
Yeah, man. Exactly.
According to The A.V. Club review of Marionette:
This is our last Fringe of the year, folks. When next we convene on January 21st, 2011, the show will be airing on Friday nights, with an episode aptly named “Firefly.” (And I’ll be at Sundance, so if I don’t get an advance screener, you’ll have someone filling in on the review.) So let’s enjoy these closing minutes before halftime—minutes in which Fringe most definitely did not take a knee and run out the clock.
Initially, “Marionette” is about two people who get their hearts ripped out—one of them literally. The literal one is a poor bastard from Rye, NY: a one-time recipient of a heart transplant who gets dosed with tranquilizers (among other chemicals) in a train station by an umbrella-toting eccentric named Roland Barrett, and then stumbles into his house, where our Freak Of The Week subdues him, straps him down, and extricates that donated ticker.
The figuratively heartless one is Ourlivia (whom I guess we can just call “Olivia” now, and for the near future). Olivia’s having a little trouble adjusting to life back on Earth-1. Like, she loves having good coffee again (or even tolerable coffee), and she appreciates being able to wear her favorite shoes. But she hates that the other Olivia made herself so comfortable in her apartment and in her world. And Olivia really hates that Fauxlivia had sex with Peter. Repeatedly. And with such apparent mutual satisfaction.
I thought both halves of “Marionette” were very strong, but I was especially impressed with how Fringe handled the Olivia/Peter relationship. It’s not that unusual for a genre show to deal directly with the emotional lives of its characters, but I’ve rarely seen one that devoted so much of an episode to dealing with the ramifications of what two of its romantic leads have done to hurt each other (however inadvertently). And there are few straight dramas that have handled the awkward aftermath so sensitively, without trumped-up histrionics or contrived complications. Instead, we get a few quiet, well-played scenes that lay out just how Olivia and Peter are feeling.
In the first, the two are sitting in a hospital cafeteria, and Olivia’s describing to Peter how disconcerting it is to know that someone else has been living your life. And then Peter confesses to what he and Fauxlivia had together. He reminds Olivia that the main reason he came back to Earth-1 was because she asked him to, by way of explaining why he was so eager to pursue a romance with someone who looked just like her. (And during the first part of that explanation, the camera cruelly holds on Olivia, her face falling as she slowly understands what Peter is saying.) To make matters worse, Peter talks about how Fauxlivia is more good-humored and less intense, and Olivia nods along, noting that from what she could see, her Earth-2 counterpart “had a really full life” (and a boyfriend that Olivia might’ve slept with if he’d been in town … darn the luck).
Olivia insists to Peter that she doesn’t blame him for what happened, but she looks distracted during their meeting with the transplant doctor at the hospital, and later when she gets back to her apartment, Olivia contemplates her neck tattoo and stares at her closet full of work-clothes, and she starts to get angry. Then she finds one of Peter’s shirts in a load of laundry that Fauxlivia left behind, and she crumples.
The next day, she seeks comfort from Astrid, who tries to reassure her that Peter’s feelings were for the real Olivia, no matter who was actually on the receiving end. It was the Earth-1 Olivia whom Peter had developed an affection for over time, and with whom he had a shared history. But Olivia can’t shake the feeling that Peter should’ve known. And when she confronts him about it at the end of the episode, his own body language more or less confirms that he did know it wasn’t her, in his gut. So Olivia fumes, and leaves him to sit it one of Roland Barrett’s wrought-iron chairs, muttering an “I’m sorry” to no one.
As for how Peter ended up in such a metaphorically appropriate seat, well, that brings us back to the other half of “Marionette,” and the strange case of Roland Barrett, a scientific genius who has followed through on some of Walter Bishop and William Bell’s research into reanimating dead tissue. Bishop and Bell were primarily concerned with post-mortem interrogation—something we’ve seen in action of Fringe, if not so much lately—while Roland was creating new living cells in his lab and looking to revive the various pieces of a body enough that they could truly be called alive. Through good old-fashion procedural legwork, Fringe Division is able to track Roland by finding out whose body parts he’s been stealing back from their transplant-recipients. They’re all from a woman named Amanda, whom Roland met in a therapy group for the suicidally depressed. Roland stole her corpse after she killed herself, and has been restoring her one part at a time, like an old Buick.
Something else I appreciated about “Marionette” is that while there are obvious parallels between the two storylines, for the most part the episode just riffs on the ideas offered in both. It’s another Fringe episode that contemplates the increasingly blurry lines between life and death, and man and machine. What makes us who we are? I can get a new heart or new eyes and still be Noel, but if someone who’s my genetic double appears, is he me? If I die, and my organs are harvested, and someone pieces my body and uses special chemicals to spur cell-growth, will I be the Noel that this person expects me to be?
For Roland Barrett, the answer, tragically, is no. He succeeds in reviving Amanda briefly, but just long enough to look into her eyes and realize that “it wasn’t her.” And for Olivia and Peter, they may be realizing that some lines have been permanently crossed. Peter may have to admit to himself that he liked Fauxlivia a little more than the Earth-1 model, and Olivia may realize that in the time she was gone, Peter has changed enough that he’s no longer the same man she was tentatively flirting with months ago.
It’s a tricky situation all around, and kudos to Fringe for acknowledging and exploring just how tricky it is. Kudos also for doing so in an episode full of creepy imagery of people with missing body parts, and scenes of Walter sniffing (and tasting) corpses, and one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen on this show: a not-yet-reanimated corpse, strung up with wires, made to move about a dank basement for a mad scientist’s amusement. That’s why they call it Fringe, folks. That’s why they call it Fringe.
According to The A.V. Club of The Firefly:
It comes down to who you are when you’re at home.
Hi, all. Noel Murray is at Sundance, Butch Cassidy and Sundancing his way through the festivities with Nathan Rabin, so I’ll be covering Fringe tonight. Noel will be back soon, don’t worry, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to get a chance to talk about what has become one of my favorite shows. I enjoyed Fringe‘s first season, for all its clumsiness; even at its worst, John Noble was always entertaining, and there were few other places on TV where I could get my required weekly hit of crazy science fiction concepts. But I stopped watching early in the second season. It’s not that the show became markedly worse. I just had too many things I needed to make space for on the DVR, and once you miss a few episodes, it becomes exponentially easier to let the rest slide by. I’ll catch up eventually, I told myself, and I did. But it took me awhile.
I mention this because I had a blast mainlining all two-and-a-half seasons of Fringe in the past month, and for anyone who’s still on the fence about the show, I can tell them unequivocally it was worth the effort. I also mention this because it still impresses me just how far how far this series has come since I took my hiatus. When I left, it was a decent show that vacillated between good episodes and clunkers, but while I always knew it had the potential to be more consistent, I never realized it had the potential to be great. I don’t know if you could rank this on the same level as, say, Breaking Bad, and I don’t really care; the comparison wouldn’t really do much for either. But I do know that Fringe has become essential viewing for fans of genre television and that it’s managing the sort of breakneck, emotionally engaged storytelling that’s really all I ask for in the shows I love. I am continually amazed at the sheer chutzpah of the concepts here. Fringe deals in alternate realities, time travel, cyborgs, monsters, prophecies, and milkshake recipes, and since it started firing on all cylinders (basically since the second season episode “Peter,” although there were strong episodes before that), all of these concepts feel well-earned and easy to relate to. Despite the complicated backstory, this is a show that always feels accessible. Olivia, Peter, Walter, and Astrid never seem so lost in the wild that we can’t find them easily and yearn for their safe return home.
That’s really what it comes down to, for me: As bizarre as their circumstances become, our heroes are grounded, and their response to crisis is real. Plus, their goals are so clearly defined they might as well be wearing T-shirts with personal mottos printed on them. (Walter: “Don’t Take Away My Son,” Olivia: “Save The World,” Peter… well, that’s the question, isn’t it?) That’s where shows like this always seem to fumble. It doesn’t matter how strange events become; the leads need clearly recognizable objectives, and we need to understand how those objectives can be realized. Admittedly, Walter’s desperate need to protect Peter is more preventative than objective-oriented, but it’s still easy to grasp. His son is everything to him, and given how their situation has developed and the role Peter will most likely play in the upcoming realidad a realidad, we know that Peter’s safety is in danger. Sooner than any of us would like, really.
That’s what “The Firefly” is about (and I bet you thought I’d forgotten). It’s Fringe‘s first new episode in its Friday time slot. There’s no real freak here, but we do get to meet guest star Christopher Lloyd in the cold open. Lloyd plays Roscoe Joyce, ex-keyboardist of Walter’s favorite band Violet Sedan Chair. Joyce gets a visit late one night at the mental institution (or is it a nursing home?) where he lives: It’s his son, Bobby, who’s been dead these past 25 years. The security cameras catch footage of their encounter, even though Joyce can’t remember what his dead son told him, and the cameras also catch Bobby standing outside with our Observer friend. While “meeting dead people” is probably not that high up on the Fringe Division watchlist (especially when there’s no body count), the presence of the Observer gets Broyles’ attention, and he brings in the team. Which, it turns out, was the Observer’s plan all along.
I’ve heard people complain about the dialogue on Fringe being overly direct, but while I can see that, I don’t generally mind it; after so many years of watching people talk around everything on Lost (where it seemed like there were valuable prizes available to whatever character withheld information the longest), I like to-the-point, and I’ll take a bit of clunkiness with that. “Firefly” is no exception. Some of Joyce’s dialogue was arguably too direct, and Peter and Olivia’s attempts to work out their relationship problems could have maybe used a little more deflection. But the actors sold it, and there are richly powerful moments throughout the episode, about how loss can damage a life in ways that aren’t immediately visible and how betrayal doesn’t have to be intentional to wound. (For everyone saying “It wasn’t Peter’s fault!” in regards to his affair with Fauxlivia: Of course it wasn’t his fault. This doesn’t make the violation Olivia feels any less acute or any less justified. Bad things happen in the world all the time without anyone to blame. That doesn’t make them any easier to bear.)
Really, it’s the plotting that kills me here, the elegance of it. Now, obviously, if the Observer is directly involved, there’s going to be some Rube Goldberg stuff going down. But the reveal that Joyce’s son died because Walter pulled Peter into our universe? That is just beautiful, beautiful writing. Fringe does procedural on occasion, and it’s not unheard of for a procedural to introduce a guest star that has some special connection with one of the heroes. It’s irritatingly coincidental, but we overlook it because it’s also kind of neat. That the Observer would contact Joyce didn’t immediately lead me to assume that Joyce had any relation to Walter beyond Walter’s fanboy enthusiasm. As Joyce talked more about the loss of his son, I started to wonder if the Observer wasn’t trying to provide someone for Walter to bond with over the potential loss of Peter. I didn’t immediately connect the Observer’s firefly speech (which is really just a variant on the old “For want of a nail…” saw, but still very effective) to Joyce’s dead son, because I wasn’t expecting there to be more to the mystery. I was wrong. In saving Peter, Walter inadvertently caused the car accident that killed Bobby. When it comes to stories, there are few things more gratifying than realizing the story you thought were being told wasn’t the real story at all.
It goes all the way to the ending, too. This whole, elaborate dance is put in motion by the Observer to, we’re led to believe, help Walter let go of his son once and for all. At the climax of the episode, Walter thinks he’s put together the pieces, and he makes the choice he believes will get Peter killed. It doesn’t; the Observer just shoots him with his magic gun and disappears. But even before that point, I’ve decided I’m terribly clever, because I’ve found a hole: Why would the Observer bother warning Walter in the first place? If Walter hadn’t known “Give me the keys and save the girl” was an important phrase, he would have done as Peter asked without thinking. Because Walter was expecting that moment and because he thought he knew what it meant, the Observer’s plan nearly fell apart. It made sense dramatically, sure, but I thought the episode was fudging the logic to get that drama.
I wouldn’t have been bothered by that (I decided I was giving the episode an A after the Joyce reveal, unless, I dunno, Astrid died in the last fifteen minutes), but again, I was wrong. This was an experiment, and the point of the experiment wasn’t to shoot Peter or to get him to drink the tainted milk or to give Walter a chance to hang out with one of his idols. The point of the experiment was to find out if Walter was willing to sacrifice Peter for the greater good. The important part was that Walter gave him the keys.
It comes down to who you are when you’re at home. Fringe is a show about a great number of things, but what sticks with me is the question of identity and the context we use to define ourselves. There are shape-changers, doppelgangers, whole universes full of other yous who turned left when you turned right, who looked up instead of smiling, who got on the next bus. In a sea of similar faces, how we are who we are comes down to what we care about and who we keep close to us and what we do when those we love are in danger. Walternate has clearly made his decision. He’s intent on destroying another world and killing the son he lost, not because he necessarily has to, but because he refuses to imagine there might be another way. Our Walter, though, recognizes the consequences of his actions. Peter means the world to him, but “Firefly” proves that he’s not willing to give up the world just to save Peter again. That gives me hope for Walter and for Peter and for Earth-1 and Earth-2. If there are possible futures, but no definite ones, who better to find the way to the right one but the one man who knows with awful accuracy the cost of taking the easy way out.
According to The A.V. Club review of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide:
Okay, sure: a good chunk of this week’s episode of Fringe resembled Inception. And yes, the elaborate acid-tinged adventure of “Lysergic Acid Diethylamide” ultimately amounted to little more than an opportunity for one character to say goodbye and another to reach the scared little girl inside and say, “I’m not afwaid.” You could excise this episode entirely from the overarching Fringe story—and for that matter, excise much of the recent “Bellivia” detour—and not much would be lost so far as the War Of The Universes plotline is concerned. Right here at the top, I openly acknowledge this, and acknowledge as well that some of you more restless Fringe fans may feel about “LSD” the way you felt about “Brown Betty” last season. I respect that. I do.
But me, I enjoyed the hell out of “Brown Betty,” and I enjoyed the hell out of “LSD.” I’ve always been a “journey not the destination” kind of guy, and so long as a TV show entertains me, I’ll never consider my time wasted.
What entertained me about “LSD?” Let me tally it up:
1. Bellivia. As I mentioned a couple of episodes ago, I find Anna Torv’s Leonard Nimoy impression delightful, and the whole Bell-inhabiting-Olivia concept gutsy. I was no less jazzed by either in this episode. I loved the comic timing when Walter fails to transfer William Bell’s consciousness into a brain-dead body, and Bellivia curtly says, “Walter. Didn’t work.” Then later, when a lightbulb pops, Olivia briefly returns to the surface, and she’s rushed to the hospital, I liked the moment when Bell regains control and warns the doctors that if they continue to shock him/her, “You will kill me and the young woman I’m living inside of.” There’s even a poignant moment where Bellivia explains to Broyles, Walter, Astrid and Peter that based on his previous experiments, one consciousness will fade from this body eventually. So when Peter tells him to get out of Olivia like he promised, Bell asks, “Are you suggesting that I die?”
2. Drugs, man. Walter and William concoct a plan called “Whole Brain Emulation,” which is very self-explanatory, according to Walter. Basically, William’s consciousness will be transferred into a computer, while Walter and Peter go into Olivia’s head to try and bring her back to the surface. This is helped along by the LSD of the title, which leads to a scene of Peter being entranced by Broyles’ bald head (“I think he is an observer,” Peter mutters), and later a scene where an accidentally dosed Broyles gets entranced by licorice.
3. Fringe-ception. Since Fringe has been doing “let’s journey into the mind” stories well before Inception, this episode can’t be called a copy per se, though for the first few minutes in Olivia’s brain, it sure looked and felt awfully close to Christopher Nolan’s film. (But hey, maybe Olivia watched Inception recently.) Walter and Peter find themselves in a city, where they quickly get noticed by one of the inhabitants—Olivia’s stepfather!—and have to flee a horde. Very familiar stuff. But the chase scenes were still eye-catching, and there were some nice Fringe-y touches, like William communicating via morse code from the World Trade Center, and Nina trying to kill our heroes before getting pushed down an elevator shaft.
4. “Belly, why are you a cartoon?” I’m not sure I can properly convey how big I grinned when Walter and Peter walked into William Bell’s WTC office and found themselves talking to an animated figure. Based on pre-episode buzz, I’d guessed that the return of Leonard Nimoy as Bell might be facilitated by some kind of animation, but I was not expecting the whole episode to turn into a cartoon for about 15 minutes. It was a nifty way both to bring back Nimoy without overtaxing the actor, and a nifty way to pump up the episode’s action. I doubt in a live-action Fringe we would’ve gotten a scene where Peter is attacked by a mob of zombies in lab coats and has to hop on a zeppelin to escape; or a scene where a mysterious man on the zeppelin rips the side open with a flare-gun, causing himself and Walter to get sucked out and go into free-fall. (The mystery man has a parachute. Walter, who tries to grab the man and fails, does not.) Animation even added to the climactic scenes at Jacksonville Military Base, where Peter and William go looking for Olivia by searching endless rows of identical houses for the one with a red door.
5. Goodbye, Belly. I was so sure that the Bell-downloading experiment would work that at one point I even made a note along the lines of, “This is cool to look at, but there’s no real suspense here.” So yes, I was genuinely surprised when Olivia made it out of her own head while William disappeared, saying, “Tell Walter that I knew the dog wouldn’t hunt.” I know that bringing Bell back just to get rid of him again is kind of pointless in the grand scheme of things. But it was nice to see the two old partners enjoying each other’s company for a couple of episodes, and nice to hear William tell Walter that, “Now you possess the wisdom of humility,” which is something that Walter needs to understand about himself right now. (It’s what sets him apart from Walternate.) And essential to the storyline or not, it was touching to see Walter back in his office, mourning all over again, while Astrid tries to comfort him with a download of an old Zoom episode.
“LSD” wasn’t perfect. I found the insights into Olivia’s psychology shallow, and the big moment where the young Olivia stands up to her fears to be cor-neeee. (With extra “e”s.) But I loved the shot of Live Action Peter waking up in the lab after Cartoon Peter gets hit by a jeep, gasping, “I lost her.” And I loved the straight-ahead way this episode delivers its strange trip.
Mostly, I appreciate the gusto with which the Fringe team is approaching their show: their willingness to do the unexpected, and to impart a sense of awe. It’s like what I wrote a couple of reviews back, about how Fringe is making a yeoman effort to be memorable. The writers are like William Bell, who finds himself in a surreal mindscape and decides, “I would love to ride on a motorcycle.” Hell, yes! So would I. How wonderful.