The Best and Worst of Fringe: Season 2

retro_fringe

For previous installments:

 

The Best:

Earthling, August, Grey Matters, The Bishop Revival, Jacksonville, Peter, White Tulip, Northwest Passage, and Over There

fringes2

 As with previous posts, same format:

  • I was particular to the mysterious entity depicted in Earthling, which seems somewhat inspired from Venom from Marvel Comics;
  • What made August so great was that we had an Observer-centric story about them, as opposed to being connected with;
  • Grey Matters
  • I really enjoyed the Nazi Germany aspect The Bishop Revival that I have always felt connected to due to my heritage;
  • Both Jacksonville  and Peter serve as fantastic character-centric stories that tie together beautifully. While Jacksonville focuses on Olivia’s past, Peter focuses on Walter and Peter’s as to how he got over in this universe;
  • White Tulip isn’t that different from Season 4’s A Short Story About Love, but is particularly good in the development of Walter;
  • Northwest Passage finally reveals Walternate and Peter is finally taken to his home universe, besides that, though, Sheriff Mathis I think was pretty awesome; and,
  • Over There is very much comparable to Brave New World in terms of fantastic storytelling. Particularly, William Bell’s interactions with Walter, and Olivia, were quite pleasing.

According to The A.V. Club review of Earthling:

Thanks to the Yankees (yeah, I know, I know), we got an unexpected visit from Fringe tonight… a visit as unexpected as Randy’s foiled anniversary surprise for his wife Natalie. And how about that anniversary surprise, huh? Dude tells his wife he’s heading out of town on business and is going to miss their big day, when he’s actually sitting at home arranging flowers for her. And then, damndest thing, he gets attacked by a Shadow Man and gets turned into a heap of ash in human form. (Just like their wedding night, am I right? Boom! Roasted.)

This opening—one of Fringe’s most effective freak-meets, in my opinion—set the tone for an efficient action/adventure/horror hour, heavy on suspenseful moments and neat effects, light on character development and progress on the master-plot. When all is said and done and Fringe eventually ends its run, I’m betting that a newcomer will be able to skip “Earthling” without putting a dent in their overall understanding of the show. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t still cool to see people get reduced to dust right in front of our eyes.

Also cool? That this episode focused on Special Agent Broyles, and gave a little insight into his personal life and his history with Fringe Division. Turns out that Shadow Man has made his presence known before, in a case four years ago that so confounded Broyles that he re-dedicated himself to the job of understanding The Pattern—at the expense of his marriage. Wielding his expertise from the prior Shadow Man rampage, Broyles gets Agent Dunham to accompany him to Latchmere Hospital, which Randy visited shortly before getting dusted. The suspect Broyles is looking for is a male nurse of Eastern European descent, who specializes in coma patients. And Broyles knows that’s who he’s looking for because the last time Shadow Man attacked, the nurse called Broyles, begging for the FBI’s help in decoding a chemical formula key to stopping the shadow-menace.

With the help of his team (and some old friends in Washington), Broyles is able to determine that the man he wants is named Timor, and that he’s wanted by the CIA and the Russian government for his involvement in kidnapping his brother Alex, a former cosmonaut who came back from space in a coma—and apparently hosting a strange alien parasite. Timor has now swiped Alex from Latchmere, and stuck him in a motel room surrounded by beeping machines and car batteries. If he can keep his brother sufficiently charged with energy, he can prevent Shadow Man from rising, since the alien creature feeds on radiation and will take it from wherever it can get it. (Heck, Shadow Man sucked Randy dry because Randy sat in a window seat on an airplane flight and soaked up too much solar.) Meanwhile, Walter’s busy trying to decipher the chemical formula (which he calls “a puzzle” and “she” and “a shy temptress”), though when Water figures it out, he only learns that Shadow Man is inextricably tied to Alex, and that the cosmonaut will likely never be rid of the beast within him.

“Earthling” was written by J.H. Wyman and Jeff Vlaming (the former a Fringe regular and the creator of Keen Eddie, the latter a journeyman with a diverse slate of impressive credits) and it was directed by Jon Cassar, an Emmy-winning 24 director/producer. They do a professional job, and add a few smart visual touches that reinforce the episode’s theme. Even when Shadow Man is not on the prowl, Cassar puts people in motion in the back of the frame, creating a feeling of something always creeping behind our heroes. There’s also a lot in this episode about Broyles having to take this case off the books, such that it exists only in—you guessed it—shadow. And then there’s Walter, who can only figure out the formula when he gets it out of his head and makes it physical, with the help of tinkertoys. “Earthling” is largely about enemies and problems that exist in some ethereal form—including the government spooks who are working against Broyles behind the scenes.

I confess though that about three-quarters of the way through the episode, I had to rewind to the beginning and watch some scenes over again, because I tend to get lost in international-intrigue talk. (It’s the reason I rarely enjoy spy movies.) And so I was perhaps more disappointed than I should’ve been that all my efforts to understand the plot weren’t rewarded with much in the end. Shadow Man kills Timor, Walter tries to force the rogue alien back into Alex’s body, then Broyles shoots Alex just as Shadow Man is about to menace a little girl. All very exciting, but not much to hang one’s hat on in terms of deeper meaning. Not even the scene of Broyles telling his now happily married ex-wife that he finally closed the case the killed their marriage offers much in the way of larger resonance. It’s just… nice.

In fact, this entire episode was summed up by the little girl whom Broyles inadvertently saved. “There was a man. A shadow man. He disappeared.”

Exactly. Now on to the next case, I guess.

According to The A.V. Club review of August:

Because I work at home, by myself, I spend some portion of each day roaming around the house talking and/or singing in a funny voice. I also spend some portion of each day locked inside my head, in pained reflection, recalling something stupid I said or did decades ago (and feeling humiliated all over again). So if there really were Observers in this world, watching what we do and reporting back to their superiors, frankly I’d be mortified.

Of course, I’d feel even worse if I was Walter, and I knew that I’d been closely observed doing some truly terrible things—like, y’know, preadolescent mind control and interdimensional kindnapping. In fact, I’d be downright paranoid. Especially if news came over the Fringe-phone that an Observer had been observed nabbing a young lady for some nefarious purpose… perhaps as leverage to get Walter to make amends for part mistakes.

As it happens though, the Observer who snatches the seemingly insignificant Christine Hollis is not the Observer that Fringe Division knows well. (“There’s more than one Observer,” Peter marvels, echoing our familiar Observer’s past comment that “there’s more than one of everything.”) Our better-known Observer is named September, and this new Observer is named August. As the episode named for August plays on, we learn that if August hadn’t taken Christine, she would’ve boarded a plane to Italy, which would’ve crashed, killing her. When September (and another Observer who appears to be his superior) discover that August has changed the natural course of history for no apparent reason, they call in a burly human assassin to finish the job that transatlantic air travel didn’t. But August isn’t having it. He steps in front of the assassin’s bullet, and after explaining himself to September, he dies.

From a master-plot perspective, the big news on tonight’s Fringe was that The Observers are out in force, and have been for quite some time. Look closely at Paul Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre. There’s an Observer. Check out that old painting of Marie Antoinette’s beheading. Observer. Examine this photo of the shooting of Franz Ferdinand. Yep… Observer. Except that in the past the Observers showed up infrequently, to witness major turning points in world history. And lately they’ve been showing up willy-nilly. Apparently, nearly every weird thing that’s been happening over the past few years—The Pattern, in other words—is frightfully important. (Accent on the “fright.”)

From a thematic perspective, “August” deals openly with the question of whether the idea of a neutral, non-intervening observer is foolish on its face. Some have argued—proved, even—that taking the measure of a thing even from a distance has an effect on said thing, and changes it in ways both subtle and profound. Consider that the very presence of the Observers has now alerted Fringe Division (and Massive Dynamic) that something is afoot, and consider that those who are aware of the Observers are now likely to alter their behavior in reaction to that awareness. That’s demonstrable change right there, wrought strictly by observation. Or, in a more abstract way, consider that the Observers have been known in the past to step in, based on their interpretation of what they’ve seen. And as shown by Olivia’s sweet anecdote about eating popcorn at the movies with her mother, sometimes two different people can interpret an incident differently, based on an emotional response to the experience.

I wish I could say I had a powerful emotional response to “August,” but I confess I found some aspects of the episode lacking. For one, it was a very sketchy episode, plot-wise and mythology-wise. Not a whole lot happened, and despite the presence of the Observers and the new tidbits of information about them, this wasn’t as rich an episode as, say, “Momentum Deferred.” (Perhaps I expected too much on that score, after two straight weeks of stand-alone episodes.)

That said, “August” was wonderfully moody, thanks to regular writers J.H. Wyman and Jeff Pinker and first-time Fringe director Dennis Smith (a former DP who’s worked on The Practice and Numb3rs, among other shows). I enjoyed the scenes of the Observer Council meeting over plates of hot sauce at local restaurants. And though August’s dying speech—about how he watched Christine’s parents die when she was little and formed an inexplicable attachment to her—could well have turned out too mawkish, I thought it was played with just the right amount of pathos. It’s not every show that could get away with a halting line of dialogue like, “I think… it’s what they call… ‘feeling.’ … I think… I love her,” but the Fringe folks made it work, by tying it into the theme of the episode. Now the Observers won’t try to kill Christine, because August’s sacrifice on her behalf has made her too “important” to kill. “Important” to history? Not really. “Important” in a sentimental way is more like it. Emotion trumps logic.

It’s in that same sentimental spirit that “August” ends with Olivia taking Ella to an amusement park, and September watching the aunt and niece somewhat sorrowfully, regretting that, “It’s a shame things are about to get so hard.” My biggest problem with this episode—and Fringe in general lately—is that I have no confidence that Fringe is going to follow up on that cryptic comment anytime soon.

According to The A.V. Club review of Grey Matters:

Welcome back, Omega Head! When last we saw the head of Thomas Jerome Newton, it was being stitched onto the body of a fresh corpse, and readied by the Earth-2 human-machine hybrids The First Wave for its terrifying mission: to open The Gate between universes and possibly destroy Earth-1. Now the Fringe episode “Grey Matters” begins with Newton performing a little impromptu brain surgery. The patient? One Joseph Slater, who’s been spending time lately at the Hennington Mental Health Institute, babbling about a girl in a red dress. Newton and The First Wave peel off the back of Slater’s head, pull out a big shark-tooth-shaped grey hunk, then take off in a rush, leaving Slater in better shape than they found him—aside from the exposed brain, of course.

As the episode’s title implies, “Grey Matters” is all about brains: what gets lodged there, what gets dislodged from there, and how clever TV writers can scramble the brains of their audience by using the choicest pieces of their show’s mythology to drive an episode forward. This was, I think, the best Fringe of the season, and I’m only docking it a notch because it was less about themes and character than it was about plot. But man, what a plot.

After the open-skulled Slater gets discovered, Fringe Division is called in to figure out exactly what happened. It doesn’t take long for Olivia to recognize Newton’s face on the security cameras—because she’s been researching potential Omega Heads on her own time—or for the team to note that Slater had been admitted to Hennington by a Dr. Paris, who prescribed for Slater an odd regimen of meds identical to the cocktail he recommended for two other patients: a man who (until recently) thought he was Sydney Greenstreet, and a woman who (until recently) was obsessed with the number 28. It also doesn’t take long for Walter to notice that among the meds prescribed by Dr. Paris is a drug designed to prevent transplant recipients from rejecting their new organs. Putting the clues together, Walter deduces that all three of Paris’ patients had been carrying pieces of a human brain inside their heads. And Peter figures out that “28” “Greenstreet” and “a girl in a red dress” all relate to memories of Walter’s. Or to put it in retro sci-fi movie terms: They Smuggled Bishop’s Brain!

I said that “Grey Matters” was light on character development, but that’s not strictly true. We got another one of those in-transit heart-to-hearts that Olivia and Peter are so fond of, in which he regrets never visiting Walter when Walter was institutionalized and Olivia admits that her FBI training hasn’t prepared her to understand the motivations of evil geniuses. And we got to see more of Walter grappling with the ramifications of his mental illness. It was heartbreaking to see the jealousy Walter felt towards Slater and the others, for the way they were “freed” from their sickness with a few quick flicks of a scalpel. And it was even harder to watch Newton kidnap Walter and try to jar his memory with photos from his past—including a snapshot of Dead Peter’s tiny casket.

Why does The First Wave nab Walter? So they can re-insert those hunks of brain that had been previously scattered—hunks of brain containing Walter’s memories of how to open a portal between universes. And who cut that memory out in the first place? According to a creepy final flashback, it was none other than William Bell, working with what seemed to be Walter’s own woozy permission.

Presumably, Newton is not following orders from Bell, given that Bell previously told Olivia that he was trying to stop Omega Head. But Newton is on top of his game. After Newton debriefs the re-brained Walter, he escapes Olivia’s attempt to arrest him by poisoning Walter and trading his freedom for the antidote. As as Newton disappears into the Massachusetts ether to continue his Omega-y ways, he delivers a parting shot to Olivia: “Now I know how weak you are.” (There’s more than one way you can lodge ideas in people heads, you know.)

Olivia mopes to Broyles about her failure to bring down the potential Destroyer Of Worlds, but her boss comforts he by saying that in the coming conflict, Fringe Division is going to need the services of the man she saved. “There’s only one Walter Bishop,” Broyles says. What I liked most about this episode is that it was a much-needed sop to Fringe fans like me, who likely all cocked an eyebrow at Broyles’ line and chuckled, “Don’t be so sure.”

According to The A.V. Club review of The Bishop Revival:

After a week spent wading through indie and art cinema in the thin air of Park City,  Utah, I was very much in the mood for some spooky, witty, action-packed Fringe tonight,  and even though “The Bishop Revival” marked the second consecutive episode in which the team investigates what’s making people fall to the floor clutching their faces, I thought this episode was much more enjoyable than last week’s (which I watched immediately prior). Maybe my brain’s been turned to mush by mumblecore movies and too many late nights, but I have to feel at least a little bit warmly toward any Fringe that has Olivia needling Peter for letting Walter drive. “Lose a bet?” she cracks, to which Peter replies, “It was either that or flying lessons.”

I also dug the Cloverfield-style caught-on-video Freak-Meet, in which a wedding videographer records the groom—and ultimately the rest of wedding party—asphyxiating due to some mysterious source. Fringe Division looks into it, and discovers that while most of the candles at the wedding smell like jasmine, one smells like cinnamon. Turns out that an ageless Nazi mad scientist named Alfred Hoffman—a man with a connection to the Bishop family—has come up with a way to target and kill groups of victims who share certain genetic traits. In a restaurant, Hoffman pours his poison cinnamon-smelling extract into hot tea, which wafts through the room and takes out everyone with brown eyes. And at a meeting of the World Tolerance Initiative, Hoffman plans to use sterno cans to wipe out a whole bunch of minorities at once, until Walter thwarts him with some genetically targeted gas of his own.

Plotwise, there wasn’t much going on in “The Bishop Revival.” The FD tracked down a criminal and felled that criminal; that’s really it. But the killer’s methodology is cool, and the trappings of his villainy—from his Aryan aloofness to the dank basement where he works—were all delightfully old-school. And from a Fringe-mythology standpoint, the most significant part of this episode was the revelation that Hoffman has been involved in the Bishop family business since Walter’s father was out there lab-rattin’. Almost as significant: the Bishops once had a different name. On most shows, that wouldn’t be such a big deal, but on a show where people have extra-dimensional doppelgängers, news of name changes might one day matter to the meta-narrative.

In the meantime, “The Bishop Revival” did build family weaknesses and strengths into the story itself, both via Hoffman’s ability to divide people by their DNA similarities and via Walter’s irritation with Peter for selling his old German science books. (To Markham! We have a Markham sighting!) I might’ve been more moved by Walter’s ultimate profession that “there’s nothing I wouldn’t do” for Peter if he hadn’t said something very similar in the previous episode, but I do like that Fringe doesn’t presume that everything is permanently okay between father and son just because they good around in the car together. If there’s one thing this episode shows, it’s that some people will always be troubled by bad blood.

According to The A.V. Club review of Jacksonville:

Meanwhile, in the Manhattan of Earth 2, in an architectural firm working on the plans for The New Pentagon, a Mr. Ted Pratchett is sipping real coffee that his sister got for him in Hawaii, and speculating with a co-worker that the recent spate of micro-quakes and howling dogs could be a possible byproduct of global warming. Then something akin to a Quantum Tectonic Event occurs, and after a brief blackout, Pratchett comes to in Earth 1, with a beam through his shoulder, and his body merged with that of about two or three other dudes.

Freak? Met.

This has been quite the week for alternate realities in Bad Robot land, huh? First Lost, and now Fringe. But to quote Walter, when it comes to parallel dimensions on Fringe: “It wasn’t our first time.” The two-Earths concept is central to this show, and central to the lives of its characters. Why, Walter Bishop can recallhow he and Belly once sent a car from our world to the next… and how a car from that world came back. And remembering that, he realizes that while it was bad enough when Pratchett and his co-workers came crashing into our world, it’s going to be just as bad when one of our buildings pops into theirs. Because that’s what happens with this process: if an object crosses over, it must either return as Olivia did in the season premiere, or an object of roughly equivalent mass must take its place. (“Like the bag of sand and the idol,” explains my favorite Massive Dynamics tech, Brandon.)

And so a Fringe episode that starts with a killer opener gets even killer-er, as Walter drags Peter and Olivia down to Jacksonville so that the latter can get hooked up to an IV bag of Cortexiphan and regain her ability to recognize people and objects associated with Earth 2. It’s our first mind-trip on this show in a good long while, and the creative team behind this episode makes it a creepy one, complete with dark forests and a scared younger version of Olivia.

In fact all of “Jacksonville” is effectively creepy, from the strong use of blacks in the color scheme to a lighting design that has lens flares popping all over the place. There was a strong sense of mood to this episode, especially in the dusty research facility in Jacksonville, where in the old children’s rooms everything looks so small and a little desperate (“Our Kids Are Happy Kids,” one sign pleads), and in the scientists’ rooms sheets cover scary-looking kid-torturing equipment. In my favorite scene in “Jacksonville,” Olivia returns to the room where she once “started a fire with her mind” as a kid, and she settles into the un-burned corner, surrounded by ashy blackness, unable to connect to the little girl she used to be.

The episode then pushes that point a little too far when Walter realizes that his experiments with grown-up Olivia are failing because she’s not scared enough anymore to regain her homing-beacon-for-Earth-2-stuff abilities. Naturally, by the end of the hour Olivia will Know Fear, and will find the about-to-disappear building in time to evacuate it. All a tad too touchy-feely for me.

But just a tad. I liked “Jacksonville” for the way it plunged directly into the heart of the show’s mythology for the first time in a while, and even if it didn’t tell us much we didn’t already know, having the story become more personal for our heroes served to create that unsettled feeling at which Fringe excels. I was right there with Olivia, walking through a space she spent so much time in as a kid, but which now seems alien. To speak in Fringe-y, our-bodies-as-machines terms, Olivia has been upgraded so much over the years that she no longer recognizes her original operating system.

Plus “Jacksonville” ends well, with Olivia asking Peter out for drinks and suddenly seeing that he doesn’t belong on this Earth. Ramifications are on the way, surely. “Did I mention there’s excitement?”

According to The A.V. Club review of Peter:

Quite the full banquet on tonight’s Fringe, huh? Pathos, humor, action, explanations… the show came back with a sense of purpose and surety it’s rarely had, even at its best. In fact, I’d file “Peter” along with the top TV of 2010 so far.

Let’s start with the opening scene, at U.S. Army Research Headquarters in Manhattan, circa 1985. A younger (most likely computer-airbrushed) Walter shows off some of the advanced technology that he’s copied from the alternate universe we’ve come to know so well watching Fringe. Then Walter and his colleague Dr. Carla Warren shows off the actual window to that world, which allows them to peek at—but not travel to—Earth-2, a world where dirigibles dock at the Empire State Building and cellular phone technology has significantly outpaced our best efforts.

That’s a fun start, made even more fun by what followed: ‘80s-style Fringe credits, complete with cruddy graphics, a tinny score, and on-screen text touting the cutting-edge mysteries of “Virtual Reality” and “In Vitro Fertilization.”

Immediately following that whiz-bang beginning, “Peter” downshifts, taking us to the present-day, where Walter arrives at Olivia’s doorstep and promises to explain why his son looks so shimmery. He tells her a tale of a quarter-century ago, when Peter-1 died despite Walter’s best efforts to find a cure for his rare genetic disease, and how he peered across at Walter-2—or “Walternate,” as he called him—to see if the more technologically advanced version of himself had any more luck at curing his son.

The answer? Yes! Except that at the moment when Walter-2’s curative formula is properly synthesized, the Walternate gets distracted by a visit from our favorite Observer, September. Walter-1 sees this, but he can only watch helplessly as the unstable formula turns from pink to blue and pink again, leaving Walter-2 certain that he’d failed.

This sets up the chain of events that we’ve known about since last season: Walter-1 stepping across to the other dimension to swipe Peter-2. Only it doesn’t happen in quite so nefarious a fashion. Walter’s intention is only to slip across and leave the stable curative, then slip back, secure in the knowledge that somewhere in the multiverse, a Peter is alive, and loved by a Walter and an Elizabeth. But it all gets bollixed thanks in part to Dr. Warren, who believes in two things: Lord God Almighty, and that there are some lines that scientists should not cross. So while Walter builds a generator-powered dimension-gate and drives it up to his lake house in upstate New York, Dr. Warren tips off Nina Sharp and the two ladies haul ass after him, to stop the experiment. Walter tries to deflect Nina’s concerns by insisting that William Bell has been pushing for just this kind of bold move, but Nina’s having none of it, and wrestles with Walter just as he switches his gate on. The result? Nina loses a forearm (sort of), and Walter’s formula-bottle breaks.

So what choice does Walter have? He becomes a Peter-napper, after heartbreakingly promising poor trusting, ignorant Elizabeth-2 that he’ll bring the boy back once he’s cured.

It’s those moments of poignant loss that make “Peter” such a strong episode. Mythology-wise, it was significant to see Walter actually breach the barrier between the two worlds, touching off the crisis that both realities find themselves in now. And it was intriguing to hear September, after pulling Walter and Peter-2 out of a frozen lake, tell Walter, “The boy is important. He has to live.” (A statement that will surely have more meaning as the series stretches into Season Three.) But none of that was as powerful as Peter-2 looking at Walter-1 and saying, in a somewhat panicky voice, “You’re not my father, are you?” Or hearing Walter-1 try to reassure Elizabeth by saying of their dead son, “He knew he was loved. Didn’t he?”

Early in the episode, as Walter-1 and Elizabeth-1 peek at Peter-2 through his magic window, we see the depths of their grief, and how hard it must be to let an opportunity go to bring their boy back. “We dealt with what we were given,” Walter says at one point, referring to Peter’s short, sickly childhood. But they were also give the means to fix their problem, and it’s hard to fault them for taking it—even though they may have doomed billions.

According to The A.V. Club review of White Tulip:

A flash. A man appears on a train, straightens his coat, and exits running into a boy (that kid from Caprica), saying nothing. The boy enters the train. Everyone is dead. Well, not so much dead, as “without life.” Horror. Confusion. It’s a moment that finds Fringe at it’s finest.

Hi, I’m Steve Heisler, from the Internet’s The A.V. Club. Noel Murray is out tonight, most likely in a lab somewhere shoving metallic gears inside his ribcage so he can travel 10 months into the past and watch the pilot of Michael & Michael Have Issues one more time. I’m thrilled to fill in for a show I’ve watched since day one, but didn’t have much to say about until recently. I was one of “those” people who all but gave up on season one, only to come back around once it deepened the mythology and allowed its characters to get a better handle on themselves. I read the Entertainment Weekly cover story before its second season and immediately filled with unbridled anticipation: According to the story, the writers knew we wanted more with the parallel universe, less with the straightforward procedural. They kept that promise for a few episodes, killed Charlie, and got back to being boring. Now, they’re slowly returning to form, with the rich “Peter” (which I wasn’t as gaga over as Noel was, but still enjoyed) and last week’s discovery that perhaps the pattern is starting to show itself.

My only disappointment with “White Tulip” probably has to do with my inability to keep this renewed glee in check. As soon as Alistair Peck popped into that train car, I immediately thought—prayed—that he was appearing from that alternate universe. Discovering later that he was just some supergenius from this side of the tracks, I have to admit, sucked some of the fun out of that first moment. Its suddenness was certainly a nice departure from the usual Fringe intros (normal person leading breezily busy life stumbles upon something weird, body starts to change slowly, look of panic, turns away, other person glances over seeing the freakiness, shot of odd ailment, opening credits), but for a moment I feared the beginning was simply setting us up for more procedural nonsense.

But it was only a moment, one of many that made “White Tulips” such a textured hour of television. We first see Walter laboring over a tell-all letter to Peter, bracing himself to accept the inevitable. The call from Broyles about the train interrupts everything, and soon the team is whisked over to the scene of the crime to begin their investigation. Walter checks for pee-pee (which would indicate the people died in, you know, the normal way), Peter snags a woman’s Blackberry. The boy from the night before is found, briskly questioned, and dismissed. Later, Olivia and Broyles track the mysterious man to a cafe, and Olivia’s able to snag his credit card receipt and find his house. The team enters and discovers a plethora of formulas and odd metallic pieces. Peter finds a certificate: This guy teaches at MIT. The man comes in, he’s held at gunpoint, weird flashing happens, then suddenly Walter’s at his desk, finishing his letter to Peter.

Huh. It seems we just traveled back in time. Hmm, this is going to be awesome.

Now those moments take center stage as I play my favorite Highlights game, “Find the differences in this picture.” The team still arrives at the train, only this time the boy has an actual story to tell: Instead of saying nothing, the man apologized for making him do it all over again. We see Broyles snag Peck’s file from the NASA database, revealing his address. It’s Walter who finds the certificate, not Peter. And without Alistair barging in on his own house, Peter has time to snag the photo album he was reaching for in the previous scenario. He discovers Alistair had a wife, who died 10 months ago. He must be practicing traveling through time so he can go back and save her, Walter posits. Little by little, moment by moment, the picture comes into focus.

This paced, deliberate storytelling nicely counters the episode’s climactic scene between Walter and Peck. Walter’s the one who suggests the meeting, after realizing the parallels between his scenario and Peck’s. “Grief drives people to extraordinary lengths,” he says to Broyles, convincing the team to stand down as he enters Peck’s lab solo. And what do two brilliant scientists with a mutual respect for one another talk about? God, of course. Seriously, even just hearing that word in an episode of Fringe took me aback. Walter’s the one who brings it up, sharing that he believes God is punishing him for stealing Peter from the alterna-cabin. This is Walter we’re talking about, a man who likely up until that fateful night believed with all his heart in what Peck counters with: “God is science.” We start to understand just how broken up Walter was about the whole thing. He “traveled through madness” and turned to religion, presumably something he had shut out completely. He’s just such a broken man.

Was he correct in his prediction? Did God punish Peck for meddling with the past by taking his life along with his wife’s? Well, I’d argue that Peck figured this was going to happen all along: He mails letters to his colleague at MIT (where he served as, yes, a “time travel professor”), instructing her to mail one to Walter on the exact day of the train accident—which of course isn’t happening anymore. When he appears in the past, the energy required needs to be sucked from somewhere. When something moves from one universe to the other, something moves back. Balance is inevitably restored even if it’s by force. Call it God, or whatever you want, that similarly granted Walter forgiveness at the end of the episode with Peck’s letter—a white tulip. Or call it the handiwork of a guy so entrenched in the formulas that he knows how things are going to work out, yet decides to meddle anyways even after his death. All I know is that in the world of Fringe, the more the character begin to understand, the more they realize just how far they are over their heads.

According to The A.V. Club review of Northwest Passage:

How appropriate that Fringe would air an episode like “Northwest Passage” on a week I spent contemplating the legacy of Twin Peaks. There was definite Peaks-y vibe to tonight’s episode, from the setting—Noyo County, Washington, home of a diner with “famous pies”—to the off-kilter camera angles and hushed tone. Guest composer Mike McReady of Pearl Jam filled the score with twangy guitar and monotone hums, much like Angelo Badalamenti, and director Joe Chappelle kept the actors on mute to match the music.

It was the atmosphere that sold me on “Northwest Passage,” an episode with a fairly middling mystery and only minimal advancement of the master-plot. (Though the end-point of that advancement was a doozy, and has me eating a little crow.) At times tonight the show almost felt like a backdoor pilot for a new series, with Peter tooling around the Pacific Northwest meeting local law enforcement and cracking cases. And while that’s a show I’d definitely watch, I confess I’m anxious to jump ahead to next week, when there’ll be inter-dimensional conflict and doppelgangers galore.

Still, Peter’s not bad company, especially when he’s hitting on quirky small-town waitresses who dots their “I”s with hearts and make mix CDs for their favorite customers. Unfortunately the music-loving waitress never gets to give our boy his disc—labeled “Peter From Boston”—because she’s kidnapped by Newton and his men and spirited away to a abandoned dairy farm to suffer a hideous operation that leaves her temporal-lobe-less.

The death of the waitress puts Peter on the radar of local sheriff Mathis and her partner Ferguson, whose questions threaten to put Peter on another radar—the FBI’s. So Peter takes command of the situation and convinces Mathis that he’s on the up-and-up, and that there’s something freaky afoot. (He also calls Broyles and gets him to keep Walter and Olivia in the dark a little while longer.) Peter tries to lead the investigation in his own way, by looking into the strange static-y phone calls he’s been getting at night, and by looking deeper at the weird Bazooka Joe comics he finds on the ground. (The punchline: “You can’t get there from here.”) But all it leads him to is a surprise confrontation in the woods with Newton, and a suspicion that Mathis—with her special pen that reads “find the crack”—might be in cahoots with The Earth-2 Brigade.

I enjoyed the extension of the Fringe theme to new locales and new characters, as Peter started looking for clues in Mathis’ own body-chemistry: first by making sure that she bleeds normal (not mercury), and then by frightening her in order to get her adrenaline levels up for a tissue sample. I also enjoyed the almost Burn Notice-y way that Peter used what he got from Mathis to draw circles on a map and determine where Newton had been running his brain experiments. With the not-a-bad-guy-after-all Mathis in tow, Peter finds the dairy farm and saves Mathis’ missing partner, after a confrontation with a local boy whom the waitress might’ve labeled “Creep With Hammer.”

Meanwhile, back in Boston, Walter is so frazzled by everyday tasks like buying Toaster Pastries that he frightens children at the supermarket by yelling about how Potassium Bromate is “delicious strawberry-flavored death.” He also confesses to Astrid that he’s not entirely sure he wants to find Peter, because he’s afraid that his not-son will reject him again. Yet when Olivia comes into the lab and says that Peter’s in Washington and asks if Walter would like to go, he screws up his courage and packs a bag.

But little does he know… there’s another Walter already there! Secretary Walternate! (Dunh-dunh-dunnnnh!)

That was a strong finish to a mostly strong episode, and true to the Twin Peaks tradition inasmuch as it was delightfully weird. (Though only inasmuch as that; Twin Peaks wasn’t really a sci-fi show, except on its fuzzier edges.) Continuing with the personal connections though, I was taken aback by the song Peter listens to before the Walternate walks in: Band Of Horses’ “Is There A Ghost.” I listened to that song myself earlier today, in preparation for an interview with the band’s frontman Ben Bridwell.

Since when did Fringe start shadowing my life? And how long do I have before Alt-Noel arrives and steals my kids?

According to The A.V. Club review of Over There, Part 1:

Fringe sure does love its bridges, doesn’t it? A few episodes back, the Walternate passed over from Earth-2 to Earth-1 by crossing a flickering bridge. Last week, Peter spent time on a bridge in Twin Peaks. This week, one of the big confrontations took place on a bridge in Earth-2’s version of Central Park. I’m sure the show’s location scouts have their marching orders: Keep an eye out for cool-looking bridges.

Why a bridge? Well, it’s a hell of a visual metaphor for a lot of Fringe’s themes. Crossing over from one world to the next. Crossing over from human to machine. Moving from one known piece of solid ground to somewhere else entirely. There was a little of all of that in “Over There,” a fun, exciting episode that nicely set up next week’s finale (which is also called “Over There”… because there’s more than one of everything… also because this what we used to call “a two-parter”).

After Secretary Walternate spirits his son Peter back to his original home, our own Fringe team drowns their sorrow in booze and guilt. Then an Observer hands Olivia a piece of paper with a strange drawing on it: a sketch of a large piece of a machinery, designed to contain a man with glowing eyes. A man who looks a lot like Peter. So Olivia warns Walter, and Walter warns Broyles, and Broyles yells at Nina, and soon the Fringers are down in the MD labs with Brandon, getting a lesson in how dangerous it is to pass through to Earth-2 (because it requires a complete dispersion and reconstitution of the body’s molecules, which leaves said molecules unstable). Thanks to Olivia’s Cortexifan-itude though, she has the power to pass between worlds safely, and may even have the power to stop what’s coming… if only she had help.

Which brings us to one of the two major pieces of awesomeness in “Over There:” The Cortexifan All-Stars. James Heath, Sally Clarke and Nick Lane—all former Fringe Freak-Of-The-Weeks—have been reformed, with their powers now channeled for good. James Heath is now a healer, not a spreader of disease. Sally can control her pyrokinesis. And Nick can manipulate people’s moods, but in a positive way! (Except for when he forces Broyles to laugh. That’s pretty unsettling.)

I always have a tough time assessing multi-part episodes—finales especially—because they’re incomplete. I enjoyed part one of “Over There” pretty thoroughly, but I’m docking it half-a-point—tentatively—because I love the idea of Olivia & The Cortexifanatics so much that I’m bummed Fringe burned through the group so quickly. (Literally, in one case.) After Walter guides his former guinea pigs in the meditation exercise that allows them to make their way from Earth-1 to Earth-2, everything goes haywire. James’ cancer returns, and erupts in sarcomas all over his face. Sally feels weak and hot, and seems on the brink of combusting. Nick is fine, but powerless. And by the end of the episode, they’re all dead. What a waste.

But I can’t be too bummed, because my new favorite characters were mostly destroyed by my even newer favorite characters: The Fringe Division Of Earth-2! (I need to distinguish them from our Fringe Division, just as the Justice League was distinguishable from the Justice Society, so I’m going to call them “The Fringe Department,” since in this world they’re part of The Department Of Defense, not the FBI.) The Fringe Department is headed up by Alt-Broyles, and led in the field by a man named Lee. Also on the team: Alt-Charlie and Alt-Olivia. The latter is different from our Olivia in that she has red hair, a tattoo on her neck, and she hates the taste of alcohol. Also, she’s extra-bad-ass.

I could fill up the rest of this recap with the differences in The Fringe Department, and Earth-2 in general. Like the fact that the FD is headquartered at the base of a very bronze-looking Statue Of Liberty. And that Alt-Astrid works there as some kind of mystic/tech-whiz. And that they’ve all read the Walternate’s ZFT manifesto, and have been told throughout their careers that the Fringe events they investigate are naturally occurring, and all began with “The Zero Event at Reiden Lake.”

Now, though, Secretary Walternate is ready to tell The Fringe Department the truth: that these disturbances are man-made, and caused by dangerous people from an parallel universe. Meanwhile, Walternate is tinkering with his possibly Earth-1-killing machine, as Peter recuperates back at his home and gets to see his mother again. (A very sweet scene.) After Sally incinerates herself and a gut-shot Nick on a bridge in Central Park—burning Lee pretty badly in the process—Olivia and Walter’s only hope appears to rest with William Bell, who failed to meet them at that bridge as promised.

Bell finally does rendezvous with Olivia later that night, while Olivia’s staking out the apartment where her Alt lives with a man named Frank. Here’s what we know about Frank: He spends all of Alt-Olivia’s money, he’s about to go on a long trip, he gives killer backrubs, and on the wall of their bedroom? A photo of a bridge.

And so we’re back to the old motif, carried even further by Walter, who ends the episode stumbling towards a hospital, suffering from a bullet wound inflicted by Alt-Olivia. As Walter stumbles, he talks to himself, saying, “I’m still walking, so the bullet couldn’t have hit my spinal column.” He’s consciously keeping himself in the land of the living, unwilling to cross over into unconsciousness. Because that’s how it happens in a universe full of bridges. One minute here. The next… somewhere else.

According to The A.V. Club review of Over There, Part 2:

“I’ve seen strange. This… this is something else.”

Yes it is, isn’t it? After tonight’s Fringe season finale—and the nifty twist ending therein—it’s going to be very interesting to see what direction the show moves in next. I suspect it will proceed as it always has, with a mix of case-of-the-week episodes and mythology episodes, but obviously after the events of “Over There” things will be… well, something else. A change has occurred—one that will make the way Fringe Division cracks cases in Season Three very different indeed.

Before I run down what happened in the second hour of “Over There,” I want to offer a word of praise to the Fringe team for the way they’ve handled our first long looks at Earth-2 over the past six weeks, from “Peter” onward. They haven’t skimped on the sense of wonder and weirdness—the dirigible-clouded skies, the Gaudi-designed hotels, the campuses and arenas frozen in Quarantine Amber—but neither have they made the otherness of the other Earth the center of the episodes. We’re just there, picking up on the little differences in passing as our heroes execute their plan to steal Peter Bishop from his Walternate father.

Credit is also due to the cast—especially Anna Torv and John Noble—for inhabiting their respective worlds so well. It’s not just the hair or clothes that sets Olivia apart from Alt-Olivia, or Walter from Walternate; it’s the way they carry themselves, and the varying degrees of certitude with which they deliver their lines. And while I’m passing out praise, I should save some for writer/director Akiva Goldsman, who shot this episode with an emphasis on the characters more than the setting, and thus was able to deliver some clever visual cues, and when a scene cuts from Alt-Olivia on the left side of the screen in Walternate’s office to Our Olivia on the right side of the screen at a chicken establishment that shall remain nameless. (Hey, they’re not paying me to mention them.) It’s those little framing/blocking games that enabled Goldsman and company to pull a fast one on us in the closing moments of “Over There.”

But we can’t end before we begin, can we? The second part of “Over There” begins the morning after the end of the first part, with Walter in the hospital healing quickly from his bullet wound (thanks to advanced Earth-2 technology!) while Olivia and William Bell hustle to find him before Earth-2’s Fringe Department does. As it happens, they just beat Alt-Olivia and Alt-Charlie to the hospital, where William Bell distracts the pursuers while Olivia whisks Walter away. During this scene, we discover that the Alt-Fringers are not familiar with William Bell. And we discover that Walter’s not that keen on seeing his old friend. (“I see you’ve aged,” he says cooly.)

Meanwhile, Peter flies in to the Statue Of Liberty HQ of the FD to meet with Walternate, who explains that he wants his son to use the non-existent “breakthroughs from the other side” to solve the puzzle of the strange machine he’s building—when in fact what he really wants, apparently, is for Peter to bond biologically with that machine, the way he’s supposed to. After failing at the hospital, Alt-Olivia follows Walternate’s orders and takes Peter to a safe location, with odd variations of famous comic book covers framed on the wall. (Including Red Lantern/Red Arrow, and what looked like a version of The Dark Knight Returns with Superman as the hero.) It doesn’t take long though for Peter to figure out that he’s being used, as the machinery he’s working with responds to his body movements. And so he begins to pine for Olivia. (Any Olivia really, regardless of hair color.)

Lucky for Peter, his preferred Olivia is working on an escape plan with the two W.B.s. Walter and William head up to Harvard to get some necessary equipment to re-open the door between universes, and while they’re there they have a frank conversation about Massive Dynamic and mental institutions and missing parts of Walter’s brain. Or at least Walter tries to have that conversation, while William urges him to stay on task and “let the past be the past.” At the same time, Olivia sneaks into Alt-Olivia’s apartment (because the latter keeps her hide-a-key in the same place), and asks for her help, saying, “You’ve got to trust me. I’m you.” But Alt-Olivia proves untrustworthy, and we get a few minutes of Olivia-a-Olivia fighting. (Philosophical query: If you were facing down an alternate you, would you be willing to kill yourself?)

Our Olivia breaks free, dyes her hair, gets Alt-Charlie to take her to Peter, then clobbers her semi-former partner and announces herself: “Peter, it’s me.” (Peter: “Thanks, I think I just figured that out.”) The two make moony eyes at each other, Olivia insists that, “You have to come back because you belong with me,” and then they hustle to the Opera House where William and Walter are waiting. They come under fire from the Fringe Department, William reveals that while the FD is using the 76 Bell sidearms he has “the 77,” and then a timely Bell-designed/Olivia-flung grenade flattens the opposition, giving our gang time to get on with the door-opening. William reveals his plan to be “the doorstop,” using the unstable atoms in his body to propel Walter and company back across. Walter hesitates a moment before activating his machinery, realizing that this will be the end of Belly, and then he says his goodbyes. But little does Walter know, he’s bringing a double-agent with him: Alt-Olivia, who took the place of her counterpart after her grenade went off.

Two things:

1. It would suck if this really was Leonard Nimoy’s last appearance on Fringe, as the actor has said. He’s been such a good addition to this show, and his calmness plays so well off of John Noble’s crazy energy. But there’s apparently no Alt-William, so I guess that’s that.

2. After the grenade went off, it took me about 5 second to guess that it would be Alt-Olivia joining our team on their journey, and not Our Olivia. But it was still a well-staged switch, with a pan from one Olivia to the other, then the explosion, then Alt-Olivia swooping in. Nice sleight-of-hand.

Which brings us to where we are now: Peter’s back with Walter and not all that happy about it, though he does appreciate that his faux-father will at least not try to kill him. (So that’s a start.) Olivia’s being held captive by Walternate, while Alt-Olivia is sending messages from Earth-1. Next season, we should get to see how Alt-Olivia deals with Peter’s affection and getting to know her sister and niece. And we’ll maybe get to see how Our Olivia handles having a hunky boyfriend and a living mother.

This is a very exciting way to leave things, both in terms of story possibilities and in terms of what it has to say about our characters and their broken lives. On Earth-2, some things were better for Peter and Olivia, and some were worse. Nothing was exactly perfect. Still, it’s got to be hard for them not to play what-if. After all, you know what they say: The grass is always redder….

The Worst:

Dream Logic, Unearthed, and Brown Betty

Same format as above:

  • Dream Logic is not too dissimilar from other television shows entirely failed attempts at using the Corporate America or evil lawyers (yea, it’s sad) within a story. This time it is Corporate America, oy. Take for example Charmed‘s “Mr. and Mrs. Witch,” “Carpe Demon,” and “Soul Survivor,” which are all garbage. On the other hand, Republican Presidential candidate, Donald Trump, is emphatically campaigning on this over-the-top stereotype;
  • Unearthed is a bit of a goofy episode; and,
  • Brown Betty is yet another Walter-eccentric episode that I honestly didn’t even watch: It’s a musical episode. Musical episodes of different series are hardly the greatest, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s “Once More with Feeling,” (It didn’t make the Best of Season 6 for really, really good reason!), Xena: Warrior Princess‘ “The Bitter Suite,” “Lyre, Lyre, Hearts a Fire” along with it’s parent series, Hercules: The Legendary Journey‘s “Men in Pink.” Young Hercules also has three musical episodes, that you can’t stomach. The exception to this, though, is Glee, which is a musical series, so the creativity is largely merited, and works soundly throughout the show.

According to The A.V. Club review of Dream Logic:

Howdy, Freak-Fans. Noel’s out sick today with, well, the same thing everybody else seems to have lately, so I’ll be covering this week’s episode of Fringe, “Dream Logic.” Best wishes to Noel for a speedy recovery, and the fervent hope that we don’t see him coughing out a collapsed star in any upcoming freakmeets.

Fringe, for me, has always been two basic shows. That’s arguably true of every ongoing serial drama. On the one hand, you have the stand-alone episodes that provide the backbone of the series, attracting new viewers with immediately identifiable threats and tied shut (although not too tight) conclusions; on the other, there’s the mythology episodes that serve as the nervous system, the main driving force behind everything, working to ensure that fans become devoted and each season of the show tells a loose, arced story. What’s really interesting is the way those two different types can seem to be operating on similar but different premises. Fringe stand-alones steal pages from the X-Files playbook, giving us heroes (a brave FBI agent, a charming rogue, and his nutty but brilliant dad) investigating some kind of weird monster or device in order to defeat it and restore order to the world. But Fringe mythology entries, by far the show’s most distinctive aspect, involve a much more complicated and bizarre plotting–order is still important, but it’s hard to know exactly what that order should be, as armies move wearing familiar faces and other dimensions vie for dominance.

“Dream Logic” is a stand-alone, a few scenes aside (and really, all stand-alones need a least one or two references to the big plot, otherwise it gets too disconnected). There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, even with the obvious X-Files influence. The characters here are interesting and appealing enough that I don’t always have to feel the earth move under my feet to be engaged with their actions, and who doesn’t like a well-made mini-monster movie? One of my on-going problems with this series, then, isn’t that it has stand-alone episodes; it’s that it so often doesn’t know how to end those shorter stories. A good stand-alone should go out with a sharp punch to the throat. All too often, Fringe episodes conclude theirs with a hasty, head-ducking abruptness, as though the writer started the script thinking he had an hour and a half to play with, and only realized his mistake around minute thirty-five. This isn’t an issue on mythology eps; that story won’t really be done until the final episode airs. But while “Logic” had a terrific final scene, it’s internal resolution left a lot to be desired.

The episode started out fine. Well, mostly fine. I’m not a huge fan of the Magic Lebowski arc, with Olivia needing emotional back-up from a Yoda in bowling shoes. It’s one of those subplots that uses random trappings to look more clever than it actually is, with Sam handing out Mr. Miyagi style platitudes and Olivia going through the standard, “This isn’t helping me at all! Oh wait, it just did” journey. But this one was working okay up till the end. I found the “Youre gonna be fine” reveal to be too much on the corny side, but Torv was as committed as ever, and it could’ve been worse. And hey, we got all this crazy dream stuff to distract us, so that’s okay, right?

Unsurprisingly, X-Files has done a “guy paranoid about the people in his office” episode (“Folie a Deux”), and it’s also done a “people who can’t sleep” episode (“Sleepless,” appropriately enough). “Logic” starts off looking like the former, and winds up being a bit more about the latter, until it finally turns out to be a third thing, just in case you got too comfortable. A man comes to work and beats his boss to death with his briefcase. Later he tells Olivia and Peter that it was like being in a dream–and as soon as he says this, he seizes up, his hair turns white, and he dies from what turns out to be exhaustion. Another woman crashes her car, claiming to see a “monster,” only she’s got the white hair going on as well, and she also has an incision scar on the back of her neck, just like Walter found on the neck of the first guy.

The incision leads to Walter doing some brain poking (which he is, of course, delighted about), and he finds a microchip that brings Olivia and Peter to a sleep clinic run by a Dr. Lameesh Nayak. Nayak was treating people for sleep disorders (insomnia, night terrors, etc.), and the chip was designed to regulate the thalamus gland. Peter theorizes it has to do with brain control, but when Walter drugs a naive FBI agent and does a simulation of what’s been happening, he discovers the purpose is a less wide-ranging, and more personal one–someone (Dr. Nayak, it turns out) is getting high off stealing people’s dreams.

There were a lot of details to appreciate here. I liked Olivia riding Peter about his MIT shirt–it seemed like an odd kind of flirting, coming from her. Walter and Peter have got a house to live in now, and Walter’s usual tics translate well to the obsessions of home ownership. And while it didn’t seem to have any consequences, having Walter drug Agent Cashner was a potent reminder of his mad scientist roots. It’s just too bad that the conclusion of the dream-thieving story had to be so lame. Realizing they’re dealing with an addiction, Olivia makes a jump to thinking Dr. Nayak has a split personality–which he does–and the two of them stop him during one last big brain bender, saving the life of a pilot and everyone on board the plane he was flying. The split personality development is such a bizarre, unmerited twist that it kills much of the goodwill the rest of the plot had earned, even before Peter utters the horrible, horrible line, “His addiction to dreams became his nightmare.” That kind of personality disturbance needs more than a couple quick scenes to justify itself. And it doesn’t help that Nayak started off as such a pleasant change of a pace, a dedicated, thoroughly sane man devoted to making people’s lives better through research.

Ah well. At least we had that final scene. A boy alone in bed hears his father come in the room, but something is wrong. He screams, and Peter wakes up from the dream, back in his adult body, his father watching. Peter doesn’t know what any of this means–it’s doubtful he thinks it means anything–but Walter does. The expression on John Noble’s face is exquisite, the look of a man who committed a horrible crime out of need and grief, and knows that sooner or later, that crime will out. When it does, he stands a chance of losing the one thing left that keeps him connected to this world: the love of someone else’s son.

According to The A.V. Club review of Unearthed:

I gotta be honest with you fine people: Given the problems I’ve had with Fringe’s preponderance of stand-alone episodes in Season Two, I’m having a hard time working up much enthusiasm for a leftover stand-alone that Fox didn’t deem worthy to air last season. (Especially with a legitimately new Fringe due this Thursday.) So I’m going to whip through this one fairly quickly.

Freak-meet: Brain-dead high school athlete Lisa Donovan comes back to life while her organs are being harvested, and begins shouting, “68339AE358!” The first half of those numbers? An ID code for missing Navy petty officer Andrew Rusk. The second half? Launch codes for ICBM missiles.

The reason: Lisa has developed some kind of psychic bond with Rusk, to the extent that she sees his face behind her when she looks into mirrors. She even leads the authorities to Rusk’s corpse, in the trunk of a junker car at a dump site. And Rusk’s pre-death illness—radiation posioning—seems to have been transferred to Lisa, even though she’s never been near his actual body.

The resolution: Walter performs a kind of scientific version of an exorcism on Lisa, and brings Rusk’s personality to the front in order to find out who killed him. It appears that Lisa returns when the procedure is over, but in fact Rusk remains in control, and then goes after his wife Theresa, who hired a palooka to kill him (to get revenge on him for beating her). The Fringe team stops him/her in time but… Rusk downloads his consciousness into a car accident victim in the episode’s coda.

Meanwhile: Walter tries to listen to coma patients, and drinks fresh milk. Lisa complains that she’s been shunned by her church-mates for being “different.” And Olivia and Peter have a conversation about their mutual lack of faith that ends with Olivia “waiting to see if lightning strikes you.”

Themes: Science is a kind of faith too. (Also, our bodies are but empty vessels, ready to be filled by whatever.)

Judgment: This episode was briskly paced and had a few charming and/or nostalgic moments, but it was mostly generic procedural stuff with a minimum of Fringe-ready freakiness. And some of the generic moments were embarrassingly so, like when Olivia tricks Rusk’s C.O. into revealing confidential info with that old reliable fake-out: “How come you didn’t tell me he was sick?” (“How did you know?” “You just told me.” Boom! Roasted.) Also I figured out pretty early on that Theresa would be involved with Rusk’s murder due to The Law Of Economy Of Characters (though I did not predict the abused-wife twist), and I rolled my eyes at Rusk failing in his posthumous plan due to the old Fallacy Of The Talking Killer. (That the talking killer was a teenage girl speaking in a middle-aged man voice only made the scene goofier.)

So that’s that. Am I underselling this one?I think not, but I’m open to contradiction. Either way, I’m eager to get back to the real Fringe on Thursday.

According to The A.V. Club review of Brown Betty:

How you felt about tonight’s offbeat noir/fairy-tale/musical Fringe might just depend on whether you cared even the slightest bit about the story-within-the-story. After all, we’re at a crucial point in Fringe’s master-narrative right now, with shape-shifters from Earth-2 on the cusp of spearheading an invasion, and Peter on the lam after learning that Walter stole him from his Walternate. With all that going on, what are we supposed to make of “Brown Betty,” a fanciful bit of what-if that advances the main plot only modestly (if at all)?

Well, we could look at it the way it was intended: as a diverting hour of television spent with a handful of likable fictional characters. Or to put it the way Alan Moore would: “This is an Imaginary Story… Aren’t they all?”

Let’s dispatch the framing device of “Brown Betty” straight away, since it has very little to do with the actual episode. While Walter frets over where Peter might be, he takes some deep hits from his bong, listens to Yes, and commences to makin’ labels. Right then, Olivia drops off her niece Ella with Astrid at the lab so that she can continue the Peterquest. Later Olivia returns to retrieve Ella and tells Walter that she had no luck finding Peter. Then Astrid drives Walter home, while across the street, September watches, and calls in to his superiors that Walter “does not remember my warning… yes, I am concerned too.” So that’s all there is to add to next week’s “Previously on Fringe.”

In between all that, Ella asks Walter to tell her a story, and he responds with a sweetened hodgepodge of Raymond Chandler and his own life, with all the science-fiction elements and “humans as machines” thematic play that makes Fringe Fringe. In Walter’s Tale, Olivia is a private eye, hired to find one Peter Bishop, who stole a glass heart from his scientist boss Walter Bishop. (No relation, just like in real life.) With the help of her assistant Esther Figglesworth—Walter’s intentional butchering of Astrid’s name—Olivia delves into a conspiracy that involves evil corporation Massive Dynamic and a cadre of raygun-carrying bald freaks known as “The Watchers.” (I liked how the Fringe writers paid homage to The Observers’ Marvel comics origins there.)

When Olivia sticks her nose in too far, Nina Sharp has her boxed up and dumped in the drink, where she’s rescued by Peter, who takes her back to the house he’s squatting in and shows her a map with 147 pins, each representing a child injured by his old boss Walter. Seems the kindly, wheelchair-bound Walter, who invented bubblegum, flannel pajamas, rainbows and singing corpses (“Why not bring a little life to the death, I say?”), stole all those ideas from children’s dreams, and replaced them with nightmares. And while he claims that Peter stole his heart, in fact he stole Peter’s.

There were times when I liked the idea of “Brown Betty” more than the actual episode. I found the who-has-who’s-heart? business a little cloying, and aside from the scene of Dunham P.I. almost drowning, I can’t say that I was ever on the edge of my seat. But director Seith Mann (who’s a rising star on the TV scene, having already helmed strong episodes of The Wire, Friday Night Lights and Sons Of Anarchy) gave the fantasy material a lovely burnished look and throwback snap. And though I have nothing against musicals per se, I was glad that this episode was less of a full-blown musical and more of a weird head-trip with occasional snatches of songs. (For those keeping score at home, we heard Walter sing a little bit of Tears For Fears’ “Head Over Heels,” Broyles sing some of Traffic’s “Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys,” Astrid/Esther sing “I Hope I Get It” from A Chorus Line, corpses sing the kiddie classic “Candy Man,” and in a quiet, moving moment, Olivia sing “For Once In My Life,” previously performed by Stevie Wonder, among others.)

I also loved the inventiveness of Walter’s fantasy world, where everyone dressed in their ‘40s finest but still used cell phones and laptops, and where Walter himself worked in a crazy day-glo lab next to a polka-dot cow. It was good to see a little more of Broyles than usual too, as well as Massive Dynamic’s lab tech Brandon as a patent clerk (who really wants to work at MD) and William Bell as a crudely animated avatar on Nina Sharp’s video-screen.

Was I emotionally involved with Walter’s Tale? At times, very. I really enjoyed seeing the fictional Peter flirt with the fictional Olivia—him with his jazz and tough-talk, her with her pajamas and Veronica Lake hair-swoop. I liked the reverse-Operation gag when Olivia tried to revive the heartless Peter. (I confess I hadn’t previously made the connection to Real Walter botching the heart-removal in his game of Operation with Ella earlier.) And though I wouldn’t say I was touched by Ella’s insistence on a happy ending, I did think it added a necessary layer to the episode, making it about more than just killing time before the season finale. On a meta-level, “Brown Betty” asks what constitutes a proper story. And on a this-really-does-matter-to-the-show level, the episode continues Fringe’s notion of multiple realities, and that idea that Godlike creators can dart between them, looking for a way to make a messy life come out more like something from a children’s book.

fringes1

Next is the best and worst of Season 1.

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4 thoughts on “The Best and Worst of Fringe: Season 2

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