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Fringe: Concentrate and Ask Again

“No one should know what someone else is thinking.”

What an odd episode. My narratological radar was pinging like crazy before the credits, as we were privy to three different opening scenes. A Tristam Shandy allusion? A structural hint that we may get a red, blue, and yellow universe? Or just an indication that this episode is transitional, drawing out mythological, emotional, and thematic plots that will have important resonances in episodes to come?

I’m voting for that last option. We really had three plots here, although of course they intertwined. Let’s take it one at a time:

Nina Sharp Does Research

We got confirmation that Seamus Wiles and his multilingual personae are all aspects of Sam Weiss. I wish we’d gotten a bit more of the delightful bowling guy and armchair psychotherapist, but he definitely served his purpose as exposition guy: regardless of what’s going on with the First People, now we know that Peter is uniquely tuned to the device, which indeed has the capabilities to destroy a universe. Peter’s feelings for Fauxlivia and our Olivia will determine which universe survives: whichever woman he chooses gets to keep her universe. (I suspect that may not be how it actually plays out, though.)

Olivia Feels Sad

This plot was simultaneously heart-breaking and redundant. Olivia’s continued angst over the trouble that Fauxlivia caused with Peter is still really, really sad. But it’s also information that I feel we’ve already gotten, so this plot felt a bit like treading water. Maybe the writers wanted to make sure that newbies felt caught up on the emotional relevance of all this dual-universes stuff?

Either way, Olivia took a bite of the forbidden fruit and found out what Peter has been thinking: he still has Fauxlivia in his thoughts. Olivia is developing a fairly serious inferiority complex, and she has begun to connect that feeling of not-measuring-up not just to her recent trip to Over There, but also to the childhood situation that made that trip possible: the Cortexiphan trials.

Our guest of the week, telepath Simon, acted as a counterpoint to Olivia’s pain. He can’t live in the world, because of Cortexiphan. Olivia has to live in the world—in two of them, in fact—but cannot bear the personal situation she is currently in. Oddly, Olivia didn’t seem to feel much resentment towards Walter in this scenario, although Peter let a few lines slip that indicated he was still feeling a bit grouchy about the whole abduction thing.

Bad Guys De-Bone Other Bad Guys

Of course, Simon was brought in to help out with the mystery of the week, in which three mercenaries used a deboning powder on the people who had made them unable to have healthy children. Although we didn’t get much about these guys, we can see some thematic parallels: past actions haunting the present, the desire for revenge, the futility of vengeance. Science gone evil.

This plot didn’t do much for me, although I welcomed the opportunity to see Olivia looking so glamorous at the museum event. I think my biggest quibble, though, is the sudden dependence on a Cortexiphan kid: it sort of felt like a telepath ex machina. Will we see him again? Will other Cortexiphan kids occasionally pop up, never to be heard from again? The dolls were fabulously creepy, though.

All in all, the episode felt disjointed and sort of off-key. A few moments reminded me of very early Fringe, before I came to love the show so much, like Walter’s scatological humor and inappropriate remarks, the telegraphing of key emotional points, and the disjuncture between the various plot threads. On the other hand, I’m watching this show as it airs. I could easily see this episode being quite wonderful if watched in the midst of a super-intense DVD marathon. In that situation, it would feel like a bridge to whatever is about to happen and a nice reminder of some of the key points that have been made in episodes past. I think it succeeds as an interlude, although maybe not as an episode. And, of course, I’m grading on a curve: this was way, way better than that episode of Toddlers and Tiaras that I watched this afternoon.

Bonus Points for the Creepy Factor:

• As the entire internet has already noticed, Dr. Bell had a copy of Dr. Spock’s book on children in his posthumous storeroom.

• Olivia: “She’s like me, but better.” My heart broke. Did your heart break? Poor Olivia.

• Walter: “Why would anyone kill a scientist? What did we ever do?”

• Walter: “We need a mind-reader to help us find a bomb.” Okey-dokey.

• Broyles: “I’m going to call Nina Sharp. She’s had more experience with the Defense Department than I have.” Neat nod to the different command structure of Over There Fringe division.

• Olivia’s sharpshooter skills are courtesy of her Fauxlivia neural download. Thanks, Fauxlivia!

• Remember when Broyles and Nina made out, lo these many episodes ago? What happened to that plot?

Not sure how to rate this one. 2.75 creepy dolls?

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

8 comments:

  1. A few things:

    1. Walter farting in his containment suit was awesome.

    2. Olivia throughout this entire episode made my heart break. I feel so bad for her. But another part of me wants to shake her and tell her to suck it up. She needs to fight for what she wants. Stop being a victim.

    3. The coma Marine's name was Downie, which is of course, a callback to the best legal move of all time, A Few Good Men, and as a current law student, something that gets me pumped up every time I watch it.

    4. Peter knew that dude could read minds and still got close enough to him while the dude was alone with Olivia? Something is fishy there. Peter isn't stupid.

    5. What guy hasn't wished he had some de-boning powder at some point in their lives? lol jk...mostly

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  2. The CIA Agent was the mysterious man at the end of Earthling who acknowledged that the alien life force went back up into space.

    Also, the glyph in this episode was HATCH as in the easter egg planted in "Over There" that had the anagram starting something like, "DON'T TRUST SAM WEISS." The gylph in that episode was also WEISS.

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  3. We've gotten so used to superior writing on this show that an average episode is a downer. Barring the relationship stuff, this could have fit well in S1 or early S2.

    Olivia made a big mistake in avoiding counseling (again). I wonder if she has some personal animosity (e.g., mistreatment after shooting her stepfather), because the "my colleagues won't trust me if I see a shring" stuff is a '60s attitude.

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  4. Jeff,
    Your point #5 explains your point #1. No offense intended.

    Josie,

    I'd like to congratulate you again for catching that Sam wrote the book almost immediately. That was very smart, it makes me feel proud to be your reader :)

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  5. I could easily see this episode being quite wonderful if watched in the midst of a super-intense DVD marathon. I am indeed watching it in a DVD marathon, but I also found it disjointed and off-key. It also felt a bit like a re-tread of an earlier stand-alone episode.

    Good call on Sam Weiss.

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  6. I'm on a marathon of sorts and yes, the opening baited us to think it will be about the First People, but then we got a switch to a stand alone. So it was a bit average.

    Good to see Sam Weiss back, hopefully for more then exposition.

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  7. Yes, I wouldn't say this episode was "quite wonderful" even in the context of my massive Fringe Binge. It had some key mythology beats and some nice emotional stuff for Olivia, but it is probably her banquet look (stunning!) and the look on her face as she looked at Simon's note that will stay with me the longest.

    Josie, how dare you bring up the Broyles and Nina kiss! I'm hoping that potential romance never rears its ugly head again. Ever. Shudder.

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  8. Just watched this one in a DVD marathon, and more and more bothered by how little screentime Peter's angst over the whole Fauxlivia debacle gets. I mean, it's nowhere near as bad as the horrific treatment of poor Riley in Buffy's 'Superstar,' but still. He has angst too...

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