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Fringe: 6:02 AM EST

“I think this is what I’m supposed to do.”

Television shows are made up of many things. Dialogue and actors. Cinematography and score. Overarching plots, character development, and important moments. Great images and great lines. There is also an element of expectation—as viewers, we expect some moments to be presaged by rising music, for instance. Years of suckling on the boob tube makes even the most casual viewer a master of prediction and anticipation.

Fringe wows us with its narrative tricks and risks, its wacky science, its wonderful acting and great writing. Especially since the middle of the second season, each episode has been remarkable. In “6:02 AM EST,” Fringe pulled a new device out of the bag of filmic tricks: a mood of unbearable dread.

Everything has mood, of course. Most TV shows alternate, even in the weightiest of episodes, between light and dark, often relying on dialogue to relieve the viewer’s tension. Fringe aced the mood tonight. Rather than keeping me on the edge of my seat, “6:02” found me leaning back on the couch, resisting the slow push towards some dreadful moment. Something terrible is happening, will happen, has happened. Our heroes are helpless.

We know more than they do, which makes it worse. We know Walternate’s plan, his motivation, and the stakes of his goal. Our heroes are casting about in the dark, hoping to guess what their counterparts in another frakking universe are up to and how to stop them. We also know that the season is coming to an end: obviously, something will happen soon and it will happen big. Our heroes don’t know that, because their lives don’t move in prescribed seasons of twenty-two episodes. They know something is happening, but they don’t have the viewer’s mastery of narrative prediction, because no one can know the story of their own life while living it. They are afraid, but we are in dread.

That dread was created in part by the bits and pieces of wow—the thing with the sheep in the field and other events that happened just off-screen to clue us in on the disintegration of the universe. The biggest moments were underplayed: Peter, rejected by the machine, and Fauxlivia put into prison. I never imagined that Peter would be shot down (as it were) by the machine, and the rising music made me expect a salvation ex machina: how’s that for undercutting audience anticipation? Even Olivia’s failure and capture happened off-screen. One minute, she is realizing the thingamabobs don’t work; the next minute, she is in a holding cell.

But it was the character interactions that mattered most here:

1. The opening with Olivia and Peter in bed, with Olivia waking Peter up. The parallel: Peter, comatose, unable to be woken by Olivia at episode’s end.

2. Walter’s willingness to let Peter become his own man, and giving up what he risked universes to gain all those years ago. The parallel: Peter’s difficult choice to possibly sacrifice himself for the fate of the world and (only recently) developing a filial love he’d never felt before.

3. Fauxlivia using her personal connection to Walternate to get answers related to her job. The parallel: Walternate being unable to punish Fauxlivia because of that personal connection.

4. OtherBrandon’s moral center (he has one?): saving his universe at all costs. The parallel: Sam Weiss, knowing that events are out of his hand and possibly beyond his abilities or knowledge to save.

5. Fauxlivia singing to baby Henry and easily admitting her love for him. The parallel: Lincoln Lee’s unwillingness to say how much he loves her. Also, Olivia’s unwillingness to say goodbye to Peter, and his unwillingness to tell her what he is about to do.

6. Walter’s monologue. Or maybe I should call it a dialogue with a silent God. The parallel: Walternate’s discussion with Fauxlivia, whose child gave Walternate hope just as God/Robocop gave Walter hope with the white tulip.

The end of the world is nothing but background in this episode, which allowed us to watch our heroes on both sides teetering on the verge of an apocalyptic cliff. We’re left with Peter unable to wake up (and the related knowledge that his relationship with the machine perhaps isn’t what we’d anticipated), Fauxlivia locked away for trying to save a universe she still has some fondness for, and Walternate channeling Walter’s Oppenheimer obsession. With only two episodes left, I suspect some of our worst dreads will soon be realized.

This Stuff Is Not Organized:

• Olivia: “Oh, no. The surprise is all mine.” And I won’t even mention the mushroom caps.

• Walter: “I wouldn’t bet the farm on that.” Oh, farm humor.

• Astrid: “Is that more dangerous than vortexes putting holes in our universe?”

• OtherBrandon: “One will get you there and back.” And one pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small.

• “The Faraday cage.” Yes, I know Faraday is a real guy and not every Faraday reference is also a Lost reference, but still…

• I got the impression the radio-announcer’s statements about Ebbets Field and Dodgers was a cool thing for people who know stuff about baseball.

• Walter rubbing the gel on Peter’s hands was like a parent rubbing their kid down with sunblock before a day at the beach.

• They have stockades Over There? Real ones, or was that a metaphorical stockade?

Four out of four ancient yet still very annoying desk toys. (Does anyone know what those things are called?)

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

11 comments:

  1. Hi Josie,

    I love reading your reviews after every episode, and I most definitely agree that Fringe has been amazing episode after episode.

    I think you're referring to the Newton's cradle, if you're talking about the thing Sam Weiss took out early on in the episode.

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  2. "Years of suckling on the boob tube makes even the most casual viewer a master of prediction and anticipation."

    Suckling on the boob tube? Hilarious!

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  3. I think you do some of your best writing about this show Josie. You were right about the feeling of dread, but I was so captivated that I didn't even realize it was over until "Bad Robot" showed up.

    The two things that really got to me happened "over there". Fauxlivia deciding that she couldn't let billions of people die. And Walternate quoting Oppenheimer. "I am become death, destroyer of worlds."

    All together this season has been just fascinating, and I'm so happy that it isn't over!

    TVNerd

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  4. Hey, Paul: Harlan Ellison wrote a series of essays on television entitled "The Glass Teat." I don't know if Josie knows about them or if she just arrived at the same metaphor that Ellison did.

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  5. Billie, whatever you do, don't Google "suckling on the boob tube". My eyes! Oh God, my eyes!

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  6. Mr. Ellison stole my idea, I'll have you know.

    Not really. And I've never read his essays on TV. Are they good? (

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  7. Harlan Ellison is brilliant, sarcastic, and biting; his short stories are disturbing and I still remember some of them, even though I read them a long time ago. I've never read his essays on television, but I imagine they are probably brilliant, sarcastic, biting and disturbing, too. He had a real love/hate relationship with the tube. Interestingly, he wrote the (arguably) best episode of Star Trek and the best episode of Outer Limits. He also got James Cameron to give him credit for the original idea behind Terminator.

    It's pretty funny that you said he stole your idea. Ellison is notoriously litiginous. :)

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  8. Dear Mr. Ellison,

    I would like to clarify my earlier statement: I do not accuse you of theft, nor did I intend to plagiarize your idea. All credit goes to you, sir.

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  9. Josie, you got it right about the theme. The feeling of dread is so overpowering that this episode was downright uncomfortable.

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  10. I wasn't feeling the dread in this one, but that's mostly because I pretty much already knew where the story was going. Still, it was enjoyable to see the build up to Peter attempting to use the machine. I definitely didn't expect it to throw him to the curb, so to speak.

    My favorite feature was the prayers of the two Walters, sort of book-ending the episode. I know that Walternate was just quoting Oppenheimer (and, by extension, the Bhagavad Gita) when claiming to be a "destroyer of worlds," but John Noble put so much pathos and regret into those words, that I once again found myself feeling strangely sympathetic towards Walternate. His prayer for God's mercy was a very humanizing and enlightening moment. And it went a long way towards explaining his unwillingness to kill Fauxlivia. He's not an inherently evil man, though he often comes across that way. He's simply a man that wants to save his world and accepts the terrible cost of doing so --- horrific as it may seem to others.

    As for our Walter's prayer --- what an amazing moment. "God, I know my crimes are unforgivable. Punish me. Do what you want to me. But I'm begging you ... spare our world." I was so convinced Walter was about to plead for the life of his son, even after being willing to sacrifice him, that for him to instead plead for the salvation of "our world" was a stunningly beautiful confirmation of how far he has come. He really has earned some measure of redemption, and is worthy of forgiveness. Fantastic.

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  11. Why didn't this episode have credits in both blue and red like Entada? It had enough action on both sides to merit that.

    Did Fauxlivia explain everything to Lincoln offscreen? That would make o good scene. The episode had so much going on that it probably didn't make the cut. I was hoping for some more sleuthing by Linc and Charlie to piece everything together, like the death of Broyles.

    Can't wait for the partial resolution and massive cliffhanger. :)

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