A lot has happened since “Fringe” aired its last episode. The San Francisco Giants won the World Series, the Republicans took back the House of Representatives, and the television landscape now has 50% less J.J. Abrams influence thanks to the cancellation of “Undercovers.” But Over There, much less time has passed for our Olivia. Only a few days have transpired from her perspective. But those have been sleepless days, haunted by a subconscious that looks an awful lot like Peter Bishop.

[Full recap of Thursday's (Nov. 4) "Fringe" after the break...]

The duality of her existence has plagued Olivia in her short time on the other side, and that duality was reflected in this week’s case. “Amber 31422” refers to the unfortunately ubiquitous substance created by Walternate in order to contain molecular degradation that started when Walter Bishop first crossed over to aid an ailing Peter. But the amber, while effectively maintaining the structural stability of the planet, has a nasty habit of encasing anyone within the quarantine zone. Over the course of a few decades, the body count inside these amber tombs has risen, dotting the landscape with petrified reminders of the world’s fragile state.

Until now, both the audience and the population Over There assumed such encasing meant death. But as Walternate confessed to Other Broyles, they are merely placed into suspended animation, with both body and mind trapped at the moment of encapsulation. (If you were thinking about getting a taco when trapped in amber, you think about a taco for as long as you’re inside. Mmm. Tacos. Ooops. Sorry. Got distracted.) Years ago, bank robber Joshua Rose caused Fringe Division to quarantine six areas thanks to a self-made device that created small wormholes through which he could access vaults. But on the sixth attempt, his twin brother, Matthew, got caught in the amber while trying to stop his brother’s crime spree.

The initial twist surrounding the brothers’ true identities was fun, while the subsequent “who is who” grew old quickly. The confusion largely served not to confuse the audience but agitate Olivia, still wrestling with the (admittedly hunky) voice inside her head dispatching information she herself could not possibly know. It’s that voice that unlocks the Rose switcheroo, which helps give slightly more credence to Peter’s presence on this side.

On one level, it’s a semi-cheap plot to ensure that Joshua Jackson still is on TV during these forays into the other side. But on another, Peter does represent That Which Is Not There. He’s the physical embodiment (albeit disembodied) of that old “One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other” game played on “Sesame Street.” Everything on our side has a double over there. Except Peter. Therefore, he’s the perfect choice to be her Jiminy Cricket. (Although if he keeps delivering exposition on Olivia’s motivation, he’s going to turn into a walking, talking, supernatural “One to Grow On” quite quickly.)

That Walter developed the amber in the first place makes a great deal of sense. We’ve seen both versions of Walter make breakthroughs that the other hasn’t; the only difference to their genius is the situations under which their inspiration must derive. The other difference? William Bell, a man who pushed each version’s genius to newer and, let’s be frank, more dangerous heights. Walternate didn’t develop Cortexiphan because the William Bell he met was already aware of the risks involved in such research, and therefore probably pushed him into areas of research as, let’s say, containment of areas of molecular degradation.

But in some ways, Bell’s influence is the same, and therefore both versions of Walter are less funhouse mirrors of each other so much as a Robert Frost-esque experiment in the road not taken. Both have subscribed at one time or another to Bell’s famous words, repeated tonight aloud by Walternate: “Only those who risk going too far, find out how far they can go.” But neither truly understands the import behind that decree when it’s important to do so. Both use it as justification for ostensibly defensive actions that look, from a third-party perspective, as actually offensive ones.

At the center of these risks lies Olivia, who once again found herself in an isolation tank at the behest of a Bishop. The last time she went in one, Mark Valley had yet to become a “Human Target.” Those days seem almost quaint at this point: pre-ZFT, pre-Mr. Jones, pre-Over There. Considering how much stronger the show got once it went bugnuts on the mythology, it’s nearly bizarre to revisit those episodes now. In any case, Olivia’s previous journeys into the tank were designed to access the innermost corners of her mind. This time around? Her journey landed her in the Statue of Liberty gift shop in our world.

For now, her universe-spanning jumps are temporary. The first lasted approximately ten seconds, while the second gave her enough time to wish her niece “Happy Birthday.” But that second trip confirmed information given to her by “Peter” about some of the subtle differences between the two worlds. She may not remember everything about her true self, but Olivia now knows enough to realize that she’s unwillingly working undercover without a clear way to extricate herself from the situation.

Give credit to “Fringe” for not dragging out that revelation until midseason. While episodes set Over There are delicious fun, having Olivia unaware for a long stretch would have strained credibility and perhaps damaged audience opinion of her character’s integrity. Moreover, given the experimentation done on her in Jacksonville as a child, it only makes sense that Olivia would be resistant to any type of mind control. As Walter/William’s prized pupil, she stood out as the best equipped to deal with the threat from the Other Side.

Then again, our time spent over there has shown has false such a binary is. The affection, camaraderie, and overall chemistry she has with Lincoln and Charlie over there is palpable. One cannot help but root for this trio as they investigate crime together. Atop that, these three (plus Broyles) are suitably horrified to learn that people are alive inside the amber. In fact, Walternate keenly identifies the public relations problem that would ensue should the Rose case not get solved. Ironically, his concerns that people would choose loved ones over the integrity of reality itself has its source in Peter’s kidnapping. Walternate knows all too well what people will do for those they love. And it’s that type of commonality that proves these two sides are far from the mutual enemies each side currently fears.

 

A few more thoughts about tonight’s episode…

*** Over There, Cary Grant starred in “The Maltese Falcon,” not Humphrey Bogart. Also? Beepers are all the rage, still. They are not just for Avon Barksdale’s crew in the low rises anymore.

***  

Walternate mentioned to Broyles that he first used the amber on October 17, 1989. Over here, on that very day? An earthquake in San Francisco, during the A’s/Giants World Series. Just saying.

*** The repetitious use of snow globes breaking called back to one of the first concrete explanations of the relationship between the two universes, in which Brandon smashed two together to indicate that only one universe could exist when all was said and done.

*** Loved the high-tech medical work given to Alterna-Fringe upon return from Rose’s exploding apartment, especially the device that snapped Charlie’s arm back into place. Could do less with Olivia the Pill Popper, though.

*** Walternate told Broyles in the restaurant, “Nature doesn’t recognize good and evil, Philip. Nature only recognizes balance and imbalance.” Apparently, The Other Side is in The Matrix. Does that mean Bubbles the Cab Driver knows kung fu?

*** I know this is a silly complaint, but couldn’t she have used her one phone call on this side to contact Peter? Send Ella a teddy bear when you’re back. She’s good for hugs before bed, not crossing interdimensional walls.

Were you happy with the return of “Fringe”? Think Walternate bought Olivia’s lie at the end? And will you miss this world once the show stops bouncing back and forth every other week?