Recap: 'Fringe' - 'Do Shapeshifters Dream of Electric Sheep?'
I’m not the world’s biggest expert on “Blade Runner,” or even a medium expert. So while I am sure there will be tons of reviews of tonight’s episode of “Fringe” that do point-by-point comparisons of the movie inspired by the Philip K. Dick novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, this won’t be one of those.
[Full recap of Thursday's (Oct. 14) "Fringe" after the break...]
That being said, even my cursory memories of that film made the title of tonight’s episode, “Do Shapeshifters Dream of Electric Sheep?” make sense. At the heart of tonight’s episode: the intersection of information and emotion, the point at which the neurological wirings of the human brain cross over with human-made circuitry planted in the shapeshifter’s physiology. It’s an interesting exploration, although I found myself passively admiring it rather than actively enjoying it.
On one level, the ever-increasing number of shapeshifters on our side gives rise to an overall paranoia, one in which literally anyone and everyone in the world could be from the alternate universe. “Battlestar: Galactica” got a lot of mileage out of this type of paranoia, although it had the added element of claustrophobia to give that Cylon search a little added oomph. Having one of the “Fringe” shapeshifters be a standing United States Senator also gave the show a chance to give a fitting retcon for Fauxlivia’s intimate knowledge of her counterpart on the other side. Seems Newton had been feeding “Van Horn”’s information to the Walternate for the last two years.
The patience of the shapeshifters is telling on two fronts: one, it shows discipline. Secondly, it shows their relative impotence. Walternate’s entire plan with Olivia stresses just how limited their ability to live, function, and ultimately undo our world from within truly is. Moreover, that long waiting period has produced the unforeseen side affect that these human/machines have started to feel genuine human emotions through their exceedingly good programming. They are like “WALL-E” but with silver blood.
Even though “Ray” was only on the show for a few minutes of time, the bond between himself and his family was palpable and surprisingly emotive: his literal enemy turned into his best friend in the form of a son he never had yet grew to love anyways. A similar, though slightly less effective example, lay in Van Horn’s last “thoughts” consisting of data concerning his honeymoon with Patricia, not his mission for the Walternate. As for Newton: he spent years without attachment, seemingly looking down upon everyone that was weak enough to form an emotional connection. But that last smile as he lay dying in a federal prison (courtesy of a jagged little pill from Fauxlivia) certainly bespoke relief at a solitary life finally coming to a close.
All of this stuff? Great. Where it fails is in the connection to Fauxlivia, who is told repeatedly through the episode by Newton that she’s going down the same road. Sorry: that simply did not read. What Anna Torv has done with Fauxlivia speaks to overall discomfort in the role as her counterpart, coupled with a barely contained fear of being caught. But there’s been little to suggest that she’s starting to learn to empathize with her enemy. Had this episode aired, say, a few weeks later, with her seduction of Peter translating into honest emotional feelings for him, coupled with a complicated encounter with the sister that she lost on the other side? Then I’d see Newton’s point. But one quick trip to the bathroom after a game of “Name That Couple’s Backstory” with Peter does not a crippling emotional weakness make.
On the Bishop Boys’ side of “Mind’s Playin’ Tricks on Me,” both are haunted by figures that are gone and yet omnipresent in their lives. As the episode made abundantly clear tonight, Peter recognizes on a fundamental level that the figure before him isn’t the Olivia that crossed over to find him at the end of Season 2. But he chalks up her differences on a surface level due to a combination of willful ignorance and a more than understandable lack of imagination as to the real Olivia’s whereabouts. As I mentioned last week: the show gets to have its cake (or, this being “Fringe,” pudding) and eat it too with this romantic storyline. Having Peter and Fauxlivia sleeping together keeps the actual couple apart, even while showing what that storyline could potentially look like. It’s a dream sequence for…well, shapeshifters, I suppose.
While Peter is haunted by Olivia’s absence/presence, Walter has his old partner on the mind throughout the hour. Massive Dyamic has the potential to sterilize Walter’s overall mad scientist vibe (I miss his old lab something fierce already), but it’s activated the part of his own brain that once suppressed William Bell’s original aims with the company. In a speech to various MD employees (one played by a familiar face for HitFix readers), Walter declares the human mind to be a “god.” Of course, Bell gave Walter’s god a lobotomy in order to keep the knowledge of how to cross over a secret, and later gave shapeshifters a second, stegosaurus-like brain in order to store data.
I confess that I forgot that we learned at the end of Season 2 that Bell revealed his role in creating the shapeshifters in order to prove value to the Walternate. As such, each shapeshifter is in fact a bit of Bell for Walter to have around. Picking at van Horn’s brain this week was a literalization of the way Walter would pick William’s mind back in the 1970’s. Walter taking over Massive Dynamic isn’t exactly Angel taking over Wolfram and Hart, but I do worry about the way in which Walter might lose himself in that building. Massive Dynamic may not have Senior Partners that can bring the apocalypse down upon a whim, but there’s certainly an apocalypse in play should Walter lose what makes him so very Walter in the first place.
After all, Walter mapped van Horn’s mind in much the same way that Newton mapped his in “Grey Matters,” through associative imagery. Once Walter’s mind was fully reconstructed, he turned into a monster, the type of monster that Ray’s son feared under his bed. Walter’s mind may not be whole, but that might not be the worst thing possible. What is gone isn’t missed, and in fact could be detrimental to the task at hand, if not outright deadly.
But all of that lays down the line. If anything, this episode didn’t attempt to push the action forward so much as set the stage to come. Moreover, it strove to muddy the lines between which side we the audience should be truly rooting for. It didn’t do any of these things badly, although it’s not clear that it needed to spend an entire episode on it. Having an episode like this perhaps wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it weren’t for the fact that “Fringe” will be off the air until after the World Series. Knowing it will be a while again until the story kicks back into high gear makes a more introspective hour that much tougher to take.
A few well-placed bullets to the brain about tonight’s episode…
*** That familiar face I alluded to earlier? HitFix’s own Dan Fienberg, looking dapper in the front row getting an almost faceful of Walter crotch in the opening scenes at Massive Dynamic. Between this appearance and Alan Sepinwall’s cameo on last week’s “Community,” I’m really looking forward to Drew McWeeny’s cameo in “The Avengers” at this rate.
*** Massive Dynamic’s security probably got briefed on Walter’s inability to remember Astrid’s name, with approximately 500 Astrid-related names in their database to allow her to enter without much trouble.
*** There was a total Clarice/Lecter vibe to the final Fauxlivia/Netwon scene, agreed? With a dash of Emperor Palpatine thrown in for funsies. Odd, since they weren’t actually nemeses. Also? Pretty sure he called her “Bolivia” onscreen tonight, but since we don’t officially recognize that nickname round these here parts, I’m not going to dignify that usage anymore than I already have.
*** I’m glad Broyles tested everyone in Washington instantly after learning about Van Horn. Too many shows realize there’s a problem like this, and then DO NOTHING ABOUT IT. This drove me freakin’ nuts during the final season of “Buffy,” when all anyone had to do to identify the shapeshifting Big Bad was SHAKE THEIR HAND. Sorry. It’s been a while. But I’m still, apparently, bitter.
What did you think of tonight’s episode? And how hard will it be for you to wait until November to see the next hour of “Fringe”? Leave your thoughts below!