It’s a week later, and I’m still not sure quite how to feel about the revelations in the end of last week’s episode of “Fringe.” But the follow-up installment, “Immortality,” certainly indicates that this new direction will be followed through for the rest of the season. And if the fate of the two universes coming down to essentially the most dramatic rose ceremony ever bothers you, then the revelation of Fauxlivia’s pregnancy probably made you perfectly apoplectic. (And perhaps alliterative, as well.)

[Full recap of Friday's (Feb. 11) "Fringe" after the break...]

Returning Over There for this installment of the show was a smart move: not only have all episodes in that world been fairly strong, but it felt fresh to return there after several weeks spent Over Here in the aftermath of the switcheroo reveal. We’ve seen what lingering affects in our world for some time, but learned just what impact they had Over There as well. The investigation to find Broyles has shut down, Lincoln has been installed as new head of Fringe Division, Brandon has been experimenting on people using samples obtained from Olivia’s cortexiphan-enhanced brain, and Fauxlivia can’t seem to get Peter out of her head (or off her coffee table, for that matter.)

Of course, lingering over all of these events is the single one that set everything in motion some twenty-five years ago: the crossing over by Walter to keep Over There’s Peter from dying. And what “Immortality” strove to drive home throughout the hour is the price that people pay for men that want to achieve greatness, to break boundaries, to perform through intellect and force of will that which is supposedly impossible. These people are often celebrated as heroes, such as the names listed by Dr. Anton Silva just before killing his second victim. But Silva learned the wrong lesson from people such as Salk, Watson, and Crick: those people may have blazing trails, but they certainly weren’t seeking fame.

That Silva has, as his dying wish, the desire to have his name spelled correctly speaks to the type of scientist that craves glory over achievement. The “immortality” of the title comes not from his desire for the skelter beetle to return from extinction, but his desire for his name (and thus, himself) to live on longer after his death. Whereas many “villains” in “Fringe” avenge what has happened to a loved one through the misuse of science, Silva loves no one more than himself, happy to separate himself from society through his insect obsession yet desirous of the recognition that he is superior to his fellow homo sapiens.

Contrast that with Walternate, who managed to come up against the one thing he couldn’t do in the name of saving his world: experiment on children. It’s good to see that he has at least some semblance to the Walter over here, since the key to having any audience member care about the fate of these two worlds is to have its sympathies split between the two of them. Were Walternate simply a blustery, 100% evil caricature, the choice would be simple. If Lincoln Lee were a sociopath, the choice would be simple. If Fauxlivia were just looking for a baby daddy like someone out of a Kanye West song, the choice would be simple.

But “Fringe” has done a wonderful job fleshing out what could have been a simple nemesis for our side to face and combat with audience allegiance easily intact. But it’s hard to hate Over There, especially with all the little touches the show throws in to garner our begrudging respect and/or love. (Personally, the running gag over Charlie’s arachnid infestation is just as funny and endearing as the ongoing torment of Jerry over on “Parks and Recreation”.) Having Walternate choose not to experiment on children puts him the complex, interesting position of having chosen the opposite of what Walter did with William Bell. Those two created an army out of what they felt was necessity, but you could easily argue that Walternate finds himself, from his perspective, in a much more dire situation than the one in which Olivia received her treatments in Jacksonville. So, who are we supposed to be rooting for, again?

These types of rich, compelling contrasts makes the whole pregnancy element seem too on-the-nose for a show this smart. Pregnancy storylines in general are a staple of serialized television, to be sure. But they have hit-and-miss results. Waternate’s plan to switch Olivias stemmed from his desire to analyze Olivia’s brain, not exploit Fauxlivia’s uterus. That this unforeseen side affect gives Walternate a way around his “no experimenting on children” rule is clever, I suppose, and does yield a smile so creepy that I may or may not have shivered while watching it. But will this already make a pretty soapy storyline even sudsier?

I’m not against romance in my sci-fi, let me state that clearly. I’ve rooted for plenty of Des/Pennys in my day, and still found time to enjoy the electromagnetism as well. But if this all ends up with Peter making a list of pros/cons like Ross did for Rachel on “Friends,” well then color me disappointed. The storyline should have an emotional component, to be sure. Things can’t get purely mechanical when it comes to the end game. But the fate of an entire planet resting in the hands of a man who has to pick between a depressed, inferior-feeling Olivia over here and a suddenly pregnant, suddenly single Fauxlivia over there feels like an incredibly reductive way to solve the interesting, multifaceted conflict at the heart of the show.

That’s not to say that “Fringe” can’t resolve this storyline satisfactorily, nor that they’ve showed all their cards in terms of the overall endgame. But while the overall episode was stronger than last week’s edition, I’m still a little leery of where this is all going.

 

A few bullets about tonight’s ep…

*** I want Crazy Bug Lady to come back in future Over There episodes. Charlie needs a groupie, and she brought some fun energy to her single scene.

*** Did Lincoln have a crush on Fauxlivia before tonight that was overtly expressed? I can’t remember. Not sure we need ANOTHER person that can’t stop thinking about her. We seem to have plenty as is.

*** In the pantheon on all-time “Fringe” gross-outs, that queen beetle coming out of Silva’s neck has to be Top Ten.

*** That was Joan Chen as Reiko, Walternate’s mistress (I assume). I trust her about as far as I can throw her. Between her presence and the second victim ordering cherry pie, it was a pretty “Twin Peaks” episode of “Fringe.” I approve of this.

What did you think of “Immortality”? Does the pregnancy element introduce tension or merely groans? What did you think of Walternate’s inability to experiment on children? Sound off below!