A few unfortunate narrative developments cloud some of the season's strongest emotional work
The first fifteen minutes of “Fringe
” sent me on a rollercoaster of emotions. On one hand, I couldn’t believe they were finally going to tell a “Lost” Sideways tale in this fourth season. Given the conceit of this year, it’s hard to believe it’s taken them this long. But while I was semi-intrigued about how that type of story might play out, the show seemed to be restaging one of the first season’s least exciting episodes. However, most of my worries washed away when the show unleashed its best scene of the season: Walter giving Peter all the gifts he bought for his thought-dead son. I don’t like the overall structure of this season, but Lord in heaven that was a simple, powerful, evocative moment.
After that? Well, things settled into pretty much a middle-of-the-road rhythm, quality-wise. And that’s a shame. Given the ending of last week’s episode, “Nothing As It Seems” could have been a nice place for the show to put aside cases for a week and take stock of the fact that Olivia Dunham’s mind has been overtaken by memories of another life. It just seems like the type of thing that might make people stop and smell the roses, right? “Fringe” is heavy-handed when it comes to its emotional beats, but it uually strikes them fairly well regardless. The gift scene I just mentioned worked like gangbusters because it felt like the Walter/Peter relationship we all once knew, and could be again. John Noble’s tear-filled eyes after Peter hugged Walter damn near killed me, and it was fantastic to once again feel so much for characters that have largely been strangers all season.
There also is something inherently interesting about Olivia’s choice to casually and calmly give up one set of memories for another as if it’s no big deal. It’s a massively huge deal, one that incurs dozens of medical tests for the FBI to determine if she’s still field-ready. But above and beyond the practical logistics of those issues, there exists a potent topic: What happens when we give up everything we know for someone we love? That seems insane even if there aren’t hybrid flying porcupine man beasts soaring through the cityscape looking for medical waste bags full of vacuumed human fat. I’m sure we can all relate either first- or second-hand to people worried about the sudden change that comes over someone newly in the throes of love. I’m not exactly a fan of turning Lincoln Lee into this show’s version of “Smallville”’s perpetually put-upon Chloe Sullivan. But I’m intrigued by the notion that in every possible reality he’s Charlie Brown, and a relationship with Olivia Dunham is the football the universe keeps pulling out from under him. (In another reality, he totally made her a mixtape that he subsequently threw in the trash upon seeing her smooching Peter. Also, ASTRID IS RIGHT THERE AND SHE’S AWESOME. SMOOCH HER, LINCOLN.)
That’s all pretty potent stuff, even if it has the built-in ceiling of success I’ve described all season. Too bad a lot of this material got pushed to the way side for a mystery that 1) wasn’t terribly mysterious, and 2) potentially opens up a huge new mythology inside a reality I’m not sure will continue. The notion of a doomsday cult led by David Robert Jones is perhaps just this reality’s version of the ZFT. But man, it’s a little late in the overall game to introduce a brand-new threat that can be summed up with “We Bought a Freaky Zoo.” Lions, tigers, bears, huge spiders, eels, snakes, and flying porcupines…oh my! My eyes have glazed over this season each time the new-and-improved shapeshifters have reared their mercury-filled heads, but this new twist on Jones’ overall plans truly seems like overkill. Were this a one-off, self-continued mystery of the week, it wouldn’t matter. But that large freighter seems to portend that this story has legs. Big, hairy, freakish legs.
In short: tonight featured some good emotional beats with some lackluster storytelling structure. That’s still better than most episodes this season, which didn’t really excel in either field. Watching Olivia and Peter outsmart nerdy, narcissistic bookstore owner Ed was plenty fun. But watching them try to emotionally navigate a new world order (their relationship) inside a new world order (the post-Peter erasure timeline) without knowing if the old world order would ever return? That had the real legs in this episode. There was nothing monstrous about that. It was very human, and it was very welcome.
Some other thoughts about tonight’s episode:
“Battlestar: Galactica” fans must have been happy to see Alessandro Juliani (Felix Gaeta) in the show’s closing moments. Maybe there are twelve models of advanced humanoid creatures in Jones’ ultimate plans?
The scene between Olivia and the FBI psychiatrist felt designed for someone who randomly decided to tune into “Fringe” for the first time tonight.
In addition to restaging “The Transformation,” everything about Lincoln’s infection felt like he was playing the role of Charlie in “Unleashed.”
In addition to his great present scene, Walter got in some good lines throughout the hour. ("I know what you're thinking...wouldn't it be easier to just eat people?") He’s also vastly amused by the word “boob.” But really, who isn’t?
“I hadn’t realized how much I had longed for family.” Preach, Walter. Preach. I’ve been waiting for my “Fringe” family to come back all season. We’re getting there. But we have some work to do yet.
What did you think of tonight’s episode? Did the revisiting of the Season One storyline work for you, or did it feel like the show running out of ideas? Did the emotional beats work for you tonight, or is it too little too late? Are you worried about the introduction of this new cult, or will it breathe life into the show? Sound off below!
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