Season 3 of “Fringe” has featured many things: ups, downs, twists, turns, frustrations, and revelations. What it’s managed to avoid up until this point is a “placeholder.” But unfortunately, that’s what “Os” was, an episode that set the groundwork for events to come but featured very little in the way of major narrative progression. Maybe if the episode had been called “Ring My Bell,” we’d have a disco-infused title that got to the heart of what this episode was truly building towards. Instead, what transpired was a perfectly acceptable hour of television with a slam-bang cliffhanger meant to disguise the fact that almost nothing happened.

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

Now, does every hour need to move the story forward to succeed? Of course not. What transpired was a Season 1-esque mystery that eventually tied into the uber-plot of the season, but mainly focused on establishing the emotional places of its main characters in anticipation of the final push this season. (And I say season, not series, out of optimism borne of eyes wide open at the current television landscape and with eyes wide shut, resisting the idea that we’re in the final leg of this fantastic show.) There are times and places for episodes designed to catch the show’s breath, but I just figured “Subject 13” did the heavy lifting in this regard.

After all, nothing truly progressed in that hour other than our increased understanding of the events that led to present day events. But it nevertheless recontextualized the modern day in a way that deepened our understanding of certain motivations. “Os” simply reaffirmed what we learned in “6B”: Olivia/Peter are now a couple, and Walter wants to contact William Bell via soul magnets in order to solve the impending multiverse crisis. Insomuch as the actions of Alan Ruck’s aeronautics engineer gave both Walter and Peter insights into their lingering issues, the case of the week connected with the show’s overall story. But given how much more effectively the show’s connected the dots in the past, this week’s outing felt a bit weak.

If anything, this week’s mystery seemed to be trying to do something I wasn’t sure the show would try to do anymore: connect its singular freak-of-the-week plots with the overall effects of Walter rescuing Peter. Even if this week never uttered the phrase, “The Pattern,” “Os” gives a hint as to what the show could have done from the outset: explain the unexplainable through the prism that the very rules of nature are fluid in light of the contact between the two universes. That has absolutely nothing to do with the science in the early Pattern episodes, but I can see plenty of people either retconning all those episodes in their mind or just rolling tonight’s episode into the long-unmentioned but potentially still prevalent Pattern.

If you want to do so, great. I won’t, but that doesn’t mean one side is wrong. That type of analysis boils down to semantics, and a certain perspective through which to watch the show that looks at the trees, not the forest. There’s a part of me that hears the phrase “soul magnets” and wants to throw up more than watching Cameron Frye pick at the bone marrow of an autopsied body. But “Fringe” nails, as it so often does, the emotional core behind the silly sci-fi concept. To me, the ludicrous nature of a “soul magnet” is mitigated by Walter’s desire to reconnect with an old friend in order to solve a problem of not simply science but confidence. If the power of love (Huey Lewis or not) can potentially power a doomsday device, then you either get fully on board the show’s emotional train or just get off entirely.

Plus, this storyline yielded a cliffhanger that could produce one of the more bizarre hours ever seen: Anna Torv channeling Leonard Nimoy. I know the showrunners like to claim they’ve known about large chunks of the story since Season 1, but I really want to ask them if they had prospective actresses for the role of Olivia Dunham read sides from old “Star Trek” episodes. Even if we only spend one hour with Dunham-as-Bell (can we call her/him Oliviam?), I’m ready to both rock AND roll with that, thankee kindly. We’ve seen how well Torv can do when asked to do more than she did at the outset of the show. Her wicked sense of humor as Fauxlivia was a total shock, and I can’t wait to see her let loose next week.

But the excitement of future events doesn’t change the fact that this week’s episode left me a little cold. Well, not cold, just…bored. And that’s a strange feeling for “Fringe” to produce. Even when I felt it was getting too on-the-nose with the “which Olivia Peter chooses will determine which universe survives” business, I was still engaged with the episode, even if I vehemently resisted parts of it. That any episode with Alan Ruck and Jorge Garcia (stoner-rific in the episode’s early moments) could be so bland seems like a pop culture crime. Ruck in some ways paralleled Lance Reddick this week: both are actors that can do so much more than “Fringe” asks them to do that it’s a wonder that either actor is necessary. Granted, I’m all for steady work for both men, but take a look at Ruck’s performance in last season’s “Justified” for an example of how to fully exploit the man’s talents.

 

A few bullets about tonight’s episode:

*** “Baconberry cupcake frosting” made me inner six year old drool something fierce.

*** “What could he say? It was the 70’s!” You heard it here first: Walter was the walrus. Goo goo, g’joob. (And before you comment: yes, I know that song was written in the 1960s. It’s just a joke.)

*** The way in which the episode used the camera to trick the audience into misunderstanding how the initial heist worked was pretty great. “Fringe” has learned how to use the camera in deceptive ways, and while a little of this goes a lot way, so far they haven’t gone Tarantino on us just yet.

*** Loved every time that Nina did a mental fist pump at realizing Peter’s romantic choice could be saving her life. Let’s just hope she doesn’t start sending tons of candles and Portishead records over to their place.

*** Anyone else look for Jason Street during the wheelchair game?

*** Walter accidentally reenacting those crazy YouTube videos featuring mints in soda bottles had me thinking that a “Fringe”-related Mentos commercial might make me the happiest boy in the world. Just imagine Walter popping through an intergenerational portal, looking back a Walter, and popping a huge smile with Mentos in one hand and a very sick Peter in the other.

All in all, there was little to loathe, but little to love. The end promises great things to come, but I think history will look at “Os” as the bland meat between two meaty pieces of episodic bread. (Can you tell why I don’t cover “Top Chef” for HitFix?) Or, I’ll eat crow and realize that this episode laid the groundwork for some truly great stuff down the road. It’s not like that’s never happened before.

 

What did you think of “Os”? A great follow-up to last episode’s flashback, or a pale comparison? Are they characters getting lost in all this talk of soul magnets and doomsday devices? And will Oliviam be a stroke of genius or the show jumping the multidimensional shark? Sound off below!