Recap: 'Fringe' - 'The Last Sam Weiss'
There’s a link between the way that prophecies tend to work on scripted shows and the act of actually scripting said shows. Both have long-term goals that tend to get muddied up when put into actual practice. In the case of “Fringe,” it’s tempting to see everything laid out tonight as the summation of all that’s come before it. It’s also tempting to see it as one hell of a clever retcon, taking bits and pieces of all that’s come before it and shape it into the slick Frankenstein monster you watched tonight.
Personally, I could care less which way it actually occurred. You hear enough about showrunners and their long-term plans, and most of it’s just baloney. The proof’s in the pudding, or in this case, the interdimensionally charged electro-pudding. And “The Last Sam Weiss” was pretty delicious pudding.
[Full recap of Friday's (April 29) "Fringe" after the break...]
Part of my problem with the Peter Prophecy lay less in the fact that it was romance trumping science at its core (though I had problems with aspects of it) and more to do with the fact that it left Olivia out of the equation. Peter ostensibly had to choose one version of Olivia or the other, which meant that neither version had much agency as far as this prophecy was written. It reminded me a bit of the mythology surrounding vampire slayers and their Watchers in the “Buffy” universe, an injustice/inequality ultimately built into that show’s end game. I don’t think “Fringe” has gender issues on the mind per say: it holds up both men and women equally strong and equally fallible. But by leaving Olivia out of the equation, it left moronic reviewers such as myself calling The Doomsday Device “the most dramatic rose ceremony ever.”
Tonight’s episode changed that, and it did so by calling back to one of my favorite Season 1 scenes. That scene, from the episode “Ability,” involved Olivia psychically turning off a bomb set by David Robert Jones, with Peter standing behind her while she did it. Speculation ran rampant about what actually happened in that scene: did she turn it off? Did he? Was in a combination? Or was it, as Olivia surmised at the time, simply a practical joke enacted by Jones? Tonight’s episode confirmed that the answer lay behind Door #3, through the discovery of a piece of last parchment and the discovery of inner strength found only when relying on someone you love.
Quick side tangent, but it relates to tonight’s episode, I promise: in college, I had to fulfill a “Religion/Philosophy” requirement in order to graduate. I took a class in which the professor paired primary texts with seminal films of the first half of the 20th century. In one such pairing, he coupled Immanuel Kant’s notion of the “realm of ends” with the cinematic comedy “The Awful Truth.” I’m going to butcher the exact definition, but the realm of ends essentially amounts to a theoretical world in which all people act at all times as if their decisions should be universal law. What my professor did is to flip Kant’s formulation and suggest that only in pairs, not as individuals, could the realm of ends actually be accessed.
Taking the theme of pairs into tonight’s “Fringe,” this episode crystallized what had been brewing since “Ability,” as well as solved one of my major problems with “Lysergic Acid Diethylamide” a few weeks back. In “Diethylamide,” William Bell told Olivia that fear was the dominant trait that dominated her life, an assessment I intellectually understood but still didn’t jive with the Olivia I knew. The Olivia I knew lived with fear constantly, yes, but more often than not overcame it. She overcame it thanks to her makeshift Fringe family, but lately overcame it even more thanks to her romance with Peter.
It seems The First People concurred with my philosophy professor, as it foresaw not only Peter’s involvement in the machine but Olivia’s as well. It saw two people that needed to work as one to accomplish a specific goal. It’s a goal that looks at episode’s end potentially catastrophic, but there was something that felt fundamentally right about the pair walking towards the device together instead of him simply going it alone. Given how much I initially resisted the show pairing these two up, I must concede that the reasons for it have proven necessary and have proven surprisingly affecting. Let’s face it: no one’s getting into a Doomsday Device with a frat buddy. You go in with the help of the one person in the universe that you love.
Now, about that catastrophe: I have almost nothing to say about it at this point. At first, I thought Peter accidentally landed in the series finale of “Dollhouse,” but I didn’t see any zombies there. I saw a massive tower erected at the site of Ground Zero, which places him in our universe…but not in our time. It also doesn’t look like the Device magically solved anything. In fact, having not seen any promos for next week (which should NOT discuss in the comments below, if you please), I’m guessing he’s either 1) in a possible future that he’ll exist for what seems like ages for him but a millisecond to Olivia/Walter/Broyles, or 2) he’s jumped into his own body in a world in which Over Here and Over There turned into Over Where. Remember the ongoing metaphor of the two universes as snow globes, in which one would inevitably smash the other out of existence? Over Where is a combo world in which two snow globes formed one ugly, mega-globe in which people fight for increasingly scarce resources.
Again, it’s hard to say too much about so scant a scene. It also doesn’t help that who The First People are, how they created those manuscripts, and what they want (what they really, really want) is still completely in the dark. I’m guessing it’s a fair assumption to say that The First People are The Observers, but other than that it’s all conjecture. Did everything go according to their plan? Did they want Peter to end up in a future, demilitarized NYC? Did they want little Henry grow up to be center fielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers? The only mythology we did learn concerns the titular Sam Weiss, who isn’t immortal so much as the ancestor of people that discovered The First Peoples’ manuscript while digging for mastodons. Even Sam confesses to have little important information about the original scribes, just the notion that what’s occurring is happening too soon.
That it’s happening too soon suggests that Peter indeed jumped into the wrong reality. That means next week’s episode could be all about undoing reality to fit what was SUPPOSED to happen. But as I laid out at the start of this review, what’s SUPPOSED to happen is tricky business indeed. The best laid schemes of mastodons and men go oft awry. I’m not sure that I want a “Fringe” that exists in a war-torn apocalypse going into the season finale and through to Season Four. But I am also afraid that an episode spent in a new world that’s undone in 60 televised minutes reduces the stakes that the show has tried so hard to build.
That so many possibilities exist isn’t frustrating, however. It’s enthralling. I’ll worry about which path they go down when they get there. I doubt even the show has a completely clear idea itself. But looking back at the long strange trip of the show, there’s some comfort in knowing they usually find their way to someplace special more often than not. They do so by leading with their heart, not their head, and so long as they prioritize future stories this way, I’m looking forward to discovering new things just as much as they do.
A few more observations…
*** If the Peter pages of “The First People” didn’t drive home the show’s connection with “Alias,” tonight’s Olivia-centric pages sure did. One gets the feeling J.J. Abrams told the other producers of “Fringe” to somehow correct the missteps of the last three seasons of that show.
*** Another great connection from that past that paid off: “Be a better man than your father,” a phrase that connects both Peter and Olivia and, when thought simultaneously, activated the typewriter Over There. Totally spine-chilling moment.
*** I hadn’t exactly been feeling GOOD about the freaky weather our planet has been experiencing over the last few years, but after tonight’s episode, I’m straight up terrified.
*** My sense of Peter’s trip to New York City: his brain reset to when he crossed over as a child, leaving him a young child in an adult body, and only gradually put the pieces of his life together until faced with Olivia and Walter. Mostly I’m just relieved that didn’t go for an amnesia plotline, a decision that would have made me throw my tapioca pudding across the room.
*** I bet Walter’s a total champ at giving Wooly Willy interesting facial hair, given how expertly he manipulated those iron fillings for Broyles.
What did you think of “The Last Sam Weiss”? Could that episode in and of itself have served as the season finale? Did Sam’s revelations help or hurt his character? Did the callbacks to previous seasons feel organic or forced? Sound off below!