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TV Review: Fringe – “6955 kHz”

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Seriously… What an episode. Thrilling, entertaining and, most importantly, we finally have a clue about who The First People are. In short, the sixth episode of Fringe’s third season hits the spot yet again, with an ending worthy of its thrilling beginning and the head spinning nature of the entire story

The best part? Fringe’s fandom is titillating with yet another onslaught of questions regarding The First People, providing for hours upon hours of geeking out right before the Christmas hiatus. Talk about adding some zing to your ham!

Number stations have been broadcasting seemingly random numbers for millions of years. There wasn’t much to investigate up to now: fifteen people on the eastern seaboard developed simultaneous amnesia while listening to the radio frequency associated with number stations. Fringe Division is, of course, brought in to investigate.

The team soon tracks down a man who has been setting up boxes that emit the amnesia-inducing pulse. We find out that this man, Joseph Feller (Kevin Weisman), is working with Altivia (Anna Torv), who confronts him at his apartment about his sloppy work that has endangered the mission. Altivia receives a call from Broyles (Lance Reddick); having identified Feller, they are on their way to his apartment. Fringe Division arrives on the scene, and Feller comes crashing out of his apartment, thus ending the lead.

Fringe Division also finds a link between one of the amnesiacs and Ed Markham (Clark Middleton), the used bookstore owner. He tells them about a book that talks about number stations, “The First People”, by Seamus Wiles. These are technologically advanced people who discovered a vacuum, a source of all creation and destruction, who were wiped out after a cataclysm of unknown nature. In the book, Peter (Joshua Jackson) finds a chart, whose numbers match those in the broadcast of the number stations.

Meanwhile, Astrid (Jasika Nicole) has been working on the code, and figures out that the numbers are part of a coordinate system that pinpoint specific locations on a map. An excavation in New Jersey, the nearest location, reveals what seems to be a piece of the infamous machine. Altivia reports back to Walternate (John Noble) that Fringe Division has located the missing pieces; he tells her to initiate phase two, meaning that this was the plan all along.

The glyphs in this episode spell out “Decay”, and the Observer is seen standing amidst the curious passer-bys trying to catch a glimpse of the shapeshifter that has fallen out of the window, when Peter takes out the memory chip from his back. Nothing much there – but what really is exciting is the name of the author of the book “The First People”, i.e. Seamus Wiles – or rather, what other name the letters of that name also spell out: Samuel Weiss.

I didn’t even notice when I first saw the clip, nor the second time. It was kind of by accident actually – I paused the episode on my third watch because of a phone call right on the book’s title page, and was talking to a friend of mine who doesn’t watch Fringe when I realised what I had unconsciously figured out.

Let me tell you, Fringe isn’t boding well for my social life – yet another friend thinks I’m totally bonkers.

In any case, when put together with the fact that in season 2’s episode “Olivia. In the Lab. With the Revolver”, Sam (Kevin Corrigan) told her that he is older than he looks, and that this book is a first edition from 1897, well… This bodes very well for a potential return of his character.

Another fascinating part of both this episode and all previous ones featuring Altivia in our universe is the fact that she is involved in every single one of the cases Fringe Division is investigating. In short, she knows beforehand what is going on and, to a certain extent, manipulates events in order to get to a certain predetermined outcome. This of course implies that Walternate is quite involved with affairs in our universe, bringing his manipulation skills to yet another level.

Speaking of Altivia, is anyone, anyone, going to click on the fact that she isn’t Olivia? There is, after all, another person who could potentially point the finger at her. After all, her request to Nina (Blair Brown) was surprising enough that the latter questioned it, but it seems that, at least for now, Nina isn’t going to push it any further. It’s interesting to note the continued discomfort of Altivia around Walter, probably linked to the fact that Walter looks a little bit like The Secretary in the alternate universe. Then again, it isn’t that big a surprise that, after the events of last season and this season, the relationship between Olivia and Walter would have changed.

But while Nina I can forgive, Peter continues to irritate me as he walks straight by yet another hint that Altivia has replaced Olivia, i.e. her question regarding who Ed Markham is. Now Olivia has a ridiculously good memory – it’s impossible that she would have forgotten the man who got them to the original ZFT manual (Season 1’s “The Ability”). And yet, Peter just brushes it off – which is probably not going to help with the whole guilt thing when he finally does realise who Altivia really is.

It’s also interesting to note that Ed asks for protection in exchange for the information Peter and Altivia need, which bodes the question: protection from what?

Thankfully, Fringe is still full of wonderful things, so much so that I could easily start a list of top ten things I love about Season 3 of Fringe, which would feature Gene’s increased prominence. I would also include the fact that Astrid’s presence is increasing not only in quantity, but in quality, in that her role is increasing in importance, particularly in solving the code of the number stations. She is still taking care of things at the lab and, more importantly, taking care of Walter, but her mental skills and her interest in ciphering, mentioned in Season 1, are finally able to shine in the full light of an important investigation. Kudos, Agent Farnsworth!

There is one thing that was not taken into account, or it was and I am just not getting it. The numbers lead to the various pieces of the machine Walternate wants to build, the machine that is seen in the drawing of Peter with his eyes burning out. But if we are to believe that these number stations are a vestige from The First People who existed millions of years ago, that implies that the continents moved since then, and consequently, the coordinates used by The First People would be obsolete…

Methinks I need to go check out The Fringe Report and see what the guys have to say about this!

A scene that shall remain memorable in the annals of Fringe is that of Walter and Nina smoking weed together while reminiscing about their past. We get yet another important clue as to their relationship. We already knew they had known each other at least since 1985. Now we know that Walter and Nina went to college together at some point. Now, were they fellow students, or was Nina Walter’s student, just like, according to the comics, Bell was?

Walter’s experiences once again make him a great person to have on scene while dealing with victims of a crime. In this case, Walter’s own memory loss at the hands of Bell (who performed the initial surgery) and Newton (who destroyed Walter’s last hope of regaining his memories) makes him particularly sensitive to Becky Woomer’s (Paula Lindberg) memory loss. Amnesia in any form is a terrible experience to live through, all the more in this case that a mother has in a way forgotten about her child. Walter’s kind words of encouragement might have been a reflection of a form of mantra he might have been sticking to all these years, especially those he spent in St-Claire’s: “The human brain is a miracle, a most resilient organ; the storage unit for everything you’ve ever known, or seen, or felt. It’s all still in there. But you are just not conscious of that.”

Of course, Fringe fans were not very happy that, yet again, Peter seems to have been missing some major clues as to Altivia’s identity. It was rather bittersweet to watch Peter being so romantic with the wrong Olivia– breakfast in bed, the U2 tickets in the entertainment section of the newspaper, his reaction when he tore into the building near the end of the episode, scared for Altivia’s life… How many a Fringe fan sighed woefully at said scene?

And yet it seems (at least to us, the viewers) that the clues are rather obvious as to Altivia’s real identity. On top of all the clues from the last episodes, there remains the fact that Altivia’s style is different from Olivia’s.  While the formers’ outfits are definitely less frumpy than they used to be, they are still much more casual than those Olivia would wear. While the explanation Altivia gave Peter a few episodes back makes sense, i.e. that going through something harrowing changes one’s perspective in life, it is rather doubtful that said person would have his or her life so drastically changed. Olivia wouldn’t have hesitated at repeating the numbers from the number station!

Things are getting even more complicated as it seems that Altivia is starting to fall for Peter. And although I hate the thought – and I know all of you are going to hate it, too – sometimes I can’t help but wonder, what with all the casual banter, outfits, and similar taste in music… Could things get even more complicated by the fact that Altivia seems to be a better match for Peter? It’s a thought that has been tickling me for awhile. The only thing that keeps me hoping, is that Altivia is pretending to be Olivia, and Peter wouldn’t get along with the ‘real’ Altivia.

On a somewhat lighter note, there were a couple of Walterisms, which, interestingly enough, seem to be losing their bite, as if Walter’s increasing responsibilities at Massive Dynamic and concerns about Peter working on the machine are having an effect on his soul. First there was: “If you end up breaking the universe, this time, it’s one your head.” It continued with Walter noting to Broyles that he used to listen to Beatles’ albums backwards for “secret messages” that weren’t there. Then there was Walter’s glib “It’s not theft when you own the company.”

It seems like the production team has more than one trick up its sleeves to keep the plot of Fringe going. As one of the story arks seems to be coming to a close, i.e. Olivia’s imminent return to our universe, another one has opened up, i.e. that of The First People. Let’s just hope that the production team maintains the same level of continuity and excellence it has up to now – and if they do, we are in for quite a ride.

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