Five episodes into the third season of FOX’s Fringe, and it’s already been spectacular. The major game changing play this year, alternating each week which universe the episode takes place in, has been wonderfully successful. While Fringe toyed with the alternate world in the first two seasons, seeing those other versions of our favorite characters in major arcs is incredibly rewarding. I love the red theme song for alternate weeks, and the cast of characters that appear over there, but not (yet) back here. Plus, seeing John Noble as Walternate is very satisfying.
Last Thursday was an alternate week, however, aspects of it were a call back to previous episodes on our side of the universe. Olivia (Anna Torv) was once again drugged up and put in the sensory-deprivation tank, although this time it was Walternate’s much more sophisticated version. Her powers have been dealt with on and off for years, and this episode confirmed that whatever Walter did to Olivia as a child plays a huge role in what she can do. It’s sort of been a question of mine if Olivia is special because Walter did experiments on her, or if Walter’s experiments were so interesting because she was special. This episode seemed to confirm that Walter was responsible for many of her gifts. Plus, now Olivia is not only realizing that she’s in the wrong universe, but also that she can travel back and forth under the right circumstances. As Olivia continues to grow as a person, and gains knowledge and confidence of her abilities, this particular talent is sure to play a substantial role in the story.
If you’ll indulge, a quick side trip here. Unlike Walternate, whose alternate name has been widely accepted very quickly, there is much argument over what to call the alternate version of Olivia, currently carrying out some secret mission in our world. I firmly fall into the camp of Fauxlivia (sometimes seen with a dash, as Faux-livia), as it makes the most sense to me, and I will refer to her as such in my tweets and reviews. Other popular suggestions have been Alter-Olivia or Altlivia, which seem clumsy. Bolivia is how she is referred to in the script, because she was called B-Olivia (as opposed to A-Olivia, our Olivia). However, while I guess I understand how that would work on paper (though shouldn’t it be Olivia-B, instead of B-Olivia?), Fauxlivia just sounds better.
Whatever you call her, Torv is doing a bang up job capturing the subtle differences between the two characters, making Fauxlivia a bit dumber (she doesn’t have the photographic memory or chemically-enhanced abilities). Fauxlivia is tough, but seems to value muscle more than science. Clearly both versions have potential, but without the same experiences shaping them, they became two different people.
I have found it sort of odd that Peter (Joshua Jackson) keeps appearing to Olivia. Yeah, I get the explanation that he represents her true self, and that he is the part of her figuring our what’s really happening after Walternate brainwashed her into believing she belong in the alternate universe. But honestly, to me it seems like a ploy to keep the third leading character, the one who doesn’t have a living counterpart, in each episode week after week. I’m not exactly complaining, as I’m quite fond of Peter, and Olivia has to externalize the conflict somehow. However, let’s just admit that it’s been done to benefit the actor more than the story.
This week’s guest stars were also fantastic, as they played out a fascinating self-contained story. Aaron Ashmore (Smallville) and his real-life twin Shawn (the X-Men movies) played twins, one of whom was a bank robber and one was an accountant. The accountant was frozen in amber (that’s how the alternate universe tries to contain disturbances in the fabric of their existence), but the authorities believed that the victim was his brother. Four years later, the criminal brother rescues his innocent brother, and the Fringe team try to contain the implications. If society at large found out their loved ones could be revived from the amber, they would want to rescue everyone. Ultimately, Olivia’s true nature asserts itself, and after the bad brother is re-ambered, she allowed the good brother to live his life in peace.
Walternate claims that rescuing people from amber threatens the stabilization of the effort. As the Secretary of Defense he is more concerned with security that innocent lives. He has been shaped by a tough existence, though, losing his son, and dealing with a series of disasters caused by Walter’s original cross over. I don’t excuse his callous nature, but he is more than a two-dimensional villain. What’s unclear is if there is any science to support his hesitation to un-amber people, or if he just doesn’t want to take any risk at all that might come back to bite him and the people he is trying to protect. It’s obvious that he doesn’t care about lives in our universe, but at least some of his motivation is to help the people in his world.
I’m also loving the alternate universe Fringe team. It’s so good to have Charlie (Kirk Acevedo) back on a regular basis. I don’t think he will be promoted back to main character, as his part has been handled in a reduced role. But the third member of the team, Lee (Seth Gabel, Dirty Sexy Money, United States of Tara), has also been enjoyable. It would be great if our-universe Lee popped up, or if Olivia found him when she returned, and he could be added to the cast. My only hesitance in supporting this move is that Astrid (Jasika Nicole), who is one of my favorite characters, and already gets too little screen time in both universes, would likely lose her precious moments by the addition of other cast members. The screen time surely won’t be cut for Jackson, Torv, or Noble.
I’m content to wait for most of the plot to pay out this season, because although it’s been a tad slow unfolding, the writing and acting has been incredibly strong, as is consistent with this great series. However, there are two burning questions that I don’t know if the writers ever plan to address, and I’d really like to know the answers: Where is the alternate universe Nina Sharp (Blair Brown), the only main character we haven’t seen a second version of? And what happened to F.B.I. Agent Jessup (Meghan Markle), who was sort of put up as Charlie’s replacement in season two, but only appeared in two episodes last fall? I’m sure most fans don’t care about my second question, if they even remember Jessup, but I liked her, and I’m curious. Even if I’d rather have Lee.
Fringe airs Thursday nights at 9pm on FOX.