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TV Review: Fringe: Countdown to the Season Three Finale

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This third season of FOX’s Fringe has been a wild ride from start to (almost) finish. It started with Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) kidnapped on the other side and replaced by Fauxlivia (also Torv). Olivia’s memory is altered to believe she is Fauxlivia, while Fauxlivia makes love to Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) and, without him knowing, gives birth to his child. Meanwhile, Walter (John Noble) and Walternate (Noble) both work to save their universes, knowing that one or the other must perish. Peter is in the middle, raised by Walter, but son of Walternate. With the season finale, “The Day We Died,” airing this Friday, I’d like to take a look back at the three most recent episodes and try to figure out what to expect.

“Lysergic Acid Diethylamide” Aired April 15, 2011

The name of this episode is the scientific title for LSD, the hallucinogenic drug used occasionally on Fringe, as well as in the real world, mostly circa 1960’s. With William Bell still trapped in Olivia’s body, and seeing no way to get out, Bell takes LSD. Peter and Walter do, too, traveling inside Olivia’s brain to try to find her before she is lost forever. A cross between Inception and The Matrix, the trio battle the dark parts of Olivia’s psyche that try to kill them, all the while searching for their hiding comrade.

What Bell is forgetting when he thinks Olivia will be fine inside her head while he borrows her body is that Olivia has more reasons to be scared than practically anyone. Experimented on as a child by Bell and Walter, then raised by a mean step-father (Chris Bradford), Olivia’s mind is anything but a safe haven. Instead, her subconscious has created a terrible world, out to kill her, and her friends that dare to venture inside. I get why her step-dad leads the mob, but why is Nina (Blair Brown) also evil? What does Olivia see in Nina that the rest of us are missing?

What results is that Olivia must defeat these dark feelings and take control again, which she does. This episode is one of the best because Olivia overcomes one more obstacle on her way to becoming a true hero. She is more powerful than she can imagine, which I’ll touch on again later in this article, but she has a number of stumbling blocks before she finds her potential. Dealing with the demons within her own body is a major triumph on that road, and a turning point for Fringe as a series.

The biggest mystery of the episode is the mysterious man with an X on his t-shirt that ‘kills’ Walter in the dreamscape. Peter brings him up to Olivia, who calmly replies that, while she has never met the man, she knows who Peter is talking about, and he will murder her. This is something Olivia has apparently thought a lot about, but remains unworried. What is up with that?

As Bell, Peter, and Walter flee, they become cartoons, a really neat element to add to this episode. While the animated versions are not exact replicas, they are recognizable enough. Perhaps it is done because Leonard Nimoy did not wish to guest star, though he did lend his voice to the animated Bell. No matter what inspired the cartoon, it is very cool.

Extremely welcome is a small subplot where Agent Broyles (Lance Reddick) accidentally ingests LSD, too, and must be taken care of by Astrid (Jasika Nicole). While the two rarely get meaty stories, it is exceedingly nice to have them in a few fun scenes together. Reddick masters the comedy to be had from the scenario, examining liquorice. He also unleashes some serious dark demons in his rant about death. Is it inspired by seeing the hacked up body of the alternate Broyles, sent over from the other side months ago? Either way, these moments beg for more Broyles and Astrid Fringe stories in the future.

“6:02 AM EST” Aired April 22, 2011

Olivia and Peter are finally together! After everything that separates them, from Olivia being replaced by Fauxlivia, to William Bell inhabiting Olivia’s body, they finally get to just be a couple, happily. This, of course, does not last long. The happy part, not the together part. Hopefully that will continue for seasons to come.

Devastating events begin occurring in the Eastern United States, and the mysterious doomsday device that has only responded to Peter before suddenly comes on at 6:02 AM EST, even though Peter is hundreds of miles away. As Walter is soon able to surmise, it is responding to the fact that its counterpart in the alternate universe is now running. What he doesn’t know is that Walternate has used the DNA of Peter and Fauxlivia’s child, with Fauxlivia’s elements stripped out, to activate the device. The machine thinks Peter is inside it.

Which means that when Peter tries to approach the machine on our side, it zaps him badly and sends him to the hospital. As such, nothing seems readily available to stop the destruction. While no one exactly knows how the thing works, Walternate believes it will save his universe by tearing apart ours.

Walternate has mostly been portrayed as a villain on the show. With this serious disaster in front of him, he is humanized a bit as he mourns the loss of billions of souls on the other side. He is disgusted by Brandon’s (Ryan McDonald) celebration that their world will be saved. How can one rejoice while taking so many innocent lives? What would you do to save the world? It’s fantastic that the show demonstrates those stakes through Walternate, and makes the issue even more murky than before. While fans of Fringe surely want the “regular” universe to survive, do they realize they are rooting for massive amounts of unjust death as well? It’s a real eye opening moment, to characters and viewers alike.

As this happens, Olivia and Nina search for Sam Weiss (Kevin Corrigan), who Nina says knows more about the machine than anyone. Sam has disappeared. Time is running out, as there is little amber available to stop the events, and that fix would only be temporary anyway.

Why is Olivia so willingly working with, and trusting, Nina? As we saw in the previous episode, in Olivia’s brain, Nina is a bad guy. This is confusing, as the two of them seem at ease with each other on screen. Is Nina bad or good? Brown plays her mysteriously, helping the heroes, but always having motivations she never articulates to them. Going forward, hopefully Nina will take more of a front seat on Fringe, and the show will plunge into who she really is.

“The Last Sam Weiss” Aired April 29, 2011

Lightning storms rage from Massachusetts to Liberty Island, literally. The occurrences are between those two places, or more accurately, between the physical locations of the machines in each universe. Astrid and Walter figure this out with an old fashioned, Ben Franklin-inspired, kite experiment. Fringe shows great creativity in regards to how Walter relates to, and figures out, strange things, but this is easily one of their most fun. Only Walter is crazy enough to fly a kite in a lightening storm!

Sam finds Olivia, and together the two brave the crazy sky energy to locate a “crow bar” that will allow Peter into the machine so that he can control it, stopping the doomsday purpose it is currently being used for. He also reveals he is the latest in a long line of Sams that have been studying the machine for generations, and he is far from all knowing. What they discover is an ancient sketch of Olivia, indicating that she is the crow bar, and must use telekinesis to save the day.

This is a nice tie back to the first season. The Fringe team has been so distracted with the other universe, it has been a long time since they dealt with Olivia’s mental gifts. She is unable to use them at first, trying with the strange typewriter the shape shifters used to communicate with the other side. Yet, when the chips are on the table, she does manage. What does this mean for the future? Will Olivia’s unique abilities make her some sort of super hero?

It is interesting that sketches of both Peter and Olivia have now been found on old parchment, drawn long before their time. Reminiscent of Alias, where Sydney saw drawings of herself done centuries before her birth. Yet, Sydney’s situation was a case of resemblance. Somehow, Peter and Olivia were predetermined to be needed in this situation. The machine only works for Peter. Which means the show will certainly be delving into time travel next. How else to explain their involvement in the distant past?

Most confusing is, why does Peter, waking up from his injuries sustained in the previous episode, take a taxi to New York City and buy a coin, all the while looking for his father, Walternate? Is the machine calling to him? Does he have a mental connection? If so, why does it think he is already inside? When Olivia and Walter find Peter, his memory begins to clear. It is not explained whether his issues arose from a medical condition, or a signal of some sort. But the coin is never explained, only called “lucky.” Surely there is a reason for it, as there is for almost everything on Fringe.

And then Peter gets into the machine.

“The Day We Died” Will Air May 6, 2011

I have not seen this episode, so what follows is speculation and musings, not actual spoilers.

The previous episode ends with Peter waking up in the future (the previews tell us fifteen years later) on a war-torn New York City street patrolled by Fringe Division. He is addressed as Agent Bishop, and looks older, so he is definitely a part of the group. Which implies that he has only time traveled mentally, not physically. Time travel is expected, because of the old sketches, but not into the future. I was expecting the past!

Rewatching the preview for “The Day We Died”, Peter appears to be at some sort of end-of-the-world event. The question is, what is causing it? It seems unlikely that the machine that Walternate turned on is hte problem, as it surely wouldn’t take fifteen years to even take out New York City, where it sits. Plus, Peter is now in the machine, so he will repurpose it for good.

Who will Peter meet in the future? It seems likely from recent interviews with people involved in the show that he is going to run into Walter AND Walternate, but where? Are they now in the same universe? Did a merger of some kind happen? Are there pathways to easily traverse back and forth?

Fringe has itself in a corner, where both universes can’t co-exist, but destroying either one would results in the death of innocent billions, a real conundrum. There will be no joy in saving either world. I have wondered if perhaps some sort of evacuation of one side to the other could take place, but the logistics of feeding and housing a suddenly double populations seems prohibitive.

Will the battle of the universes even end in this one episode? So much time has been spent setting up the two worlds, and no end is in sight. How could things tie up so neatly in merely one episode? It just doesn’t seem likely. With Fringe already renewed for season four, will much of the emergency be put off until next season?

Future episodes are cool, because fans get to see how their favorite characters end up, or at least how they might end up. Yet, usually when a series does them, which isn’t often, it’s not a big season finale where a major problem needs fixed immediately. Time can’t be taken to explore alternate personalities adequately in the middle of such an occurrence. Might the future world be next season’s alternate universe, featuring heavily in many episodes?

It’s interesting how Fringe likes to show different versions of the same people. The more that is learned about the alternate universe, the more similarities can be drawn between both versions of a character. Yet, there are stark differences, usually caused by the events they have gone through. So Fringe seems to come down on the Nurture side of Nature versus Nurture.

However things play out, it is fairly certain Fringe will be delivering a heck of an exciting finale! Catch the episode “The Day We Died” tomorrow night (Friday) at 9 p.m. EST on FOX.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com