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TV Review: Fringe – “The Box”

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The Fringe ride continues with Season 3’s second episode, entitled “The Box”, in which a seeming monster-of-the-week plot quickly turns out to be entwined closely with the show’s mytharc.  Altivia (Anna Torv) is in our universe and, with Newton’s help (played by Sebastian Roché), she gleans more information about our Fringe Division and infiltrates it even more. Working the case brings her closer to Peter, albeit unwillingly, and we start seeing little mistakes Altivia is making, mistakes which will hopefully clue the Fringe team in sooner rather than later.

While the production team seems to still be taking its time in giving us elements of the plot fans are anxiously waiting for, it is doing so brilliantly, teasing its audience with little bits and pieces as it has for the last two years. As a result, the episode manages to balance well giving its audience enough action to keep it interested while also teasing it just about enough with glimmerings of information. This is typical of Fringe’s rather unique and, at the end, satisfying storytelling.

While the nature of the show demands a constant flow of new concepts and storylines, it also calls for some level of repetition. For example, we had the return of the same neural stimulator that Walter used in Season 1’s “The Ghost Network” (Episode 3) and “Inner Child” (Episode 15). There was also the return of a highly familiar sound effect, i.e. that used in Season 2’s “Of Human Action” (Episode 7). In both episodes, when the characters’ hearing is affected, an interesting dampening effect is used that eerily simulates the sound I recall while my ears were plugged during a recent underwater expedition. There was also the effect The Box had on its victims, which paralleled a little bit what happened to victims of the computer program created by Dempsey in “The No-Brainer” (Season 1, Episode 12).

I also love the recurrence of certain themes in Fringe, including perception, duality, evil and destiny. We are shown various facets of their inner complexity, which allows deeper exploration – and hopefully, understanding of those ideas.

I like the hints that we are going to be seeing more of Newton, who is, like David Robert Jones, quite the polite baddie. But I like Newton’s rather dry sense of humor as well:

Man in subway: What’s this?

Newton: It’s a box.

I’m really looking forward to more of these one-liners.

The Observer was spotted in the subway station. Newton has just left the box behind and is exiting the premises when September comes in. As for the glyphs, they spelled out ‘Alert’. Is it simply a continuation of last week’s ‘Amber’? Or rather, is it a word to be taken on its own? I still remain convinced that there is more about the words we have yet to figure out, and am still waiting for a stroke of genius to hit me (hopefully not hard enough that I won’t be able to write about it!).

There are more and more questions surrounding Walternate’s weapon. First and foremost: why is Peter the subset of one the weapon responds to? I have the impression that it might have to do with the fact that Peter is from the alternate-universe, but lived most of his life in our universe. Somehow, this has ‘imprinted’ both universes’ electromagnetic field on him, which gives him unique abilities.

I still think that the weapon has something to do with the time difference between the two universes, and is using Peter’s ‘double electromagnetic imprint’ to somehow sync the two up – to the advantage of the alternate-universe, too. I also think that the machine could sync up the two universes to any one of their advantages. I posit that the universe in which the weapon is activated will be the one to survive.

At end of episode, the camera pans to the blueprint Peter is pouring over, and we clearly see written on it: “quantum flux parallel field generator”. Now I don’t know a lot about quantum mechanics or electromagnetics, but I’m still going to venture a guess that creating a parallel field could somehow separate one universe from the other, and destroy the universe that is being separated. Remember: the two universes exist in the same space and almost at the same time. If the weapon “pushes” one universe into another space that isn’t necessarily habitable, wouldn’t is destroy that universe?

It could also be that the universe that uses the weapon will be the one to impose its ‘field’ on the other; and  so, if we use the weapon, “gaps” in our world could be filled by what is in the alternate universe. However, in the end, most of our universe would survive, most of theirs would disappear. Again, this is just a theory – I look forward to getting more clues and honing it!

Another very interesting question is the one Broyles asks: why are there pieces of the weapon on our side? And well hidden, at that. It’s probably the same person who hid Newton’s head in a cryogenic facility – and that implies, quite strongly, that Bell had something to do with it. There is always the very slight possibility that the Observers helped with it, since they seem to be changing their mode of operation somewhat (think of August’s actions in the episode named after him, and September’s increasing involvement in the Bishops’ lives). Also, the fact that the weapon is ancient technology and yet does something totally futuristic makes it a reflection of all technology used by the Observers up to now.

Amidst all these theories, what seems certain is that there are more pieces hidden in our universe, as Altivia’s message to the Other Side implies (the one about Peter having the first piece). The rest of Season 3 seems to be gearing towards a race: will we manage to find the various pieces and secret them away, or will the Other Side get enough of them to be able to activate the weapon?

And what role is Walter going to play in all of this? He now has access to Massive Dynamic, which could mean access to top secret information. However, he still doesn’t have access to his memories. The theory I’m leaning towards is that Walter had something to do with the weapon and hiding the pieces. Perhaps it’s that Bell used typical hiding spots that only he and Walter knew about; or perhaps Walter is the only one who knows Bell enough to be able to figure out where the various pieces are.

Whatever the case, Altivia’s order to “being work on Dr. Bishop” is rather ominous, and makes me think of what Newton did to him in “Grey Matters” (Season 2, Episode 10).

The character of Newton, as an extension of Walternate into our universe, continues to shock and intrigue us. Two things in this episode are of particular interest to us.

The first is the juicy piece of information he gives us is when he tells Altivia he has been here, in our world, since she has been in high school. This means it has been at least 15 years he has come here, and sheds a bit more light on Fringe’s timeline.

Another interesting tidbit that might help us with the timeline comes from the two men who had been hired to dig out the box. While digging, they mention that this job is going to give them a lot of money, just like the one in Texas (which apparently didn’t go as well as planned). By the same token, Newton mentioned that he had already worked with them. This could imply that Newton might have been the one to hire them to do a job in Texas, but that the job in Texas got botched. Or perhaps there is no relationship between the two pieces of information. Does anyone remember if, on the map of Fringe events Olivia drew back in Season 1’s “There More than One of Everything” (Episode 20), the pattern of events extended all the way to Texas?

Considering why she is here, considering the amount of false information she received about us and most importantly, despite the nickname some have given her (i.e. Bolivia, from ‘Bad Olivia’), considering the fact that she is smart and has emotions, Altivia’s relationship to our universe is going to be quite interesting. It seems like it’s going to become clearer and clearer to her that Walternate’s black and white view of it isn’t quite right.

The fact that Olivia and Peter belong together, as Olivia herself put it in “Over There, Part II” (Season 2, Episode 23), was underlined once during this episode in a very subtle way. Peter used the same logic Olivia used in the episode “Momentum Deferred” (Season 2, Episode 4). In the latter episode, Broyles was concerned about Olivia’s safety and wanted to order a protective detail for her. She replied that, had whoever was sending orders to the shapeshifters wanted her dead, she would have been dead by now. And by the end of the episode, we came to realize that this wasn’t quite so – that Olivia’s death warrant had just been signed. In this episode, Peter tells the same person that he doesn’t need protection, because had Walternate been intent of kidnapping him and bringing him back to the other universe, it would have happened by then.

This parallel is all the more interesting for two reasons. First off, does it imply that, just like Olivia’s sense of security turned out wrong and an attempt was made on her life, that Peter’s sense of security will also turn out wrong and Walternate will attempt to kidnap him? And second, just like in the last season, it is going to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing that is going to get the job done. Last season, it was the shapeshifter in Charlie’s body, and this season, it’s going to be Altivia. Is the theme of deceit coming to be one of the central ones in Fringe? And is the resemblance in the logic that Peter and Olivia use inherent to their characters, which is partly why they are now together, is it a consequence of them spending a lot of time together in the last two years, or is it a bit of both? I guess we are going to have to wait to figure that out!

Walternate’s hand has obviously been playing with both of these relationships. On the one hand, it has been negatively affecting Peter’s relationship with Olivia. Need I say more? But on the other hand, the contrast of Walternate’s arrogance and deviousness with Walter’s sometimes misplaced kindness just might be exactly what Peter needs to get over his anger with Walter.

Speaking of which, Peter’s relationship with Olivia is not the only one that is going to be going through ups and downs; so is his relationship with Walter. Some might say Peter’s rebuke of Walter’s attempt to talk is downright cruel; I beg to differ. Peter is being kind to Walter while staying true to how he’s feeling: “Walter apologized to me. I know it wouldn’t take much; a few words, a hug, a couple of hands of Uno, anything would make the man feel better at this point. But I just can’t bring myself to do it.” By giving Walter these little things Peter might have made him happier in the short term; however, that in my opinion would have been cruel: to pretend everything is fine when it actually isn’t.

By the same token, Peter refused to patronize Walter, for the first time in over two years treating him like an adult rather than a child. What with Walter’s recent inheritance and increase in responsibilities, it just might be what this relationship needs.

Despite the strain in his relationship with Peter – or perhaps because of it – Walter is back in fine form. First, he tries to make Gene make chocolate milk by feeding her God knows what. Imagine if that were possible: feed a cow a special cocoa pill, and have her produce only chocolate milk. I’d like that cow in my lab, that’s for sure!

Then he called poor Astrid, Aspirin. Is it a reflection of how he feels – that he is in permanent need of an aspirin because of the stain in his relationship with Peter. And at the crime scene – egad, Walter is downright giddy.

We soon find out that Peter isn’t the only strain on Walter at the moment; that the thought of the reading of William Bell’s will is probably making him even more “walterish” than usual. And both these strains seem to be making his heart rather tender, as he grabs Nina in a big hug before entering the room where the will was being read.

The fact that Bell left Massive Dynamic to Walter is interesting but hardly surprising; Pinkner and Wyman hinted at it during the conference call they participated in two weeks ago. What I found really interesting was how Bell went about giving the company to Walter. He didn’t just write it in his will; rather, he left Walter a key to a safe deposit box with a sheaf of paper on which is inscribed: “Don’t be afraid to cross the line”. It’s highly symbolic, in that to get to his inheritance, Walter would have to cross a first line, that of his fear of what Bell had given him.

The line “Don’t be afraid to cross the line” suggests yet another theme the show has been grappling with. What is the line between science and immorality? How far should Massive Dynamic go in order to get what it wants? And, in light of the current situation, how far should our universe go to defend itself against Walternate and the alternate-universe?

By the same token, what Bell used to tell his former lab partner is yet another recurring theme in the show: “Only those that risk going too far can possibly know how far they can go.” While I agree that stepping out of one’s comfort zones and taking measured risks helps us grow mentally, emotionally and spiritually, I can hardly approve of an attitude that seems to be encouraging a lack of moderation and wisdom. However, I have to admit that it does make for some excellent television!

All in all, this episode of Fringe was everything I could have wished for; I got a few more tantalizing clues with regards to the big question mark of the moment, i.e. the weapon, I got lots of great Walter moments, and I got a little bit more of Astrid – whom we finally know doesn’t sleep at the lab, but at apartment number 204. If this is what the rest of the season has in store for us, then let the ride and the epic discussions surrounding it continue!

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About Sahar

  • Flo

    I like this episode. The Olivia/Peter thing still makes me cringe but it was a fine episode.

    I agree with all the points you made so I don’t really have anything more to say. This infiltration will obviously shed a new light on walternate view of the world and it will be interesting to see how altivia is gonna take it.

    I liked the fact that in the end, instinct prevailed and she just went to save Peter in the tunnel like she would have done in the alterworld with any of her old partners.
    No matter what world you come from, you just try to do your job and do it well.
    There are maybe not so many things that separate the two universes. Just a very thin line (that eventually will have to be crossed perhaps?).
    It makes me think of Orson Welles’ movie “A Touch of Evil” in which the Mexican border reprented the line bettween good and evil.

    It’s gonna be interesting indeed; Oh and yes, the chocolate-milk cow is an awesome idea!