This latest episode of Fringe drops more hints and clues, and plot twists that indicate that we are again in for a crazy end-of- season ride. For the sake of my poor readers, my editors and I have decided post the review in two parts. The first part is meant to be more plot oriented, and the second more concept oriented; the two are so intimately linked that there both parts will most probably feature a little of both.
The episode starts off with quite a metaphorical bang, what with Massive Dynamic having put together the infamous machine whose parts were unearthed in the sixth episode of this season, “6955 kHz”. We already knew that Peter was intimately linked to the machine’s working, but what we didn’t know is that the machine is also intimately linked to Peter’s “working”, and we see its dark effects on him clearly by the end of the episode, in a moment reminiscent of Season 2’s 13th episode, “What Lies Below” (which happens to be one of my favourite Fringe episodes).
The link between Peter and everything happening is therefore a lot deeper than we previously thought, what with the machine going totally crazy when Peter approached it. I have been so focused on figuring out the why that I haven’t seriously thought about the how: if the machine had to be ‘programmed’ to ‘work with’ Peter, then somehow The First People, who seem to have made said machine, had access to his DNA. It could have to do with time travelling, which might involve the Observers as well, as they can time travel. However, it could be that the machine is set to ‘work with’ someone who meets certain criteria, and that person’s DNA somehow gets to the machine. Again, who else but an Observer would be in a position to bring the DNA to the machine?
Needless to say, this makes what happened in the previous episode, “Firefly”, all the more ominous; Walter really might have to one day let go of Peter, and if it is to save him and both worlds, it might be that he will have to let him go to die.
The Observer can be spotted standing in the crowd of curious onlookers behind Olivia and Broyles, as the latter gives the former a run down of the situation. The glyphs spell out “Alter”. The obvious link is to the fact that everyone in the Fringe mythology has an physical alternate version of themselves. But I’m thinking that this word also has to do with the mental alternate version of oneself a person can have. For example, Walter’s current condition is an alternate, in a way, of the person he used to be, one that he has been seeking to retrieve in the last couple of episodes. And of course, there is now an alter version of sorts of Peter, i.e. the one that has been “weaponized” when he got close to the machine.
There was, of course, a big nod to the fans when it was pointed out that Walter calls Altivia “Faux-livia”, which probably has to do with the fact that fans have been calling her that. For those of you who are newer Fringe fans, this is the second time fans have directly influenced the show that I am aware of, the first being when the production team decided to use the name “Walternate”. Go fans!
An obvious and intriguing Easter Egg, was the seahorse-shaped metallic decorative item on the front of Peter’s bag, at the very beginning of the episode. We found out in Season 2’s 14th episode, “The Bishop Revival”, that the seahorse was Walter’s father’s nickname, and that the shape with which he signed his creations at a molecular level. As a reminder, Robert Bishop was a scientific pioneer, just like his son Walter; he was a spy for the Allies, working at the University of Berlin, sabotaging German research and smuggling information to the United States. And this makes me wonder… Seeing as how Robert already has ties to the Fringe mythology (because of the abovementioned episode, but also because of the storyline in the comic book released almost two years ago), I have the feeling that Robert is also going to be tied to the story of the machine and The First People.
The potential for increasing the pace of the show is set more firmly in place with the breaking of the encryption on Altivia’s laptop. It helped advance the plot, helped advance the mythology of Fringe and helped advance the storyline specific to Olivia and Peter. I wonder how else will the information on the laptop help advance the rest of the season, and perhaps contribute to its ever-increasing pace in the coming months.
Speaking of plots, I’m pretty sure everyone found it obvious that Dr. James Falcon was the mole. The scene where Walter comes into the MRI room after Peter’s scan to tell him about the dead shapeshifter was too deliberate for such a delicately synchronised show. It makes me wonder why this was done: did Peter already know that the doctor was a shapeshifter – or perhaps he only knew that the doctor was on the list? And how would that affect us, the viewers?
As the strain one our main characters increases, another still underappreciated character (in my opinion, at least) is once again stepping up. Broyles asks Astrid to go over Altivia’s files from the laptop because of the sensitivity of the situation – i.e. the personal observations Altivia has about Peter. In the end, Astrid might not have solved the puzzle, but she does become something of a confidant to Olivia. First Walter, then Olivia; who is to say Peter isn’t next, and that Astrid will become a potent force in bringing him and Olivia together?
Another underappreciated but greatly loved character, Brandon, gets some unwanted attention when he ends up being the only person with A positive blood at Massive Dynamic. It did give way for one of the best moments of the episode:
Broyles: Don’t move.
Brandon, his mouth full: Can I swallow?
The episode’s title might be “Reciprocity”, but one of episode’s main themes is synchronicity. While Fringe is a work of fiction, the way things work out in some of these episodes is a good reflection of how things sometimes work out in real life. Life does after all have a certain synchronicity to it that makes things like breaking into Altivia’s laptop at the same time as the machine is now put together happen at the same time, creating a perfect storm.
While it was obvious that part of the data Altivia would have brought with her from The Other Side would include the names of the covers used by the shapeshifters in our world, it came as quite a surprise that more shapeshifters weren’t identified. My theory is that there are many more of them out there, but these ones are the ones Altivia needed to know about.
There is also the fact that Altivia’s files couldn’t possibly have been limited to the little we were made privy of in the course of this episode. Perhaps Fringe Division is slowly going to filter it all, in time for the action in future episodes, and perhaps this means that a future episode is going to have as title “Synchronicity”.
One last miscellaneous thought: did anyone else sit up a little straighter at Broyles’ near accident at the end of the episode? Wasn’t it very reminiscent of Olivia’s near miss at the end of Season 1, which we soon found out was the trigger to her ‘travelling’ to The Other Side? I can’t help but wonder…
One of the aspects of storytelling in Fringe I see emerging is that, although there are plots, subplots and sub-subplots galore, and although the entire show has one major arc, i.e. its mythology, each season is a particular chapter in itself, offering the opportunity to delve into one aspect of the mythology, while at the same time offering developments about many other aspects as well.
Season 1 really was about our universe, the rules that control it, and what happened to create the tear between it and the other universe, which was the focus of Season 2. The first part of Season 3 was mostly about the relationship between our universe and the alternate one; the second part is about what binds them together, i.e. The First People and the Observers. Interestingly, these two are also linked, in that one’s technology puts the universe that doesn’t have it in danger of extinction, a consequence of the interference of the other.
Just as in the last couple of seasons, we are fed small, painful morsel after the other about The First People. For example, Walter read the book The First People a dozen times and has found nothing about how the machine works or how it is related to Peter.
With regards to the book itself, Brandon, at Nina’s request, launched a search for other copies of the book. He found three other copies, one in a museum, the two others are part of private collections. The most interesting thing about these four copies (the three newly found ones and the one Peter found) is that they all say the same thing, word for word, although they have been published in three different languages (one is in Spanish, the other in Hebrew, and the other wasn’t visible in the camera pan) by three different authors within two years of each other.
Unfortunately we don’t know the names of these authors, or if they also are anagrams of Sam Weiss. And, interestingly enough, Bell launched his own search into these books a couple of years prior. The man might be dead in both universes, but he still continues to tickle us silly, doesn’t he?
With regards to the links between The First People and the Observers, I can’t help but be intrigued by the fact that straight after last episode, which was about the Observers, we now have an episode about The First People. Is there a closer relationship between the two than the one I mentioned above? Could September’s focus and determination on righting the wrong of Walter’s crossing over to the alternate universe in 1985 be a way for September to right a mistake he made in the past, that perhaps ended up with the annihilation of The First People?
If The First People created a machine that would end the war between the two universes, doesn’t it imply that this machine was built to end such a war that happened previously? And could that mean that, perhaps, in a distant past, there was an advanced civilization called The First People who got caught in a similar situation, a situation the Observers let happen, and now that history is repeating itself, September is now obsessed with stopping it?
Speaking of obsessions, a recurring one featuring one of Fringe’s best characters is a search for mental acuity. It’s so overpowering that it’s affecting Walter’s judgement in many ways. In this episode, it was demonstrated with the way Walter reacted to Dr. James Falcon. It seemed obvious that he didn’t like the doctor from the very beginning, and my guess is, it might have something to do with his diminished mental acuity, which he had been seeing more and more as a burden to bear. Dr. Falcon’s brilliance was bound to irritate Walter, who once was himself the golden boy of the government, just like the former is now of Massive Dynamic.
What’s even more interesting is that Walter’s jealousy might have blinded him to the reality of Dr. Falcon being the mole. While Walter was suspicious of him, his reasons were not based on fact, but rather on emotion. But what is Walter had managed to detach himself from his jealousy and insecurity? Perhaps he would have seen Dr. Falcon for what he really was, or perhaps someone else, like Nina, would have. Which makes me wonder just how many other things have been missed by our main characters in the last couple of months, what with the emotional roller coaster they have been riding, and how it’s going to eventually come back to haunt them.
Another obvious consequence of Walter’s obsession with regaining his former mental acuity was amusingly portrayed through his acquisition of chimpanzee-related traits. Nina found Bell’s research regarding regrowing brain cells. She also found three possible specimens: one was from a rat, another was from a chimpanzee and the third was from Walter. Instead of waiting for the lab to figure out which one was which, as a fire had destroyed the labels, Walter randomnly inhaled the cells from one of the samples, which turned out to be from the chimpanzee.
Walter: Don’t worry, I snorted worse.
I guess it’s a good thing that he didn’t take a whiff of the rat DNA…