As soon as this episode started, hints were being given. First there was the opening location tag, stating that we were in ‘Manhatan’ instead of ‘Manhattan’. A small thing, really, but still, in a show that is building its reputation as detail-oriented, it’s highly representative. Then there is the fact that the characters are talking about how hard it is to find ‘real’ coffee, to the point of cradling his mug over-protectively as he steps out of the company kitchen. Seriously? If the above mentioned was really a typo, doesn’t Manhattan have a Starbucks seemingly at every corner? Why does he need a cousin in Hawaii to send him some from her secret stash? And then was the blueprint clearly marked ‘New Pentagon’ for a circular building. Why rebuild something that…
That’s where it clicked, that’s when I knew we were in for quite a ride, and that’s when I realised that going on a winter hiatus right after such an episode was sheer genius.
Granted, there was a resemblance with yet another X-Files storyline: that of the season six episode “Dreamland” in which Mulder and Scully head to Area 51 on a tip and are caught in a distortion of time and space generated by alien technology that not only makes Mulder swap bodies with Morris Fletcher, a ‘man in black’ government agent, but makes a soldier swap places with an old woman while splicing together two lovers who had been making out nearby, a soldier and a rock, and two pennies. But that’s where the resemblance ended, as the reason why the splicing occurred is completely different in The X-Files and in Fringe, yet again proving that the latter, while paying homage to the former, can stand its own ground very well.
So back to Manhatan, where we learn that a series of micro-quakes have been hitting the area lately, obviously a highly unusual event in any New York City. One micro-quake leaves eyebrows raised, but then a second one starts a few moments later and just doesn’t seem to stop. When our architect comes to, he realises that his shoulder is part of a steel beam, that he has a weird lump on his chest, and that he has two sets of arms and two sets of legs.
Who do you call?
Fringe Division is called in the middle of the night, starting with Olivia who then calls up the Bishops:
Peter: You’ve got to be kidding me.
Olivia: Congratulations, Mr. Bishop. You just won an all-expense paid trip to New York City.
Peter: I thought I told you people to take me off your contestant list.
Olivia: Not according to our records. It says here that you're a fan of fine dining and excitement.
Peter: Do you have a supervisor? Anybody there I could complain to? Because this has to stop.
Olivia: Did I mention there's excitement?
Then of course was Walter’s reaction:
Peter: Walter, wake up. We just won an all-expense-paid trip to New York City.
Walter: That's fantastic. I've never won anything before.
Both exchanges are, of course, totally adorable. For Olivia/Peter shippers (what do they call themselves by the way, Olivers?), it was another one of those moments sprinkled throughout the last couple of episodes, while for those of us who love Walter, it was yet another typical Walter moment.
Arriving at the building, Walter and Olivia immediately realise that there is something a little odd about it:
Olivia: It looks…
Walter: … rearranged.
Initially, Walter thinks of a quantum tectonic event, only to change his theory when he spots the blueprint of the Pentagon sitting on one of the tables. Probably remembering how Olivia, at the end of season one, visited Bell in the Twin Towers in the alternative universe, Walter asks Mr. Pratchett, our multi-limbed victim, about the buildings that were attacked on September 11. Sure enough, the victim confirms with his dying breath what Walter had already guessed — he came from the alternate universe, where the Twin Towers were left unscathed but where the Pentagon and the White House were attacked.
Back at the lab, the usually affable Astrid can’t stomach working on Mr. Pratchett’s spliced body – whose lump on the chest, by the way, turns out to be the head of the Mr. Pratchett from our universe. So Walter sends her to sift through boxes of materials in order to identify objects that don’t belong there. Astrid finds a silver dollar with Richard Nixon’s effigy stamped on it, which Walter finds "disturbing," and a double-decker car (which would be an awesome new family vehicle that would be a lot easier to park, that’s for sure). It’s really interesting how everything points to the fact that the other side is technologically and scientifically more advanced than we are, and yet it was Walter who figured out how to open the door between the two universes.
He also remembers another important piece of information: that Newton’s little ‘trick’ doesn’t only mean that we now have a spliced building with spliced people and objects in it, but also that somehow, the universe will seek its balance by taking out a building from this world into the other one to balance itself out. There are two ways of figuring out which building will be taken out. As Agent Broyles heads to Massive Dynamic to start tracking seismic activity and unusual levels of howling dogs – two signs that were mentioned by our spliced, multi-limbed victims – Olivia, Walter, and Peter head over to Jacksonville, at the site where Walter and William conducted experiments on children, including Olivia.
Realising that the responsibility for the lives of hundreds of people who could potentially be in the building that will be taken into the other universe rests on her shoulders is the first blow to Olivia’s psyche in this episode. Arriving at the site where experiments were conducted on her when she was a child, a site that, despite her amazing memory, she can’t remember anything about, is the second.
The fact that the place itself is rather creepy isn’t only in that it has been abandoned for the last 25 years, but also that there is a mural that says “Our kids are happy kids.” It made me wonder if the people working at the place, knowing what they were doing was wrong, put that up to convince themselves that they weren’t as evil as the world, were it to find out, would brand them:
Walter: You (Olivia) were the first with the ability to identify things from the other side. We gave you the ability.
Peter: Walter, you were conducting illegal drug trials on children, don’t make that sound like charity work.
The third blow to Olivia’s psyche comes when she subjects herself to Walter’s experiment, and starts connecting back the defenceless child she used to be rather than the fearless woman she has become. The experiment is based on the fact that, as Walter explains it, “how we feel affects the way we see the world. That’s why Bell and I reasoned that extreme emotions stimulate this perception, that acute feelings of fear, love or anger would heighten the awareness, open the mind. The drugs help, of course.” And so Olivia is taken under by the cortexiphan into a dreamlike state in which she faces sinister black shadows flying overhead meant to heighten her emotional state. Olivia being Olivia would have been fine on her own perhaps, but her anger and disgust at having been experimented on as a child increases twenty-fold when she meets a little girl in her dreamlike state: a terrified little Olive, begging it to stop.
Peter: Is she okay?
Walter: No. But she’s not supposed to be.
The mixture of disgust, anger and helplessness, heightened by first losing little Olive followed almost immediately by the sight of what looked like little Olive being possessed further opened the crack in Olivia’s armour, and she loses her calm, coming out of the dreamlike state saying, “What the hell is wrong with you? You did this to little children?”
On a technical note, the dream sequence was extremely well done; mysterious enough to be identifiable as an unnatural state, heightened by the well chosen music and the darkening lighting (subtle at first, then becoming obvious), it really put a chill down my spine. Anna Torv is really becoming comfortable playing Olivia Dunham, and scenes such as this one clearly demonstrates this.
And unfortunately, all of it was for naught, as Olivia still can’t see any glimmer in the classroom where there is supposed to be 16 objects from the alternate universe. This irritates Olivia even more, and she snaps, “Now what? Shall we find more kids to scare?” Although I totally understand Olivia and can’t condemn her for hurting his feelings, I felt terrible for Walter, devastated at Olivia’s obvious disgust.
Back in New York City, Nina Sharp hears dogs howling; advised by Broyles that this is one of the signs of an impending ‘swap’ between the two universes, she calls him, and he in turn calls Olivia, who goes looking for Peter and Walter.
She finds Walter watching a videotape of her as a little girl, probably the same one he was seen viewing last season. This one was right after little Olive saw the alternate universe for the first time; she had been so scared that she started a fire with her own mind. While Walter is more focused on why the experiment didn’t work, Olivia is focused on the fact that she and the other children were, in short, abused by William and Walter. But of course, Walter doesn’t see it that way:
Walter: We were trying to help you, we were trying to make you more than you were.
Olivia: Is that you were doing? Or were you searching for answers to questions you shouldn’t have been asking in the first place?
Walter: I was a different man then.
Olivia: And I was a defenceless child.
Walter: Yes, you were…
At which point he figures out why the cortexiphan isn’t working; Olivia isn’t that frightened child anymore, and that rather than having any heightened emotional response, they needed a specific one: fear. Unfortunately (or fortunately), Olivia doesn’t feel fear that easily anymore, at least, not as easily as when she was a little girl. For the first time perhaps, Olivia realises that this strength is also a weakness:
Peter: Are you all right?
Olivia: No. I’m not afraid of anything anymore.
The only way Walter thinks Olivia will be able to save those people is to find her way to that scared little girl. Unfortunately, they don’t know how.
And so they focus their energy on the other possibility: finding said building. While the Massive Dynamics team was trying to detect a pattern in the seismic activities, they were doing it for naught, as Walter figured out 25 years ago that there was no pattern. However, there is one thing they can work with: mass. The building that is going to disappear should have the same mass as the one that appeared. And so all the math nerds start crunching numbers, leaving Olivia with nothing to do but worry. And as she worries, her helplessness increases, and suddenly, she feels fear, allowing her first to open up to Peter, and then, to seeing the glimmer.
Olivia could win the prize for worse timing ever when it comes to romance, but she definitely would win the prize for best timing ever when it comes to saving lives. With the help of the rest of Fringe Division, she is able to identify the glimmering building in the nick of time, and evacuate it before it disappears, leaving behind a hole in the ground. The official story? “An unscheduled controlled demolition.” Which, as Olivia muses, is going to give conspiracy theorists quite a field day.
The episode ends on another expected (but still shocking because it finally was revealed to Olivia) shocker. To Walter’s delight (he even did a little dance step when he found out), Olivia comes by the Bishops’ to go for drinks with a light-hearted Peter. But Olivia can now ‘see’ objects from the parallel universe, and she clearly sees Peter shimmer. As he goes to get his coat, Walter, who has seen and understood the slight widening of her eyes (that a happy Peter missed), confirms her vision by begging her, “Olivia, please. Don’t tell him.”
This episode was great for both its plot and its character development. The focus was on Olivia, who continued to ride a roller coaster of emotions that started with her coma earlier this season. The coma made her feel helpless, and as the season went by, the crack slowly opened up more and more. This episode helped split the wall around her open as she rediscovers the ability to fear, helping her solve the case, but also, allowing her to open up to Peter. It’s going to be interesting to see how Olivia learns to put her fear aside when needed and take it back out when it’s safe to do so.
Another very quick nod to Walter’s character development occurs in the daycare, when he finds, amongst the boxes, his old glasses; putting them back on, he looks at himself in the reflection of a pan, and smiles. While Walter might seem like a better person now, it’s clear that he misses being ‘whole’ as he managed to be for a few moments when Newton ‘connected’ him back to the slices of his brain Bell removed many years ago. Does this mean that Walter is going to become more of his old self as the season moves along?
There has been, in the last day and a half since the show first aired, a lot of grumbling in the fan forums. While many are happy to finally see Peter and Olivia not go down the road Mulder and Scully went (one typical meme reads “I like you, you like me. Now let’s wait 6 years to make sure”), many others are concerned that were Fringe to go down the relationship road, it would ruin the show. I am part of the middle-grounders who feel that things in the last couple of episodes occurred naturally, and what happened in this episode wasn’t forced down our throats; therefore what happened made perfect sense. However, now that Olivia knows about Peter being from the other universe, there is bound to be some level of discomfort that is going to offset even slightly any romance the two had in mind when making plans to go out for drinks. The question becomes: when are Olivia and Walter going to tell Peter the truth, and what is Peter’s reaction going to be when he finds out?
It’s definitely not going to be pretty.
There are also many others grumbling but fortunately, those can be more easily answered. For example, I got many questions about how Olivia could see the glimmer on a building that still belongs to our world before it is taken out of it, leaving some fans confused, as Walter explained that the glimmer is because of the energy the objects coming from the other universe carry. But they tend to have forgotten that Walter continued with his explanation: “I believe that in the moments before the event, when the fabric of the two universes is rubbing together, the building on this side will begin to take a light glimmer.” Perhaps then, when the fabric of the two universes is rubbing together, a rip is formed, and the glimmer is basically the other universe that we are seeing fleetingly through a very blurry window.
There was also a lot of grumbling about the CD player in the 1986 car from the alternate universe; many people mentioned that in 1986, in our universe, there were no such things as CD players. Actually, there were; the first CD player was in use in 1982. While they didn’t become popular until the early 1990s, and they made their appearances in cars many years after that, someone like Walter Bishop would have known, as early as in 1986 (and probably before) what a CD player was. Since they had existed for four years, and since the car was supposedly placed there by MIT, it probably wasn’t too far of a stretch for people in 1986 to believe that an extremely nerdy MIT student or professor who has access to one of the few CD players in existence managed to figure out how to put it in his 1986 car. As for the alternate universe having CD players in their cars, well, we already know that they are technologically more advanced than us, so that doesn’t defeat any logic.
Other little things that will keep fans occupied in the upcoming weeks of the winter hiatus include the significance of the combination for the lock on the building in Jacksonville where Walter and William conducted their experiments. Walter remembered the combination, but couldn’t remember its significance. We know that it’s the scheduled date of season two’s finale (FOX announced that as of April 1 there are going to be eight back-to-back new episodes before the season finale). But is the combination a date of something important happening in the Fringe mythology, too? Or a code for something else?
Another one is the presence of the Observer in this episode – or lack thereof. I didn’t see him anywhere, and would love to hear from anyone who did spot him. I can’t help but wonder if the place and time he is spotted at is yet another clue, or just a random sighting.
Third is the question of who got pulled on the other side when Walter brought Peter back here. There isn’t enough information available to us to come close to guessing, but the possibilities are basically these: either Walter took back dead Peter’s body and brought back the other Peter (hey, it’s something he would be capable of doing, even if it involves digging up the corpse of his child), or a random child of approximately the same mass who lived around the Bishops’ place suddenly disappeared.
This definitely was one of the best episodes of Fringe to date. And if the trailer for the April 1 episode (entitled "Peter") is any indication, the ride is far, far from over.