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Fringe: "6:02 AM EST"

“If it’s the end of the world, this is just the beginning.”

I’ll be brief this week, because when it comes to multi-part season finales—as longtime readers know—I hesitate to offer any kind of conclusive opinion or grade until I see where the story’s going to land. I can only tell you that so far, I’m enjoying how Fringe’s third season is wrapping up. I’m enjoying the cross-cutting between Earth-1 and Earth-2, and the sense of imminent doom. I’m even enjoying a lot of the adventure-movie clichés in the dialogue, just because they’re so damned tried-and-true.

As “6:02 AM EST” opens, the same brand of blight that’s ravaged Earth-2 begins to trouble Earth-1, beginning with a flock of sheep freaking out in Accord, NY, followed by a swarm of locusts, and then finally some strange vortex which wipes out a whole swath of a farm, leaving behind hunks of granite teeming with resonating quartz crystals. Olivia, relying on her knowledge of the other side, quickly gets Nina Sharp and Massive Dynamic up to speed on how to handle such “Fringe Events,” by helping them set up a 15-minute warning system and urging them to stock up on amber. (Unfortunately, MD only has enough amber for about eight or ten events… which is nowhere near enough.) Olivia also goes hunting for Sam Weiss, because as Nina explains, Sam told her once that if Olivia and Peter were together, “Everything would be all right.” Now though, Sam is off the grid and out in a field, checking out the eerie skies and making calculations. Ominously, his figures add up to zero.

Making matters worse, Walternate’s Doomsday Machine has suddenly switched on all by itself in its special hangar on Earth-1, and is making disturbingly apocalyptic noises. Our Fringe Division heroes speculate that the same kind of quantum entanglement that allowed Earth-2 secret agents to send messages via the typewriter shop is at play here, and that our Doomsday Machine is whirring because Walternate has engaged his DM “over there.” (Their speculation is correct. Walternate and Brandon have used Henry Dunham’s blood, with its Peter Bishop DNA, to activate the machine. And they’re dismayed to find that it’s not doing much on their side in the early going, besides making Lincoln and Fauxlivia suspicious.) Walter suggests that they could maybe stop Walternate’s progress if they tear down the machine, or encase it in lead. But Peter knows what they have to do. The DM is supposed to be controlled by Peter; Peter’s going to have to hop in the driver’s seat.

What I especially liked about “6:02 AM EST” is that in the midst of all this end-times rush, it pauses periodically to check in with the various characters in short one-on-one scenes, strengthening our sense of what these relationships mean. (It’s something that Fringe has gotten good at in the past year-and-a-half, and something I wouldn’t have predicted for the show back in season one.) Sometimes the relationship scenes are major, as when the episode opens with Peter and Olivia snuggling in bed together (or later, with Olivia promising to call Peter when she gets to New York). And sometimes they’re minor, as when Broyles lets Walter know that he values his opinion. But the most touching scenes in the episode are between Walter and Peter. When Peter tries to break it to Walter that he’s going to have to get into the machine, Walter reflects on the test The Observer gave him a few weeks ago—“Give him the keys and save the girl”—to see if he could sacrifice his son. So Walter sends Peter on his way, after first rubbing a little hand gel on the boy’s palms, to protect against electric shock.

And after the Doomsday Machine rejects Peter, sending him flying across the lab, Walter huddles in the chapel at the hospital, in a moving scene that sees him remembering the sign that “God” (or Peter Weller) sent when Walter was in deep doubt, and asking God whether the changes he made in his life matter. (Meanwhile, on Earth-2, Walternate quotes Oppenheimer before he activates the machine, in his own moment of spirituality. Except that Walternate, ruefully, is playing God rather than praying.) 

As I mentioned up top, a lot of the big emotional scenes in this episode are steeped in genre convention. When Lincoln looks at an old picture of him and Fauxlivia, he sighs, “Seems like a million years ago.” And when Peter gives Astrid a message to pass on to Olivia before he steps into the machine, Astrid says, “Whatever it is, you’ll tell her yourself.” All corny, I know. But when a big, sweeping, fate-of-two-worlds-hangs-in-the-balance story is really clicking along, those kind of old-fashioned lines don’t clunk so much; they read like liturgy.

Very much looking forward to the next chapter.

Grade: A-

Stray observations:

  • Can Earth-1 and Earth-2 come up with a solution that doesn’t involve them destroying each other? Can what began in Accord, end in accord?
  • When Fauxlivia was threatening Brandon, she was doing a little bit of a Bellivia voice.
  • Brandon’s enjoying a radio broadcast of the Brooklyn Dodgers playing the Expos at Ebbets Field. Earth-2 is such an awesome Earth.
  • Walter is always naked on Tuesday mornings.
  • Sam Weiss is a Brut man.
  • “Some days you got it, Donnie; some days you don’t.” So speaks The Magic Lebowski.
  • Henry is such a nugget.
  • Walter, Walternate and Fauxlivia all show a willingness to sacrifice their respective sons in this episode. Make of that what you will.
  • In one of the first shots of the episode, Brandon is standing in front of beakers of red and blue liquid—a tipoff that this episode will take place on both worlds. (It also sparked a crazy-ass theory of mine which I hesitate to share, lest it wind up being true and spoiling the next two episodes. Perhaps I should seal it in an envelope so that if it does happen, I can say, “I knew it!” and not be met with a chorus of “sure you did”s.)

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