I’ve been thinking a lot about Fringe this week, because I was genuinely taken aback by how many of you disliked last week’s “Immortality.” I thought it was a slam-dunk episode: exciting, good character development, great villain, and a surprising twist ending. Some of you were put off because it was exclusively an Earth-2 episode with no Earth-1 characters, so it struck you as a waste of time. And some of you—a whole lot of you, in fact—were bothered by the twist, complaining that the surprise pregnancy was both a dramatic cliché and and a continuation of the drippy “Who will Peter love?” business that made the previous week’s “Concentrate And Ask Again” such a bummer.
But honestly, it never occurred to me that people would have a problem with Fauxlivia being pregnant with Peter’s baby, because I was so knocked out by the clever way it was revealed. It was the opposite of “Concentrate,” where Sam explained the function of Walternate’s doomsday device in terms so corny that they got in the way of the greater significance of what he was saying. Only after I thought more about Fringe’s series-long interest in how the human complicates the mechanical (and vice-versa) did I realize that making the effect of Walternate’s device contingent on Peter’s capricious affections fits what the show is trying to say and do (even though that retroactive revelation didn’t make the final scene of “Concentrate” any better). With “Immortality,” by contrast, I was so caught up in the storytelling that I didn’t think much about the long-term implications.
So now, a week later, what do I think about Fauxlivia being pregnant, and Walternate using the baby to lure Peter back to his side, thereby potentially destroying “our” world? Well, it’s pretty melodramatic, I’ll grant, but I’m fine with it, so long as the way the story is told remains as strong as it’s been on Fringe for much of the last year. There are always trade-off with shows like Fringe, which try to deliver complete-in-one episodes and a long-form narrative simultaneously. The introduction of serialized elements are always—understandably—are going to make some fans impatient for payoffs, such that even a fast-paced, action-packed episode like “Immortality” will be dismissed as unsatisfying because it barely moves the main story along. Also, to give long-form plotting the proper weight, TV writers often go to some familiar wells, apparently assuming that the fate of the entire freakin’ universe will only connect with viewers at home if it’s tied to whether two crazy kids will ever find happiness in each other’s arms, or if parents and their children will ever get past decades of hurt feelings, or something similarly Hallmark Hall Of Fame-y.
It can be a drag, I know. That kind of sap is what made many people—myself included—roll their eyes occasionally down the homestretch of shows like Battlestar Galactica and Lost. But even with those two, it was always more a matter of how the relationship drama was played—and how much it dominated any given episode to the exclusion of the other elements—that bugged me far, far more than the very fact of it. A pregnant Fauxlivia doesn’t automatically sound any warning bells with me, and more than the furtive romance between Peter and Ourlivia has so far. It’s only when “Polivia” (or “Oter”… pick your ‘shipper portmanteau) moves from the genuinely emotional heart-to-hearts of “Marionette” to the “wait, didn’t they already have this conversation a couple of times?” of “Concentrate And Ask Again” that I start clearing my throat impatiently.
I cleared my throat a lot during “6B,” because although the episode has some nice moments (including a strong start and a sweet finish), there’s not a lot of plot, and the gaps are filled in by a few too many “love is the answer” scenes. For example, when Walter invites Olivia to breakfast, the scene starts out well. Walter offers a big stack of blueberry pancakes—“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day… I proved it in 1973”—along with candles and romantic music, and then he leaves Peter alone with Olivia to talk. But then Peter and Olivia go around and around yet again about how Peter betrayed Ourlivia by sleeping with Fauxlivia, to which Peter repeats yet again that he only loved her because he’d wanted Ourlivia for so long. (And Walter, on hearing that this conversation didn’t go as well as he’d hoped, says, “Perhaps I should have made a frittata.”)
There is some progress on the relationship front in “6B” though. Perhaps softened by Peter’s insistence that “I’ve seen what the two of us look like, and it’s beautiful,” Olivia takes a moment later in the episode to have a quick drink with Peter and tell him that she’s ready to see what he’s seen. Except that when she gives him a smooch, he starts to glimmer, and she panics a little.
Given what happens in the case this week, perhaps Olivia has reason to panic. “6B” begins with an especially freaky Freak-Meet, in which the freak is an entire building. In Park Slope, The Rosencrantz Building seems to be haunted, with lights flickering for no reason and objects moving on their own. One night, at a party, six people standing on a balcony suddenly fall to their deaths, surrounded by patio furniture. When Fringe Division investigates, they discover that these people couldn’t have leapt off the balcony—they must’ve dropped through it. Walter’s conclusion: The Rosencrantz Building is about to become the location of the first vortex on Earth-1, like the ones that have been destroying Earth-2.
On further investigation though, Peter and Olivia learn that the impending vortex may be tied to a person: an old woman named Alice Merchant, who’s been seeing a spectral image of her husband Derek in her apartment for months. He died when he was electrocuted by a short-circuit, because he lost the coin toss between them to decide who would go check on the wiring of their apartment. Walter figures that what Alice is really seeing is the Earth-2 version of Derek, since on the other side, Alice would have been the one to lose the toss. He theorizes a kind of “emotional quantum entanglement”… a “spooky action at a distance.”
So after Walter and Broyles grill Olivia about how Earth-2 sealed off vortexes via amber, Peter and Olivia rush to convince Alice that this Derek is not her Derek, and that she needs to disengage from him emotionally or risk destroying half of Brooklyn. All of which sets up the big climax, where the FBI has their amber-gas canisters in place, Broyles is on the walkie urging Peter and Olivia to “Get out now!” and Peter is giving a big, emotional speech to Alice about how she had a life with Derek that any single person—hint, hint, Olivia—would envy.
Like I said, there wasn’t a lot of plot here, and while I appreciated some of the details of Alice and Derek’s marriage—like the pointless-but-nice tidbit that he pretended to be a National Geographic photographer on vacations, so that they’d get special access—I found the big climactic stopping-the-vortex scene too over-the-top with the heartstring-tugging.
That said, “6B” was saved for me by some of its small touches, like the way Alice is finally convinced that the Earth-2 Derek isn’t hers when he says, “The girls miss you.” (Our Merchants were childless.) I also liked that the episode ended with Earth-2 Derek looking at pictures of his Alice, as a reminder that “emotional quantum entanglement” may persist even after the threat of a vortex fades. To underscore that, the episode ends with Olivia trying again with Peter, bringing a bottle of booze to his house and giving him another kiss before pulling up the stairs to bed. And on the soundtrack: The Velvet Underground, with Lou Reed singing, “Linger on… pale blue eyes.”
I wasn’t wild about “6B” as a whole, but there were signs here and there of the better Fringe—the one that lingers.
- This episode was written by Glen Whitman and Robert Chiappeta, who’ve collaborated on some much better Fringes in the past, and it was directed (and well, I’d say), by Thomas Yatsko, a regular Fringe cinematographer and previously the director of the excellent “White Tulip.” This wasn’t such a great episode, but Yatsko’s one to keep an eye on. His eps have a nice, burnished look, and I can’t complain about the performances either, which have struck me as very measured and connected.
- I assume it was a nod to Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead that Walter’s coin tosses came up heads ten times in a row. (The Merchants were coin-tossers too. I’m guessing that on the other side, they always come up tails.)
- When Walter is considering deploying amber, he realizes that maybe he’s no different than Walternate when it comes to making choices that could potentially ruin hundreds of thousands of lives. But then the discovery that the dimensional softening can be allayed by removing an emotional connection points to other ways of preventing—or even stopping—a breach. So Nina’s encouraging him to start learning all he can.
- William wanted to use soul-magnets to capture the spirits of the dead. Since Walter hasn’t heard from William since his friend died, he’s assuming they didn’t work.
- I could’ve sworn we’d been in Park Slope before on Fringe, but I was thinking of a different Brooklyn neighborhood: Williamsburg, in “The Arrival.” Anyone want to look for potential connections?
- The President Of The United States doesn’t like Broyles. (“I beat him at golf.”)
- We need a half-dozen of our best scientists… and that nervous fellow, Brandon.