B-

Fringe: "Amber 31422"

B-

Fringe

"Amber 31422"

Season 3, Episode 5

“Let me do this one good thing.”
-Joshua Rose, bank-robber

“Nature doesn’t recognize good and evil, Phillip. Nature only recognizes balance and imbalance.”
-Walternate, scientist

After four solid weeks of good-to-great episodes, Fringe delivered its first semi-dud of season three with “Amber 31422.” The case-of-the-week was dull—a largely twistless investigation of a man who freed his twin brother from Fringe Division’s quarantine amber—and the dialogue throughout struck me as too flat and too earnest. And yet this episode was essential viewing for Fringe fans, for a couple of reasons—starting with the two quotes up top and what they say about the conflicting philosophies of warring dimensions.

I wish I was more moved by the strange circumstances of Joshua and Matthew Rose, but though the twins were well-acted (by Shawn and Aaron Ashmore), they were more interesting for being two brothers who look exactly alike, with identical DNA, just like the pairs of people from Earth-1 and Earth-2. And like the doppelgängers from alternate dimensions, the Roses have differing personalities: One’s a crook, and one’s an accountant. And like Fauxlivia and Ourlivia in particular, sometimes they pretend to be each other. In fact, it was seemingly meek family man Matthew who was in a bank four years ago when Fringe Division sensed a breech between worlds—caused by the very familiar-looking device Joshua used to walk through walls—and subsequently froze Matthew and everyone in the vicinity in amber. Joshua posed as Matthew for years after that, until he was finally able to spring him.

Our FD pals track the Roses down with the help of facial recognition software and a discarded hunk of amber in the shape of Matthew’s face. Agent Olivia Dunham also has assistance from Ghost Peter, who teases her with the facts of the case (“Does that look familiar? Two people who look exactly alike?”) and keeps her on her toes, all while working to convince her that she’s actually Ourlivia, of Earth-1. When Broyles pulls Dunham off the case because of her erratic behavior, she takes her Peter-prompted hunches to Astrid, who helps her narrow down where the Roses might strike next. Having determined that Matthew Rose must have been the one who was trapped all these years and that Joshua must feel guilty about it, Olivia and Astrid estimate that his next bank job will place in a relatively unpopulated area of the Bronx. But before Olivia can barge in and tell Joshua, “You’re nicked!,” Matthew intercedes. While Olivia’s knocked out on the pavement, Matthew confronts Joshua, who tells his brother that he’s going to let himself get trapped in amber intentionally, so that the law will get off Matthew’s back. So it goes.

Like I said, I wish I had been more moved by all this—brother helping brother and all. Certainly the stakes as presented were high enough. We found out in this episode that not only are the people trapped in amber still alive, and recoverable, but that they’re awake and aware. Matthew spent four years fully conscious of the suspended state he was in, and now, Joshua’s doing the same. In a way, though, hearing about the effects of the amber is part of why I had a hard time connecting with “Amber 31422.” It seems to me that a guy who’d been immobile for four years would be a lot more cracked than Matthew Rose appears to be. I wasn’t buying in to the emotion of the situation.

Plus I was thrown out of the episode by scenes like Walternate and Broyle’s conversation about the secret of the amber and why they have to keep it (“If people knew they were alive … !”), and Ghost Peter telling Olivia that she’s only preoccupied with this case because she, too, feels “trapped,” like the Rose brothers. This show has never shied away from its dime-novel roots, but all of those “here’s what’s really going on” moments in “Amber 31422” laid it on way too thick.

Still, it was worth it to hear Walternate articulate his vision of the coming war between the universes as one in which the natural order will be restored, not one of good versus evil. In mapping Walternate’s motivations and methods these past few weeks, I’ve noted that he’s all about prompting Earth-1 to make moves so that Earth-2 can retaliate, which is useful inasmuch as Earth-2 folk (like Joshua and Matthew Rose) are motivated by a sense of honor and righteousness, just like we are here on Earth-1. It’s good now to see how all that fits into a larger picture, with Walternate holding himself aloof from matters of moral versus immoral. He’s more about right versus wrong—which in his head is not the same thing.

The second reason why “Amber 31422” was better than its main plot was because it moved us closer to a confrontation between Ourlivia and Fauxlivia. Walter experiments with Olivia by dropping her in a sensory deprivation tank and pumping her full of psychotropic drugs—a lot of psychotropic drugs—to see if she’ll cross over. And she does: first for just a few seconds, and later for up to a minute, long enough for her to call her niece Ella on her birthday. Olivia calls Ella after Ghost Peter explains that because he’s a figment of her imagination, everything he tells her is something that’s already in her memory—including the existence of Ella. The walls are breaking down. And to signify this, both of Olivia’s brief trips to Earth-1 in this episode feature an image of a snow globe smashing.

But which universe does that snow globe represent? Somebody better call in Nina Sharp so we can get a ruling.

Stray observations:

  • “Only those who risk going too far find out how far they can go.” Sounds like something our Walter would say, doesn’t it?
  • Apparently, on Earth 2, Cary Grant starred in The Maltese Falcon. (Or perhaps Lincoln Lee doesn’t know his movie quotes.)
  • Never take the Nixon Parkway. It’s all jammed up. 
  • Brandon and Walternate note “some dormant chemical” in Ourlivia’s brain. And that was the day Earth-2 discovered Cortexifan!
  • Maureen Ryan has a good, not-too-spoilery article about what the future holds for Fringe this season. Check it out.

More TV Club