B+

Fringe: “August”

Because I work at home, by myself, I spend some portion of each day roaming around the house talking and/or singing in a funny voice. I also spend some portion of each day locked inside my head, in pained reflection, recalling something stupid I said or did decades ago (and feeling humiliated all over again). So if there really were Observers in this world, watching what we do and reporting back to their superiors, frankly I’d be mortified.

Of course, I’d feel even worse if I was Walter, and I knew that I’d been closely observed doing some truly terrible things—like, y’know, preadolescent mind control and interdimensional kindnapping. In fact, I’d be downright paranoid. Especially if news came over the Fringe-phone that an Observer had been observed nabbing a young lady for some nefarious purpose… perhaps as leverage to get Walter to make amends for part mistakes.

As it happens though, the Observer who snatches the seemingly insignificant Christine Hollis is not the Observer that Fringe Division knows well. (“There’s more than one Observer,” Peter marvels, echoing our familiar Observer’s past comment that “there’s more than one of everything.”) Our better-known Observer is named September, and this new Observer is named August. As the episode named for August plays on, we learn that if August hadn’t taken Christine, she would’ve boarded a plane to Italy, which would’ve crashed, killing her. When September (and another Observer who appears to be his superior) discover that August has changed the natural course of history for no apparent reason, they call in a burly human assassin to finish the job that transatlantic air travel didn't. But August isn’t having it. He steps in front of the assassin's bullet, and after explaining himself to September, he dies.

From a master-plot perspective, the big news on tonight’s Fringe was that The Observers are out in force, and have been for quite some time. Look closely at Paul Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre. There’s an Observer. Check out that old painting of Marie Antoinette’s beheading. Observer. Examine this photo of the shooting of Franz Ferdinand. Yep… Observer. Except that in the past the Observers showed up infrequently, to witness major turning points in world history. And lately they’ve been showing up willy-nilly. Apparently, nearly every weird thing that’s been happening over the past few years—The Pattern, in other words—is frightfully important. (Accent on the “fright.”)

From a thematic perspective, “August” deals openly with the question of whether the idea of a neutral, non-intervening observer is foolish on its face. Some have argued—proved, even—that taking the measure of a thing even from a distance has an effect on said thing, and changes it in ways both subtle and profound. Consider that the very presence of the Observers has now alerted Fringe Division (and Massive Dynamic) that something is afoot, and consider that those who are aware of the Observers are now likely to alter their behavior in reaction to that awareness. That’s demonstrable change right there, wrought strictly by observation. Or, in a more abstract way, consider that the Observers have been known in the past to step in, based on their interpretation of what they’ve seen. And as shown by Olivia’s sweet anecdote about eating popcorn at the movies with her mother, sometimes two different people can interpret an incident differently, based on an emotional response to the experience.

I wish I could say I had a powerful emotional response to “August,” but I confess I found some aspects of the episode lacking. For one, it was a very sketchy episode, plot-wise and mythology-wise. Not a whole lot happened, and despite the presence of the Observers and the new tidbits of information about them, this wasn’t as rich an episode as, say, “Momentum Deferred.” (Perhaps I expected too much on that score, after two straight weeks of stand-alone episodes.)

That said, “August” was wonderfully moody, thanks to regular writers J.H. Wyman and Jeff Pinker and first-time Fringe director Dennis Smith (a former DP who’s worked on The Practice and Numb3rs, among other shows). I enjoyed the scenes of the Observer Council meeting over plates of hot sauce at local restaurants. And though August’s dying speech—about how he watched Christine’s parents die when she was little and formed an inexplicable attachment to her—could well have turned out too mawkish, I thought it was played with just the right amount of pathos. It’s not every show that could get away with a halting line of dialogue like, “I think... it’s what they call… ‘feeling.’ … I think… I love her,” but the Fringe folks made it work, by tying it into the theme of the episode. Now the Observers won’t try to kill Christine, because August’s sacrifice on her behalf has made her too “important” to kill. “Important” to history? Not really. “Important” in a sentimental way is more like it. Emotion trumps logic.

It’s in that same sentimental spirit that “August” ends with Olivia taking Ella to an amusement park, and September watching the aunt and niece somewhat sorrowfully, regretting that, “It’s a shame things are about to get so hard.” My biggest problem with this episode—and Fringe in general lately—is that I have no confidence that Fringe is going to follow up on that cryptic comment anytime soon.

Grade: B+

Stray observations:

-Hey, it was good to see Ella again! And especially good to see kooky Massive Dynamics employee Brandon, who brings a different energy to the show. When Brandon explained the Observers’ time-travel with the aid of vials of liquid—and kept letting that liquid spill onto his shoes—it served as a clever visual metaphor for the idea of the Observers trying and failing to stand aloof from what they see.

-Got to spend a little more time in Walter and Peter’s new home this week, a set that hasn’t been used much so far. It didn’t really occur to me before, but I’m assuming one major reason why Walter and Peter moved was because the production itself moved between seasons, from New York to Canada.

-Not much Walter action this week, beyond his effort to recreate his favorite kind of strawberry milkshake. Most implausible attempt: mixing French Vanilla ice cream and cough syrup.

-Classic rock flashback of the week: Jackson Browne’s “Jamaica, Say You Will.” (I’m assuming this information will be relevant someday.)

 

Filed Under: TV, Fringe

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