As fans of Fringe may know, Jasika Nicole has a sister with an autistic spectrum disorder, which means her portrayal of the Aspergers-affected Earth-2 version of Astrid—Austrid, if you will—has been inspired in large part by her own experiences. As the father of an ASD kid (our own little robot boy, as my wife and I sometimes call him), I’ve always appreciated how accurately Nicole conveys Aspergers/autism in her performance as Austrid. It’s not just the cadence she gets right, it’s the persistent anxiousness, and the way Austrid channels all her emotions through one overwhelming feeling: worry.
Nicole gets a long-overdue showcase in “Making Angels,” as Austrid hops on the Cosmic Treadmill and comes to visit her Earth-1 counterpart, to sort out her feelings about the death of her father. Austrid wants to compare notes about their respective families—“My mother died of cancer when I was a girl; did yours as well?” she asks in a heartbreaking monotone—but she also takes genuine pleasure in the way that she and her double share similar expressions and pasts, and the way that Astrid sweetly offers her coffee. Nicole gets to play both Astrid’s fascination with Austrid, and to play Austrid’s stunted version of grief. It’s a tour-de-force for her.
I was mildly dismayed that “Making Angels” builds to a big emotional beat in which Austrid says that she’s sure her late father didn’t love her fully due to her being “different,” but that’s only because one of my pet peeves about autism stories on TV and in the movies is that so many of them are obsessed with that same old question of how an autist shares love with his or her family. (And there are so many other aspects of autism ripe for exploration.) But I have no complaints about the way Nicole played that moment, from both sides, or with the surprise reveal that Astrid’s father is very much alive and is a doting dad—not at all like the distant technocrat she described to Austrid.
It’s also nifty the way that Austrid’s daddy issues dovetail with the story of our Freak Of The Week: an amateur scientist named Neil, whose favored brother Alex died as a boy, devastating their mother, who in a moment of weakness wailed too loudly to God that Neil should’ve been taken instead. Now Neil plays God, using his Austrid-like mastery of high-level differential equations—and his glowy blue wand—to pinpoint people who deserve to die, and to hasten their demise. Later we learn that Neil didn’t develop his “see the past, present and future” technology on his own; he found his glowy blue wand near his house at Reiden Lake, where the observer September lost it on the night that young Peter fell through the ice. But whether Neil worked out the math and science on his own or he had it handed to him, what matters is how he interprets his mission, as an extension of his mother’s inadvertent cruelty. Neil’s mom isn’t an evil woman, any more than Austrid’s dad meant to come off as cold and unloving. But sometimes one mistake—however brief or unintended—provokes another. (See also: September’s accidental wand-loss, and what that led to.)
There’s a lot in “Making Angels” too about partnerships. Walter—who, tellingly, refuses to claim parentage for the adult Peter—tells his non-son that he prefers to work with Lincoln, who is willing to take long breaks to play chess. Walter also gets annoyed with Peter for bollixing his smooth-running partnership with Astrid, about whom Austrid keenly notes, “You talk through her as though you were one person.” Olivia, on the other hand, has come to appreciate Peter’s skills, and calls him “a good partner.” Some people just fit together naturally. And biology doesn’t always dictate that.
I told myself before this episode aired that I wasn’t going to spend any time in this review dealing with the overall direction of the show, or launching any kind of extensive defense of those recent choices that some fans hate (but that I haven’t minded). I’m afraid I can’t avoid at least mentioning it though, for a couple of reasons. For one, the arrival of Fauxlivia to retrieve Austrid forces the issue. As Walter complains about her presence and reminisces bitterly about the time she impersonated Olivia and duped him, it raises so many questions about how everything can be so similar between this Peter-less reality and the reality we’ve known. It’s just hard to picture all the Fringe stories that we’ve seen for the past three years happening almost exactly the same, only without Peter. Even contemplating it kind of hurts the brain.
That said, “Making Angels” offers its own refutation for those who get frustrated trying to figure out what’s what, which is that for the purposes of the immediate story, all that matters is who’s pointing a weapon at whom, and how he or she can be stopped. Just like biology doesn’t necessarily dictate connection, so familiarity with characters doesn’t necessarily dictate concern for their fate. It’s like what Neil says to his victims as he lays out his predictions for them. There is no future. There is no past. Everything happens right now.
- I wavered on the grade for this episode, settling on the “A-” because Nicole is so amazing, and because this is one of those Fringes that fans are bound to remember long after the show finishes its run. But I did think that it suffered in comparison to last season’s “The Plateau,” which also had to do with the use of advanced probability calculation as a murder weapon. The difference is that “The Plateau” was more action-packed, while “Making Angels” was more cerebral and dialogue-driven. Most of it took place in the lab, and with no appearances by Lincoln or Broyles, which made it feel at times like an episode dictated by the budget. Still, give the Fringe team credit: the alternate universes they’ve built means that that they can fill a room with six characters, using only four actors.
- Astrid shrieks when she sees Austrid, which prompts Olivia to ask why other people don’t do that. Good question.
- I love the way Fauxlivia asks, “Cold Chinese in the fridge?” This establishes in a single line how familiar she is with this Earth and this lab from her stint as an impostor.
- You’ll always be able to find a convenient power-plug for the Neon Leaf!
- Kirk out!