Hey, we’re back on Earth-1! Where when people start spontaneously bleeding from the head, we don’t freeze the scene in amber; we send in a flatulent old man in a jelly-stained tie to clean up the mess.
Fringe stays on its recent winning streak with “The Box,” the second episode of this third season. It’s not as bracing as last week’s “Olivia,” but that’s mainly because the curious differences of Earth-2 bring a little extra juice to any scene set there, while investigations into the paranormal on our less fanciful Earth-1 are more familiar. Still, at least the paranormal incident in “The Box” ties into the master-plot about the coming war of the worlds (and the respective places of Olivia Dunham and her Faux in that war).
We begin in a well-appointed suburban home in Milton, Massachusetts, where a Road Runner-loving rogue has bound and gagged the family that lives there while two other men dig in the basement. The men unearth a box covered in strange markings. They open that box. Suddenly the electricity goes haywire, everyone’s eyes turns milky—including the eyes of the family upstairs—and blood gushes from every nearby nose. All save one, that is. Our resident Chuck Jones fan walks downstairs, grabs The Box, and flees the house, unbloodied and unbowed.
When Walter Bishop arrives with Peter and Faux-livia, he makes the observation that the dead bodies remind him of Monet’s water lilies, because the blood has a too-light, pastel color. He suspects some kind of brain trauma, and takes the bodies back to the lab so that he and Aspirin can take a closer look. What follows is some good ol’ fashioned Fringe viscera-sploitation, with Walter yanking grey matter out of victims’ skulls (and shocking Astrid by sucking what appears to be brains off of his tie, though it’s actually raspberry jam), while Astrid slices up the specimens with such skill that Walter wonders if she’s ever worked behind a deli counter. Through their efforts, Walter notices that the brains look as though they’ve been eaten by worms, and he wonders if some kind of sonic force, akin to music, entered the victims’ heads through their earholes. Something “silent but deadly,” he surmises. (And then he farts.)
While all this is going on, Faux-livia is caucusing at the vintage typewriter shop with Thomas Herome Newton, a.k.a. Omega Head: the one who removed her neck tattoo and supplied with her with a coffee table history of pop culture so that she’ll be able to participate in conversations in our world. (They know us so well.) The one who reminds Faux-livia that Earth-1 started the war, and that she needs to stay vigilant. The one who sent that team to retrieve The Box in Milton—although he didn’t know anything about the man who escaped the house alive.
It turns out that the man is named Blake, and that he survived the wicked wonders of The Box because he’s deaf. But he’s suitably freaked out by what he saw in Milton, so when he spots Faux-livia’s badge as she’s standing outside the typewriter shop, he turns The Box over to her, thinking that he’s surrendering to the proper authorities. Instead, she shoots him.
Meanwhile, Omega Head takes The Box down to the subway, where he has an odd conversation with a little person about its contents (saying that he won’t open it because “the reality would pale next to one’s imagination”), and then leaves. Naturally, the little person opens The Box, killing everyone waiting for the subway. But before that happens, someone takes The Box and runs down into the subway tunnel. Fringe Division is called in, concerned that The Box is actually on a train. So Peter lets his team shoot guns next to his ears so that he can be deafened enough to go retrieve The Box. As it turns out, this was Earth-2’s plan all along. The Box is part of the Doomsday Machine-ish device that Walternate is building for Peter, and now Peter has brought it into the lab, where its very existence is making him “actively engaged.”
I have a few qualms about “The Box” that kept me from enjoying it as much as I wanted to. I felt like the whole plan involving The Box and Peter’s engagement with same was more than a little kludgy. I also laughed out loud at Faux-livia’s none-too-subtle shifty eyes when Broyles asked if the The Box was “a weapon from The Other Side.” And while the scene of a deafened Peter stumbling through a dark tunnel was conveyed effectively, Fringe has done the “temporarily deaf” effect before. (Also done before: Broyles trying to keep Walter’s spirits up by reminding him that no one else can do what he does.)
That said, I do appreciate the philosophy behind Earth-2’s Peter Plan. It’s the same as the “here’s this awesome box, please don’t open it” plan: Get your enemy to push the button that leads to their own destruction; then you can’t blame yourself. It makes me wonder if the Earth-2 people’s insistence that Earth-1 started the war is in actually a bunch of hooey. Maybe Earth-2 intentionally put Walter and William Bell in a position where they’d cross-over and wreak accidental havoc, all as part of a larger plan to justify a future attack.
“The Box” also included multiple warm character moments that were more thematically relevant than they might immediately appear. Walter is called in for a reading of William Bell’s will at Nina’s Massive Dynamic office, where both Walter and Nina receive envelopes. Walter’s contains an entreaty—“Don’t Be Afraid To Cross The Line”—and a key to a box which contains enough Massive Dynamic stock for Walter to control the company. But is this just another form of bait? Another attempt to get Walter to make a mistake that will allow Earth-2 to claim the moral high ground when they obliterate us?
Similarly, Faux-livia flirts like mad with Peter on two separate occasions: first at a bar where she surprises him with her love for Van Morrison and treats him to a sweet, intimate dance, and later at her apartment where she starts making out with him on the couch to distract from Blake’s blood seeping beneath her bedroom door. I don’t know if it’s intentional or not, but there’s a nifty little motif working in this episode, with the blood-pool that Peter doesn’t see, and later the oncoming subway train that Peter doesn’t hear. With Faux-livia seducing him, Peter literally can’t sense what’s coming towards him.
But at the same time, I wonder: The more Faux-livia gets to know the bumbling Walter and the kind-hearted Peter, will her commitment to her mission waver? Over on Earth-2, Walternate is forcing Our-livia to become someone she’s not, through chemicals and direct pressure. But maybe our Earth-1 heroes are unwittingly doing the same for Faux-livia: changing her programming, but in a more natural way.
-If buried treasure had legs of its own, that would be delightful.
-Faux-livia doesn’t have Olivia’s photographic memory. Although according to last week’s comment section, if Olivia has such a good memory she should’ve recalled that she’s actually a good shot.
-Walter is feeding the cow cocoa beans to see if he can get it to produce chocolate milk.
-“Kent Street! I used to frequent a massage parlor around the corner. I used to get off right here!”
-Peter tells Faux-livia that living with Walter is like a bad buddy cop movie. (He’s been handcuffed to a mad scientist who kidnapped him from another universe!)
-Walter tries to have a heart-to-heart with Peter and apologize, but Peter’s not ready to forgive him completely. Peter later tells Faux-livia that he knows that all it would take to comfort Walter would be “a few words, a hug, a couple of hands of Uno,” but that he just couldn’t do it.
-I love that Peter and Broyles are now casually calling their Earth-2 enemy “Walternate.”
-“Look at my brain waves on the monitor-o!”
-Anyone else wonder what Nina’s envelope contained?
-Bacon-flavored pudding. That would surprise me.