I’m reviewing tonight’s Fringe at a disadvantage, because I started watching the episode about 10 minutes past the start time—to facilitate fast-forwarding through the commercials—and after half-an-hour, our HD signal froze up. I quickly scrambled over to the non-HD signal to watch the rest of the episode live, but in total, I missed about seven minutes of “The Consultant.” Because of that, I won’t be grading this episode, and if I missed any key plot points, I hope you’ll pardon me.
It’s too bad too, because the roughly two-thirds of “The Consultant” that I watched were very strong, with some forward movement on the David Robert Jones plot, and a continuation of last week’s rich character moments between the personnel of the two universes’ Fringe divisions. This week they’re brought together because of a weird incident in which a plane crash on Earth-2 causes the victims’ Earth-1 counterparts to be lifted into the air and then dashed to the ground, where they suffer bruises that resemble seatbelt lacerations. Walter journeys to the other side, toting along a severed hand from one of the corpses, which he isn’t that surprised to find is resonating at an Earth-2 frequency. Wheels start spinning in that addled pate of his.
Walter is in fine form in this episode: emptying his bladder before making the “long” 10-second trip across the bridge; confessing to the bridge-agent that he’s taking a lot of meds, but most of them recreational; referring to the other side’s Olivia as his “escort” and hastening to add that he’s not calling her a prostitute; offering condolences for the loss of Earth-2’s Lincoln Lee and admitting that, “I wanted to bring a casserole.” About all that was missing—unless it occurred during my seven-minute gap—was a face-to-face between Walter and Walternate. Still, we did get the strong scene where Walter sees the updated list of Earth-2 “hotspots,” caused in part by his past meddling. The world over there is healing now thanks to the inexplicable magic of Paradox Bridge, but Walter still has to bear the weight of what he did.
In the meantime, what Walter has to offer to the people of Earth-2 is a fresh set of eyes. At one point he half-jokes that, “Anything’s possible… even Santa Claus,” and he brings that spirit of possibility both to the trans-dimensional plane crash case and to the case that’s preoccupying the other Olivia: the death of her partner, due to Evil Nina, David Robert Jones, and some Fringe Division mole. Late in the episode, Olivia gets drunk—something that she doesn’t usually do—and Walter guides her through the logic of the Jones case, telling her to look for the Holmes-ian “dog that did not bark.” Olivia doesn’t get the reference, but she does see what Walter is getting at. Looked at objectively, the figure in this case who’s conspicuous by his absence is Colonel Broyles. The next day, Olivia bluffs to Evil Nina that they have Broyles in custody, and Nina confirms Olivia’s suspicions by saying, “Philip is irrelevant… he’s just another pawn.”
The look on Olivia’s face when Nina sneers about Broyles is one of those rich character moments I referred to earlier. So is the scene of Olivia getting drunk on a bottle of her ex-boyfriend Frank’s leftover booze, while she sorts through Lincoln’s paltry possessions before she passes them on to his parents. She doesn’t want to talk to his folks until she has something to say about the so-far-non-existent progress in the case. In the meantime, she’s hoping that the alcohol will give her courage, when instead it’s just making her sick.
Even better in “The Consultant” is the focus on Colonel Broyles, that terrible turncoat, who it turns out is in cahoots with Jones in part because Jones is providing Broyles’ son Chris with the treatments he needs to stay healthy. Here’s where the missing parts of my recording most come into play, because the HD recording froze right when Broyles walks into his living room and Jones hands over a case with the medicine (?) that Chris needs. But before that happened, I did see Broyles’ easy give-and-take with his wife, and I got to hear Chris talk enthusiastically about being popular at school for once—a poignant reminder of how frail Chris was when we saw him last, in another version of this world. And I saw the end of Broyles’ storyline, as he ominously walks past security to the chamber housing The Doomsday Machine, where he gives himself up to the other Broyles. So the Colonel proves himself to be a man of honor after all.
Unless of course this is all part of a larger menacing plan, revealed in the portion of the episode that I missed. But context clues tell me that we were supposed to believe that Broyles was up to no good when he walked into the lab, and that his surrender was a moment of redemption. (And sacrifice, given what this choice might mean to Chris.) Also, when Colonel Broyles walks past Evil Nina in the Fringe Dungeon, she looks genuinely concerned. Earlier in the episode she was boasting to Olivia that she wasn’t going to be around very long, because Jones would come for her. Now… maybe not.
As for Jones’ master plan, at the end of “The Consultant” Walter suggests that it has has to do with collapsing both universes, and that the plane crash that starts the episode—along with, I gather, some Fringe event that happened during my recording-gap—is merely a test of bringing the two dimensions together.
That’s an interesting wrinkle, because a lot what’s been compelling about Fringe’s exploration of these two Earths has been the way the show has delineated the differences. Ourlivia can handle her liquour; Theirlivia can’t. Their Earth is damaged, but the characters seem more confident and upbeat; our Earth is largely intact, but the people are damaged. The two Earths aren’t mirror opposites exactly, but they do seem to complement each other in unexpected ways. Does “collapsing” them mean destruction? Or is Jones a secret Utopian like so many of the mad scientists we’ve seen this season, looking to create a more unified and perfect world?
- At some point this week, I’ll try to track down and watch the piece of “The Consultant” that I missed. After I do, I’ll register a grade. At the moment, I’m leaning “A-.”
- UPDATE: I watched what I missed. The scenes in the gap really emphasize the meaning of Broyles’ choice as well as what it means to be human. Strengthens an already strong episode. I’ve graded accordingly. (Plus, the cross-world car accident was some kind of creepy. And I loved the Astrid/Austrid meet-up.)
- The way Walter beams when he says, “It’s my son and his girlfriend!” is very sweet.
- I saw a site this week that referred to Evil Nina as “Meana.” I don’t know. Too cutesy?
- It’s nature’s sponge: the egg. (If I were Olivia I’d trust Walter on all things related to handling intoxicants.)
- Most traffic accidents happen between work and home, because—as Astrid notes—that’s where most driving happens. That’s a wry little aside, but also foreshadowing (probably unintentionally) what happens later in the episode, as their Olivia comes to realize that the conspiracy which cost Lincoln his life is closer to her than she thinks.
- As I’m sure you’re all aware, next week brings the 19th episode of the season, which is traditionally the freakiest. If tradition holds, I’ll love it, and you guys will be split between whether it’s delightful or a goofy waste of time. Hey, it’s what we do. Even the dissension is part of the fun of these weekly gatherings, isn’t it? And given that we may not have many of these left, I’m going to appreciate every bit of it.