It's hard to take things in all at once--especially when you're talking about 20 episodes of oddities, curiosities, and, let's be honest, occasional cliches. Watching "There's More Than One Of Everything," the last episode of the first season of Fringe, I found myself more than once wishing I'd taken better notes. And not just about this episode; while the basic plot elements were easy to follow (the show did a nice job making the stakes and conflicts clear), there were so many references and back story nods that I wanted to have everything in my head together. That's a good sign. "More Than One" answered some questions, left others dangling, and ended on one hell of a cliff-hanger, and now, having seen and processed and worked through the story as best I can, I just want to go back and re-watch the whole series. Even the weaker stuff.
So what is Fringe about? Every show--every great show--can be boiled down to a simple concept. Mobster gets psychiatry to cope with feelings of guilt. Government institutions are hopelessly inadequate in keeping up with social problems. Robots and nerd mock bad movies. Manimal. Obviously there's more to it than that, but you need a central thread running through every episode in order to hold the storylines and characters together. That thread can evolve over time, but if you lose it completely, you lose the show's soul; it turns into a bunch of empty tricks designed to distract you long enough to sell you air fresheners and cars.
The question this whole season has been, what's the core here? Fringe isn't a great show yet, but at it's best, it's pretty darn good; and with all the various plot threads dangling going into the season finale, the one thing that "More Than One" had to accomplish once and for all is to tell us just why in the hell we're watching this. Olivia's awesome, Walter's hilarious, Peter is charming, but what holds them together, what keeps us caring about what happens to them, that's what we needed here. To feel like this wasn't just a series of implausible but nifty monsters and a melange of sci-fi concepts heated to a low simmer.
Before we answer that, let's recap: our good friend David Robert Jones, the man who vanished out of a jail cell and came back--changed, was responsible for the assault on Nina Sharp that ended last week's episode. After much hemming and hawing from Nina (who makes it out of surgery just fine, though her mecha-arm is messed up), Olivia finds out that Jones stole an energy cell that William Bell had stored in Nina's arm. It's a powerful, powerful thing, and Jones stole it with one goal in mind: he wants to create a portal to an alternate dimension so he can get his revenge on Bell for firing him from Massive Dynamic fifteen years ago.
Confused? It's straightforward, at least for this show. When they were younger, Walter Bishop and Bell (or "Belly" as Walter calls him), to the surprise of no one, ingested large amounts of LSD. They became convinced that the things they saw while under the influence of the drug were real, evidence of an alternate reality adjacent to ours; a reality where things were slightly different, where you could find your duplicate and see if he actually took those karate classes you'd been putting off. The trick became getting there without the acid. Bell started his work with kids, convinced that they could access the other place more easily than adults. It seems he eventually succeeded in developing a way to pass between the worlds, and now he's hiding out in the other dimension, while Jones goes tearing up ours to get to him.
Walter tells Peter all this at their old beach house; that's where the Observer brought him (after taking a quick detour to a cemetery to visit what I initially assumed was the grave of Walter's wife), and that's where Peter finds him. The Observer, who takes his non-interference policies about as seriously as Uatu the Watcher, told Walter he has to find something to stop something bad from happening. It's only with Peter's help that Walter realizes what he's looking for--a plug that can stop up a portal between dimensions.
Meanwhile (the editing of this entire episode is top-notch, with a great sense of flow and forward momentum), Olivia's trying to figure out the best way to track Jones' next move. He tried to make a portal in the middle of a city street, resulting only in a damaged truck and dead driver coming through from the other dimension; and his next attempt on a Providence soccer field had equally bad results, cutting off the diagonal top third of some poor teenager. After going through earlier case files of strange phenomena--I think I caught some photos here from stuff we'd seen in other eps--Olivia figures out a Pattern, in that the weird events were all radiating out from source points. Two of these points are exactly where Jones had his first two strikes. Nina identifies these as "soft spots" in reality where the natural laws are decaying. The last one left, surrounded by the earliest of events in Olivia's files, is on Reiden Lake; and that's just where Walter and Peter are headed.
The confrontation that follows was a little deflating; there's some gunplay, Jones gets his portal running, and then Peter shuts it down with Walter's plug just in time to cut Jones in half. Apart from the discovery that Jones is Kitty Pryde-ing--Olivia's bullets go right through him--I was expecting something flashier. But watching the the episode's final moments made me change my mind. This wasn't the end of everything, just this season's main storyline, and the fact that it closed out as solidly as it did is not something I would've imagined possible back in the fall.
With Jones gone, Walter makes another trip to the cemetery we saw earlier; he goes alone, though he's thoughtful enough to leave a note (and Necco wafers) for Peter. The grave isn't for Walter's wife, though; it's for Peter Bishop, 1978-1985. Walter told Peter he crossed over to the alternate reality after he lost something "very precious"; that something was his actual son. Our Peter is not a clone, and he's not a copy--he's some kind of bizarre adoptee. Or maybe he was kidnapped. Is there another Walter out there, searching for his Peter?
And Olivia? Nina brings her into Manhattan, where Olivia takes an elevator ride that puts her in very different building from where she started. A woman greets her by name and leads her into an office, with a bell on the desk and a newspaper reading, "Obamas Set To Move Into New White House." A moment later, and in walks a man in shadows. She asks where she is, he says it's complicated. She asks who he is, and he steps into the light--and it's Leonard Nimoy. "I'm William Bell." And we pull back to see Olivia standing in one of the still standing Twin Towers.
I'm not sure we quite have our concept set yet--hot FBI agent, mad scientist, and snarky son fight monsters sounds cute but doesn't quite get us where we want to go. But I'd say after "More Than One," we're a lot closer than we were. Past all the technological stuff, this show is about a father who might have done something monstrous to hold on to a son who wasn't quite his; and a woman who is intent on saving the world, even if that world doesn't mean what she thought it did. That's a good start, I'd say. I'm looking forward to more.
- The fact that the number of "soft spots" has been increased by developing technology seems fitting. I wonder if next season we'll find out the consequences. (Shades of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy.)
- So, deja vu and the Bermuda Triangle in one episode, huh? What, we didn't have time to talk about the 95% of the brain that people don't use?
- Hope we get more Leonard Nimoy next season.
- More great work from John Noble--his scenes in the beach house were fantastic.