For the second time in this recent run of episodes, Fringe opens with a dream sequence in which Peter and Olivia are enjoying an easy, sensual romantic connection—only this time it’s Olivia’s dream, not Peter’s. And that’s not the last time in “Welcome To Westfield” that Amberlivia will have the memories and emotions of Ourlivia overcome her. Later, she’ll remember a case that she never actually worked on with Peter, and at the end of the episode Peter will come over to her apartment, where she’ll have ordered from Damiano’s—the usual Friday night fare for our universe’s Peter and Olivia—and where she’ll move in to kiss him, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. And why wouldn’t it be? Not to get too meta about it, but if Peter and Olivia are a couple in their own minds—and in ours—then doesn’t that make it so?
Peter and Olivia’s episode-long “Do you know me?” dance adds weight and meaning to a case-driven Fringe that resembled The Twilight Zone and The X-Files even more than usual. (Also The Prisoner. And Brigadoon. And Persons Unknown. And several other Fringe episodes.)
The action begins in Southern Vermont, where a strange magnetic spike disrupts traffic, and sends a passenger jet plummeting to the ground. Our Fringe team arrives—including Walter!—and begins their investigation in nearby Westfield, where they stop at a diner for rhubarb pie and get served by a counterman who keeps drifting in and out. One minute he’s friendly and gracious and offering Walter a free slice; the next he has crazy double-eyes and is slashing at Walter with a sharp knife. Meanwhile, in the back room, Peter finds a man gasping for his life, carved up like a brisket. Making matters worse, when the team tries to get him to a hospital outside of Westfield, they discover that they can’t leave town. Every time they drive out, they drive right back in.
So what’s afoot here? Now stuck in Westfield, the gang keeps meeting more people who seem to be in two places at once: forgetting that their spouses have died, or having sudden violent episodes. Are these folks experiencing episodes of intermittent amnesia? Or schizophrenia? How about this theory: Maybe this Westfield is co-existing with the one from “over there,” and the people who live in both Westfields are having trouble reconciling the different versions of themselves.
As I mentioned, the “inescapable town” premise has been done many times, and the “universes overlapping” premise has been done by Fringe more than once. Here, this story is mainly an excuse to stage a low-budget disaster movie, as Westfield begins to crumple and then wink out of existence, while Walter and Peter and Olivia rush to transport as many Westfielders as possible to “the eye of the storm,” to ride it out. In the end, after Westfield is gone, Fringe Division discovers devices around the outside of town powered by Amphilicite, which indicates that this was all a plot by David Robert Jones, for reasons as yet unknown.
What is known is why the Fringe creative team targeted this town. First off, it makes for some nifty, creepy action-horror sequences to see a rhubarb pie kind of town go all askew. “Welcome To Westfield” may be overfamiliar in its broad strokes, but the episode is wonderfully unsettling throughout, as one stunned Westfielder wanders through town with a bloody doll in tow, and another comes racing out of the shadows with two faces on his head. Even that early scene of Atlantic 591 flying low—before crashing over the horizon—generates goosebumps.
More to the point, the idea of a town freely shifting from one version of itself to another reflects the dilemma that Peter, Olivia and Walter now find themselves in. (Maybe a little too obviously, but whatever.) When the disaster strikes Westfield, one of its citizens—Cliff—looks to the future by thinking about his family and saying, “Well, we have each other.” And now Walter—who initially resented Peter’s arrival—is finding that he likes having his “son,” around, and that it’s serving to open him up and make him more like the Walter that Peter left behind. Relationships can be an anchor, making the unknown more comfortable.
Peter even speaks to that grounding effect when Amberlivia asks him to describe Ourlivia. He starts out by describing a bunch of traits that both Olivias share, but then he turns to what’s really important to him: how his Olivia made him feel. She gave him a purpose. “A place to call home.” So here’s the big question that “Welcome To Westfield” asks (and that makes it a stronger episode than its retread case-of-the-week would’ve immediately indicated): If Peter’s presence is making Walter more like the Walter he knows, and is now making Olivia more like the Olivia he knows, then what incentive does he have to head back to his proper timeline? At one point early in this episode, as Peter is demonstrating how he can control The Machine with his mind, he’s asked why he doesn’t just click his heels and wish for home. The answer: Maybe he already has, and now home is heading for him.
- Breakfast for dinner: It’s the second-most important meal of the day.
- Speaking of breakfast, Walter has invented a breakfast cocktail called Hot Cinnamon Roll. It needs more butter.
- Peter won’t give Walter a gun, but he will allow the old man to use pepper-spray, which comes in handy when Two-Face attacks.
- I love the little detail of Peter wordlessly giving Olivia her gun back after Walter announces that her blood tested clean and that she is not merging with Fauxlivia.
- Kind Bars! At last a product-placement I can get behind. (Seriously, those things are delicious.)
- Among the selections on tonight’s Fringe jukebox: “California Stars,” by Wilco and Billy Bragg (with lyrics by Woody Guthrie); and perhaps even more pertinent for the events of this episode, The Shirelles’ “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”
- Peter recoils at Amberlivia’s kiss, which makes sense. The last time he canoodled with an alternate version of Ourlivia, she was pissed. What will it take to convince Peter that it’s safe to hop into bed with this Olivia?