Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Fringe: “Northwest Passage”

Illustration for article titled Fringe: “Northwest Passage”

How appropriate that Fringe would air an episode like “Northwest Passage” on a week I spent contemplating the legacy of Twin Peaks. There was definite Peaks-y vibe to tonight’s episode, from the setting—Noyo County, Washington, home of a diner with “famous pies”—to the off-kilter camera angles and hushed tone. Guest composer Mike McReady of Pearl Jam filled the score with twangy guitar and monotone hums, much like Angelo Badalamenti, and director Joe Chappelle kept the actors on mute to match the music.

It was the atmosphere that sold me on “Northwest Passage,” an episode with a fairly middling mystery and only minimal advancement of the master-plot. (Though the end-point of that advancement was a doozy, and has me eating a little crow.) At times tonight the show almost felt like a backdoor pilot for a new series, with Peter tooling around the Pacific Northwest meeting local law enforcement and cracking cases. And while that’s a show I’d definitely watch, I confess I’m anxious to jump ahead to next week, when there’ll be inter-dimensional conflict and doppelgangers galore.

Still, Peter’s not bad company, especially when he’s hitting on quirky small-town waitresses who dots their “I”s with hearts and make mix CDs for their favorite customers. Unfortunately the music-loving waitress never gets to give our boy his disc—labeled “Peter From Boston”—because she’s kidnapped by Newton and his men and spirited away to a abandoned dairy farm to suffer a hideous operation that leaves her temporal-lobe-less.

The death of the waitress puts Peter on the radar of local sheriff Mathis and her partner Ferguson, whose questions threaten to put Peter on another radar—the FBI’s. So Peter takes command of the situation and convinces Mathis that he’s on the up-and-up, and that there’s something freaky afoot. (He also calls Broyles and gets him to keep Walter and Olivia in the dark a little while longer.) Peter tries to lead the investigation in his own way, by looking into the strange static-y phone calls he’s been getting at night, and by looking deeper at the weird Bazooka Joe comics he finds on the ground. (The punchline: “You can’t get there from here.”) But all it leads him to is a surprise confrontation in the woods with Newton, and a suspicion that Mathis—with her special pen that reads “find the crack”—might be in cahoots with The Earth-2 Brigade.

I enjoyed the extension of the Fringe theme to new locales and new characters, as Peter started looking for clues in Mathis’ own body-chemistry: first by making sure that she bleeds normal (not mercury), and then by frightening her in order to get her adrenaline levels up for a tissue sample. I also enjoyed the almost Burn Notice-y way that Peter used what he got from Mathis to draw circles on a map and determine where Newton had been running his brain experiments. With the not-a-bad-guy-after-all Mathis in tow, Peter finds the dairy farm and saves Mathis’ missing partner, after a confrontation with a local boy whom the waitress might’ve labeled “Creep With Hammer.”

Meanwhile, back in Boston, Walter is so frazzled by everyday tasks like buying Toaster Pastries that he frightens children at the supermarket by yelling about how Potassium Bromate is “delicious strawberry-flavored death.” He also confesses to Astrid that he’s not entirely sure he wants to find Peter, because he’s afraid that his not-son will reject him again. Yet when Olivia comes into the lab and says that Peter’s in Washington and asks if Walter would like to go, he screws up his courage and packs a bag.


But little does he know… there’s another Walter already there! Secretary Walternate! (Dunh-dunh-dunnnnh!)

That was a strong finish to a mostly strong episode, and true to the Twin Peaks tradition inasmuch as it was delightfully weird. (Though only inasmuch as that; Twin Peaks wasn’t really a sci-fi show, except on its fuzzier edges.) Continuing with the personal connections though, I was taken aback by the song Peter listens to before the Walternate walks in: Band Of Horses’ “Is There A Ghost.” I listened to that song myself earlier today, in preparation for an interview with the band’s frontman Ben Bridwell.


Since when did Fringe start shadowing my life? And how long do I have before Alt-Noel arrives and steals my kids?

Grade: B+

Stray observations:

-Okay, you guys were right about The Secretary and I was wrong. I admit it.

-“Technically, I’m from no place you ever heard of.”

-Apparently, the diner at the start of the episode uses the same classic rock satellite service as Kevin Corrigan’s bowling alley. This week’s song: The Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider”


-Peter has some fun with his voice-activated GPS.

-Always good to see Martha Plimpton, who was absent from movies and TV for a long time but lately seems to be popping up in everything. (She was great on How To Make It In America earlier this year.) Only two problems: her accent was kind of weird in tonight's episode, and her playing a character named “Mathis” made me wonder whatever happened to Samantha Mathis, a Plimpton peer.


-“I… I do need pudding-pops.”