Fringe: "The Last Sam Weiss"

Fringe: "The Last Sam Weiss"

Earlier today I got to have a brief conversation—just 15 minutes—with Fringe showrunners Jeff Pinker and J.H. Wyman, for a piece that should run on this site a week from now, prior to the season finale. (And no, I haven’t seen the finale yet, so we didn’t discuss that, except obliquely.) Pinker and Wyman haven’t been out in front as the spokesmen for Fringe in as significant a way as Ron Moore was for Battlestar Galactica or Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse were for Lost, so I hope fans of the show will find it interesting to hear what they have to say about the themes they intend Fringe to explore, and how the structure of the show serves those themes. They’re bright, enthusiastic guys with a true appreciation for what the devotion of Fringe-ophiles has allowed them to attempt. I feel confident that they will keep Fringe weird and compelling for as long as it’s allowed to run.

But first they’ve got to wrap up what’s been a very entertaining three-part third-season finale so far. The first half of “The Last Sam Weiss” wasn’t quite as rollicking as last week’s episode, because there was a lot more set-up and explanation required to keep the story moving. But having Kevin Corrigan’s Sam Weiss on-board to deliver those explanations helped, as did the heavy presence of Walter in both his avuncular professor and mad-scientist modes. Then the second half brought in all the emotion and tension, topped off by an unexpected gut-punch of an ending.

The episode opens with Walter hovering over an unconscious Peter, while Astrid tries to coax Walter back into action with tapioca pudding and the old saying, “God helps those who help themselves.” That’s a line often misattributed to the Bible, but Walter knows it’s from Poor Richard’s Almanack, by Ben Franklin. (Once again, religion and science get jumbled.) Inspired by Franklin, Walter grabs his kite, to try and draw down some of the freaky lightning that’s been terrorizing Massachusetts. He doesn’t have much luck with studying its properties, but being struck by lightning a couple of times inspires Walter to study the patterns of electrical, magnetic and seismic activity in the region, looking for areas of concentration. Examining the charts, Walter and Astrid notice a swath of destruction between the location of the Walternate Doomsday Machine (henceforth known as the WDM, which I should’ve been calling it all along) and Liberty Island, where Earth-2’s WDM is located. Walter explains this pattern to Mr. Pattern, Agent Broyles, beginning with an adorably impertinent, “It’s important that you pay attention.”

Meanwhile, Olivia is getting a lesson in Weiss-iana from Sam, who tells her all about the generations of Sam Weisses who have studied The First People, dating back to an ancient Sam Weiss who discovered a manuscript while digging for mastodon bones. The problem is that none of those Weisses have ever predicted what’s happening now: that the WDM would switch on without Peter in the driver’s seat. Sam suspects that the destructive anomalies are happening because the machine is “frustrated” that it’s Peterless. But he also wonders if the situation will correct itself, since it’s a fluke occurrence. Olivia doesn’t want to take that chance, so she forces Sam to take her to a museum which contains a key to a box that holds a “crowbar” that might allow Fringe Division to get Peter into the WDM.

I confess that my eyes glazed over a bit during all the “we have to get the key to open the box to get the crowbar” business, which was a little too Lost-y to me. But as I said before, having the quirky Corrigan as Weiss helped put all the mumbo-jumbo over. I liked Olivia asking Sam whether Peter would die in the process of getting crowbarred and Sam blankly saying, “No. I don’t think so.” And I also enjoyed the duo’s daring extraction of the key, which involved Olivia ducking indoor lightning and Sam bowling a rock at vase to prevent a security gate from closing. And I liked Sam’s final scene in the episode, where he sits around the lab, nervously “pretending to read.” I hope “The Last Sam Weiss” wasn’t actually the last we see of Sam Weiss.

But back to “the crowbar,” which it turns out is… Olivia Dunham! Her face appears on one of those old documents, with lines extending from her head to the WDM. So while Walter has the machine moved to Liberty Island (to reduce the scope of the mini-apocalypses going on), he also works with Olivia to get her to access her latent telekinesis, to switch off Earth-2’s WDM with her mind. They start with one of those quantum-entangled typewriters, to see if she can make a typewriter on the other side send a message to this one. And it’s here where the exposition-heavy first half of the episode gives way to some more gripping and powerful material, as Olivia reacts to her assignment the way, frankly, I would: by failing, repeatedly, while trying to get Walter to understand that “believing doesn’t make it true.”

As this is happening, Peter is having his own little odyssey. He wakes up in a Massachusetts hospital, not entirely sure of who he is, and hails a taxi to New York, after leaving a note on his bed that reads, “I Am Going Home” (just like the note he left for his Earth-1 mother, decades ago). He goes to a pawn shop, buys a silver half-dollar, then makes his way to Liberty Island and asks for his father, the secretary of defense. When Walter arrives later, Peter has a slightly crushed look on his face, and says, “There are two of you, aren’t there?”

On the upside, Olivia’s proximity to Peter allows her to unlock her mind and get her powers moving. She finally sends her typewriter message—that old chestnut “Be A Better Man Than Your Father”—and then she switches off the Earth-2 WDM, allowing Peter to step into the machine on Earth-1. There follows a surprisingly moving montage of moments from Peter’s life, adding a sense of fatalism to each gesture as he straps himself in. And then… Peter wakes up in the future, where there are riots in the streets and Fringe Division is apparently trying to enforce some kind of martial law.

I’m playing wait-and-see on what becomes of this leap ahead. The peek into a dystopian future is pretty well-worn sci-fi shtick. (See: The Terminator, the X-Men storyline “Days Of Future Past,” Dollhouse, and so on.) But judging by the scenes we saw of next week’s episode, Fringe may be planning to do something very different with it. And since the seemingly climactic moment of Peter entering the WDM happened far sooner than I thought it would, and didn’t go like I expected it to, I’m kind of rolling with the surprise of it all right now.

Mainly though, I’m looking for more scenes from Fringe like the one in “The Last Sam Weiss” where Walter tries to encourage Olivia by telling her how he’s embraced the parts of his mind that are broken, and learned to be comfortable with his weirdness. Because I feel like Fringe started to become something special when it did the same.

Grade: A-

Stray observations:

  • Even though we only had a short amount of time on the phone, I did ask Pinkner and Wyman about a couple of the biggest issues that have troubled some of you: the Bellivia detour, and the elements of romance and spirituality that have crept into the master-plot. I hope you’ll appreciate what they had to say, even if it doesn’t persuade you. (I’ll warn you: they do bring out the “we see this as a show about characters, that happens to be science fiction” line that I know is a red flag to many sci-fi fans, especially those who feel burned by Lost. But I’ve never been a hardcore sci-fi guy, so that way of looking at things is fine by me.)
  • I like how Walter told Broyles that Astrid was “working out the logistics” of how to move the WDM and then left it at that, lest we think too hard about how they were going to get a massive, heavy machine (that repels anything that nears it, mind you) onto a boat and down to New York.
  • I enjoyed the moodiness of the scene where the teenager listens to “Riders On The Storm” through his headphones in the backseat of his parents’ car while lightning picks off other cars one by one. I enjoyed it so much that I almost didn’t mind that it was basically a Ford Focus commercial. (Hey, check out that rearview camera! Just like I saw on The Amazing Race a couple of weeks ago.)
  • The classic fruit cocktail, full of sugar and food-dye, is rarely seen these days. Quoth Walter: “A shame, isn’t it?”

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