Once again, I take a break on a week—last week—when Fringe delivers an all-timer. In the past, I’ve felt like the writers were keeping all the best episodes locked away in an alternate universe, ready to vibrate one in whenever they knew I’m going to be away. Lately though, they’ve been outfoxing themselves. Since the hiatus, pretty much every Fringe has been great.
We begin tonight outside a warehouse in Worcester, where a stoner named Dave and his paranoid girlfriend are smoking dope and rocking out to Rush. When Dave spies something suspicious, he heads into the warehouse to check it out, and comes across a quivering ball of goo, along with a man-shaped, angry goo that knocks him out, shoves an electrical plug into his soft palate, and steals his appearance. Then the shape-shifter heads out to deal with the girlfriend. Dave’s not here, man.
“The Man From The Other Side” reintroduces Newton, the Earth-2 agent formerly known as Omega Head, and introduces his plan to open a gateway to the alternate universe to allow somebody of significance (“The Secretary”) to cross over. Newton’s methods get two clever explanations in the episode. First, geeky Brandon at Massive Dynamics brings out two metronomes—standard lab equipment at MD, I guess—to show how even universes that are vibrating out of synch can fall into step for a moment or two. Second, Walter brings out a set of tuning forks—common to the lair of mad scientists, of course—to show how vibrations could propel an object from one world to the next, or if properly placed on both sides, allow for an exchange.
The episode moves quickly and with a good amount of tension towards an ending in which Newton has planted his own version of tuning forks around Boston (and in Boston-2, presumably) such that at the appointed universe-synching moment, he causes a literal bridge to materialize over a river, with the shadowy Secretary walking across. (Riding out the day's events, perhaps.) With Peter’s help, Walter tries to disrupt the operation with his own vibration-making device, but they succeed only in making The Secretary uncomfortable and in creating a situation where Peter catches the mystery, and catches the drift that the destructive vibrations of Earth-2 don’t affect him. The truth of his place of origin is out at last, and Peter ain’t that happy to hear it.
I don’t know how “The Man From The Other Side” will play to those casual Fringe-watchers that Fox keeps trying to court, but it was full of just about everything I look for from the show. It had plenty of weird science, including a creepy Frankenstein-like sequence where Walter tries to jolt a half-formed shape-shifter to life and only gets a few words out of the beast before it dies. (Two of the words? An ominous, “I’m sorry.”) It had cool capering, including a scene where Newton and one of his modern-day warriors burn a hole in the floor of a bank vault, and one where Newton fakes his own death so that he can sneak into a morgue. And it had moments of pathos, keyed to Peter’s attempts to reach out to the discontent (yet always hopeful) Walter, by calling him “Dad.”
All it was missing really was a new spin on the old Fringe themes. This episode was more about putting some of the old pieces together: bio-mechanics, “two of everything,” whatnot. And it had a heartbreaking ending, as Peter asks Walter, “I’m not from here, am I?” and then hisses at him, “You’re not my father.” Ordinarily, I’m not into the whole “I was going to tell you but then you found out anyway and now you’re pissed” plot device, but I think it works here, because of Walter (and because of the performance of John Noble as Walter). The man has spent decades trying to cover up his theft of Peter-2 and to recover from the repercussions of the act. But every now and then, the vibrations align and his guilt shimmers into plain sight.
-Broyles has kind of been out of the picture this season, for the most part. I’m usually a little skeptical about TV shows pulling out musical episodes—if only because it’s been done so often over the past few years—but I’m looking to next week’s Fringe fairly tale because it appears to be Broylicious.
-Nice shot of Walter’s reflection crossing Peter in the closing hospital scene, shortly before Walter himself walks by, sorrowfully.
-Walter says that the corpse he wants to use to help revive the stalled shapeshifter “can’t be dead for more than two days.” Reminds me a little of Fringe’s early days, when we learned that there are degrees of death.
-I’m glad that bank managers don’t have to know anything, so that any random shape-shifter can impersonate them with no real difficulty.
-Lemon Zinger, huh? Walter knows his grass
-Thanks to Steve for filling in for me so ably last week.