Structurally, this episode reminds me of episode 2.18 titled 'White Tulip,' which is one of my all-time favorite Fringe episodes. This one, however, is not thanks to the last three minutes(We'll get to that later.) Do you remember in 'White Tulip' when Walter lectures Peter and Olivia on Einstein's theory of bending time? He folds the paper so that the two ends meet. In 'Concentrate and Ask Again' the two ends-the beginning and the end of the episode-almost meet, if it weren't for those nefarious last three minutes. I didn't catch it on the first watch, but if you re-watch it, you'll see what I mean.
Nina Sharp calls Olivia to her office to discuss the First People books. I will ask the usual Nina question here. What is Nina's motivation this time? She acts as though she has not read FauxLivia's report. My guess is telling Olivia about William Bell's pursuit of the Frist People books is her excuse to wiggle her way into trying to find out Olivia's reaction to FauxLiv's comments on Peter Bishop . Nina is a power monger and has to know everything, probably so she can find new ways to manipulate people. So she ever so smoothly leads Liv to reveal her take on Faux's new-found feelings for Peter, and gets Liv to verbalize that she wonders if maybe Peter feels the same way. A few lines of dialogue later after she tells Nina that FauxLiv is "like her but better," Nina Sharp delivers the first corner of the bending paper I mentioned earlier : "But even so, you don't know what Peter's thinking." Aye, there's the rub. No one knows.
And it would depend which Peter you ask-Regular Peter, or Dark Peter. Speaking of which, where did Dark Peter go?! He was running all over the place in the last episode in his dark hoodie, but in this episode he's ditched the hoodie and is in his usual drab fare. He ends up later on in a tux(They really should put Johsua Jackson in a white shirt more often.). I suspect Peter is in subtle Dark Peter mode in this episode, in a Peter suit. Nina goes on to give Olivia relationship advice, telling her she and Bell never honestly communicated how they felt about each other. She tells Olivia not to make the same mistake. "If you want to know how Peter feels, ask him." Uh, I didn't realize our favorite show had changed its name to "As The Worlds Turn." Guess I missed the memo.
The plot thickens and a R&D scientist at Intrepus(Hey, I wonder how David Esterbrook is liking prison?)dies due to skeletal loss after ingesting a blue powder that shot out of a doll. I have to wonder if either Graham Roland or Matthew Pitts who wrote this episode are fans of Robin Cook's medical suspense novels? In his 1999 book "Vector" an oriental rug merchant dies within hours of Anthrax exposure after inhaling a puff of air that shot out of a greeting card. Peter's right. Bonus points for the creepy factor. The poor guy got a magic eight ball and consulted it.
That's a nod to Olivia's niece Ella's gift to her in Season 1. Hence the title, 'Concentrate and Ask Again,' which if one of the ball's pre-set answers.
There are nods to several other episodes as the plot develops. It was poor Warren the dead scientist's birthday, and the box the doll came in didn't go through the post office. Hmm. Can you say 'The Cure'? Walter speaks of a molecule that stays intact until after it enters its host, and is reminded of a project he worked on with Belly in the 70's. Can you say almost every episode in Season I? The first lead they investigate is an ex-marine who was a private contractor overseas. Can you say 'Fracture' and the pilot? Peter and Olivia visit the comatose ex-marine's ex-wife and Peter asks her how her daughter died. Can you say 'Marionette'? I love when the writers take the time to add these little deja vu moments in, and I hope they continue to all throughout the rest of Season 3.
One of the key moments in this episode hits us from out of the blue. Olivia takes a sip of the coffee Peter fetched her while checking the surveillance footage and is shocked and horrified to find it has milk in it. Our Liv's a black with one sugar kinda coffee gal so she assumes coffee with milk is how FauxLivia liked her coffee. Think our girl's OK with the error? While she and Peter are looking at a photo of a woman in the photo album in Aaron Downey's apartment she blurts it out. "Do you still think about her?" The question totally catches our genius offguard. But, does Olivia concentrate and ask again? No, she goes into full anxiety mode explaining the coffee mistake to Peter. Despite her poor questioning technique he gives her what feels to me like an honest answer, that he thinks about Faux's deception all the time. Olivia asks him if he thinks about her before the reveal when she was fun. Olivia doesn't get the answer she wants as Peter reminds her he mentioned the quicker smile to let her know he spotted the differences. He tells her he thought he was bringing out a different side of her, and doesn't want to be with Faux more. But is our Liv convinced? They are again interrupted during this intimate conversation(they always are) and you can tell Peter's frustrated as he throws the photo album on a chair. Luckily for him he's not in a door-kicking mood.
Walter Bishop is very interesting in this episode and I think I smell where they are taking him in the ones ahead. He determines that their brain-damaged and comatose suspect, Aaron Downey, has enough electrical brain activity left to be questioned. "I may know a way to question the suspect. But I'll need to go back to the lab first to think about it." What's to think about Walter? Is it any worse than when you screwed into live-and-kicking Roy McCombs' head? Which begs the bigger question, why is it only now that Walter remembers that his mind-reading study subject Simon Phillips is squirreled away in Washington, New Hampshire? Walter sneaks off by himself in the Vista Cruiser to pay Simon a visit. It's fortunate for him he runs out of gas on Route 89, and even more fortunate he remembered his cell phone this time, unlike in 'Snakehead.' As he inhales a sandwich while Peter puts gas in the wagon, Walter freaks out when a blue Volkswagon Bug goes by."Oh look! Punch buggy. Blue." And he slugs Peter in the arm as Olivia and Peter stare at him. Yes,Walter Bishop is starting to unravel, and I think it's the Dark Peter secrets that are contributing to it on top of everything else. My guess is we'll see more bizarre Walter behaviors soon.
Simon Phillips has got to be my new favorite Fringe minor character. We get to meet another Cortexiphan kid who made it into adulthood. And his ability is he can read minds. Everyone's, since age 10, except our Liv's. Walter explains that, interestingly, the Cortexiphan subjects are immune to each other's abilities(Hold that thought if they pump citizens Over There with the Cortexiphan Alt-Brandon syphoned off our Liv.) He says that each thought is an additional stressor for poor Simon, and that in response his body puts out cortisol and adrenaline which cause headaches, nausea, and an increased heart rate. "That's why he gets sick," says Walter.
Ah, another heart reference. 'Brown Betty,' you are indeed a treasure trove of foreshadowing! And the increased heart rate should make you think of Walter's concern over Peter's 130 beats per minute heart rate in 'Reciprocity.' I suspect Peter will also get 'heart sick' in the episodes ahead, to bring the 'Brown Betty' plot into fruition. While poor Simon is trying to calm down from reading Walter's thoughts Peter asks Walter a question we'd all like an answer to: "How many more are gonna come crawling out of the woodwork?" But does Peter get an answer to his question? No. Does he concentrate and ask again? Sadly no, so we'll just have to wait and see.
Our gang takes poor Simon Phillips with them back to Boston. Olivia has convinced him to use his ability to help people. Simon is less than thrilled, worried about all those thoughts that will make him super sick. He tries to read a comatose Aaron Downey's thoughts but it's a jumble, and Olivia sees him struggle. She puts her hand on his arm and he seems to be able to settle down. That gesture is so very reminiscent of when Peter put his hands on Liv's while she was channeling Nick Lane under hypnosis in 'Bad Dreams.' I suspect both Olivia and Peter have a calming ability. Simon gets drained, throws up, and generally feels miserable, but he's able to write a list of what he reads as Downey's thoughts. One phrase in the list, 'Project Jellyfish,' gets Olivia's attention, and she mentions it out loud. Walter gives them the break they need by stating that jellyfish are one of the few creatures without any bones. Broyles pulls his phone out to look into it. Peter and Olivia, in what I think is the second cruelest scene of the episode, watch Simon, the broken man, only feet away slumped over in a chair, and start talking about him. Olivia points out to Peter that Simon can barely function around people. "The Cortexiphan trials ruined his life." Peter is as swift to reply as he was jumping off the roof earlier. "Olivia, I know what you're thinking. You and he are nothing alike." Hmm. You so sure about that Peter? In thinking about Peter's words it seems to me that this was part of his problem in dealing with FauxLivia. Peter may be in denial of how messed up our Liv really is as a result of being tested on by Walter and William Bell. He quickly dismissed the possibility of our Liv being like the broken Simon before them. I am thinking that Peter may have to confront the fact head-on sometime in this series, and really see our world's 'broken' Olivia Dunham before any real relationship progress can take place. Now spin that in the negative direction and you have an interesting possibility. Is FauxLivia going to rub that fact in Peter's face? That our Olivia is broken and damaged and FauxLivia isn't?
Olivia sits with Simon who has recovered a bit and is making a decent drawing of an attractive woman. Olivia gets him to open up about her. Simon tells Olivia the woman works at a coffeee shop near his home. In another interesting moment Olivia asks Simon what she's like, and Simon says "She's perfect." Olivia gets quiet with a weird look on her face and you just know she's thinking about the other Olivia Dunham again. She figures out from Simon's perfect comment that he has never met the woman. Olivia confronts him on this and asks him if it's because he thinks it would be too painful. Simon says it doesn't matter if he would actually meet her, he knows he's too much of a freak for her to want to be with him. The following is Olivia's reply:
"But..but you don't know that. That's what you're afraid is gonna happen. And so what if you find out that-that she's not interested or that there's somebody else on her mind or that she doesn't love you. I mean, isn't it-isn't it better to know?"(Hello, Pot? This is kettle.)
Simon was concentrating, and his response is crystal clear. "No one should know exactly what someone else is thinking." I absolutely love that line. It's what the writers did with this concept later that I despise. Olivia responds by saying "Probably not, but I wouldn't mind having that ability right now." Down the hall we see one somewhat antsy Peter Bishop on the phone. Simon turns to look at him and you just know he's trying to read Peter's thoughts.
Broyles goes to see Nina for more information on Project Jellyfish and she has CIA Agent Edwards join them. Remember this cocky guy from the 'Earthing' episode? Broyles says he should have guessed the project involved the CIA. Edwards denies it and tells him Nina asked him "to do a little digging, and we both know that what Nina Sharp wants, she gets."
Ooh. I suspect Edwards isn't just talking about power here. Remember in an earlier interview
that executive producers Pinkner and Wyman told us Nina Sharp probably got around. I'm guessing so by the smile on her face. We finally get back to the plot of this episode and learn that Downey was given 3 acres in Pembroke, Mass in addition to a large amount of cash. We also learn that the 3 men who were working with the weapon were innoculated so they wouldn't be affected by it. Huh. It's a good thing David Robert Jones didn't get his hands on that one while he was alive.
In Pembroke we see Downey's two partners testing out their blue dust bioweapon on a dummy in a barn. Then we see our team arrive later. Walter declares from his biohazzard suit that the poweder has oxidized and they can enter. Olivia is shocked by the amount of blue bone-beaking dust in the vest they were testing. One of Broyles' men discovers clipping of Congressman Thorn and they make the jump that maybe he funded Porject Jellyfish. Peter makes the discovery of the episode and spots a sheet on a desk that says 'Marion Douglas Wing.' Olivia confirms that's a wing of the Fine Arts Museum and as Broyles gets off the phone he tells them Thorn is having a fund raiser there as they speak.
Olivia in the next scene is smartly dressed in a black dress(wow, dress?) showing ample cleavage, her arm around Simon. Now I'm a little annoyed that the writers didn't think we'd like to see Liv and Simon working together in Seasons 1 or 2? Since Simon's a Cortexiphan kid they could've really used his help when they went Over There, but I guess Simon would have been a third wheel in that sweet Polivia scene in 'Over There':Part 2. Olivia identifies herself inside the fundraiser and asks where Congressman Thorn is. One of the men says they've already been "through this with your Agent Bishop." Agent Bishop? Hmm. That has a nice ring to it. First and last time we'll hear that? And I love as they walk away that Simon tells Olivia "The tall one thinks you're hot." That little smirk on Liv's face is priceless. Simon gets overwhelmed with all the thoughts in the buidling, but the poor guy's able to identify one of the suspects in the basement. Liv seeks him out and gets him with one shot. She notices he's not the one with the vest so she steers Simon back to the main floor. Before Simon gets sick again he's able to identify the other suspect, and Olivia downs him with a single shot to the throat.(Was that FauxLiv's memories that enhanced that shot?) The camera pans to poor Simon shaking exhausted on the ground floor. Olivia nods her head letting him know they were successful.
The writers throw a bone to the Polivia shippers in the scene where Peter hands Olivia a correct coffee. He even announces it proudly. Olivia thanks him. Peter has to get the last word in. "And I've been meaning to tell you...you look great in the dress. " Olivia, after a few beats, does give him a little smile. Simon sits on the stairway watching the two of them as Walter approaches him. You think Walter is going to say something but he doesn't. We never find out what his thoughts were at the moment. How about 'sorry,' Walter?
Olivia stands outside Simon's cabin as she drops him back home. She tells him that he could change things and go talk to the coffee shop girl, but Simon is adamant. "You still don't understand, Olivia. We're not supposed to know what people think." Olivia delivers one of the most philosophical lines of this episode. "Simon, don't let your ability stop you from living your life." Simon looks at her for a moment as though he's hesitating. "I may not be able to read your mind, but I read his." Simon hands Olivia a sealed envelope. "This is what it's like to be me."
Eight little words. Is he doing this because he wants Olivia to understand what his hellious life is like? Or is he doing this because she told him earlier "wouldn't it be better to know"? Or is he angry that Cortexiphan Olivia isn't broken like he is and he's jealous of what he perceives going on between Peter and Olivia?
Nina Sharp is busy in her office at Massive Dynamic comparing all the First People books.
Apparently she's trying to figure out why Bell was obsessing over finding the other language versions of this book. She writes down the author's name from the German version, M. Weiselauss, and starts messing with the letters. On her third try she gets 'Sam,' and a look of recognition registers on her face. I tried this and there are 3 letters left from M. Weiselauss if you cross 'Sam Weiss' out of it, which are 'e', 'l', and 'u.' Do they mean anything?
Nina visits Sam Weiss in the bowling alley in Southie(South Boston) and confronts him.
She asks him to tell her about the First People and why the books imply he wrote them, and what the machine is intended for. All fair questions indeed. Does Sam answer all of them directly? No. He seems to get a little defensive and tells her. "I'm not your problem, Peter Bishop is." Then he stops and Nina tells him to go on. The following is Sam's reply:
"What I can tell you is this. That device can be used as either a tool of creation or a weapon of destruction. It depends on your point of view. Peter Bishop is uniquely tuned to operate it.
Whatever frequency Peter's vibrating at will determine how the machine reacts."
Sam stops and it's time for Nina to ask another question. She asks him what determines Peter's frequency. Sam's reply:
"Depends on his state of mind which, in turn, will depend on who he ends up with. Olivia from here, or Olivia from Over There. Whichever one he chooses it'll be her universe that survives."
Sam stops there and Nina's mind is already jumping ahead. She could have concentrated and asked again. She could have asked Sam Weiss directly which Olivia Peter will choose, but she didn't. It's quite possible that Sam Weiss already knows the outcome, especially if he can stand back and observe time along a continuum like the Observers can. But Nina's sure of herself and tells Sam that "there's no cause for concern. He'll choose our Olivia. And here Sam Weiss gets spooky and says "I wouldn't be so sure about that," as he spins his bowling ball to collide with one next to it, reminiscent of Nina knocking the two globes together in episode 2.04 titled 'Momentum Deferred.'
Then we get to the last scene of the episode. Olivia is sitting on her couch looking at a piece of paper. Her expression appears grim. We assume she has opened the envelope Simon Phillps gave her. The camera pans across and we can read what it says: He still has feelings for her. And it ends there. Now, I'm going to complain. Since when does our Olivia Dunham not pay attention to details? Simon told her when he gave her the envelope, "This is what it's like to be me." When SImon hears people's thoughts they are out of context. It must be maddening to try to make sense of words and phrases that have no perspective! Right away on first watch, we put a negative spin on this and assume it means Peter still has feelings for Fauxlivia. But does it? Neither Simon nor Olivia really knows. It could mean Peter still has feelings for our Olivia. And what kind of feelings is the note implying? Loving? Hateful? Angry? Sad? Which brings us to the other edge of Walter's paper in the Einstein time-bending demonstration. We really don't know what Peter is thinking. But our poor Liv looks like she's assuming the worst. Mr. Roland and Mr. Pitts, that wasn't a very nice ending.
-If you like dialogue there was plenty.
-Walter was great in this episode.
-We meet a new Cortexiphan kid who's the new male poster child for broken Cortexiphan kids.
And you just wanna hug the poor guy.
-The nods to other episodes were fun.
-Peter in a tux. 'Nuff said.
-Olivia in a dress! With makeup!
-The code Nina punches in the safe was 05-20-10, the same as Walter's combo on the lock in Jacksonville. Consistency is always nice.
-If you don't like dialogue there was plenty.
-I think some of Olivia's words were out of character(OOC) in this episode. I mean really, she would confess her insecurities to Nina Sharp?
-Olivia is written as overly-needy. Sorry, I know the Faux thing shook her up, but our Liv is still tough as nails, just my opinion.
-Where's the dark, almost brooding Peter from last week? It's almost as though we're watching this episode and last week's out of order.
-As someone mentioned in a forum, Sam Weiss picks up his beer with his right hand and puts it down with his left. Oops!
_Those last 2 minutes. Must you keep socking the Polivia shippers in the gut? The FauxLiv rumors of what's coming up are nauseating enough!
Questions for the Magic 8 Ball:
-What is that red car doing in William Bell's safe? What's the significance of all the artifacts?
How many are from Over There?
-Why is Nina Sharp so interested in Olivia's thoughts on FauxLivia and her interaction with Peter?
-Why was there a flash when the 3 defense contractors were in the elevator and got exposed to the powder? Warren's doll didn't flash.
-Were all of Peter's words to Olivia in this episode truthful?
-How often are Olivia's thoughts or words actually coming from FauxLivia in her head? Was she channeling FauxLivia when Olivia asked Simon "Isn't it better to know?"
-Is Peter really allowed to yell 'FBI' now when he's chasing a suspect? And about that jump from the roof, is jumping easily from heights a new Bishop ability?
-Does the fact that Simon could 'read' Peter's mind mean that Peter definitely wasn't treated with Cortexiphan?
-Is Walter starting to slip backwards into insanity again(did he ever leave insanity in the first place)?
-Who was Peter talking to on the phone in the hospital? Was it the same person who called him on his cell in 'Reciprocity'?
Overall, I give this episode 4 out of 5 bowling balls.