“I think this is what I’m supposed to do.”
Television shows are made up of many things. Dialogue and actors. Cinematography and score. Overarching plots, character development, and important moments. Great images and great lines. There is also an element of expectation—as viewers, we expect some moments to be presaged by rising music, for instance. Years of suckling on the boob tube makes even the most casual viewer a master of prediction and anticipation.
Fringe wows us with its narrative tricks and risks, its wacky science, its wonderful acting and great writing. Especially since the middle of the second season, each episode has been remarkable. In “6:02 AM EST,” Fringe pulled a new device out of the bag of filmic tricks: a mood of unbearable dread.
Everything has mood, of course. Most TV shows alternate, even in the weightiest of episodes, between light and dark, often relying on dialogue to relieve the viewer’s tension. Fringe aced the mood tonight. Rather than keeping me on the edge of my seat, “6:02” found me leaning back on the couch, resisting the slow push towards some dreadful moment. Something terrible is happening, will happen, has happened. Our heroes are helpless.
We know more than they do, which makes it worse. We know Walternate’s plan, his motivation, and the stakes of his goal. Our heroes are casting about in the dark, hoping to guess what their counterparts in another frakking universe are up to and how to stop them. We also know that the season is coming to an end: obviously, something will happen soon and it will happen big. Our heroes don’t know that, because their lives don’t move in prescribed seasons of twenty-two episodes. They know something is happening, but they don’t have the viewer’s mastery of narrative prediction, because no one can know the story of their own life while living it. They are afraid, but we are in dread.
That dread was created in part by the bits and pieces of wow—the thing with the sheep in the field and other events that happened just off-screen to clue us in on the disintegration of the universe. The biggest moments were underplayed: Peter, rejected by the machine, and Fauxlivia put into prison. I never imagined that Peter would be shot down (as it were) by the machine, and the rising music made me expect a salvation ex machina: how’s that for undercutting audience anticipation? Even Olivia’s failure and capture happened off-screen. One minute, she is realizing the thingamabobs don’t work; the next minute, she is in a holding cell.
But it was the character interactions that mattered most here:
1. The opening with Olivia and Peter in bed, with Olivia waking Peter up. The parallel: Peter, comatose, unable to be woken by Olivia at episode’s end.
2. Walter’s willingness to let Peter become his own man, and giving up what he risked universes to gain all those years ago. The parallel: Peter’s difficult choice to possibly sacrifice himself for the fate of the world and (only recently) developing a filial love he’d never felt before.
3. Fauxlivia using her personal connection to Walternate to get answers related to her job. The parallel: Walternate being unable to punish Fauxlivia because of that personal connection.
4. OtherBrandon’s moral center (he has one?): saving his universe at all costs. The parallel: Sam Weiss, knowing that events are out of his hand and possibly beyond his abilities or knowledge to save.
5. Fauxlivia singing to baby Henry and easily admitting her love for him. The parallel: Lincoln Lee’s unwillingness to say how much he loves her. Also, Olivia’s unwillingness to say goodbye to Peter, and his unwillingness to tell her what he is about to do.
6. Walter’s monologue. Or maybe I should call it a dialogue with a silent God. The parallel: Walternate’s discussion with Fauxlivia, whose child gave Walternate hope just as God/Robocop gave Walter hope with the white tulip.
The end of the world is nothing but background in this episode, which allowed us to watch our heroes on both sides teetering on the verge of an apocalyptic cliff. We’re left with Peter unable to wake up (and the related knowledge that his relationship with the machine perhaps isn’t what we’d anticipated), Fauxlivia locked away for trying to save a universe she still has some fondness for, and Walternate channeling Walter’s Oppenheimer obsession. With only two episodes left, I suspect some of our worst dreads will soon be realized.
This Stuff Is Not Organized:
• Olivia: “Oh, no. The surprise is all mine.” And I won’t even mention the mushroom caps.
• Walter: “I wouldn’t bet the farm on that.” Oh, farm humor.
• Astrid: “Is that more dangerous than vortexes putting holes in our universe?”
• OtherBrandon: “One will get you there and back.” And one pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small.
• “The Faraday cage.” Yes, I know Faraday is a real guy and not every Faraday reference is also a Lost reference, but still…
• I got the impression the radio-announcer’s statements about Ebbets Field and Dodgers was a cool thing for people who know stuff about baseball.
• Walter rubbing the gel on Peter’s hands was like a parent rubbing their kid down with sunblock before a day at the beach.
• They have stockades Over There? Real ones, or was that a metaphorical stockade?
Four out of four