“Let’s not assume the worst.”
The only thing harder than reviewing the penultimate episode of a Fringe season is attempting to snorkel through molten lava with nothing but a jury-rigged catgut air-tube. In other words, I feel a bit like Wile E. Coyote after he has run off the cliff but hasn’t realized he’s falling yet: we’re in mid-air and only beginning to sense the depth of our plunge.
That isn’t to say we’re in a holding pattern, though. So much happened in this episode that at the 30 minute mark I got up from the couch, assuming it was over. Then a whole season’s worth of event happened in minutes 30-60, too. And then fifteen years worth of events happened in the last 2 minutes…
I could talk about the machine’s variable destruction: Walternate wants to cause trouble, but the machine is causing more trouble than he anticipated, since our heroes have stashed our machine in Massachusetts and the Over-There machine is in New York. I could talk about Olivia and Sam Weiss Indiana Jonesing their way through the museum, and the mini-quest for the metaphorical crowbar and key. I could talk about Sam Weiss’s storied past, and his allegedly not-so-immortal genealogy. I could discuss the intersection of the mystical and the scientific, and how Fringe is rapidly tilting in the direction of full-on wacky metaphysics. Or the intersection of the Christological imagery with the message Peter had Olivia write: “Be a better man than you father.”
But I would rather dwell on where this episode leaves each character, as I have the terrible feeling we may lose someone soon:
Astrid is the unsung hero of the Fringe Division—and I think that’s almost for the best. Her marginalized status makes every revelation that much more compelling, and her solid faith in God’s benevolent interest was a delightful character moment. She plays well off of Walter, whether she’s discussing tapioca or the doctrinal nuances of faith vs. works.
Walter is fairly well-adjusted right now. As I suspected he would, he took Bell’s words to heart and has begun to realize that what he perceived as a mental lack in fact made him better man and stronger scientist. He has managed to maintain love and affection for Peter without letting it overcome his interest in saving the human race. This character arc has been extremely satisfying, which leave me worried: a content Walter might make for boring TV. Does that mean something tragic has to happen, to keep the story interesting?
Olivia has undergone quite a few traumas in the past few episodes. While she seems to have emerged stronger for it, she now has a new difficulty to contend with: her importance to the machine, outlined Rambaldi-style by her picture in the ancient manuscript she and Sam Weiss discovered. Olivia now has the presence of mind to control her telekinetic potential, but I am a bit concerned about her reliance on Peter to do so. Is he helping her become her own woman, or is she so attached to him that without him she’ll go haywire? She still struggles with seeing herself as the extraordinary woman that Walter and Peter know she is—can she remain aware of that extraordinariness even if she’s left without Peter?
Peter seems to be more stable than ever. His partial amnesia was fascinating: at first, I wondered if he would spend an entire season with a case of TVnesia (that particular kind of amnesia that really only removes the events of a TV show from a person’s brain, but leaves everything else intact). As he gradually realized…well, no. As he gradually returned to being our Peter, rather than a non-existent Peter from the other side, he seemed simultaneously struck by the lose of one life and the gain (primarily Olivia) of another. (Joshua Jackson did a wonderful job here.)
The TVnesia also introduced the idea of a consciousness shift, which I assume is what happened in the last few minutes of the show: a Desmond-like jump from one point in Peter’s timeline to another. The glimpse of fiery martial destruction on our side was tantalizing, and raises the question of whether that is the future, or just a possible future. Can the future be changed, or is it set in stone? Will our heroes’ actions cause the apocalypse, or prevent it? Should we assume a merging of the two worlds, in which September 11th happened but the Fringe Division logos are the Over-There versions? Are those even the right questions?
Fate, predestination, foreknowledge, and the will to change one’s circumstances are questions of faith just as much as they are the preoccupation of 18th-century philosophers. When Walter told Astrid that God did not answer him, she reminded him that God is not a handyman we can call up when something is broken: we must make the best attempt possible to do what we can, and only by trying can we earn salvation.
Olivia, Peter, Walter, and Astrid all have faith in each other to try, but they are still doubtful about their success. Will their faith in each other be shaken by whatever happens now that Peter is in the machine? When they—if they—encounter their Over There counterparts, including baby Henry? When they know that at least one possible future is pain and misery? The great thing about Fringe is that we likely won’t get solid answers to those questions in the next episode: we’ll get development of the issues those questions, and others yet unasked, have raised.
The Confusion is Temporary:
• Sam Weiss: “It’s not a Doomsday device, but it’s acting like one.” Gotta admit: I don’t really understand the logic of this statement.
• Sam Weiss: “Sam Weiss. Patron member since 1982.”
• Walter: “I know what it’s like to feel unequal to the task required of you, to feel incapable. I’ll never be the man I was. But I’ve come to embrace the parts of my mind those parts of my mind that are peculiar and broken.”
• “Riders on the Storm” was a perfect choice for the lightening storm. And the Lost technique of introducing non-score music through a character’s use of headphones is just as effective here.
• St. Arthelais is a sixth-century saint who fled from Constantinople to Italy to escape Emperor Justinian. (Thanks, catholic.org!) Relevant? Red herring? Anagram?
• Peter’s note.
• The montages were beautiful, and incredible. They also seem to suggest an answer to a question that has plagued us for a few episodes: Peter remembers Olivia from the field of white tulips.
Four out of four classic fruit cocktails. Because pre-finale episodes are impossible to rate, but it certainly was wonderful.
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