Join us for our Fringe Summer re-watch, where we review every episode of Fringe during the summer hiatus. Comments are welcome as we dig into the connections made over three seasons.
"Do you know how it feels to be burdened with something that makes it impossible to relate to another person? It makes you feel completely alone in the world."
There are many things afoot in Concentrate and Ask Again. Loosely woven threads of story are beginning to tighten into a pattern I still can't see all of. It begins with Nina Sharp, unlocking William Bell's personal safe at Massive Dynamic. Inside is a red toy car, a sketch of the Massive Dynamic logo, a couple of interesting photos, and a book: Die Ersten Menschen, by M. Weiselauss. Nina takes the book, muttering wryly about William and his secrets, and calls Olivia to show her.
It's a German copy of The First People. The fourth Nina has found, making a total of five books in five languages, all by different authors. Barring slight translational differences, all five books contain identical information. Nina tells Olivia that William Bell was looking for the books, although she doesn't know why. She points out that it was the information in Markham's copy that led them directly to the coordinates where they recovered the pieces of the device. Which, as Olivia observes, makes them impossible to discount. Without subtlety, Nina brings up Altlivia's journal, wondering if there might more information in there. Olivia quickly negates this idea, telling Nina that she's read the journal and there was no mention of the device or the first people anywhere. What follows is an oddly familial conversation. Nina feigns surprise that Olivia's read the journal, noting that it must have been awkward reading Bolivia's account of her time with Peter. Who told her the personal nature of the journal is anybody's guess, but it's clear that this is the real reason she wanted to talk. Olivia opens up surprisingly readily, admitting that her alternate began to develop real feelings for Peter, and outlining her fear that the other Olivia is a better, more complete version of herself that Peter might naturally prefer. Nina probes gently, and Olivia tells her that “she's just like me but better. She still has her mother; she wasn't experimented on as a child; she can laugh; she has real friends; she even wears a dress once in awhile.”
“Yes” says Nina, “but even so, you don't know what Peter's thinking.” A pretty little piece of foreshadowing. She continues to push, gently and maternally, urging Olivia not to make the same mistake that she made with William. Her biggest regret is that they never acknowledged their feelings for one another. “If you want to know how Peter feels,” she says, “ask him.”
At Intrepus Pharmaceuticals Warren Blake is celebrating his last birthday. Among his gifts are a Magic 8-Ball, a sparkling cake, and a creepy little rag doll that giggles like a child before puffing blue dust into his face. He dies trying to scream as all of his bones break and liquify inside his skin. Fringe is called in when Blake's symptoms don't match any known biological or chemical weapons. Peter finds the doll under a desk, remarking on it's amazing creepiness, and Olivia observes that the box is too big to drop into a mailbox. It would have been shipped, and so they have a lead.
While tracking down the postal code on the package, Peter brings Olivia a coffee, which she sips gratefully before freezing in dismay as she tastes milk. She doesn't take milk in her coffee. Peter knows that – or at least he did before.
Walter is trying to figure out what the blue powder is. He tells Astrid that he and Bell worked on a similar delivery system until they shut down the project after President Nixon tried to use their research for biological weapons. Walter thinks that the powder is military, a theory that's quickly substantiated when Olivia's post office suspect comes back as a former marine: Aaron Downey, out of the service for four years.
A raid on Downey's house comes up dry for biological and chemical agents. Peter and Olivia are looking for inspiration in his room, Olivia thumbing through a photo album, when she broaches the subject of The Wrong Coffee. It's a flimsy excuse to ask Peter if he still thinks about the other Olivia, but the question burns, and she can't help herself. What she really wants to know is does he compare the two of them? Does he think the other is better? Does he love her instead? It's a sad, painful conversation. Peter admits that he thinks about her all the time - the way she manipulated and used him, the way she made a fool of him. And unspoken, the way she might have blown his chance with the real woman he loves. Olivia is hung up on his previous statement that she had an easier smile, she was more relaxed, fun. Resignedly, Peter explains that he said those things because he wanted her to know he noticed the differences, but believed he was bringing out a different side in her. It was never because he wanted to be with her more.
He's trying to be as patient with her as he can be. He's simply honest, laying all his cards out before her, letting her know he still wants her if she can forgive him. But it's hard on him too. He's also hurting, and while he's not hiding his pain from her, the strain of keeping it leashed is starting to wear. And if he made an asinine mistake in not seeing through the deception, Olivia makes hers here, in not trusting him when he's laid out so honestly before her.
An FBI agent breaks the tension, reporting that they've found a stolen case with canisters of the blue stuff downstairs. Olivia breaks off their strained conversation with a tiny nod of acceptance and goes to investigate. Frustrated, Peter tosses the offending photo album onto the bed where she was sitting.
Left alone upstairs, Peter hears a phone ringing from somewhere, and Downey flees from his hiding place on the balcony. Shouting a warning to the agents downstairs, Peter leaps out the window in pursuit, bounding across the rooftop, chasing him until he runs into the street and is struck by a car, throwing him violently across the road.
Downey is permanently brain damaged; he'll never talk again. Perusing his scans, Walter notices that there's still neural activity in his cerebrum, and says he may have an idea how to question him despite the damage, but he needs to go back to the lab first.
An interview with Downey's ex wife reveals that Downey had a grudge against the men who ran a weapons project he worked on. He and the other men in his unit were exposed to a toxin that killed their unborn children in the same manner as Dr. Blake was killed. Downey blamed Blake for his daughter's death, and swore to kill him.
Olivia and Peter are hunting the names of the other two men in the project, when Walter interrupts them with a phone call. He's out of gas, stuck on the side of the road, and starving - in New Hampshire. Peter and Olivia go to get him, coming to the rescue with gas, a burger and a Slusho. He was on his way to see another Cortexiphan subject: Simon Phillips, who was released from the program after he began reading minds. Afraid the boy would read his secret, Walter kicked him out. This terrible admission is followed immediately by a childlike cry of “Punchbuggy! Blue!" and a whack on Peter's arm, dragging a surprised, unwilling smile out of Olivia. Whatever the current, murky situation between her and Peter, there's still a connection between the three of them. They're still a family.
Walter hypothesizes that Simon's ability is probably dormant, and will need to be reactivated. The reality is quite the opposite. Ignoring multiple no trespassing signs posted on the gate of a remote cabin, Peter, Olivia, and Walter knock on the door. There's no answer, and Walter's bouncing along to the call of nature. He wanders off a little way to take care of his business, and when he turns around, Simon is there with a gun on him, reading his mind - and no, he wouldn't call it wonderful at all. Walter immediately tries to block his access with random thoughts, white noise of the mind. Olivia comes to the rescue, and Simon is stunned to find that he can't read her because she's another Cortexiphan subject, and therefore immune to his ability.
She takes him inside to talk alone, the first real conversation he's had in twenty years. He can't turn it off, he hears everyone's thoughts, a ceaseless wall of noise pounding into his brain. It makes him physically ill and is the reason he lives in total isolation. His walls are covered with drawings of a girl.
Olivia certainly identifies with Simon's perception that he can't relate to anyone else in the world, but she needs his help to stop the killers. And despite his loneliness and physical inability to be around people, Simon is a good man. He can't refuse her assertion that people will die without his help.
The hospital floor is cleared for Simon, and he cautiously enters the empty hallways. Although it causes him extreme distress, he is able to pull a list of apparently random words and phrases from Downey's mind, among them "Project Jellyfish" and "Maryann." Walter points out that jellyfish are one of the few creatures without any bones, and it's a short leap to infer that they've found the name of the project the men were working on. Leaving Simon alone for a bit to recover, Olivia watches him sadly, broodily reflecting to Peter that the Cortexiphan trials have ruined his life. He's broken. "Olivia,” Peter says, in another play on the episode's theme, “ I know what you're thinking. You and he are nothing alike."
Broyles interrupts with the news that there's been another attack, this time killing three senior executives at Canopy One, a defense contracting company. It's likely they were the ones funding Project Jellyfish. Broyles calls Nina for help, using her contacts with the DOD to get answers.
Simon is drawing the girl again when Olivia comes to get him. When she asks what the girl is like, Simon only says "she's perfect." Olivia infers that he's never actually met her, and Simon says that even if she pretended to be nice or to flirt with him out of pity, he'd know how she really feels, that he's "too much of a freak for her to even consider being with." Arguing as much with her own internal fears as she is with him, Olivia returns that he doesn't know that, it's what he's afraid is going to happen. “And so what if you find out 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?"
"No one should know exactly what someone else is thinking." he says, studying her gravely. She clearly doesn't get it. Her insecurity demands answers, even if she can't comprehend their cost. “Probably not,” she replies. “but I wouldn't mind having that ability right now. And he looks at Peter in the background, and knows.
Nina's contacts have paid off once again, and Agent Edwards (Earthling) is there to tell them that he found some information despite the fact that Project Jellyfish never officially existed. Three men carried out the field tests. They were inoculated, but the toxin affected their unborn children. Downey's DOD payroll shows a large cash payment and a grant of 3 acres of land in Pembroke.
Search of the property reveals a lot of oxidized blue powder that's been detonated from a vest on a mannequin, and what appears to be an overhead view of the next target laid out on the ground. There's a newspaper clipping of a congressman Thorne, senior military adviser to the joint chiefs during Project Jellyfish. He's holding a gala for several hundred of his top donors at the Maryann Douglas wing of the fine arts museum tonight.
Reluctantly, Simon accompanies the team to the museum to sniff out the suspects with his mind before they can render the entire wing boneless. Olivia, Simon, and Peter are formally dressed to blend in, Peter going to warn the Senator's people, while Olivia and Simon search for the suspects. Olivia has to be a great shot, if either of them have a hand trigger, she must sever the spinal cord to prevent them from being able to detonate. Simon is wobbly and pale, but willing to help. Broyles tells Olivia that if Simon can't do it, she's to get herself out. She nods grim assent.
Simon, though stumbling under the pressure, is not too far gone to play wanly with Olivia, telling her "the tall one thinks you're hot," after she instructs the senator's bodyguards to keep him out of the way. Supporting him on her arm, Olivia heads to the basement, telling a caterer who tries to stop them that Simon's had too much to drink and they're looking for a bathroom. After the man leaves them Simon says "that's him." Olivia follows and shoots him, but he's not the one wearing the vest.
Olivia radios in to tell Broyles that she and Simon are going after the other guy. Peter has returned to the van, and there her family waits for her tensely, Walter lamely reassuring Peter that "she'll be alright." Simon is now actively listening for the second suspect's thoughts, staggering blindly with the pain of it. He hears him though, and is able to choke out "There. Blue tie," to Olivia. She goes after him just as he's approaching the Senator and drops him with a single perfect shot to the throat, the trigger dropping from lifeless fingers. Simon huddles, jerking spasmodically at the foot of the stairs.
Olivia watches as EMTs load up the bodies, and Peter arrives with a cup of coffee for her. The right coffee this time, black, one sugar. He can't resist the opportunity to tell her she looks great in her dress. She starts and looks at him, pleased but uncertain.Watching them, Simon and Walter share the faintest of nods, and everything is understood between them.
Dropping Simon off at his isolated home, Olivia tries to tell him that it doesn't have to be this way, he doesn't always have to be alone. He could meet his girl. She tells him not to let his ability rule his life. He nods, knowing she still doesn't get it, and hands her an envelope, saying "I may not be able to read your mind, but I read his. This is what it's like to be me."
Nina has been poring over the First People books, when suddenly it hits her. She anagrams for just a moment before turning M. Weiselauss into Samuel Wiles. And then she goes to see him, confronting him about why the books seem to indicate that he wrote them, and demanding to know what the device is intended to do. Cagily, Sam tells her that he's not her problem, Peter Bishop is. The device can either be used as a tool of creation or a weapon of destruction, and Peter is uniquely tuned to operate it.
Thing is, says Sam, the machine's reaction to Peter will be determined by his state of mind, which will in turn be determined by which Olivia he chooses. Whichever he chooses, it'll be her world that survives. Nina is confident then, that her world will be safe. Sam pushes a red bowling ball into a blue one and says he wouldn't be so sure.
At home, Olivia sits alone, staring sightlessly at a piece of paper with a single line on it: He still has feelings for her.
Upon her introduction to the series, Ella gave Olivia a Magic 8-Ball.
Stay out - This means you! Is on Bell's safe in the same handwriting that warns about fragile fingers on Walter's tank. Presumably it's William's handwriting, and the you that this means is Nina.
Nina opens it with the same code that Walter uses to unlock his storage unit. 5-20-10, although Walter can't remember it's significance.
Bell has degrees from Yale and Princeton, gathering dust in storage at Massive Dynamic.
Olivia's line about the other Liv wearing a dress is also foreshadowing.
“Concentrate and ask again” is one of five noncommittal answers in an 8-Ball. The others being “Reply hazy, try again,” “Ask again later,” “Better not tell you now,” and “Cannot predict now.” In this context it means that the answers aren't as clear as they may seem.
Don't trust Sam Weiss. Why? I like Sam, but I found that I didn't trust anything he had to say in this episode. For whatever reason, I don't think he was telling Nina the truth, or at least not the whole truth. But again, why?
He still has feelings for her. No, I don't believe he does. Did Simon misread what he heard? How much do our emotions overlap our thoughts? Can Simon tell the difference between how people feel and what they think?
What's with the toy car in Bell's safe? Is it a memento of his experiment with Walter?
Walter says Simon wasn't in the records because he never completed the Cortexiphan program. Previously he said that there never were any records of the children involved, not even a list of names. Was he lying for some reason? Is it a continuity error?
If Peter Bishop didn't exist:
Olivia certainly wouldn't be in this kind of emotional turmoil. Peter is so central to the weave of the story now that it's becoming impossible to separate him out from the general fabric. Season four is going to blow my mind.