“I need more time!”
It is interesting to consider the development of television narrative devices. I maintain that TV today is a place of subtle, radical developments in traditional narrative structure, just as much as Victorian novels (particularly the sensational ones) often addressed the grim realities hiding under petticoats and behind cravats. Those wildly popular novels incorporated radical critiques of law and tradition into suspenseful narrative; in the same way, TV today takes radical storytelling risks, trusting the viewer to follow multiple timelines, alternate realities, astonishing improbabilities, and deeply entrenched metaphors amid chase scenes, unrequited love, and everyday travails as experienced by telegenic people.
We—us genre fans—are so used to doing the work of interpretation that we often forget to pat ourselves on the back for taking the time to think through what whole swaths of people dismiss as nothing more than an hour’s entertainment in the evening. The Victorian novels of yesteryear are now considered, en masse, some of the most interesting and complicated novels in the genre’s tradition, even though they were dismissed for decades as just not worth serious consideration. They’re picked apart, dissected, and theorized within an inch of their lives in classrooms throughout the world. 150 years from now, I like to think that the literary critics of the future—I assume they will be robots—will look back on shows like Fringe and treat them with the same interpretive respect.
Those professorial robots will likely use an episode like this to teach their droidling students about a common television narrative device: The Stand-Alone With Emotional Relevance (the SAWER: that’s what they’ll call it). Fringe does a wonderful job with the SAWER mini-genre, and this episode is no exception. Walter’s mind is slowly cracking under the weight of his hallucinations, and when his mind cracks, he can’t help but reflect on the loss of his son—as his slip-of-tongue near the end revealed. What Walter doesn’t realize is that he should be thinking of his lost child: that lost child is now the mystery man he sees in reflective surfaces.
Just as Walter’s mind slips nearly over the cliffs of insanity, though, two events bring him back: Aaron survives, providing Walter with the closure-by-transference he was never able to achieve with the death of both Peters. The second event is Olivia disclosing that she, too, has seen the mystery man. Suddenly, Walter’s insanity turns into a problem to solve—with something other than an icepick and a copy of Lobotomies for Dummies. Olivia would have never revealed her dreams if Walter had not been pushed to the brink; Aaron-as-Peter served his narrative purpose. The SAWER accomplished its jobs.
The thing is, I don’t really like SAWERs. I mentioned last week that Fringe can’t “fix” the problem of the missing son too quickly, or else it will feel like there were no real stakes in his disappearance. While Fringe has done a good job, until this week, of giving us episodes that we can still sink our teeth into, this SAWER (mixed metaphor alert!) didn’t have much bite. Psychic fungus is all well and good, but I’m getting antsy for Peter, mythology, even some Over-There goodness. Fringe may need more time (see opening quote for reference), but I don’t.
I’m not sure we needed this reminder that Walter without Peter is a sad Walter. Or, if we did need that, it would have been interesting to see a really bizarre episode, rather like Brown Betty, to reveal it. Maybe “A Day in the Life” of Astrid, or Lincoln Lee, or Broyles. Maybe another Over There/Over Here encounter. Those are always fun. It’s hard to go wrong with penny farthings and zeppelins.
But all of those criticisms are about this episode not being what I wanted it to be, not what it actually is. This is a very solid SAWER, with great performances from John Noble and the boy who played Aaron, and nice relationship-building between Lincoln and Olivia. I’m just ready for more.
Please, sir, I want some more.
I’m Thinking Flamethrowers:
• Walter: “For all I know, it could be viral. Or the mutation of a flesh-eating bacteria. Or some kind of aaaallliiieeennn parasite. Or: Bigfoot! Bigfoot, that’s it! Take a look around for massive fecal droppings…”
• Aaron: “And…you don’t think you belong in a mental institution?”
• I loved the awkwardness of Olivia reaching out to Lincoln, and the way he used the “Do you want to talk about it?” to create a genuine bond between them at the end of the episode. How will Peter’s eventual return be thrown off by the newbie on the team?
• Was Lincoln Lee wearing a polo shirt?!
• The tinfoil hats came back!
• This episode was written by David Fury. I hope he is enjoying a mustard-free life these days, and is enjoying many hours of quality edutainment.
Two and a half out of four Guses. Or is that Gi?
(Horribly angry at that low rating? Bring your flamethrower to burn all of my favorite Dickens novels--or just visit me at billiedoux.com, where I review the Vampire Diaries and Game of Thrones.)