Sunday, February 20, 2011

TV Episode Review: Fringe “6B”

I’m going to go ahead and take advantage of the easy joke here:  Tonight’s episode of Fringe was earth shattering in the most literal sense.  Whatever hangover the show was suffering from for a couple episodes was more than shaken off this week with the most drastic revelation in the show’s run:  Our universe is beginning to destabilize the same way Earth 2’s has.  If a few cracks in the side of an apartment complex leaking supernatural light aren’t enough to send you into panic mode, seeing Walter going into panic mode certainly should be.  By the end of the episode he’s prepared to hand over the controls to Broyles which will freeze Olivia and his beloved Peter in the suspended-animation amber we know so well from the other side.  It’s heavy stuff (the episode’s content, not the amber, which actually looks rather light and easy to work with) and Fringe made quite a compelling hour of television out of it, hopefully permanently reining in an increased audience in the process.  For fans who have been around for the long haul, the episode offered up a few additional surprises too—most notably that episodes as far back as the second episode of season one have all been part of the master plan (the bus load full of people frozen in jelly may have actually been victimized by the FBI trying to contain a vortex situation) which changes all of your future repeat viewings.

The episode begins outside of an apartment complex called “The Rosencrantz”, for reasons I won’t begin to guess at because my Shakespeare is a bit rusty (if you’ve got that allusion figured out, enlighten us all in the comments section, please).  Turns out there’s a heckuva party going on in 7C tonight, despite the fact that most tenants aren’t in much of a partying mood these days (Mrs. Marcello tells two guests that the elevator is working but wishing them an ominous “good luck” as they step aboard—you’d think she might have warned total strangers that the building is a death trap and the elevator isn’t an ideal place to be, but sarcasm works too, I guess).  In 7C things have been as weird as they’ve been everywhere else in the building lately; the oven turns itself on, blenders leap to life by themselves, oh, and, once in a while the balcony’s concrete becomes so infirm that everyone standing on it drops to the sidewalk and their deaths directly below.  It’s an effective opening, especially the literal rain of bodies as doorman Jimmy looks on in horror.  

When the Fringe team arrives to investigate, an old woman, Alice Merchant, peers from her apartment window with interest at them before withdrawing in that mysterious way that people who are involved in something unsavory tend to do.  But it turns out she’s not really doing anything unsavory, she’s just an extremely distraught woman who can’t move past the loss of her husband.  Thanks to the intensity of her grief and the weakening boundary between the two universes, she hasn’t really had to.  Her husband, Derrick, has been paying her regular visits to the delight of both.  Peter and Olivia guess “ghost”, even though it seems suspicious that Olivia can see Derrick along with Alice while Peter sees nothing (at first).  

Walter dismisses ghosts quickly, to Peter’s surprise, but his theory is obviously much more frightening and makes tons more sense—this is the beginning of an instability that will become a full-blown vortex like that whopper we saw on the Earth-2 newscast in the middle of the water off New York’s shoreline.  It’s a frightening revelation and an escalation of events for the show akin to the episode last season where the Fringe team actually crossed over, setting in motion events that changed everything the show was about.  “6B” has that same feel, especially as we watch a building in our reality begin to splinter and crack with rifts of light before the “leak” closes in the nick of time. When Walter is quickly forced to come to terms with the same morally devastating choice Walternate made and can’t even allow his feelings for Peter and Olivia stand in the way of it, we know the game has changed.  It all leads to one of Fringe’s best closing segments, beginning with a gorgeous shot of the city at night—bathed in a purposeful amber hue.  Walter is in despair that the night’s events are a harbinger of things to come, but Nina points out to him that he’s going to have to be what Walternate was not:  A great enough mind to figure out how to stop the universe from unraveling.  It’s a challenge even Walter may not be up for, but it gives the Fringe team a new goal unparalleled by any of their earlier dilemmas.  

It all ends with a glimpse into Earth 2’s parallel (since Derrick Merchant was the other half of the instability) problem, and it’s sort of fun to see the other Fringe team wrinkling their brows in confusion as to how a “class four event” just quietly resolves itself.  But the scene, I would argue, is not only meant as a fun coda to an otherwise stressful episode.  I think it’s more than a bit significant that we see tonight that one side’s containment or prevention of a vortex stabilizes the other side as well, at least with this sort of a breach that spans both universes (not all of the others have, at least as I understand it).  Could this be the clue to the resolution of a war between the two universes?  It’s too simple to work at face value, but it certainly seems important that if the source of the instability can be stopped in either universe, then neither of them suffers consequences.  I’m sure it will play out more complexly than that, but mark my prediction in the books:  This week’s final moments will matter to the end game of Fringe, as will the fact that these rifts can be opened up by excessive emotions between related individuals on both sides.  

Of course with all of this master story advancement, it’s easy to overlook the reuniting of Peter and Olivia during a couple of very sweetly shot scenes this evening.  In the coffee shop across from a potential universe-ending catastrophe, Olivia tells Peter that she wants to experience that “beautiful” relationship that he said he had with Fauxlivia (thinking it was Olivia, obviously) and they kiss, but then Peter starts doing that glowing thing like he’s Edward Cullen on a sunny day in July and the moment is ruined.  But then she witnesses a wonderful moment between Peter and the grieving Alice Merchant in which he begs her to let go of the “ghost” of Derrick not because he isn’t really her husband, but because “You’ve already had what most of us only dream of; a lifetime with a person you love.”  It does nothing to sway Alice (who eventually realizes Olivia told her the truth about Derrick when he makes a reference to some “girls” of Alice’s who don’t actually exist on this side), but Olivia is listening and she understands not only what Peter keeps trying to tell her about wanting to have something meaningful with her, but learns it (so clever, Fringe!) by watching the same “love triangle” play out right before her eyes:  Alice mistakenly invests the love for her husband in a man from the other side, and when she realizes he isn’t her husband her voice quickly becomes distant and she dismisses him without a thought.  It’s vindication for Peter and eye opening for Olivia in terms of what it can be like when you actually let another person deeply into your life.  That night she visits Peter at home and their kiss is as easily a candidate for the season’s best moment as anything else I could offer.  She pulls away briefly and Peter asks if he’s glowing again.  She says he isn’t, but as she takes his hand and leads him up the stairs I think it’s safe to say he will be soon (wink).  

I have to commend the Fringe writers in one other respect tonight, and I recognize that this probably belongs in the “what not and what have you” section below, but I enjoyed it enough that I wanted to pay it some due here.  Tonight’s episode, dealing as it did with what at first appeared to be “ghosts” seemed to pay an awful lot of homage to that greatest of all ghost movies, “Ghostbusters”.  The similarities begin early on with the glowing doorframe of 6B and the familiar looking translucence of Derrick’s ghostly apparition, but the subtle nods add up even more richly as the episode rolls on.  The architecture of the building is sneakily similar to that of Dana’s haunted apartment complex in “Ghostbusters” and the intimidating low-angle shots capturing it are clearly borrowed from the film as well.  Finally, and this is a rimshot, but I found Alice’s overall appearance to be oddly akin to the ghostly librarian the Ghostbusters first encounter in the film.  I’m willing to be told I’m a fool for that last one, but the rest struck me as pretty clear and enjoyable homage for fans of ghost-related cinema and TV.  One more reason to love tonight’s episode and feel good not just about an uptick in ratings, but a big uptick in how much we have to look forward to the rest of the season.

Overall Rating:  9.8/10

Great Quotes, Interesting Moments, What Not and Occasionally What-have-you: 

The overhead shot of the bodies on the sidewalk was pretty graphic—Fringe does a nice job of making these events sufficiently gruesome as to stick in your head.

I love it when Walter cooks.  This week he has mischievous intentions with it, but he’s always in the best mood when he’s cooking something up.  It’s so Walter to believe that a candlelight breakfast will help Olivia and Peter get back together.  “Would you believe it slipped my mind?” Walter says innocently when Peter asks why he wasn’t told about the little get-together.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day—which Walter apparently proved in 1973.

“Perhaps I should have made a frittata,” Walter says to himself when Peter says things are worse now with Olivia.

Nice little touch when Walter is worried about Peter leaning too far over the balcony.

I like the nifty twist that Walter flipping a coin and getting heads ten times is not really about physics unraveling but Derrick losing a coin toss on one side and Alice losing it on the other—there’s meaning to it, but not what Walter thinks.

“Is it ‘Second Guess Everything I Do Day’ because I haven’t been informed.”

Walter once sang Barry White wearing nothing but his socks.

Knowing J.J. Abrams and company have an affinity for The Dark Tower series by Stephen King, I couldn’t help but think about the “thinnies” from those books with tonight’s episode.  Anyone else get that vibe?

1 comment:

  1. As for the Shakespeare reference. I saw this on my Twitter feed on the night of the episode from Jopinionated: The building is Rosencranz? #Fringe, you clever beast. Hamlet's Rosencranz & Guildenstern are opp sides of the same person. Sound familiar?

    Thinnies? I get the reference to them being weak spots in reality that can transport you to another universe and that play an ominous tone that draws you closer, falsely promising whatever you want, but the noise that accompanies a thinny is what I remember most about it. In The Talisman, by Stephen King and Peter Straub, there is a "key" that a character, Morgan Sloat, uses to pass between two different universes and Jack Sawyer, the protagonist, describes it as looking through "a dirty stain glass window," but the sound is different. Btw, if you haven't read The Talisman, I highly recommend it since it's like The Dark Tower in far more ways than one.