Tonight’s episode title works in a lot of different ways, but I’m hoping that its ultimate significance is not that it was the ironic title of one of Fringe’s final episodes. The show is not doing well in the ratings, and if your immediate response to that is “Hey, Friday night death slot,” you aren’t off the mark, but the hard truth is that it’s now Fox’s lowest rated series, which you have to assume means bad things for its long term viability. Alas, we can cure avian flu on Earth 2 with an enzyme from a bug’s stomach, but we can’t get more people to watch one of the best genre shows of the past ten years. Maybe our side does deserve to be the reality that gets destroyed. At any rate, tonight’s episode seemed like a bit of setup for things to come, and based on the preview for next week’s episode, I get the feeling they might be rushing a few master story points down the pipeline just in case this is the beginning of the end. It could make for a melancholy pall over the rest of the season; it’s exciting to know that answers are coming, but it seems like the faster and closer together they come, the more evidence that the showrunners know that Fringe is on its last legs. If that’s the case, then tonight’s title is perhaps a bit heartening at least as a reminder that with great television in the era of DVD, shows tend to outlast the shortsightedness of current audiences and find their own sort of infamy with devoted fans and new generations of fans who grow fascinated with the things that somehow snuck past them the first time around.
I’ve been thinking about getting less philosophical in the openings of my reviews, but the idea of losing Fringe gives me the sniffles, so you’ll have to excused it for this one last week. Maybe I’m more disappointed that tonight’s Fringe kept us away from home and in the alternate universe. As I’ve said before, I’m actually amazed by how much I find myself liking the inhabitants of Earth 2, with the notable exception of Obnoxstrid with her endless robo-babble about numbers and probabilities and of course all the characters we dislike because of their villainous intents (but we’d dislike them in our reality as well, so that’s something different). At the risk of making myself a hypocrite, I just don’t enjoy watching them or seeing what’s going on in their reality all that much—it’s interesting only from the perspective of its implications on our reality. I feel like approaching the show with that perspective is something like the homophobe’s compromise: “I’m fine with you people doing whatever you want to do, as long as I don’t have to watch it,” but I can’t bring myself to take the same level of interest in these storylines as the show seems to want me to.
The saving grace this episode is that the freak-of-the-Earth-2-week was sufficiently creepy to grab my full attention. Fauxlivia is also, I hate to admit it, much more pleasant to spend time around and has a much warmer smile than our own Olivia, even when she’s kissing her uninteresting beefcake boyfriend Frank, which makes matters a bit more complicated emotionally as we move forward because—dear God of All Possible Realities—she’s going to have Peter’s baby! It was quite a smack in the face to end the episode (bear with me; I’ll get back to the earlier stuff—this is a pressing issue) and I’m surprised to find myself feeling like it really could be the finishing blow to Peter and Olivia’s relationship which we’ve been hoping wouldn’t land for quite some time now. Peter already has misgivings about where he “belongs” and his turn towards some dark acts suggests he’s certainly not feeling confined by his role/responsibility as a member of Fringe division, so who knows what this news could lead him to do? It was no less a poet than Shakespeare, after all, who once observed that only our offspring can grant us true “immortality”.
Apparently Dr. Armand Sylva doesn’t read Shakespearean sonnets though, since he’s decided that the best bet to immortality is to sacrifice a few lives—his own included--in the name of science and come up with a cure to that deadliest of viruses (viri?) the dun DUN DUN…avian flu. On Earth 2 it was apparently deadly, costing “millions of lives” and Sylva was within a hair’s breadth of defeating it using a creepy little bug called the Skelter Beetle which contains some very valuable enzymes in its stomach. It continues to be a blast seeing how Earth 2 differs from our own reality. The opening shot of the alternate New York skyline tonight was absolutely gorgeous, topped off by a soaring airship passing gently over our heads. Besides some clever changes to landmarks though, the show has done a nice job of finding an eerie medium for the alternate reality: It would’ve been easy to just go crazy and have it look nothing like our world, but instead it overlaps in more places than it differs, which makes those differences (an incredibly deadly avian flu, mass sheep extinctions, etc) seem very eerie and off-putting.
Sylva represents a surprisingly underdeveloped character in the world of Fringe lore; we don’t know much about his back story and he’s driven by a fairly simple and singular motive, which it seems he achieves at the cost of his own life (and a few others). He never goes beyond “standoffish” in terms of his demeanor, but there’s still something despicable about him in that however important his work may be, he’s ultimately driven by entirely selfish motives. Perhaps he’s left underdeveloped precisely because he is most useful as a cipher on which we can overlay Walter and Bell as reckless researchers victimizing lives in the name of advancement and notoriety. He also shares one other trait in common with the two: A mentality that that which can be controlled and discovered should be (“Everybody talks about the weather, nobody does anything about it,” Sylva laments early in the episode). Which makes Walternate’s stern, unwavering refusal to sacrifice children, even for the potential saving of his entire version of reality, a merciful and moral choice by comparison (if you can overlook the video of the twitching ninth adult victim of his experiments using Olivia’s brain samples). The problem is that it seems Sylva might be right when he tells the Fringe team that many a great scientific mind has left something of a wake of human destruction in his path in the name of a greater good—you avoid it when you can, but hey, when you’re saving the world, you do what you have to do. While the episode felt somewhat small in and of itself, I can’t help wondering whether Sylva represents a model of what Walter or Walternate may have to become in order for the war between the universes to be won. It says a lot about the development of both characters that I find myself hoping that neither of them turns out to be the man capable of such lengths.
The rest of the episode was somewhat similar to last week in terms of its issues—the alterna-team tracks down their killer through rather traditional and forgettable methods, and despite a brief panic that Fauxlivia has been infected with beetlejuice, the finale really doesn’t offer much tension prior to the big reveal in the meat wagon (I wonder what the Earth 2 nickname for an ambulance is?). So the last couple weeks have been something of a downturn in quality for Fringe episodes, with the notable exception of more than a couple fireworks displays of shock-and-awe plot twists. Let’s hope that the rest of this season (Fox willing, not the last) learns to find better balance between master story surprises and small story charms and pleasures.
Overall Rating: 7.8/10
Great Quotes, Interesting Moments, What Not and Occasionally What-have-you:
I really liked the bugs themselves this episode—nasty looking and realistic all in one package. It was also good of the writers to save the most gruesome emergence—pulled out of Sylva’s neck by his own hands—for the episode’s final moments.
It seems obvious now, but it hadn’t occurred to me that they would have to have zeppelinports similar to our airports.
Interesting that for them, Broyles is still listed as missing. Also, a bit odd how little it seems to impact any of them emotionally.
I can’t not mention it: Fauxlivia getting dressed in the morning was totally gratuitous and I’m very grateful for it.
Mona Foster, Bug Expert, could be its own spin off show—she’s super cute and the fact that she has a crush on Charlie shows she has good taste. I’m sure they’re coming back to this somewhere down the road.
Lincoln Lee is an odd choice for the new boss of alt-Fringe division. Especially since it’s a top secret agency and he’s clearly the WORST secret keeper (and dirty liar) on Earth 2.
“There’s your job and there’s my job and there’s my mother” is the worst marriage proposal I’ve ever heard.
Walternate’s love life is very interesting to peek into for non perverted reasons: Seeing him with his guard down with Riko (girlfriend? Something more/less?) reveals both a new side to him and his limitations and doubts with regard to how far he can push things in efforts to save his world.
I’m calling BS on Frank’s “Antiparasitic”. The very concept doesn’t make sense.
Earth 2 has much cooler flashlights than we do.