Fringe wasted no time steering into risky and uncharted territory once they had their renewal papers for another season. Tonight brought our first animated scenes of Fringe, which managed to stay interesting even though they didn’t always “work” in terms of engaging the audience (I felt like every actor’s performance became flat as soon as they were reduced to a voice). I’m sure the episode was planned long before the show was renewed, but I like to imagine the production team waiting for Fox execs to sign the final paperwork greenlighting another 13-episode season and then declaring “Cool, thanks. By the way, we’re going to be doing an animated episode in a few weeks. See ya!”
Whenever the episode was conceived, it was clearly done with caution thrown to the wind and everything else thrown into the episode itself—we had zombies, hallucinogenics, Walter falling to his death, Peter being run over, a morbidly obese (word play!) man seizing in a tub of ice, Broyles smiling (think about that a second—I’ve never seen Lance Reddick’s full-on happy smile in any episode of Fringe OR his outstanding work on The Wire), and more great moments of humor than the last few episodes combined. There was also a zeppelin, a car chase, a motorcycle ride, and a half dozen nods/thefts to/from “Inception” and “The Matrix” (even little Olivia raising a hand to stop the would-be attackers in her mind in their tracks seems like homage to the moment when Neo gains control of his abilities).
All of that and I haven’t even mentioned the plot: Bell knows in his heart of hearts, or Olivia’s heart which he’s borrowing, or something like that, that he can’t continue to exist without risking her life, but first they have to find Olivia because she’s gone into hiding in her own mind. She’s always been a runner, thanks to the Cortexiphan trials. In order to get her back, Walter, Peter, and Bellivia all gulp some LSD laced sugar cubes and dive into Olivia’s mind. It’s an interesting twist regardless of how many times the show has done something similar, and makes for some fun moments, derivative as they are. It also makes sense that in an effort to “go big” with such a fun premise they came up with the animation to allow for some scenes which would have swallowed up a season’s worth of budget done in live action. For that, I find the shortcomings of the animated elements forgivable, though it really did hamper some character moments to hear dialogue delivered a bit lifelessly through animated faces which fell well shy of capturing the emotive actor’s faces we’ve become so attached to. It took its toll. The animation style itself was interesting and worked well in fitting with the show’s overall visual style; my first thought was that it was the animation from “Waking Life” without the wobbly “debris floating on choppy water” effect that made that film so obnoxious to look at after a while.
As usual with the best episodes of Fringe, the strengths that drove tonight’s episode were entirely character driven and very touching. Most notably, the writers found a beautifully genuine way to allow Peter a moment of redemption for his “affair” with Fauxlivia. When Peter and Olivia finally opened up about that incident, Olivia told him that in her mind, he should have known it wasn’t her, that it was someone else who looked like her. How wonderful then, tonight, that Peter is given a new trial with a Fauxlivia of Olivia’s own creation (can you imagine trying to read this blog if you don’t watch the show?) when he finds her childhood home in her mind. She looks just like Olivia, but something is off and he recognizes it right away. The childhood Olivia rises from the table and says, “I had to be sure it was you,” since she doesn’t trust anything in her own mind. It makes entire sense within tonight’s plot but means much more to the master story of their relationship: Peter knows Olivia more deeply than he did at the beginning of their relationship, and even when faced with a test meant to turn away any intruder, he knows when he’s not looking at the real thing.
Astrid gets my favorite moment of the season when she ribs poor Walter about his inability to remember her name (details in the “great quotes” section), and Broyles almost steals the show completely as he stares in wide-eyed amazement at everything from Walter’s licorice to the vision of himself as death (which, I think, is actually an ominous revelation more than the ramblings of a high lieutenant). And Bell, finally, is given the chance to put sad but fitting closure on his return to Walter and our world when he gives himself up willingly to save Olivia. He tells her to let Walter know he “knew the dog wouldn’t hunt”; a saying he always used in reference to experiments he and Walter set up which he knew would fail. He planned to sacrifice himself all along once they found Olivia, but since he hates goodbyes, he chose to keep that detail to himself. In doing so, he allowed an opportunity to give Walter a gift that he needs almost as much as Olivia needs her body back (that’s hyperbole, but bear with me): He tells Walter that he possesses the “wisdom of humility”—a trait both of them lacked in their younger days. It’s exactly the assurance that Walter needs to hear given all of the emotional burdens he carries from his past and occasionally adds to in his efforts to help the Fringe team.
The episode ended with an oddly casual revelation from Olivia: Peter asks about a strange figure in her mind who wore a t-shirt with a stylized X (I think the weird design of the X is significant—a company logo we haven’t seen yet, perhaps?) on it who kills Walter and tries to sabotage the entire rescue operation. Olivia tells Peter that she thinks it’s the man who’s going to kill her and then goes back to fixing her toast as if she’d done something as insignificant as predict this year’s American Idol winner (although if I thought she watched American Idol I don’t know if I’d really enjoy her character as much). It’s a classic Fringe hammer-drop ending, but with only three episodes left and a lot of loose threads already flapping in the wind, it caught me quite off my guard. It suggests there’s an entirely new plot preparing to open up; it could be an extension of an existing problem, but nothing the X-Man did or said suggests an affiliation with anything else. Which is something to be delighted about because this season has yet to let us down with anything they’ve brought to the master-story table.
Overall Rating: 9.4/10
Great Lines, Interesting Moments, What Not and Occasionally What-Have-You:
As trivial as it might be to the master story, the line of the night and my favorite moment of the episode goes to Astrid’s wonderful jab at Walter:
“Astro, are we ready?”
“Just about, Wally.”
Walter’s look is a mixture of confusion and heartbreak that she doesn’t know his real name. It’s a riot and a moment they’ve spent nearly three full seasons setting up.
You never know what to think of Walter’s experiments and apparently neither does he: “But we should take a few steps back” he warns everyone after assuring Peter that the procedure he’s about to perform on Bellivia is perfectly safe.
Great gross touch to have the body in the tub shake and twitch when the experiment starts.
I love how startled Walter is when Belly speaks to tell him the experiment didn’t work.
I’m calling shenanigans on Bellivia surviving 25 minutes of seizures with no lasting brain damage.
Olivia’s Leonard Nemoy-esque eyebrow raise is Torv’s nicest touch yet in channeling the actor through her character (the voice still doesn’t work though).
Walter keeps the neuro-sensors on the back shelf (by the fish food).
“This may be a weird time to ask, but have you ever tripped?”
The shot of Peter entering his body inside Olivia’s dream is more odd and jolting than anything “The Matrix” ever came up with to portray the shock of similar moments. Well done Fringe.
Anyone else find it odd that they cut the scene where Peter actually rescues Walter from the bus?
“Wait, wait, wait. You’re driving?”
Even though it’s inconsistent with the non-comic book structure of the remaining animated scenes, I had a good laugh at the thought bubble appearing over newly-animated Walter’s head reading “How wonderful!”