This week’s episode of Fringe wasn’t quite a tour-de-force, but there’s so many fantastic elements – including spectacular guest turns by Stephen Root and Romy Rosemont – that I’m more than willing to forgive it. I’ll get to the biggest problems in a little bit, but first, here’s what happened this week on Fringe:
Actually, scratch what I just said… This week’s cold open was one of the most terrifying things the show has ever done. A woman and her daughter are chatting, eating breakfast, and talking about the day. The woman goes over to the sink, looks down, and everything is charred and burnt. Scared, she looks at her kitchen, which is also completely burnt beyond recognition, and her daughter is gone. From the other room, she hears a baby crying, runs to the room, and finds her daughter – now an infant again – screaming in the crib. She grabs the baby, runs out the door to the apartment, just in time to see a strange, rainbow bubble burst where her apartment used to be. Cue credits. (check out the interview Joshua Jackson recently did with MTV Movies here!)
I don’t know if it’s just because I’m a relatively new father (I mean, let’s be honest, it definitely is), but that whole scenario, from danger to your child, to suddenly finding your kid has been turned four years younger and your apartment is maybe on fire freaked me the f- out.
Meanwhile, back at Fringe Division, Peter is being examined by Walter in the most disconnected fashion possible, with Walter angrily referring to him as “Subject,” and refusing to look him in the eye. When he finishes, concluding nothing, Walter heads to his bedroom at the lab. And again this week, we’re getting some of the best acting I’ve ever seen out of Joshua Jackson, as he quietly realizes that this Walter is far more damaged than even the one he re-met in the first ever episode of this series.
The gang heads over to the burnt apartment to investigate, with Olivia warning Peter not to touch anything (he does, of course), and the discovery that the “time bubble,” or whatever caused the event, sent some areas of the apartment four years back in time, to when there was a massive fire. Next up? A railroad train that hasn’t passed through in, you guessed it, four years, appears on the street, scaring a group of teenagers. And again, this sequence was played more for horror than just weird SciFi, which was a neat angle to take, and it worked.
Back at the lab once again, Peter has given up on Walter, and is trying to figure out what’s going himself, though he can’t find any discernable pattern to the events. While everyone argues and posits theories, including the definitely not a robot Lincoln Lee, Walter broods silently in the background, until he pops up and says, “I’ve formulated a theory.” Turns out, the events are happening in an ever widening Fibonacci Spiral, all centered around a small neighborhood.
And it’s here, halfway through the episode, that we’re introduced to Root and Rosemont’s characters, as Root lovingly looks on his wife as she hurriedly finishes calculating a mathematical problem. He keeps glancing at his watch, which counts down ten minutes, until at the zero mark… His wife disappears. And then she’s in the other room, staring blankly at the wall, and has no idea who Root is.
I’m going to skip ahead here, but this is what’s going on: Rosemont had early onset Alzheimer’s, but before she did, she almost cracked a way to create a time bubble, something that would allow you to go back in time in a small area of space, like a house for example. Root, using her calculations, built her machine in the basement, and has been able to travel back for increasingly long periods in order to let his wife complete her calculations, so he can keep her in the bubble forever. The side effect? An increasingly large wave of time bubbles also flashing back to four years ago, that will eventually consume the world. Oops.
The whole thing comes to a head when Fringe division closes in on their house (sorry, random Red Shirt agent who gets vaporized by going into the time bubble alone), and Root has to tell Rosemont what’s going on. She’s horrified, rather than delighted, and he essentially forces her to go to work on finishing her equations.
Outside, Peter comes up with the idea to create a wearable Faraday Cage in order to enter the time bubble, which Walter co-opts, and calls the “Walter Bishop Wearable Faraday Cage,” which Peter sighs and accepts. Also? The cage attaches by stabbing two needles into your spine. “Of course it does,” says Peter. Peter heads into the bubble safely, gets knocked out by Root, and wakes up just in time to explain what’s going on outside – that the machine will destroy the world if they keep using it. Rosemont wants to stop it, Root says they will if he gets immunity, as he didn’t know the negative side effects – then tells his wife privately he’ll never stop trying.
Root then shuts down the machine, narrowly stopping a bubble from destroying a major tunnel roadway (which Lincoln Lee is inexplicably standing in and taking cell phone video like an idiot). As the feds take apart the machine, Root scrambles to find what he thinks are his wife’s completed notes. Instead, he finds she’s blacked everything out, and written a simple note, telling him she loves him and he should live his life.
Back with Peter and Olivia, Peter gets to move into his old house, though with guards at the door due to his help with the last case. And Olivia tells him she has no feelings for him because they’re strangers. Peter says he realizes this is not his Universe (he’s wrong, of course), and he’ll try to get home… As he stands, alone, in what used to be his actual home.
So all in all, an episode that moved the plot forward, had some touching moments, and crazy science. So what didn’t work? Well, look: I realize we’re firmly in the realm of TV SciFi, so you’ll get kooky dialogue now and then, but the insane amount of exposition Broyles (who I know I didn’t mention before – surprise!) in particular had to spew this episode was ludicrous, and would even make an engineer on the Enterprise flush with embarrassment. It seems like a minor point, but I’m usually pretty good with Fringe’s faux science dialogue, and I very rarely roll my eyes, or even look sideways at the show… But this week was particularly silly. That’s a bummer, because it takes away from the excellent, subtle work that Root, Rosemont, and Jackson did on the show.
Don’t get me wrong: totally worth watching, and some great stuff there, just needed a dialogue pass, or three. Or four. Next week looks to be another Freak-of-the-week episode, and Olivia starts to get not at all ominous headaches. Then we’re off until January, so hopefully this one should be a doozy… We’ll see you then.
- While Root and Rosemont think he’s unconscious, Peter overhears that the time bubble thingy didn’t work until three days earlier – when Peter came back to the Universe. So he wasn’t causing the time disruptions, but he did do something.
- Does the small time loop Olivia got caught in last week (in “Novation”) make any sense given the geography of this episode? Or was that something different entirely?
- I’m also beginning to wonder whether there’s a reset button here, and kind of hoping there isn’t. Fringe has never shied away from going in some crazy directions, but I imagine that – at some point – Walter and Olivia have to start remembering Peter. But given that the writers need to get Peter and Olivia together, only to break them apart again, even if they do “reset,” something else needs to happen, right? Right? My head hurts.