Ironically enough, I’ve of two minds about this past week’s episode of Fringe. On the one hand, there was an interesting exploration of an otherwise unexplained part of the Fringe mythology- the Observers – and some very well done emotional scenes. But, perhaps because of that split focus, it only felt like what went on was half-explored.
So like I just said, there were two distinct halves to the episode, which I’m going to explain somewhat out of order, because I can see the past, present, and future all at once:
Part 1: A mathematics professor at MIT finds a probe left by our main Observer – September – and goes a little nuts trying to figure out how to see the world the way the Observers do. The reason? He still doesn’t understand why he survived a fatal car crash as a kid, an accident that claimed the lives of his father and twin brother. In fact, as he reveals later on, his mother thought he should have died, not his brother… A fact that’s haunted him for his whole life.
To balance the scales, he not only figures out how to see all time at the, er, same time, he also gets a glimpse of how to create the “Tears or Ra,” a weapon that should not exist, according to Walter Bishop. It does, though, and the former professor – using his TSA position to scout out subjects – decides to put people who are headed down the path to an awful life out of their misery before they get there. He’s a SciFi Kevorkian, whether they like it or not.
The Fringe team, of course, wants to stop him, and they do… Kind of. He actually forces them to kill him, so he won’t commit suicide, so he can go to Heaven as a saint for killing all these other people. Sucks to be him, though, because Heaven probably doesn’t exist on Fringe. Ha, ha.
It’s an interesting idea, certainly, and one that we’ve explored before on Fringe: who has the right to choose another person’s future? Particularly as the Observers themselves are trying to guide the world in the direction they think is the “right” possibility, who are they to decide that what Professory is doing is wrong? The problems, though, are – again, interestingly – two-fold: the first is that he gets killed just as his story is getting interesting; and the second is that other than the thematic link of parents and children, he doesn’t really tie into our second plot.
Part 2: Astrid from Earth 2 heads over to Earth 1 to meet her non-autistic counterpart, and find out whether her Father loves her. Its complicated by the fact that Earth-2 Astrid’s Dad just died, and as we find out later, Earth-1 Astrid’s Dad has trouble expressing his feelings (though has no problem cooking his daughter a home-cooked meal when she drops by later for a hug, so whatevs).
While on Earth-1, Astrid-2 and Fauxlivia (who basically drops by to taunt Walter and Olivia) assist in a peripheral way with the investigation. It’s Astrid-2 who figures out the TSA connection with the perp, but neither of the Earth-2 doubles head into the field, and mostly just hang around the lab trying coffee for the first time (Astrid-2), or trying to snag one of Walter’s licorice whips (Fauxlivia).
In the end, Astrid-2 gets a hug from Walter – the one she never got from her own Dad – a handshake from Astrid-1, and Fauxlivia reaches a peace agreement with Walter by giving him some mints. Doesn’t everybody know the way to win Walter over is with weird food? Well, it is.
Again, some interesting ideas here, and the triple writing team of Akiva Goldsman & J. H. Wyman & Jeff Pinkner know how to layer on the text and subtext. But also again, it felt like this was half explored. Why didn’t Astrid-2’s struggle, and eventual acceptance have more to do with the main case? Nearly as much time – if not more - was spent on Peter and Olivia investigating, versus what was going on with the Astrids.
Particularly frustrating about this is that Astrid is basically sidelined every episode, so to get her first real featured role only to again, be sidelined, is aggravating. Look, I get that on one hand Astrid-2 is an autistic shut-in incapable of communicating properly with other human beings; and on the other side, she’s the assistant, hardly a kick-ass field operative who would be the lead in an investigation. There’s procedure that needs to be followed, and Goldsman/Wyman/Pinkner don’t seem willing to just let Astrid(s) investigate for the sake of having a central role.
That’s not to say I, as a viewer, don’t want to see that. And I certainly don’t want to see her stuck in a lab doing essentially nothing the whole episode when it was our chance to truly find out more about the character. She should have been the A-plot, but she was relegated to C-Plot, at best.
Like I said, though, there are plenty of things that worked about this episode. It felt like it easily could have been a two-parter, but that’s just an indication that what was in the episode was really good… We just needed more of it. Great character moments, great acting across the board – despite the surprisingly limited screen time, Jasika Nicole was superb as both Astrids, and surprisingly believable playing across from herself – and a pretty straightforward explanation of how the Observers work, without getting all “midichlorian” about the whole thing.
It’s interesting to get this halfway episode at exactly halfway through the season (this is episode eleven of twenty-two), written by the main guys behind the series. It makes me wonder if maybe this week’s hour was more about setting the stage for the back half of the season, than concluding character threads. If so, hopefully we get more Astrid, more Observer back-story, and more plying Walter with food. I expect we’ll get at least two of those three.
Next week it looks like the Fringe gang gets caught in the middle of an Outer Limits episode, or at least, a town where the “laws of physics don’t exist!” We’ll see you then.
SIDE-NOTE: You may notice we used a picture up top of Joshua Jackson and Anna Torv from the episode... That's because the FOX press site only had one picture from the episode with Jasika Nicole in it, and she was tiny and in the background. That's craziness.