Fringe Review: "Welcome to Westfield" (Episode 4.12)
“We have to get out of this town.” -Peter Bishop
Hey Fringe, your influences are showing. It has been no secret that Fringe draws from a long list of sources, Lost and The X-Files being the two primary parents. The open, with its magnetic disturbance, dying cars and plane crash, makes it pretty clear whose territory we are crossing into. Stephen King, with his long list of stories involving alternate universes, alternate twins and creepy New England towns, seems a very likely fount as well. Tonight’s episode wears its history like a badge of honor, and for a mash-up, the results are surprisingly good.
A town you can’t leave isn’t a new idea in science fiction (King just explored it two years ago in Under the Dome), but like many well-worn ideas, it can still pack a punch if done well. Fringe does it well.
This episode could easily have existed in the first season as a stand-alone with no ties to the larger story, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as compelling. It is the ways it connects to the larger story and advances it that make it as good as it is.
The phenomenon at the start of the show is determined to be magnetic in nature, so the team scatters to look for clues. This leaves Walter open to look for pie. With Peter and Olivia in tow, they head to the nearest town, which is Westfield, population 584. The town seems friendly enough until the counterman at the diner tries to kill Walter with a butcher knife. The really creepy part is that the counterman also has two irises in each eye and doesn’t seem to know where he is half the time.
After finding a small group of survivors holed up at the high school, including a “sick” woman with an extra row of teeth, Walter surmises that the problem is that the two Westfields (prime and alternate) have somehow merged. And the people are merging as well. The survivors are the people whose doubles weren’t in the other Westfield when the merge happened. I’m not entirely convinced that double-DNA equals double-features, but it works visually so I’m going along with it.
This is all very interesting in a 1980s John Carpenter sort of way, but the real draw is twofold. One, the merge was caused by David Robert Jones (unseen, but it’s amazing what just dropping his name does for the stakes). Two, Olivia may be one of the people being merged. Also very John Carpenter is the blood test that Walter devises to determine who is a merger and who isn’t (a la The Thing). It turns out that Olivia’s lightheadedness and confusion aren’t being caused by the merge. So what is causing it? We’ll get to that in a minute.
As the town begins to implode, the survivors determine that there is an “eye” to the storm and rush to get to safety despite earthquakes, fires and men with two faces.
There are a litany of hints and suggestions buried in this season as to what is really going on with the multiverses and timelines. Is this really a completely different timeline than the one Peter left? In other words, does that timeline still exist for him to return to? How does the machine still exist in this timeline and why doesn’t it react to Peter? Is this Olivia really his Olivia?
None of those questions get completely answered this week, but we get some partial answers and a lot of new questions. The episode begins with Olivia dreaming about being in bed with Peter. The episode ends with Peter showing up at Olivia’s apartment except that the Olivia he encounters is his Olivia, with complete memory of their love and Friday night ritual.
So which Westfields were merging, the ones in alternate universes, or the ones in alternate timelines (an important disctinction)? What is Jones’ endgame and who is pulling his strings? It’s starting to seem as if the desired result is to return things to their old status quo, but who wants that badly enough to go through this much trouble? Another version of Peter?
There’s no way to know and that’s much of the fun with a show like Fringe. Anything is possible. See you next week.
Some closing thoughts:
-I didn’t realize how much I missed seeing Peter in badass mode until this week. The man looks good with a shotgun.
-While the details aren’t exactly right, there were some other possible homages happening. The survivors holing up together (and Peter with shotgun) had an Assault on Precinct 13 vibe to it, and the driving in and out of town on the same road felt a lot like Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness which starred Sam Neill who is now starring in the other Abrams’ show Alcatraz. Madness was also set in a cursed New England town and involved a horror writer named Sutter Cane who was a thinly veiled version of, that’s right, Stephen King. It’s a meta, meta, meta, meta world.