“How much time do we have?” -Nina Sharpe
There’s a strange part of me that has started hoping that these last eight episodes of the fourth season of Fringe turn out to be the end of the series. This week’s episode, while clunky in parts (and a little heavy-handed in others), still managed to have enough highs to recommend it, and the picture being painted is one we’ve waited four years to see.
At this point a 13-episode finale season a la Chuck is still a possibility, and over the course of an hour I’ve gone from hoping for it to mildly dreading the possibility. I’m all for more Fringe in theory, but if this season ends with the four-year arc of the show mostly wrapped up (which is seeming more and more likely every week), then I’d rather it ended there. That last season of Chuck wasn’t bad, but it was obvious that it was a coda, an extra bit of tacked-on story that really wasn’t necessary to the real story being told.
It was like seeing a great band get back together for a reunion tour. They play all the old songs (or bring back some favorite guest stars), they play a little new material that sounds like songs you’ve heard before (or episodes you’ve seen before), and while you’re sitting in your seat it all seems entertaining enough, mostly because it’s familiar. It’s only later that you realize that something was off. You can sense when something that was really great becomes something that’s just going through the motions. I don’t want to see that happen to Fringe.
If we take nothing else away from this season of Fringe, it is that the writers really want us to think about love and how important and life-altering it is. This is the second episode which involved a scientific quest in the name of love that had dire consequences. Instead of a man and wife reliving the same hour over and over, we have a lunatic chemist trying to formulate a potion that can make anyone experience being in love.
Okay, Shakespeare it is not, but at least it directly ties into the larger story. That said, if you had a drinking game where you drank every time someone monologued about the power (or pain) of love and then cut away to a distraught Olivia or distraught Lincoln, you would have died of alcohol poisoning by the halfway point. I would never have called Fringe subtle, but this level of overt point-pounding is unusual and, if I’m honest, a little hackish. We get it; Lincoln loves Olivia and her heart will always belong to Peter. The truth is that even those of us who like Lincoln (both of us) never really cared that he was in love with Olivia. We’ve mostly been waiting for him to run off with Faux-livia so that we could get back to what I like to call ‘shit we actually care about.’
The less said about the forgettable plot, the better. What deserves not only mention, but praise are the three scenes that provided the tentpoles of the episode.
Up first is Peter’s early scene with Walter. This is a completely different interaction than any we have ever seen between Walter Prime and Peter. Walter is warm, genuinely caring, and, dare I say it, fatherly. There is a level of truth, understanding and respect that they’ve never been able to reach before. Peter certainly takes note of it, and I think it is the best scene between Joshua Jackson and John Noble in the history of the show. I was truly touched throughout, and it was disappointing that the rest of the episode wasn’t able to live up to such a strong beginning.
The second was the scene between Olivia and Nina where Olivia reveals her decision not to seek any further treatment for her memory problems and Nina realizes that this may be one of the last conversations she will ever have with “her” Olivia. It now makes sense why previous scenes they’ve shared this season rang so false and empty what with Nina being replaced by an alternate (and possibly a shapeshifter). The difference here is stark; there is palpable warmth and love here and it resonates all the deeper for the echoes we feel from those empty encounters from the past. Course correction has become as important a motif to the show as parallels and mirrors, and this will not be the last time we glean pleasure from scratching old itches.
The third and most important scene was, of course, the final scene, itself a retread of the closing moments of the previous episode. I must give due credit to the scheduling folks at Fox. This scene would not have had nearly the impact without the benefit of a month of real world time to digest Peter’s crushing denial of Olivia’s newfound affections. Seen back-to-back, I fear these scenes will feel too rushed, such an instant revision that it will rob the initial scene of its impact and the latter scene of its elation.
Seen here, however, with the benefit of time, it seems like a revelation. This is the moment we’ve been building to all season. Whether you think it was worth the distance we’ve had to travel to get here is up to you, but for myself I can only say that I think any shortcuts would have diminished it. Developing the storyline this season has taken a great deal of patience and a small measure of grace.
Whether it is eight episodes or more from now, when it comes time to decide if they’ve told the story they set out to tell or not, I hope the makers of Fringe will show the same qualities again.
Some closing thoughts:
- So we finally know what the impenetrable burrowing bullets are. Rather, we at least know one thing they can be used for. My question is, does it matter? Were there fans out there that were going to call out the producers if the finer workings of burrowing bullet technology were never revealed? Still, it’s nice to see that they’re really, really trying to explain everything they can, even down to details we may not care that much about.
- I have no idea if the ½ in the address was a Harry Potter reference or not. I’m just going to pretend it is and move on.
- So the thing that kept Peter from being destroyed was love. Okay, that’s two Harry Potter references in this episode.
- As many suspected, the timeline we’ve seen all season is, in fact, one and the same as the original timeline. Peter being erased changed the timeline but didn’t split out an unchanged alternate apparently. It will be interesting to see how that quirk of physics impacts the future of our two ongoing parallel universes.