“You’re not you, are you?” -Walter Bishop
Two weeks ago I gave kudos to John Noble for his nuanced performances as the many versions of Walter Bishop, and I stand by that appraisal. That said, tonight’s episode of Fringe raised an interesting question: Who is the more valuable player, the consistent frontman or the durable background actor who makes every moment of limited exposure count? I don’t know the answer to that question (and could argue both sides), but Jasika Nicole makes a very strong case for the value of quality supporting characters. Nicole has played Astrid Farnsworth since the pilot but has never been put in the spotlight until tonight.
It’s about time. She’s amazing. Both of her.
I’ve often wondered why there never seems to be a sense of wonder when the characters meet their doubles. I’ve always written it off to the propulsive needs of the show—no time to be in awe, we need to get right to mistrusting each other. Maybe they were just saving it for the right actor, and Jasika Nicole appears to be it.
When alt-Astrid’s father dies, she seeks solace in the only person she can connect to and trust—herself. She travels to the prime universe to meet her double and the ensuing scene is Fringe at its finest. Good enough, in fact, that until the next commercial break I forgot that both sides of the encounter were played by the same actress.
What makes the scene work so well is all of the prep work that Nicole has put into the character(s) over the last four seasons. Though her dialogue is often limited to parroting Walter (or curtly responding to him), she does wonders with tone, expression and body language. She has been playing an acting long game, methodically building a character tiny scene by tiny scene. While I have praised the other actors for their subtle shifts that have differentiated their characters, Nicole has had to play a much wider gamut (alt-Astrid has Asperger’s) while still keeping the two versions believable as the same core person. The brilliance of her acting choices only became apparent once the two versions were eye-to-eye, with their obvious sameness surpassed only by the chasm of their differences. What is most apparent is their wonder and genuine joy in finally meeting, both perhaps sensing a completeness that they were only vaguely aware of until that moment. It is lovely, lovely stuff and bookends nicely with their closing scene where Astrid lies about her relationship with her father in order to ease alt-Astrid’s pain and grief.
Meanwhile, this is the second episode in a row to deal with a person who can see the future. Unlike last week’s unfortunate outing, this week ties into the larger mythology every step of the way. In fact, the connections and revelations almost come too fast. To be honest, Fringe has gone to the ‘I’m a brilliant but misguided genius who does bad things for good reasons’ well a little too often. How many smart, well-intentioned criminals can there be in the greater Boston area? I know you have two universes to pick from, but yeesh. None of that is really important. A mathematician performing mercy killings because he’s discovered a mathematical way to see the future doesn’t actually interest me all that much at this point. A mathematician discovering this ability by finding a high tech glowstick that belonged to an Observer? Getting warmer. He found the glowstick device at Reiden Lake where so many other major events have occurred? I’m so in.
I could be wrong, but this seems like an intentional nod from the writers that there is no original timeline for Peter to return to (which has been a mildly hinted at possibility all along). If September dropped the glowstick when he rescued Walter and Peter from the lake, then why would it still be there in a timeline where that never occurred? The same can be said for the continued existence of the doomsday machine. The machine can at least be explained since it may not actually be the same machine as it doesn’t respond to Peter, but why would September’s device be at the lake in this timeline? Combine that with Olivia’s ‘you make a good partner’ confession to Peter, and for my money Peter isn’t going anywhere. He’s already home, just not the one he was expecting.
Time will tell.
Some closing thoughts:
-While I usually applaud Anna Torv, her alt-Olivia seemed really hammy tonight. It’s as if she had her ‘petulant child’ differentiator dialed up to 11. It made the generally satisfying redemption and new friendship with Walter less satisfying than it should have been.
-Coffee is rare in the alt-universe? What the hell do they have where all the Starbucks are?
-All this multi-character talk got me thinking. Orla Brady (who was so good two weeks ago) seems to be the only actor who makes no obvious changes between her versions. Every Elizabeth Bishop has seemed the same to me. I think that was an intentional choice and we saw, she acts as something of a constant for Walter and Peter. It’s an interesting contrast with what Jasika Nicole has done and I think both work for completely different reasons.
-Are we certain that Peter is a singularity? The wonderful Astrid mashup made me wonder how he would react if there turns out to be another living Peter somewhere. It also strikes me as interesting that the same character that is the audience’s emotional gateway to the show is the same character that has only ever been himself.
-There was some more fun with parallels and echoes tonight. Not only did we re-visit some familiar locales like the lake, the Walter/Astrid/alt-Astrid dynamic was handled well with Walter’s warmth and name recollection with alt-Astrid playing as a nice counterpoint to his usual obtuseness with Agent Farnsworth prime.
-The idea of a singular object that exists in the same form in all timelines and universes was explored by Stephen King and Peter Straub in The Talisman. The writers of Lost openly admitted that Stephen King’s writing was a big influence on them and it wouldn’t surprise me if the same is happening here.