Fringe keeps delivering the pain to its characters. This scene was agonizing to watch, especially with the look on Anna Torv's face as she tries to get past this impossible situation, but she can't. Poor Liv. And then it leads to one of the creepiest/tenderest scenes ever, which I honestly don't know what to make of.
This show has always had soap-opera elements, mixed in with the weird science and the FBI investigations, but it's been getting soapier lately. And last night's episode was the final batch of suds that clinched it once and for all. In a mostly beautiful way. Spoilers ahead!
So to a large extent, Fringe is the saga of one family — the Bishops — and Olivia's been a sort of honorary part of the family for a long time now. But with last night's revelation, at least one of the two Olivias is now much more directly part of the Bishop family than ever before.
This was another episode in which the main plot is sort of forgettable but offers A) a bit of a squick factor; B) a few bits of weird science; C) a reason for our heroes to be out investigating together; and D) a bit of a thematic link with what the main characters are going through.
In a nutshell, there's a mad scientist-type, Anton Silva, who is developing a vaccine that requires an enzyme from a kind of beetle that lives in sheep and has a symbiotic relationship with them. But sheep have all been extinct since 2001, and so have the beetles. So Silva tries to get the beetles to incubate inside of humans instead, causing the people to explode into a gooey mass of flesh and bugs. Eventually he manages to get the mature queen beetle to mature inside of one final host.
Two random thoughts about this: First, the absence of sheep is a really weird difference between our world and "over there," and it made me sad to think of mass sheep extinction. I had to pause and have a moment of silence for the sheep. And second, did anybody else guess right away that Silva's final host for the queen beetle was himself, and not his prisoner, Fauxlivia? When he gave her some water to drink, I actually said aloud, "I bet that's just regular water, and it's a fake-out." It was just sort of telegraphed by the way he was acting and talking about how he only needed one last host.
But the real heart of the episode was in the characters' stories. First of all, Fauxlivia's reunited with her boyfriend Frank, leading to some painfully awkward scenes where she tries to act like nothing's changed. At first, I sort of wondered if there was something wrong with the writing, since it all seemed so stilted — but then I realized this was intentional, and this was a couple trying to pretend that nothing's wrong. It's hard enough being reunited with your loved one after months away and trying to re-establish that level of intimacy — but much harder when you've spent most of that time in another universe, impersonating someone else and sleeping with her quasi-boyfriend. It's confusing.
And of course, Frank manages to be around all the time, because the Fringe Division is investigating the bug-related deaths, and he happens to be the best epidemiologist around. (Or he just wants an excuse to stalk Fauxlivia, after so long apart.) Frank decides to ask Fauxlivia to marry him, and thanks to Lincoln's inability to keep a secret (one of my favorite riffs), Fauxlivia finds out. She has to struggle with the decision of whether she still wants to marry Frank after she's fallen for Peter, and you can see her sort of psyching herself up for it. And finally, he pops the question, and she says yes. Except that then, they find out she's pregnant, and he's clearly not the father. All of which leads to the scene up above.
There are so many questions about Fauxlivia's pregnancy. Are they going to make Anna Torv wear a prosthesis? Is it a boy or a girl? Is Fauxlivia going to give birth in the season finale? (Possibly during a shoot-out or hostage situation, this being television)? Is there any chance that anyone on Fringe could have a normal baby?
And meanwhile, Lincoln Lee has taken over Broyles' position and is struggling with the responsibility, and the imposter syndrome. It's definitely hard to stand in Broyles' shadow. Oh, and the insanely cute bug girl has a crush on Charlie!
But honestly, the thing that made last night's episode particularly memorable, and weird, was the stuff with Walternate. He's faced with a choice, and the decision he makes is surprising and sort of mind-blowing. Since they identified the Cortexiphan in "our" Olivia's blood, alt-Brandon has been experimenting on people using it. And unfortunately Cortexiphan just kills people, with no good effects — until they find one somewhat younger person who gains telekinetic abilities before dying. Alt-Brandon figures out that Cortexiphan works better the younger you are — and it will work best on small children. But Walternate surprises himself, and us, by saying he won't experiment on kids.
I kept expecting Walternate to change his mind by the end of the episode, but then he didn't. And wow. Given that Walter experimented on tons of kids — including Olivia — with Cortexiphan, making that the one sin that Walternate won't commit is pretty gutsy, and it definitely blurs the lines as to which Walter is the hero here. Maybe it's because Walternate had to suffer through having his son stolen away, but he has a greater respect for the sanctity of childhood than "our" Walter. And discovering that Walternate has scruples, that there are some atrocities he steers clear of, makes him feel much more like a tragic figure — not unlike "our" Walter, who also struggles with when to "cross the line."
Unfortunately, there was one Walternate scene that confused me — and that was the scene with Reiko, played by Joan Chen. I don't think we'd seen this character before, and she came out of nowhere. Is she Walternate's mistress? Walternate's still married, right? For some reason, it felt really odd to give Walternate a new confidante out of nowhere, and it felt a bit like a scene that would have taken place between him and alt-Broyles previously. Plus, Reiko's dialogue felt really stilted — and not intentionally, like with the Fauxlivia/Frank dialogue. It seemed odd for an actor of Joan Chen's stature to have this random one-scene cameo in which she spouts lines like, "The fact that you beat yourself up over these decisions, that's what makes me sure of your strength." I wondered if she'd had more scenes in the episode, but they cut them or something.
It was nice to get more insight into Walternate's mindset, but this felt like a really bludgeony way to get there. Unless we're going to see more of Reiko in future episodes, in which case it may start to feel more natural. (Here's how the casting call described her: "[REIKO] Japanese. 35. She's beautiful, confident, smart and worldly. Possibly recurring. Guest Star." It also made me feel like Walternate needs a Nina Sharp of his own — for so many reasons.
The good thing about the Reiko scene is that we finally understand why Walternate let Peter go at the end of season two — after all, he had the opportunity to switch the two Olivias. He could just as easily have ordered Fauxlivia to stop Peter from leaving his universe. But it turns out Peter must be in Walternate's universe of his own free will. Presumably, the First People's doomsday machine will only work if Peter uses it willingly. And I guess part of the deal is that the universe where Peter uses it is the one which survives — which may be what Sam Weiss, the bowling-alley savant, was really saying last week. So Walternate needs to find a way to convince Peter to return "over there" of his own volition. And now he has one.
All of which leaves us with one last question about Fauxlivia's baby — does Walternate see it as just a means to convince Peter to come back to him? Or does he value the baby for its own sake, as a replacement for the child he lost? I'm guessing it's both, but there was something a bit "off" about the way he talked about the spawn-of-Fauxlivia as his grandchild. And that smile he gives her at the very end looks predatory rather than grandfatherly. Plus, of course, he hears about it from Brandon, who tells him it's a way to bring Peter back.
In either case, Walternate's going to have to find a way to let Peter know about his impending fatherhood. And I'm guessing we won't have to wait too long to find out how Peter reacts.
All in all, this was a decent example of Fringe-as-soap-opera, except for a couple clunky moments. Most importantly, it left me dying to know what happens next — and judging from this ultra-spoilery sneak peek from next week's episode, it's going to be pretty intense: