There was a lot to like about last night's new Fringe. There was a taut new mystery, a creepy town, a Crazies-style madness epidemic that turned out to have a cooler explanation, a real sense of jeopardy until the end, and some major hints as to where all this is going.
But the biggest reason to like last night's episode? The fact that the gang is back together again, and they're starting to act like themselves. Spoilers ahead...
"Welcome to Westfield" was co-written by J.R. Orci, who was a regular scriptwriter on Fringe back in the first season but left the show's staff during the second and third seasons, and only recently returned. So maybe that's one reason why this episode had such a "season one" feel to it. (Although actually, I liked it more than I liked a lot of episodes in the show's first season.) The characters felt like they were discovering each other all over again, but also like they were working together as a team, to solve this mystery. And there was more of that family feeling that the show used to have.
The "alternate universe where Peter died as a child" thing is a cool notion — but it's just more fun to watch this show when Walter and Peter are playing off each other. And like I mentioned yesterday, Walter's more fun when he gets out of the lab and interacts with the outside world. Just the business of Walter in a diner, trying to get the absolute best rhubarb pie in Westfield, is pure gold somehow.
So it's hard to untangle exactly what's going on with Walter and Olivia in this episode, actually. Last week, much was made of the fact that Walter was being a jerk to Peter, and in particular Walter seemed threatened by the fact that Peter was too competent and hence threatening to put Walter out of business. (That rivalry between the Bishops came out of nowhere, and now it's gone back to nowhere.) Now, it turns out that Walter is feeling especially close to Peter, and is happier and more willing to venture out of his lab because Peter is around. (Maybe Walter is following alt-Astrid's advice to treat Peter like his real son?) In any case, it's noticeable enough that Olivia tells Peter, "I've seen how you two are together, and he seems to respond to you," encouraging Peter to talk to Walter after Walter's given up — and Olivia's right: Walter and Peter find a solution together.
Meanwhile, Olivia is noticeably softening towards Peter, and curious about his relationship with the "other" Olivia. But at least in Olivia's case, it's also made obvious that there's some bleedthrough of the "original" Olivia into this version — Olivia is remembering cases that happened in Peter's timeline, but which somehow did not happen in this version of events. And then there's Olivia's sexy-time dream at the start of the episode, seen at left. Olivia is starting to have the "other" Olivia's memories, and at the end of the episode, she suddenly starts smooching with Peter and bringing him Italian food, like the "other" Olivia did. Is this being caused by Peter's experiments with the Machine, or the universe-warping effects of being in Westfield, or just the long-term effect of having Peter around? I guess we'll find out at some point — but Walter does mention that Olivia's blood shows no sign of the universe-warping effects, in a hilarious scene.
Meanwhile, the case of the week also has to do with universe bleed-through, which is why the two events appear (at least at first) to be connected. This episode does a nice bait-and-switch, with the residents of Westfield originally appearing to be turning into Reavers or zombies or whatever. But in fact, it's more that the two universes are being combined within the town limits, creating a reality bubble that it's impossible to leave. All of the town's residents are starting to remember two separate versions of their lives, and it's driving them nuts. And the end result of the two universes occupying the same space will be a huge wave of destruction that will kill everyone and everything in its path. (Luckily, our heroes find the one spot in the town that will be spared, and get there in spite of a scary two-face guy in and various other dangers.) Also, I like the amount of problem-solving in this episode, including figuring out the problem, but also how to find a safe spot and how to get there when all electronics are out of action due to the wacky phenomenon.
Oh, and Walter asks for a gun, which is so clearly a terrible idea that Peter gives him pepper spray instead — and then Walter's pepper spray ends up saving Peter's life.
It's a neat new twist on the show's long-time obsession with alternate universes and realities colliding. Just as last year, Olivia was injected with a serum that somehow gave her Fauxlivia's memories, this time around the whole town is being driven crazy by a dual set of memories. In a lot of ways, Fringe has explored the notion that our memories make us who we are, and now we get to see what happens to people whose identities are actually bifurcated — and it's not pretty.
So why did David Robert Jones want to make the two versions of that town merge? It appears to have been some kind of test — but is he aiming to do the same thing on a larger scale, or is he hoping to do something different involving a stable connection between the universes? Was the wave of destruction part of what Jones was hoping for, or an unwanted side effect?
In any case, it was nice to see the Bishops and Olivia acting like friends again — even if now we have to wonder just how much of that is because of another kind of universal bleedthrough.