We couldn't help giggling at this scene where the Olivia Dunhams of two universes both check out Peter Bishop, and then debate whether he's either of their types, in last night's Fringe. It's also a nice reminder of just how great Anna Torv is at differentiating the two Olivias — the one diligently searching for the link between the latest freak-of-the-week's victims, the other goofing off and speculating that maybe it's all just random.
"Making Angels" was a solid enough episode of Fringe, but nothing special. Even the awesome prospect of the two Astrids meeting turned out to be a bit underwhelming, in the end. I love Jasika Nicole, and it was great to watch the two Astrids interacting. But the Astrid subplot felt a bit... half-baked. Like the writers couldn't think of an interesting story to tell about Astrid. Nicole didn't get all that much screen time, and her arc in the episode felt perfunctory.
Alt-Astrid crosses over to our universe because her father has just died and she's freaking out. She doesn't know how to handle the emotional intensity she's feeing, so she seeks out her alternate self, who she's heard is more in touch with her emotions. And in the end, we learn that alt-Astrid felt like her father never really loved her, because of her autistic savant thing. This could have been a fascinating arc, but it felt underplayed, to say the least. Mostly, we got to see the other Astrid interacting with our versions of Walter and Olivia, plus Peter once again, and it was cute but nothing special. Alt-Astrid gets to have coffee, which they don't have in the other universe.
Both Astrids were ciphers before this episode, and they still kind of feel like ciphers at the end of it. We learn a few things, like the fact that both Astrids' mothers died of cancer. And "our" Astrid has apparently gone on a date with some guy who says he'll call but probably won't. We do meet "our" Astrid's father, who apparently has a warmer relationship with his daughter than his alternate-universe counterpart — although Astrid lies to her alternate self about this, to be kind.
I feel like many of the "freak of the week" characters on this show have gotten more compelling backstories than Astrid has, to be honest. This episode was an attempt to fix that, but it came too late to make a difference. You could see the writers straining to come up with something interesting — "Oh, I know. Her mom died. Her father loves to cook." It all feels terribly generic. Isn't Astrid supposed to be a genius, in both universes? Couldn't she have had some really weird formative experience? This show has two modes: dull, and weird. And with Astrid, they've settled on "dull."
Meanwhile, a lot of the episode is taken up with Walter bickering with Peter, and with Fauxlivia. Now that Walter has agreed to help Peter get back to his own universe — which I'm predicting will never actually happen, because that universe no longer exists — Walter is dragging his feet and being extra petulant. He wants eggs. He wants to play chess. He misses Lincoln Lee, who's off doing something godfathery in Connecticut. And then later, there's a random subplot where Peter is being too competent, and it's threatening Walter — Peter knows the right questions to ask at the crime scene, Peter can help with the autopsy, etc. It feels like it comes out of nowhere, and will probably go back there pretty quickly. Alt-Astrid gives Walter a helpful lecture about human emotions, so that Walter can have a realization that he needs to accept Peter as his son, even though he isn't.
Meanwhile, Walter sees Fauxlivia, and it sets him off into full-on petulant mode. The episode strains to find a Walter line as good as "vagenda," which the show carefully inserted into the "previously on" montage to remind us how funny that was. Of course, in the previous timeline Walter was pissed at Fauxlivia because she seduced his son, and that's no longer true. So now he's just pissy, and doesn't want to let her have any of his red vines. It never quite reaches "vagenda" levels of humor, or interest. Walter does discover a new type of mint. Actually, this episode, more than most recently, made me miss the old chemistry this cast used to have before the "alternate universe" storyline.
Meanwhile, the episode's "freak of the week" character, Neil, starts off quite promising — the opening sequence in which a man receives a cancer diagnosis with a 95 percent survival rate, only to hear from Neil that he's doomed, is quite chilling and well done. But then the episode doesn't seem to know what to do with Neil, and it culminates in a weirdly stilted scene in which Neil vents at his mom. Oh, and Neil wants to be an angel, hence the episode's title. I'm kind of tired of episodes where the Fringe team catches the bad guy when he's already basically done with his crime spree. Whatever happened to escalating the threat? You know, that whole "rising action" thing? (And yes, I know that Neil is only done because he knows hte Fringe team is coming for him. But he can see the future — he could get away easily, if he wanted to.)
By far the most interesting scene in the episode comes at the very end, when the Observer August finds out that September didn't erase the last traces of Peter Bishop from the universe, and in fact Peter Bishop is back. (For people who can see all of the future and past, the Observers are kind of slow on the uptake. It's been weeks since Peter returned.) The fall-out from this revelation should be interesting to witness. Oh, and apparently September didn't die from his gunshot wound a while back, since they say "he'll be interested to learn" what happened to his gizmo.
Anyway, this was a perfectly solid episode of Fringe, I guess — it just didn't engage me the way the show normally does. I think it was a combination of the Astrid subplot feeling weirdly slight and unformed — full of telling rather than showing — and the fact that the "freak of the week" plot devolves into mysticism and a guy ranting at his elderly mother. This definitely had the feeling of a show that's going through the motions rather than bursting with storytelling energy, which has been true of Fringe a lot lately.
But as always, your mileage may vary, and the AV Club loved this episode. And at least next week, there's a town full of zombies or something.