Remember when Buffy returned from the dead? And she wasn't the same as she used to be, and her friends didn't know what to make of her, and she wasn't quite alive? Last night's Fringe sorta reminded me of that.

Spoilers ahead!

So last night's Fringe was definitely one of those episodes where the "A" plot is sort of thin on the ground, and mostly an extended metaphor for stuff being dealt with in the "B" plot. But luckily, the "B" plot packed more than enough power for a dozen episodes.

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Let's start with the "B" plot first. Olivia's back from the other universe, and she's survived a horrifying ordeal — she was brainwashed using alt-universe blood, tortured, abused, experimented on, and almost vivisected — and she's eager to pretend that nothing's wrong. Anna Torv does an absolutely amazing job of showing how Olivia is acting totally professional and casual, except that her eyes are wrong. The pain only shows in her eyes — and that's before she finds out that Peter slept with her doppelganger from another universe.

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"Marionette" takes time to explore what it would be like to come back to your life after you'd been replaced by an evil twin for a couple of months. The other Olivia's been sleeping in Olivia's bed (with her boyfriend as it turns out), opening her mail, wearing her clothes and going through her stuff. She's won over Olivia's friends, none of whom saw anything wrong — apparently, Olivia isn't as unique or as hard to mimic as she thought she was. As Olivia says at the end of the episode, "She's taken everything." Nothing in Olivia's life was left undefiled.

It all culiminates about half way through the episode where Olivia goes into her closet and takes a suit off the rack, and then another, until she's sweeping hangers and hangers of near-identical professional clothes onto the floor in a rage. She needs to wash everything she owns to get the traces of the other Olivia off them — but when she opens the washing machine, there are some other clothes in there. (Peters, perhaps?)

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You can't help wondering how much better it might have been if they'd managed to hold on to Fauxlivia and keep her as their prisoner — then at least Olivia could have confronted the woman who took her place. And she could have seen how much her friends did not actually harbor any fond feelings for the other Olivia — but of course, these things are pretty irrational to begin with, so it might not have helped.

Under the circumstances, maybe Walter's advice to Peter to tell Olivia right away was a bit unwise? Although she'd probably have been pissed if he'd waited. And at least, Peter had a great story to tell, about how he came back to this universe because Olivia said they belonged together, and he'd noticed differences but explained them away, and so on. And as Astrid says, it was all because he cared about Olivia, the real Olivia.

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Olivia's like a walking casualty of this imaginary war between universes, and even though she tells Broyles she wants to honor her promise to his dead, horribly mutilated other self, to help heal both universes, she doesn't really seem to have much of a clue how to go about it.

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So then there's the "A" plot, which seemed entirely to consist of metaphors for Olivia's situation... which I'm willing to let ride under the circumstances. First there was the guy who's missing his heart, but still somehow carrying on — just like Olivia. Then there's the depressed girl who's unable to put on a brave face — just like Olivia. Then it turns out the depressed girl, who committed suicide, has been turned into a zombie steampunk ballerina, just like — okay, maybe not quite like Olivia. But when it comes to "going through the motions," there aren't many better metaphors than steampunk zombie ballerinas — the episode's title, "Marionette," can even be seen as referring both to the puppet dancer and to Olivia, who's just acting out what people expect of her.

And that one scene, where the psycho rich depressive scientist guy is making the Franken-ballerina dance using a huge array of levers and cords, with an old-timey Victrola — automatically creeptastic — was just pure horror. (Also horror, even if you saw it coming? The guy with no eyes, stumbling around.)

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And then in the end, the evil cracktastic scientist manages to bring his zombie ballerina back to life, but he looks into her eyes and sees that it's not really her. And this is the final, most poignant parallel for Olivia — someone who looks outwardly the same but isn't really the same. Except that in Olivia's case, the zombie ballerina version of her was able to seduce Peter without getting caught.

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Oh, and Walter watch: Among other things, he tastes the cremated remains of a teenage girl, he gets way too enthusiastic about Viking torture methods, and he tries to feed bizarre super-preservative to Gene the cow so her milk won't ever go bad.

So in general, even though this wasn't the strongest episode of Fringe — especially coming on the heels of such an incredibly strong run of episodes this season — it was still really great, especially compared to any non-Fringe show. The "A" plot was full of random horror, even if it never quite kicked into high gear, and the "B" plot was intense as fuck. It's going to be a long wait until Jan. 21, when the show returns — at which time, we all have to hunt down the Nielsen-box-owners in our midst and get them to put on this show at all costs.

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