by Za’chary Westbrook
4 out of 5
Several things set Fringe apart from it’s granddaddy, X-Files. For starters, There’s a tighter chronology. Episodes belong in a certain order, though don’t always get aired in that order. Which gives the writers more room to let the characters grow, something that X-Files didn’t discover until it’s final seasons. Even then, to get much change out of a character meant writing them out of the show for a while and then having v. 2.0 show up in the finale.
Fringe has done great work with keeping its characters dynamic, without letting them spin away from the center. The characters grow, yet the core relationships still work. In season 1, Peter spent most of his time rolling his eyes at his father and resisting involvement in cases. Olivia was the voice of “can we please focus on the case” while father and son bickered with a subtext of childhood pain. Slowly, one episode at a time, Peter found peace with his father; only to have it upset again with the discovery that Peter was from an alternate universe.
Now, on any other series, this would look like a cheap reset button, but this revelation is key to the central arc of the story, primarily Walternate’s doomsday device and Peter’s unknown part in it. That feels more crucial than falling out with his father and the falling out is a very natural secondary line. Another old plot line that’s getting a kind of repeat, a somewhat necessary evil of holding together the show’s dynamic, is the tenuous relationship between Peter and Olivia.
With Faux-livia back in her world, folk on this side are still picking up the pieces of her spying. The relationship she cultivated with Peter now flying in the faces of both he and Olivia. This recalls some of the will-they-won’t-they of season 2, which was an evolution of the Peter-thinks-Olivia-is-cute from season 1. However, this is a very different kind of tenuous we’re looking at. Layers of betrayal on top of confusion over real feelings with nuances of “how different are they?”
In this week’s episode, we’ve got a brand new shift in the characters. Walter has been trying to regrow the bits of brain William Bell removed and he’s finally making progress. What changes this heralds, we can only guess, but it’s worth looking forward to. Olivia is learning more about her alter-twin. But the big shift is Peter and it is awesome.
The team is trying to unravel the mysteries of the doomsday machine season 3 devoted its early episodes to piecing together. Faux-livia took a piece of the machine, believed to be the power source, back with her, so the machine itself remains incomplete. The show also reminds us that the machine was originally built by “the first people”, an advanced society that lived on earth a few extinction events ago. This is to introduce that Fringe-division/Massive Dynamic aren’t the only ones looking for info on La Prima Gentes. The books on these people were previously investigated by Fringe’s man-behind-the-curtain, William Bell.
At the same time, Fringe-division is working on understanding Faux-livia’s journal, a sensitive operation that Broyles wants Olivia and Peter away from. Meanwhile, because who doesn’t want another thing going on right now, a shapeshifter is found dead in a fountain. Turns out Faux-livia’s journal had long lists of employees at various important entities, any of whom could be a shapeshifter. So, the race is on to figure out who’s a shapeshifter and, when the next one ends up dead, who is the mole inside Fringe-division. Great stuff, a nice solid plot to fill time while we slowly figure out the machine, right?
Here come the beaucoup points for Fringe as none other than Peter himself is revealed as the killer. At the beginning of the episode, we see the doomsday machine apparently react to Peter’s presence (the diagrams do show him at the center of the works when it goes critical). Walter, discovering the plot, surmises that the contact with the machine has “weaponized” Peter. If that’s true, Peter’s personality could start changing in fairly unpredictable ways. On the other hand, Peter’s had his entire life ripped apart, largely because of Walternate and his minions. It isn’t inconceivable that the machine was a coincidence and that Peter has just been pushed to the breaking point; especially after his run-in with the Observer last week.
One way or another, this is the first really new element building us towards the finale. And it’s awesome. The idea of Peter as a proper rogue, with Walter of all people trying to reel him in, while Walter is undergoing his own unpredictable changes due to regrowing brain matter, is a squee-moment for nerds everywhere. Squee!