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'Fringe' recap: puzzle zoo

November 12, 2010 |  7:08 am

306_6955khz_050a Did anybody watch the opening of this week’s “Fringe” and think it felt awfully familiar? A bunch of random people scattered around the United States hunkering down together and tuning in to try to crack puzzles hidden in a broadcast? Syncing up online beforehand. Spouses shunned to the other room. And even the momentary appearance of a pale man with hardly any hair. Well, a baby. Close enough. 

That’s another great thing about “Fringe.” I don’t have to come up with metaphors for what it’s like to watch this show because “Fringe” does it for me. 

“Fringe” has always loved puzzles. You’re talking about a show centered around unexplainable events, investigated by people with mysterious pasts with a reoccurring character playing a constant game of hide-and-seek that goes into commercial break with symbols that spell out messages (Have you ever tried to crack the glyphs? I’m waiting for the one that spells “HIMOM”). But even on the “Fringe” scale of puzzles, this episode was a Rubik’s Cube with Sudoku on each side hidden inside Will Shortz’s body buried on the “Lost” island. 

First of all, we’re back on our universe. “Fringe” has almost become like watching two completely different shows on alternate Thursdays. All the same actors playing slightly different roles. Maybe that’s why it feels so long between episodes. Maybe they should up “Fringe” to twice a week. 

Our good old “Fringe” division (plus Bolivia) investigates a radio signal of a series of numbers read in German that wipe out the listeners’ memories, but it’s one of those investigations where every answer creates more questions. How do those numbers cause amnesia? They didn’t. There was another signal broadcast with the numbers. So now you have to figure out the numbers signal. Where does it come from? Why is it broadcast? What does it mean? And you have to figure out the second signal. Why did someone want to wipe out people’s memories? What do they know about the signal? Who are “they”?

Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, a strange man with different-colored eyes wants to stop people from solving the mysteries of the “First People,” and everything flips upside down with the revelation that he was a shape shifter trying to draw attention to the numbers so our Fringe Division would solve their meaning and start digging up pieces of doomsday device. You have to hand it to Walternate. He knows how to think far ahead. Talk about your long con.

I was so into all these different puzzles that the Bolivia connection completely snuck up on me. Did it catch anyone else by surprise? And I was so glad to get our first taste of the First People, these humans that evolved before the dinosaurs but vanished long ago. I hope they become a bigger part of the “Fringe” universe. Plus there was all the regular fun “Fringe” details: the lighthouse beam on the floating location name; “it’s impossible to do micorelectronics with gloves on”; the sandwich that best provides mental clarity; and the pooling of mercury at the dead shape shifter’s head; to name just a few.

I’m still unsure about the love connection between Peter and Bolivia. It all seems a little too uncomfortable. Makes sense for Bolivia, since she’s only doing it as part of her mission to destroy our universe, but it’s hard for me to believe that Peter isn’t picking up any signals. Though anyone who doubted Anna Torv’s acting chops in the first couple of seasons should be eating their words. The difference between the two Olivias is painstakingly clear. Especially as our Olivia in their universe is getting more confident and assured while their Olivia in our universe is becoming more shaky and doubtful. 

“Fringe” is building toward something huge this season. I can’t wait to see what. 

The Name Situation – I know there’s still a bit of an argument about what to call the alternate versions in the other universe. I stick with Walternate and Bolivia because that’s what the creators of the show choose to use. And I go with BadAstrid because I like how it is (sorry, I can’t get behind Carpool McGiggles). But I realized this week how strange it sounds to hear the characters on the show say “Walternate.” Though it’s still a lot better than constantly saying “the other Walter.”

Astrid Action – Astrid really got her moment in the sun this episode. She cracked a code all of Massive Dynamic couldn’t figure out, and she did it in an afternoon. Way to go Astrid. She even managed to make Walter into her assistant for a scene. Nice. But did anyone else notice the weird vibe between Astrid and Nina Sharp? Do they have a history? Is there something I was forgetting or was “Fringe” hinting at another mystery?

Spot the Observer – Just like last week, our hairless peeping Tom waited until there was a big crowd of law enforcement before he popped up. You can see him behind the yellow tape as Peter, Bolivia and Broyles examined the dead shape shifter. But was anyone else left wondering if the Observers have some relation to the First People? Another puzzle on top of a puzzle to figure out.

-- Andrew Hanson

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"Fringe" recap: Don't Touch My Pudding

Complete "Fringe" coverage on Show Tracker

Photo: Walter (John Noble) unearths clues. Credit: Fox Television

 

 

 

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