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'Fringe' recap: Good grief

314_6B_005 “Fringe” has always been about the science. Sure, it might be crazy, out-there science, but it’s based on reality. Whether it’s genetic engineering or transferring memories, the science fiction of “Fringe” comes from real-world science fact that’s probably much more advanced than you think. That’s why they have the Science of Fringe to teach along with the stories.

“6B” ditches science for emotion. There’s no insane technology or miracle drug causing havoc in this week’s episode. This time the treat comes from two people whose grief is so strong that it rips apart the universe. Olivia’s big turning point on the case is when she realizes “it’s not about physics, it’s about people,” which feels like “Fringe” turning its back on the science that made it great.

Everything starts with a party in a Brooklyn apartment building. Young, attractive people chat about their young, attractive relationship problems, until the balcony momentarily vanishes, dropping a bunch of the partygoers onto the concrete below. The residents of the building believe the place is haunted, but really it’s just a hole torn between the two universes by an older couple’s grief. 

Alice and Derek had been married for more than 40 years in both universes. Over here they had crazy adventures and lied about working for National Geographic to sneak into interesting places. Over there, they lived a quieter life and had a couple kids. Then one night a fuse blew in the apartment, so they flipped a coin to see who would fix it. In our universe Derek won, and he ended up getting fried fixing the fuse. In their universe, Alice won, and she was the one who got killed. Their mutual desire to see their loved ones again is enough to pull open the fabric of reality and allow them to see the double of their lost love. (I think “Futurama” also had parallel universes, separated by differences in coin tosses.)

While the emotions between Alice and Derek was killing people, Olivia and Peter’s emotions are causing almost as much damage. Ever since Olivia returned from the other universe, her life has been upside-down. Not only was she forced to live the life of Fauxlivia, but she came back to find out Fauxlivia had been living her life, sleeping in her bed, with the man she loved. Olivia wanted nothing to do with Peter because she knows he still has feelings for her doppelganger. 

Meanwhile, Walter explores the weakening of reality caused by Alice and Derek. If they do rip a hole between the two universes, Walter needs to have a plan of how to seal it. The only thing he comes up with is stealing Walternate’s idea. With the help of the Massive Dynamic staff and that nervous kid Brandon, they recreate Walter’s Amber that he uses to seal the holes. Walter has seen the deviation that comes from using the Amber. He struggles with the thought of traveling down the path of the copy he’s classified as “evil” in his mind. That’s another emotional battle I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of, but instead we got Alice and Derek.

In the end, Olivia and Peter have to talk Alice into letting Derek go. They have the ticking clock that Walter wants to release the Amber before their grief develops into a vortex that could destroy all of Brooklyn. Both Peter and Olivia pour their hearts out to the woman, but she’s finally swayed when she hears Derek talk about their children. That’s the different between the parallel worlds that convinces her that what she’s doing is wrong. 

Peter and Olivia’s speeches may not have been the deciding factors to Alice, but they help convince Olivia that whatever is holding her back from being with Peter is wrong. That’s right, Olivia and Peter are officially together. They better enjoy it while it lasts because there’s the other ticking clock counting down until they find out that Fauxlivia is pregnant with Peter’s child. If grief can break a hole between the two universes, I can’t wait to see what level damage that revelation causes. 

Fun Facts –- In 1973, Walter proved that breakfast was, in fact, the most important meal of the day.  ... Broyles knows the president and has beaten him in golf. ... Walter likes to sing in nothing but his socks. ... Lots of fun little facts in “6B,” but I might have to scrub my brain to get the thought of that last one out of my mind forever. 

Astrid Action -– Poor Astrid takes the brunt of Walter being an impatient jerk. I don’t care if there is the possibility of the universe falling apart into an unending vortex, that’s no reason to be so curt with Astrid. It’s interesting how when Walter went down the path of Walternate and experimented with the Amber, he started to act more like Walternate. At least they made it up to Astrid with the quick reference to her other-world double in the episode’s epilog. When are we going to get our Astrid-centric episode?

Spot the Observer -– Easy to miss this week, the Observer slipped by as the couple in the opening walked down the street, talking about escape plans for the party. Guess the Observer decided that because there wasn’t going to be any major Fringe event this week, he’d get his appearance out of the way early and enjoy an extra-long Presidents Day weekend. I wonder what an Observer would do on his day off. Probably sit around and not look at anything. Sounds relaxing.

-- Andrew Hanson


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Photo: Walter (John Noble) and Nina (Blair Brown) discuss a case at Massive Dynamic headquarters. Credit: Fox Television

Comments () | Archives (19)

I loved the fact that they were in the Rosencrantz building and that the coin flips came up heads. The writers must be Tom Stoppard fans.

Honestly, this is awful writing--doesn't the LA Times have someone who can do a better job? Pedestrian, boring writing chock-full of spoilers since the author does little more than provide a colorless, blow-by-blow account of the episode.

Wow, Andrew, Fringe was REALLY on the scientific leading edge with this show. Get up to speed, do some studying. Google "quantum entanglement" and learn something. Quantum physics was actually named during the show as the scientific reason for the connection between Alice and Derek. I don't remember who said it, it went by quickly, but I seem to recall it was Walter who cited quantum entanglement as the likely cause. And now that we're on this topic, the effect of human thought on particle motion and behavior has been reported for decades, observed numerous times and experimentally verified at various particle labs, and reported in Scientific American simply ages ago. Quantum physics proves that everything is composed of vibrating energy -- all objects, all emotions, all thought. Alice and Derek were simply pawns of very real physics phenomena.

You know, I didn't mind this episode. So what if it's one departure from 3 season's worth of material? Even if you could see where it was going, the ending was still beautiful, and this coming from a 17 year old male science fan.

Fringe is a great show but I could point out many differences between real science and what they claim on the show. Viruses don't become organisms, they live off organism because they don't have metabolisms. In other words they don't grow teeth. Otherwise they are classified as something else. But afar from that, Fringe is one of my favorite shows. It's all about conflict and resolution and it's about truly caring about the characters that makes a TV series or movie great, not how accurate the science is. Fringe has all of that packaged in the realm of the fantastic, like an advanced race living on earth before us. Now that is just cool.

Finally, a show that writes a romantic relationship as real as our own complicated, awkward lives. The crafting of Peter and Olivia's relationship in this episode was inspired. Its not all about big declarations and knowing what to say at exactly the right time. As Olivia put it, ''I don't know what to say.'' It was just so beautifully written, Im still thinking about it a day later. Kudos to Torv and Jackson for making it as good as everyone hoped it would be. Are you paying attention FOX. This show is a game changer.

Waaaay too much with the gooky old lady - does anyone else long for the day we have impassioned lines delivered at the train station - and the thing pulls out while dopes keep emoting? It was looking like amberville for Olivia and Peter, but alas, time itself was riped apart and the minutes dragged, and dragged, and the curtains blew, and the blizkeirg burned and the bodies stank (there was time, why not a soundtrack).
And yes Walter was a little short tempered, but really, they DO mercilessly second guess him--he IS the mad scientist because he is RIGHT, after all. Also it was good to see that finally someone remembered he owns one of the major industrial powerhouses of the world, and can whip up stuff like amber in between commercial breaks.
Otherwise this was a clumsy effort to get Peter and Olivia back together - and snaps to Olivia for a distinct flashback moment to her previous boyfriend when Walter started going on about the bus case from season one...lets remember that she is eternally unlucky at love--although Fauxlivia is not doing so hot either - her BF didn't even take his shirt of last time, clearly a sign things are OVER, over there.
A final quibble - that falling yuppie scene really looked like a poor copy of the one where Mark Wahlberg was stalked by trees - I mean weren't these people alive prior to going splat - no shouts, screams, flailing around - they just dropped like sacks of feed, and in the close ups, looked already dead - a weirdly false note to strike - I bet they had Martin Luther King bills on them.

Still a very good episode, IMO. A nice balance of plot and character development. Don't forget the whole quantum emotion thing is supposedly based on one of Einstein's theories.

fun facts should also include the reference to the play Rosencrantz & Guildenstern... both in the name of the apartment complex and in the coin toss bit. In the play they toss a coin and get heads 92 times in a row.

The problem with Alice and Derek's universe-crossing was not its lack of grounding in real science -- are psychokinesis, mind-reading, or unassisted universe-hopping science-based? -- but its implausibility as an isolated event. If such a thing could happen with Alice and Derek, why wasn't it happening with other grief-stricken people all over the place? Furthermore, it was overly sentimental -- and that seems to be what Andrew really objects to. Most importantly, it didn't resonate at all with the difficulties faced by Olivia and Peter, so their reconciliation feels entirely forced and artificial.

Re. rod_mac's post, I don't see how quantum entanglement could explain anything -- how did these people from different universes manage to share entangled particles, how did their entanglement affect the boundaries between universes, and why was conscious effort a necessary element in making the entanglement thin the boundaries between universes? It's a really big stretch.

Ok. It was an odd episode, but kind of interesting. But it was a clumsy attempt, as someone else aptly put it here, of Olivia and Peter coming together. It wasn't very convincing to me, felt forced. And seeing the previews of the next show gave me the first time ever groan...really? They knew each other as children? They were fated from a long time ago somehow and just don't remember? It just feels wrong to me somehow, but let me not judge the show without seeing it, but the premise made me actually groan. And I'm bummed out about that. Fringe never makes me do that - til now.
Oh well...still hanging to see what happens with bowling alley guy and Fauxlivia and her pregnancy...

I enjoyed this episode. The reinstatement of the Peter-Olivia relationship was done a little awkwardly, but I am really rooting for them. I liked the overall story, and I liked that it was tied into the other side. I am enjoying this season so much because we are seeing the other side and the alternate people. That makes it so intriguing to watch because you're seeing different aspects of the exact same characters. It's engaging to watch the actors to play with different aspects of who they've already been playing for 2 years. I hope that Fox doesn't decide to ditch this show.

Also, I agree with an above comment about the writer of this, and other Show Tracker, blogs. I don't want mainly a blow by blow of the episode...I'd like analysis, commentary, and opinion interwoven a little more.

I have been reading these reviews for a few weeks, and it is obvious that the reviewer doesn't like the show, because he thinks it's a documentary, and that the scientific "facts" are unbelievable or incorrect. He is dismissive about the interaction between Peter and the two Olivias, and possibly the one inter-dimensional offspring, and the one offspring who is based on deception, with the fate of both universes at stake. Yeah, this isn't very scientific, so it must be bad television.

Andrew, if you want science and documentaries about science watch The Science Channel, or Nova on PBS. If you want to escape into the fantasy of a well-told story with lots of interwoven parts, then you must suspend your disbelief for an hour a week while you watch Fringe. The whole premise of the story is based on theoretical quantum physics, but it is still a STORY. Story-telling allows poetic license. I was going to cite some obvious examples, but the list is too long, and I am already tired of stating the obvious.

If you don't like the show, Andrew, maybe you could review "Talk of the Nation Science Fridays" on NPR, and find fault with the facts presented there, and leave the review of fiction to someone who appreciates fiction, the operative word being "fiction".

This is the most intelligent drama on "network TV", and is in jeopardy of cancellation because of chowderheads like Andrew, who expect perfection and can't handle a complex plot that has enormous potential to entertain us for a long time. I don't know were you stand on LOST, but that show was filled with science, and mythology, and religion, and on and on, and it made me so tired, that by the fifth season, I was just worn out, but stuck it out to the end, to find out the "big reveal", and the writers copped out with some sort of purgatory neatly wrapping up the story. Fringe has the potential to tell a much more dramatic story if it is given enough time to do so.

I think some of the plot lines of recent episodes are a hedge against Fox canceling the show. Do you have any idea how hard it would be to write for a show with a huge vision for a potentially apocalyptic event, and the effort to prevent it, and not know if you would have the opportunity to let the story ever play out? It would be just another case of Fox pulling the rug out from under viewers of complex serial dramas.

BTW - it wasn't the "older people's grief" which created the event, it was a "soft spot" between universes, and they just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yes, we discovered that there is a correlation between intense feelings (a'la Olivia), and creating tears in the fabric of the two universes. So, if you are going to nit-pick the show, at lease pay attention to the story.

Finally, the comment about Futurama seemed like an attempt to demean the show, but if your recollection is correct, I would find it refreshing that the writers don't take themselves as seriously as you apparently do.

to reviewer Andrew; please check your grammar and your facts before your hit send, okay? Both are lacking a bit...
I'll let you blue-pencil yourself, but the coin toss was that each individual LOST the coin toss, and then LOST their life. Get it? The line was, "....whenever there was a chore we DIDN'T want to do, we would flip for it." Get it? *sigh*
As to your fretting over a loss of science, forsaken for emotional development, well, I had better not write the first thing that is coming to mind here. But seriously, the whole point here IS emotional development throughout, and interwoven with the science. Quantum entanglement; "Quantum entanglement, also called the quantum non-local connection, is a property of a quantum mechanical state of a system of two or more objects in which the quantum states of the constituting objects are linked together so that one object can no longer be adequately described without full mention of its counterpart—even if the individual objects are spatially separated." and "Entanglement IS faster than light communication. It is instantaneous. it does not violate any known physics because there is no signal traveling. The information simply occurs in both places at once." Do you not see the correlation potential for Peter, and each of the Olivia's in this theory? Do you not understand foreshadowing? And, all of THIS is not interesting science to you? meh. You are either confused, or simply not paying attention. Do try to keep up, your are getting paid for it, after all.

It turns out that your Futurama reference may be more apt than you realize. Besides the coin flip,the episode "The Farnsworth Parabox" includes:
-- A mad scientist inventing a means to travel to a parallel universe where duplicates are presumed to be evil. (The character "Leela" in our universe is referred to as "Evila" in the alternate universe.)
-- The invention threatens to destroy at least one universe.
-- The mad scientist in one universe has had parts of his brain removed.
-- Leela, the lead female character in the alternate universe has dyed her hair red. There is a fist fight between the two parallel Leelas.
-- The lead male character, Fry, has a more intimate relationship with Leela in the alternate universe than he does with the Leela in our universe.

Gandalf47 said 'BTW - it wasn't the "older people's grief" which created the event, it was a "soft spot" between universes, and they just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yes, we discovered that there is a correlation between intense feelings (a'la Olivia), and creating tears in the fabric of the two universes. So, if you are going to nit-pick the show, at lease pay attention to the story.'

1. Where did you get the impression that this 'soft spot' existed before Alice and Derek's collective grief began wearing away at the wall between the universes? It's clear that they were making it worse, and it's also clear that they were capable of making it better. It's not implausible that they just happened to be at a place of weakness, but I don't think anything in the episode indicated that was the case.

2. Doesn't your second point render your first point moot?

Andrew, usually you do a nice job of recapping and analyzing Fringe plot developments but this time you just phoned it in.

I actually really liked this episode. Admittedly, the science was a bit questionable but sometimes it's hard to know where to draw the line. The whole "Quantum Entanglement" bit was at least loosely based in real world science, which is more than many science fiction shows can say for themselves. Normally I get agitated when the lack of scientific backing is blantantly obvious, but Olivia's line in 6B that "maybe this isn't about physics, maybe this is about people," or something like that, acknowledged that this wasn't an especially scientific approach and I just thought that that was a really cool line. I'm also telling myself, whether or not this happens to be true, that the area was already especially inclined to have a tear, due to an already existing soft spot or something of the like. That would actually make sense, make this more "realistic," and make me feel better.

Another thing: a lot of people seemed to think the thing with Peter and Olivia was done really awkwardly, and I totally agree, but I don't think that's a bad thing. Olivia's kind of an awkward character on occasion and that makes her seem more likable and true-to-life to me. It made the situation and the characters more real. They're such an odd couple sometimes that for everything to go smoothly and gracefully, to me at least, would seem totally out of place.

@ Vern
Are you kidding me? This whole season is a ripoff of an episode of Futurama?


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