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'Fringe' recap: Inventing a Tulip

February 26, 2011 |  8:01 am

315_6monthslater_040 Last week I criticized “Fringe” for ditching science for emotion. A few of you disagreed in the comments. I understand. It was just going to take more than two old people grieving for each other to sell me on the quantum mechanics of emotions. What would it take to convince me? The best episode of “Fringe” to date?

I probably could have been convinced with a lot less, but if “Fringe” is ready to pull out all the stops, than I’m not complaining.

The big guns are at work here. Show runners J.H. Wyman and Jeff Pinkner wrote “Subject 13” with help from Academy Award winner Akiva Goldsman. And they’re after you right out of the gate. That opening sequence was incredible. We’re back in 1985, a month after Walter snatched Peter from the other universe, and Peter wants to go home -- a home he thinks is at the bottom of Reiden Lake -- and he has the big concrete key to get there. Then, just when Elizabeth Bishop pulls Peter out of the water and you’re breathing heavy, just like they are, cut to the 1980’s “Fringe” intro. (It’s been fun to bounce between the blue and red intros, but the synthesizer intro will always be my favorite).

In 1985 Walter crossed over into the other universe to keep that side’s Peter from dying like his Peter did, but crossing over had consequences. The scientific consequences ravished that universe and only recently started trickling into ours, but the emotional consequences echoed on both sides. 

On this side, Peter is nearly suicidal in his desire to go home, Walter hides in his work with the children at the Jacksonville center, trying to find a way to cross back over, and Elizabeth struggles to build a bond with this boy who is her son yet isn’t while at the same time sticking to Walter’s lie. They repeat the mantra that Peter got very sick and that’s why he doesn’t remember things quite right. 

On that side, the Dodgers still play in Brooklyn, the Star Wars missile defense system worked, and Walternate is a wreck. He was the nation’s defense czar and his own son was kidnapped. His marriage is falling apart because he comes home every weekend and interrogates his wife about the man who looked just like him who stole their son. 

John Noble and Orla Brady give outstanding performances as two different versions of the same couple. It was amazing. Even without the flash of light, you could easily tell which world you were in, and you sympathize with each couple. It's probably easiest with Walternate and Elizabethnate (OK, that’s a horrible nickname). Walternate never hesitates believing his wife’s implausible story as he wracks his brain trying to figure out what happened. 

Speaking of great performances, how about Chandler Canterbury and Karley Scott Collins as Young Peter and Young Olivia? Young Olivia had Anna Torv’s line delivery down perfect, and Young Peter had some heartbreaking moments when he insisted he wasn’t crazy and first caught himself referring to this side’s Elizabeth Bishop as "Mom."

But yes, this was the episode that sold me on the “Fringe” emotional science. I found it hard to swallow that Peter and the ancient machine would destroy one of the universes based on which Olivia he loved, and I’ve already mentioned my issues with the old grieving couple. For some reason it was harder for me to buy than the creations we’ve had in the past 3 1/2 seasons.

The one aspect of emotional science that I didn’t even realize I had accepted was Olivia’s dimension-leaping ability triggered by fear. For some reason, that just made sense. So tonight, when 1985 Walter dug into her emotional responses on his old Betamax tapes, it opened the door to great emotional science for me. Even though I found his cinematography a little strange. (You could see other cameras in the footage but it never seemed to cut to those angles). 

Plus all that built up to my favorite moment in the episode. After Young Peter finds Young Olivia in the white tulip field and her stepfather comes to pick her up, she runs into Walter’s office and finally tells him what’s going on, not realizing that she jumped between universes and was really talking to Walternate. What a great twist. Now we see how Walternate found out the truth about Peter’s disappearance. That’s “Fringe” at its best. 

So now I’m on board. Let’s see where this emotional scientific roller coaster takes us.

Go grab a toy -– Anyone born in the late 1970s probably watched this scene with the same level of glee as I did. Peter wandered the joyful mall toy store. (Are there happy mall toy stores anymore? The ones I’ve seen have been very depressing.) He glances over “Ghostbusters” Waterzappers and the “Battlestar Galatica” board game. He passes on Atari. Joust even! And I had that G.I. Joe personnel carrier that was on the bottom shelf. It’s probably in my dad’s basement. The set decorators really outdid themselves on that one. Though over all that, Peter picks a model of a DC-3? Come on. That woman’s trying to buy your love. At least make her pay for it.

Astrid action –- No Astrid. How old would Astrid have been in 1985? How old is Astrid now? Never mind. That’s not a question a gentleman asks. 

Spot the observer –- The Observer wasn’t really doing much to hide this week. He walked right out of a hallway in Bishop Dynamics to watch Walternate stroll in wearing his hangover sunglasses. Maybe he wasn’t as good at Observing back in the '80s. I shouldn’t tease the Observer or he’ll hide somewhere I’ll never find him next week. 

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'Fringe' recap: Good Grief

'Fringe' recap: Bugs, and a Game Changer

Complete 'Fringe' coverage on Show Tracker

-- Andrew Hanson

Photo: More of Walter's (John Noble) past is revealed. Credit: Fox Television

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