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‘Fringe’ recap: Astrid action

February 4, 2012 | 12:05 pm

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Finally! I’ve been saying since day one that ‘Fringe’ needed an Astrid-centric episode. I track the Astrid Action every week. In the first few season, Astrid battled for screen time, let alone character development. In season two , Astrid became more of a foil for Walter. She tossed in a jab here or there. By season three, Astrid was a full confidant of Olivia. We even got the alternate version of Astrid, spouting statistics and wearing a cool beret. This season the Astrid from the Peter-less timeline got out of the lab. She acted as Walter’s eyes and ears in the field. Now we get a whole side story about Astrid. About time. 

Is that not enough for you? How about an investigation tied to the Observers? Everybody loves the hairless, pale voyeurs. Just like in real life, right? You think Astrid didn’t get much screen time? The Observer often only got a single frame. In ‘Making Angels,’ the Observers step out of the background. Literally. 

‘Fringe’ practically pandered directly to everything I love this week. The only problem with getting everything you want is that sometimes it can be too much.

‘Making Angels’ is two different stories. The first being the tale of Neil and the Tears of Ra. Neil was a MIT mathematician who quit to work at for the TSA and tell random strangers their future. First, a cancer patient whose future consists of being part of the 5% mortality rate, and the second, a woman whose alcoholism will end up destroying the lives of everyone around her. Neil puts these people out of their misery with a poison that can only be made if you already know how to make it. 

The second story is about the Alternate Astrid (What’s a good nickname? Alterid?). Over here, Astrid is the bubbly, helpful assistant in Walter’s lab. Over there, that Astrid (Thastrid?) runs statistically probability for Fringe Division. The fake Astrid (Falstrid?) is … I don’t know the correct term. Autistic? At least she has a version of autism. It makes her perfect for figuring out the odds of a Fringe event, but it also disconnects her from her emotions. When her father dies, the other Astrid (Otherid?) grants herself clearance to travel to our universe to seek comfort with Astrid Astrid (Astrid?). 

The problem is these two stories don’t have anything to do with each other. One of my favorite things about ‘Fringe’ (after Astrid and the Observers) is how amazingly the show ties the mystery of the week to the larger story of the series. Those time bubbles wrecking havoc were caused by a man doing whatever it took to be with his wife before her mind went, just like Peter is willing to do whatever it takes to get back to the Olivia he loves. That girl draws pictures predicting people’s deaths conveniently about the same time Olivia is dealing with the Observer’s caution that she has to die. While both storylines were enthralling, neither added to the other. I wish they could have each gotten their own 60 minutes (minus commercials). 

The Astrid story is by far my favorite. Astrid’s surprise at seeing her alternate self was classic. I agree with Olivia. I don’t know why more people don’t react like that. Astrid is the one character that’s the most different between the two universes, and because of that, they don’t have the resentment for each other that all the other pairs seem to have. Over here Astrid shows great compassion for her other self and the difficulties she had connecting with her father. Even in an episode that is Astrid-centric, I find myself wanting more Astrid. I want to see more of her interactions with the different version of herself or her alternate working with Walter (who actually remembered her name). She went back to the other universe way too soon. It almost makes me resent the Observers for taking time away from them. 

The Observer/Neil and the Tears of Ra storyline started out strong. The concept of the Deus Ex Machina Alternate Astrid came up with was great. There was no way of knowing how to combine the two chemicals without already doing it. Just like there’s no way of knowing the ingredients of a Long Island iced tea would tasted like iced tea until you mixed them together. The killer had to have some sort of God-like intervention. Then finding out about Neil’s mathematical history raised those stakes. He figured that if he understood the right formulas, he would understand space and time. But that excellent build falls of the cliff at the end. Instead of Neil cracking some mathematical super problem, he got his visions from a glowing tube the Observer apparently dropped while trying to save Peter. In the grand finale, Neil uses his ability to see past, present and future at the same time to … commit suicide by FBI Agent. That’s all? I might have to call Black Dry Cleaning Van on you, ‘Fringe.’

After the dust clears, two Observers sneak in to the apartment where Olivia killed Neil. Apparently, the FBI decided against closing it off as a crime scene, so they simply sneak past Neil’s mother. One of the Observers uses his E.T. finger power to crack the safe and steal back the future-telling, glowing tube. Then he turns to his partner and reveals the big, dramatic cliffhanger -- Peter has returned. Yeah. We already knew that. Catch up Observers. Aren’t you the ones who see all time at once?

Product replacement –- I joke around with ‘Fringe’ about the car and cellphone commercials that manage to seep into the episodes, but I get it. That’s how you pay the bills, keep oats in the mouth of Gene the cow. More than a third of the ‘Fringe’ audience watch the show later on their DVRs, presumably fast-forwarding through the commercials (if only we could get all you people to watch it live, ‘Fringe’ might get the ratings it needs to stick around), so if ‘Fringe’ wants to show me Olivia charging her Leaf while she and Peter rattle off some exposition, I don’t mind, but Nissan should do a little reversal product placement as well. Instead of just showing me those cool electric cars, why don’t you give me one with John Noble’s voice as the navigation system? Walter telling me where to go? Then you’d have my attention.  

Astrid Action –- So much Astrid gave us so much Jasika Nicole. Film and television have tried hundreds of times to get the same actor playing two roles interacting. They use their stand ins, creative editing and special effects to various degrees of success. ‘Fringe’ did a fantastic job hiding the strings, mostly by keeping everything simple and realistic. It made me realize that’s also why I like Astrid so much. In this sea of crazy science and extreme emotions, Astrid is always realistic and natural. Mostly because of Jasika Nicole. She’s my next target for an interview from the cast. I promise to bring that one in real soon.

Spot the Observer –- Obviously the Observers played a big role in the episode, but what about the Observer? September. Michael Cerveris. Two other Observers got all the action this week: December and, I don’t know, let’s just say June. His name was never spoken. Does that make this the first episode that the Observer September was never seen? Or was he still hiding in there somewhere? I know I didn’t spot him. 

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-- Andrew Hanson

Photo: Peter (Josh Jackson) investigates a mysterious lake house on "Fringe." Credit: Fox

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