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‘Fringe’ recap: Unpleasantville

February 11, 2012 |  7:00 am

Fringe

"Fringe" is science fiction at its best, and the great thing about science fiction is that it’s a pretty big genre. There are endless variations. You have your hard science fiction, your soft science fiction, time travel and alternate history, space operas, suspense, anything you can imagine. The great thing about "Fringe" is that it dips into every realm. This week, "Fringe" gives a try at science fiction survival horror and it pulls it off very well.

The problem with sci-fi being such a large genre is that most ideas have been done before. “Welcome to Westfield” centers on a small town you cannot leave. How many times have we seen that before? Walter references the high school drama staple "Brigadoon," but the idea has been used in everything from "The Twilight Zone" to the "Simpsons Movie." "Fringe" keeps it fresh by tying the story to "Fringe" mythology. I honestly expected this episode to be boring and cliche. I’m more than happy to be proved wrong.

"Welcome to Westfield" starts off with a little sexy dream time. Normally it is Peter filling his R.E.M. time with fantasies of his own timeline, but this was Olivia’s subconscious playing out its fantasies. Seems that Olivia, no matter what timeline or universe, has a hard time resisting Peter Bishop. And why would she want to?

Luckily a plane crashes. Well, not so lucky for the passengers, but it does get Olivia out of the awkwardness with Peter. They all cruise out to Vermont to check out the scene. Even Walter. Seems that spending time with Peter has brought him out of his shell. Now he's looking to do a little field work and track down a great piece of rhubarb pie (I prefer my rhubarb in cobbler form). This brings Walter, Peter and Olivia to Westfield, Vt., where the citizens are afflicted with some sort of schizophrenia and the road out of town leads right back.  

Walter throws out a few ideas about what might be causing the phenomenon, but come on. How can they not automatically assume that it has something to do with the parallel universe? If I was a member of Fringe Division, the alternate universe would always be my first guess whenever a crazy event occurred. Seems David Robert Jones is testing out his new weapon: a bomb that merges the two universes and leaves nothing but destruction in both. Those townspeople who were trapped in the bomb’s path in both universes find themselves merging with their alternate selves, gaining memories, extra rows of teeth and second faces.

Olivia, Peter and Walter dodge the crazed, merging residents and load up the remaining townspeople on a bus, looking for the eye of the storm. The reason this episode worked so well is that A) the mystery/crazy science directly tied to the overarching story of the season and B) the people in danger weren’t just the guest stars. Olivia, Peter and Walter were running for their lives as well. It makes everything a little more personal. When Walter finally got around to telling Olivia that her blood work proved she wasn’t affected by the merger, her giddy relief mirrored my own. 

After they ride out the destruction, the rest of the FBI show up to rescue them. They find the devices David Robert Jones used only contained a small amount of the Amphilicite ore stolen a couple episodes ago.

The remainder went to make a much larger merge bomb. 

But that’s not the last bomb of the episode. Once the Fringe team returns to Boston, Peter stops by to make sure Olivia is alright. She’s better than that. She’s had a little wine, got dinner waiting and greets Peter with a kiss. She may not have been merging with her alternate universe self, but she does seem to be merging with her alternate timeline self. Or another Olivia. Who knows how many there are? 

Fun and Games: A lot of this week’s "Fringe" reminded me of survival horror video games: Resident Evil, Silent Hill and especially Alan Wake. Running around a creepy abandoned town with flashlights and shotguns. Complete with the annoying escort mission. I almost expected to see a health meter in the corner of the screen. It makes me want a "Fringe" game. Fight your way through shape-shifting super soldiers and giant insects while gathering the ingredients for the perfect strawberry milkshake. Someone should start a Kickstarter page for Tim Schafer to get cracking on that

Astrid Action: This week Walter decided to go on location, so Astrid didn’t need to act as his eyes and ears in the field. It’s great to see Walter running around and kicking hubcaps off cars, but it’s a painful reminder that the Astrid in our timeline doesn’t get as much screen time as this Astrid. Even though we had a whole episode of Astrids last week, I’m already wanting more.

Spot the Observer: After stepping out of the background last week (literally), the Observers went back into hiding. You can see one of the watchmen next to the semi as the airplane crashes to Earth in the opening. Speaking of which, that makes the third plane attacked by a Fringe event. All part of J.J. Abrams’ plan to destroy air travel for me. 

RELATED:

'Fringe' recap: Astrid action

'Fringe' recap: the Black Dry-Cleaning Van

Complete 'Fringe' coverage on Show Tracker

-- Andrew Hanson

Photo: Peter (Joshua Jackson), left, Walter (John Noble) and Olivia (Anna Torv) help an injured man. Credit: Fox Television

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