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'Fringe': Heart of glass

April 30, 2010 |  7:16 am

219_BB_sc32_072 I wonder what it would have been like watching “Brown Betty” with no idea what was going to happen. I, of course, have my finger on the pulse of all things “Fringe.” I knew it was the 1940s film noir musical episode. I even posted a story about show runners/episode writers Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman. But I cannot help but wonder if there’s some 13-year-old kid out there who waited excitedly all day through school for the new “Fringe,” then sits down with a bag of microwave kettle corn and a liter bottle of Mr. Pibb to watch “Brown Betty.”

Did anyone watch completely unspoiled? Please leave a comment if you did. I’d love your reaction.

Even with my forward knowledge, I was shocked when the episode started with the sounds of a lighter lit followed by bubbling water. I had no idea “Brown Betty” actually referred to a hybrid marijuana Walter made combining Chronic Supernova and Afghani Kush. A strong Sativa/Indica mix. I mean, that’s what Google tells me.

Walter Bishop’s pot-fueled brain generates this story of singing detectives and stolen hearts to entertain Ella, Olivia’s niece. Walter and Astrid take over Olivia’s babysitting duties so she can continue her search for Peter (remember he ran off after finding out he was from another reality?). Who better to watch a young child than a man who gets high and decides to re-label all his candy and acids?

Walter spins a tale with surprisingly good twists and turns. Hard-boiled detective Olivia Dunham is hired by Rachel to find her missing love. When Rachel turns up dead, Olivia discovers she was an actress hired by eccentric inventor Walter Bishop to find Peter because he stole a mechanical glass heart Walter needs to live. Nina Sharp and her goons at Massive Dynamic also want the heart to power a doorway to the other reality. Olivia’s nailed in a coffin and tossed in the ocean, but Peter shows up in time to save her and explain that it was his heart all along. He only loaned it to Walter to let him make more incredible inventions, until he found out Walter got his ideas by stealing children’s dreams.

I raced through the recap because even though the story was remarkably good, the most interesting aspect of “Brown Betty” is the world “Fringe” creators managed to build.

To say it was a straight up 1940s film noir would be a lie. Along with the fedoras and cars with fins were crazy cybernetics and laser knives. Olivia called blocky land lines from what looked to be a 4G iPhone. (Watch out Liv, Steve Jobs will be coming for you) 

Plus there were the songs. Walter singing Tears for Fears. Broyles sang a jazzy piano number (who would have thought he was a baritone?). A trio of animated corpses sang “The Candy Man.” Astrid sang about needing a job, and Olivia gave a moving rendition of “For Once In My Life” by Stevie Wonder, even if her accent started to slip out. Or some accent. For a while I thought it was German.

I’m no Simon Cowell, but I was impressed by the singing chops of the “Fringe” cast. I kept expecting at least one person to stink but was happily proven wrong. And they didn’t “Glee” us out with the entirety of every song.

Since the entire episode was a story told by Walter, we got glimpses into his (and possibly the writers') perceptions of the people around him. Olivia came off fairly mannish until she was rescued by Peter and her girly side came out. Nina Sharp professed her love for William Bell over their inter-reality webchat. Jean grew polka dots. The Observers became thugs. Brandon worked at the patent office (like Einstein). Walter made himself into the inventor of all things wonderful but at the price of children’s dreams. And most interesting, Peter was a man born with incredible power that everyone wanted their hands on. 

Argh. There’s so much about “Brown Betty” I want to discuss. So many fascinating details, so little Show Tracker. But that just goes to show how well thought out, creative, and just plain fun tonight’s “Fringe” really was. A lot of people would have pegged a 1940s film noir musical episode as a big risk, but the bigger the risk, the bigger the pay out.

What was your favorite part of “Brown Betty?” 

Games people play – “Fringe” is in love with board games this season. A couple weeks ago, Clue played an important role in an episode and  Thursday night Operation wove itself into the story. Plus the whole war between realities is essentially one big game of Stratego. Man, I love Stratego, but it’s the most stressful board game I’ve ever played.

Ester Figglesworth  – Astrid played many roles tonight. First off, she was Buzz Killington talking to a very stoned Walter about Peter leaving. Then she played chaperone to Walter and Ella to make sure neither of them got into trouble. In Walter’s story, Astrid became Esther Figglesworth, supplying the comic relief as Olivia’s Moneypenny. Was it just me or was there a touch of sexual tension when she was patching up Olivia’s sliced chest? Probably just me. Usually is.

Spot the watcher – The Observers got to play the fun role of heavies for the story-world version of Massive Dynamics, but that’s not all. September, our personal Observer, made an appearance in the real world as well, watching Astrid bring Walter home. He placed a mysterious call on his makeup compact, expressing his concern that Peter hasn’t returned and Walter doesn’t remember the warning he gave. Right now, I can’t remember what that warning was. Can you?

-- Andrew Hanson


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Photo: Walter (John Noble) weaves a mysterious and musical tale for Ella (Lily Pilblad). Credit: Fox Television

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