Saturday, April 23, 2011

"Fringe" Recap: The Man and the Machine

John Noble as Walternate and Ryan MacDonald as Evil Brandon
For weeks now, Fringe promos for "6:02 AM EST" have been asking us "Where will you be when it happens?" Well, fellow Fringe-philes, I'm happy to report that It. Is. Happening. And that is just awesome.

The hour started with a scene featuring Evil Brandon (I don't know if he has an official nickname, like Walternate or Fauxlivia, so I'm calling him Evil Brandon because, well, he's super evil) telling Walternate that he managed to strip Fauxlivia's chromosomes out of the blood sample that he took from baby Henry, and that the resulting concoction should be enough to start the Machine and destroy our world, once and for all. Evil Brandon is so excited about this prospect that he can barely hold in his pride and joy as Walternate gives a sobering speech where he quotes Oppenheimer saying, at the first nuclear test, "I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds," and talks about how Oppenheimer couldn't bear the nightmares, attempting to impress upon Evil Brandon that this is not a time to rejoice. Well, at least he tried.

We then cut from Earth-2 to our Earth, where two shepherds, one having just driven through a swarm of locusts (because apparently the machine is causing our world to go all Biblical plagues), are observing a flock of extremely unhappy sheep. As one pulls out his walkie talkie to radio for help with the flock and their sudden case of Mad Sheep disease, they both stare into the sky, mesmerized by something extremely bright. Apparently the Machine is working. And, credits.

Post-credits, we get a nice scene where enigmatic bowling alley owner/possible First Person Sam Weiss notices that his bowling balls are knocking together completely of their own accord. Disturbed by this event, he goes into the back room and, in a rather overcomplicated process, retrieves his special Newton's Cradle from a secretive, locked cabinet. Now, Sam Weiss is one of my favorite recurring characters, right up there with the Observer, but I know that they sell those things in every museum and planetarium shop ever, so I'm not sure the secrecy was necessary. Still, it's good to see Sam again.

We then get a bit of comic relief, as Olivia, having slept over at the Bishops' house, gets out of bed and wanders into the path of Walter, who is wearing nothing save a pair of extremely fuzzy slippers since, in his words, "this house can get very chilly." He then walks past Olivia to make another mushroom frittata, and the way that Anna Torv delicately skirts his path to avoid closer contact with Little Walter is just funny.

Of course, Olivia then just has to go ruin everything by going back upstairs and telling Peter than sunrise is her favorite time, because "the world is full of promise," because she apparently wants the world to be destroyed today. And then, right on cue, both their cell phones start ringing. Seriously Olivia, when are you going to learn? You never start talking about how nice the day is, or how anything can happen, or how the morning is full of promise when you know full well that there is a good chance the world is going to start disintegrating at any time.

Walter, Peter, Olivia and Broyles go to the field where we previously saw the sheep, and where there is now nothing left but a wide swath of destruction. Walter, pointing out the obvious, tells everyone that this event is the beginning of our universe breaking down, which I really think everyone had probably figured out. While the Bishop boys and Olivia are checking out the sheep-killing vortex, we get some nice product placement for Sprint as Nina Sharp tells Broyles via video-chat that the machine, which is being housed at Massive Dynamic. Peter and Walter are appropriately disturbed by this, although in the next scene, in which Peter is talking to Olivia about how the machine could have turned on by itself, mostly seems miffed that the machine turned itself on while he was several hundred miles away. That cheating tramp machine!

As Walter tells Peter and Olivia that the machine's magnetic field indicates that it came on as a sympathetic reaction to the activation of the Earth-2 machine (and now it's cheating on Peter with another machine! What nerve!), Astrid comes over with more bad news; four more similar events have been reported, which Olivia quickly names "the blight." The Fringe team realizes that their world is toast, and a serious silence reigns.

One of the things I love most about this episode is that it is a rare hour in which we get storylines in both Earth-1 and Earth-2. As we cut to the Earth-2 storyline, Fauxlivia is interrupted in her fussing over baby Henry (and by the way, I'm so excited that she named him after Henry, another of my favorite recurring characters) to find out that there is a massive energy spike happening on Liberty Island. As she and Lincoln Lee rush to the scene to begin the evacuation, Walternate calls Lincoln to call off the Fringe team. Lincoln wonders what's going on, and Fauxlivia uses her new status as Walternate's sort-of daughter-in-law to head up to the State of Liberty and gets some answers.

Fauxlivia is horrified to find out that Walternate is planning to destroy Earth-1, home of his son and the father of her child. I really like the way that this character has become more sympathetic over the course of the season; at the end of last season and the beginning of this one, I despised her and her duplicitous agenda, but as we've gotten to see her struggling, first to reintegrate herself into her old life after her affair with Peter, and then being forced to come to terms with her pregnancy and motherhood, I've really come to love her. There is nothing I would like to see more than Fauxlivia starting a family with Lincoln and Henry, and living out the rest of their lives in peace. However, given that this is Fringe, I doubt that will happen, particularly given Fauxlivia's treasonous mission in this episode.

We then go back to Earth-1, where Olivia is heading off to Massive Dynamic to help with a detection and quarantine protocol based on her experiences in Earth-2. Meanwhile, Peter has accepted that the only way to stop the Machine is for him to get in it and stop it somehow. This leads to a lovely scene with Walter and Peter, in which Walter finally realizes that when the Observer told him to "give him the keys and save the girl," he was preparing him for this eventuality. I know that many people will prefer the later scene in the hospital chapel - and I can't deny that John Noble plays that scene brilliantly - but I love the way Noble conveys Walter's quiet despair and resignation in this scene. John Noble should just win every Emmy.

Meanwhile, at Massive Dynamic, Nina Sharp is telling Olivia that, while the detection protocols are in place, there is only enough amber to quarantine eight to ten Fringe events. As Olivia struggles to take in this news, Nina tells her about Sam Weiss, his relationship to the First People, and the fact that he has inconveniently gone missing just when they need him. Olivia vows to find the possibly immortal bowling guru, who is, at that moment, looking through one of those nifty cross-universe flat screens and solving some complicated-looking equations, which ominously equal zero.

Just to demonstrate again how much Fauxlivia has changed since we first met her, in the next scene we see her rocking baby Henry and singing him an out-of-tune lullaby. She then puts him to sleep and goes to share some (somewhat forced) banter with Lincoln, who tells her that she "can't do this alone," and then is left in her apartment to take care of Henry. The sadness and longing on Lincoln's face made me really wish he would just go for it and kiss her, but I guess that would have been inappropriate, particularly considering that she is currently heading to Liberty Island to somehow cross into Earth-2 and bring back Peter.

And now we get Fauxlivia's stone-cold badass side, as she threatens Evil Brandon and sees through all his bluffs, which is just great because he is the worst. She demands that Evil Brandon provide her with the means to travel between universes. Her general badassery makes it even worse when Evil Brandon provides her with two cylinders that we the viewers know are not any sort of technology that will enable her to get to our world. She leaves with them, but just for good measure she punches Evil Brandon in the face. I was hoping she'd shoot him, but you take what you can get.

Fauxlivia is then chased through the bowels of Liberty Island by armed guards, and after yelling at her for thirty seconds to just use the cylinders already (I guess I was hoping they would be real), she finally does, and realizes that Brandon has played her. Now she's trapped, and pissed about it.

Back in Earth-1, Olivia manages to find Sam Weiss' apartment, only to realize that he has completely vacated it. She's disappointed, but not as disappointed as Peter's about to be (well, would be, if he was conscious). He's at Massive Dynamic, being given a spiffy jumpsuit, because apparently the man who can save the universe can only do it dressed as a mechanic. Walter has another stellar scene, as he talks to Broyles about the chances that this will work, and the possibility that Peter will die.

Now suited up in his jumpsuit, Peter prepares to get into the machine. He shares a series of nice moments with Astrid, Walter and Broyles, and even gets an adorably hug from Astrid. He then gets ready to enter the machine, accompanied by some suspenseful music. This entire process takes so long, and the build-up has been so dramatic, that it is a really great, really shocking fake-out when Peter finally gets to the top of the machine, touches it, and is immediately zapped into oblivion and falls a story or two onto the cement floor (you'd think that Massive Dynamic techs could have put down some mattresses or something). I really enjoyed this twist, as I was getting kind of tired of the Peter, Savior of the Universe storyline.

Peter, unconscious and accompanied by Astrid and a hysterical Walter, is taken to the hospital. Olivia shows up some unspecified amount of time later, and is so worried about Peter that she doesn't even have time to be royally pissed that no one told her about this plan. I'm sure the anger is coming though.

Now we cut to the Walter in the chapel scene I mentioned earlier, and it is just a lovely performance on the part of John Noble. He has to play it completely by himself, with no one to react to or even make eye contact with, and he just knocks it out of the park. Seriously, how does this man not have an Emmy, or even a nomination, to his name?

Olivia goes outside to look at the sunset, which resonates a bit obviously with the earlier sunrise discussion but I'll let it slide. She is joined by Sam Weiss, who needs her help to stop the destruction of our Universe. After looking back into the hospital for a moment, she leaves with Sam. Meanwhile, on Earth-2, Walternate goes down to the holding cells in Liberty Island (to, if I am not mistaken, the same cell where Olivia was held at the beginning of this season) to tell Fauxlivia that she's lucky Henry is his grandson, and that he's going to keep her alive, but hold her here until everything has gone down. Personally, I don't trust him not to just kill her and take Henry for himself, but even Walternate has softened a bit over the course of the season, so I'll keep hoping.

This was a great set-up episode, and I can't wait for the presumably balls-out awesome of the final two episodes of the season. Personally I'm hoping that Olivia and Fauxlivia unite to save the world, and although I'm worried that one of them isn't going to make it to the end, I would really like to see Olivia end up with Peter and Fauxlivia end up with Lincoln. They could even share custody of baby Henry, although I'm not entirely sure how a cross-universe shared-custody system would work. Also, speaking of Henry, I'm also really hoping that Andre Royo's Henry comes back and saves the day by doing something awesome. After all, he's already gone on the run from Fringe Division and delivered a baby; I'm sure he has some more tricks up his sleeve.

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