Thursday, November 17, 2011

'Fringe' circles the 'Lost' wormhole

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It's been noted by a number of people that last week's superb Fringe episode "And Those We Left Behind" made a number of references to Lost. The newspaper showing the Red Sox winning the World Series, the sudden time jumps, Peter complaining that an equation contained too many variables all added up to one hell of a Lost-y vibe to the enterprise, a fact that causes a little bit of post-traumatic stress disorder in those of us who suffered through that other J.J. Abrams sci-fi series' finale.

This episode was in many ways highly reminiscent of my favorite Lost episode of all time, "The Constant." Both hours centered around mysterious time shifts, both featured "special" heroes (Desmond and Peter) who were uniquely able to deal with the time fluctuations, and both were centered around love stories in which one partner was willing to rip apart the universe for love. I'm not going to lie, these similarities got me really worried at the beginning of the episode, because I was sure that I could see a sideways-world type awakening (it pains me even to type those words) coming, where Olivia would somehow stop the time fluctuations by remembering Peter - by becoming his constant, if you will. "The Constant" may have been a magnificent hour television - I still cry every time I watch Desmond and Penny's phone call at the end - but it's hard to look back at it now without thinking about the ultimately unfulfilling place the story ended up.

"And Those We Left Behind," however, completely subverted my expectations. The episode was subtly moving in a way that Lost, which worked best when it was in sweeping-epic mode, could never quite pull off when Terry O'Quinn wasn't onscreen. The writers could have chosen to unsubtly hammer home the parallels between Raymond's destructive attempt to save his Alzheimer's-stricken wife, Kate, and Walter's rescue of Peter - lord knows they've done it before - but they instead chose to focus on the deep bond between husband wife (beautifully played by real-life husband and wife Stephen Root and Romy Rosemont) and the way that bond both drove Raymond to rewrite time while forcing Kate to stop him.

Raymond and Kate's love wasn't Desmond and Penny's earth-shattering passion. It was just the unspoken love that comes with thirty years of marriage, the kind that reminds you to change your dentist appointment, but can also push you to rip a hole in the space-time continuum. The great thing about the relationship was that, unlike so many other relationships on TV, it focused on the way that kind of comfortable married love can be just as important as epic passion, and just as difficult to lose.

It made perfect sense, then, that when Peter came face-to-face with an unbreakable, lived-in love, that he finally realized that Olivia is not his Olivia. She's not the woman he got to know over four years, the woman who slowly built a relationship with him and who finally, grudgingly opened her damaged soul to him. She's not the woman who, in the future, he weathered the apocalypse with, and whose death shattered him. This woman is someone else, and Peter doesn't belong with her, just as he didn't belong with Faulivia. I love the way the Fringe writers managed to take a situation that, on the surface, seemed so perfectly applicable to Walter's life, and instead show the way Raymond and Kate's story resonates with Peter.

After watching this episode, I'm not really worried about Fringe going the way of Lost, because the writers subverted my expectations and delivered an episode that, while it shared many elements with "The Constant," was Fringe all the way down. I thought that "And Those We Left Behind" easily ranked in the top few hours of the series, right up there with "There's More Than One Of Everything," "Peter" and "White Tulip." I'm hoping that tomorrow night's mid-season finale (!) will be address some of the unease that's been building in Peter, and that maybe we'll find out why he's back and what his return is doing to the world. Plus, I'm hearing hints about the return of a certain character who, last time we saw him, was operating at half-capacity. Timeline reboots really have great potential, don't they?

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