The first half of the two-part Fringe season finale, “Over There,” hurtled us over there — to the alternate universe, where Peter was following his true father, and where alternative versions of Olivia, Broyles, and even Astrid existed in cleverly different versions of the ones we know.
Over there, Olivia is an auburn-haired, wisecracking, jack-booted member of a Fringe Division that’s overseen by the Department of Defense, headed up by the Man Formerly Known As The Walternate, Secretary of Defense Walter Bishop. The opening moments played like a little action movie, following a black-uniformed team of Fringe Division soldiers headed up by Altivia, Charlie (yes, Kirk Acevedo, back in fine form), and Lincoln Lee (Dirty Sexy Money‘s Seth Gabel). They’re under the direct command of a “Colonel” Broyles in a tight black t-shirt; his assistant was an Agent Farnsworth who had a black military beret and a glassy, savant affect.
What they eventually find is our Olivia, along with our Walter, plus three more of those luckless souls dosed with Cortexiphan by Walter and William Bell when they were kids. The trio includes Nick Lane (remember the “2″ scar on the side of his familiar face?), pyrokinetic Sally Clark, and the cancer-clogged James Heath. The latter take the trip as “extra energy supply,” in Walter’s phrase — the Cortexiphan patients have that extra glow that enables them to move between universes better then you or I might.
“Our” team is “over there” to get Peter to come back. Why? Because an Observer left Olivia a piece of paper that included a drawing of some complicated machinery and a picture of Peter with what looks like fire or smoke (maybe both) coming out of his eyes. Walter takes one look at it and says Peter “is going to be responsible for the end of the world” if they don’t get him back. And Peter, bitter about our Walter’s paternal deception and eager to see his real parents, is (at this point anyway) an unwitting pawn in that process.
The episode was a complete success and a blast at giving us a fully lived-in alternate universe. In general, I have to say that the other side not only looks looks more funky and gritty — yes, more militaristic, but, dang it, also more fun than our world. Yes, Altivia doesn’t drink liquor over there, but unlike Olivia, she’s not miserable or worried — i.e., driven to drink. In fact, the Alternate Olivia smiles a lot more and has a nice, ripped boyfriend; not John Scott, but a smoothie played by Philip Winchester, who once portrayed Robinson Crusoe in the 2008 NBC series Crusoe.
There were many exciting, even moving moments last night. The meeting between our Olivia and Leonard Nimoy’s Bell was typically fraught with cryptic ambiguity. (The question always is, should she believe what he’s telling her, and the answer is always put off, but Nimoy knows how to play cryptic ambiguity with the skill of a Mr. Spock.) The reunion of the Cortexiphan kids was a comics-geek’s heaven: It was like witnessing an alt-Legion of Super Heroes meeting. More emotional was Peter’s reunion with his Earth-2 mother (an Orla Brady with gray streaks in her hair). It’s one thing for a fellow to be reunited with a mother who he’d thought had committed suicide; it’s another thing to be a young man one version of whose mother really did kill herself, and who he can now hug as his true mom. That’s a great, humantistic use of a sci-fi trope, and a powerful motive to abandon the rest of the stars of your TV show.
Still, duty calls for the rest of those stars. John Noble was once again superb at juggling Walter’s brain- and emotion-rattled scenes, as well as at pulling Walter together to do what Walter does best: interpret that Observer-dropped piece of paper as a plan for an Earth-1 killing device.
I could go on and on, parsing this episode, but instead I’ll add a few other points below and await next week’s part two of the finale. I know a lot of you Commenters are saying that, when Lost ends, Fringe will be your new obsession. I really hope the show breaks through next season as a more mass-audience phenomenon. (Dear Fox network: Give Fringe a better time-period when you announce your fall schedule next week!)
• Our Broyles accused Nina Sharp and Massive Dynamic of creating weapons for “the other side” near the start of the episode. How much of that is true?
• The new blood-red drenched Fringe opening credits added some nice, danger-sign flash to this red-alert episode.
• Secretary Walter wrote the ZFT Manifesto, which is a big thick trade paperback over there (no Kindles!), and something of a hoax book — the author admits he made some stuff up to further the cause of Bishop and Bell. Maybe there’s an Oprah over there (a “Noprah”?) who’ll host William Bell when and if he decides to publicly apologize for his literary sin.
• Martin Luther King, Jr., is on the other side’s $20 bill. “Who’s [Andrew] Jackson?” the alts ask when they come across one of our world’s double-sawbucks.
• I know it was contrived, but I loved the two moments when cast members had to explain to the audience what goes on between worlds: When Secretary Walter called on hot-dogging-mercenary Olivia like a teacher calling on a student, to explain the alt-Fringe Division; and when our lab-rat Brandon (don’t you love Ryan McDonald’s performance?) took us through the molecular strain of moving from one world into the other.
• In the alt-uni, The West Wing is still broadcasting new episodes, but with a different cast, which explains why Allison Janney was free to pop up in this week’s Lost.
• Line of the night, from Walter: “I think I’ll go have a bit of a cry.”
What did you think of “The Other Side, Part 1″? What do you think will happen in part two next week?