'Fringe' recap and review: William Bell sends Walter a message and 'The Box'

This week, Fringe was set in our universe, with the red-headed, swaggering, alternate-universe-Olivia using dyed blonde hair and a more sober mien to impersonate our Olivia. What a terrific episode it was, with a tremendously clever game-changer of an ending.

So, from the top: Pre-credits, we saw a family tied up, held captive while three intruders sought a box in the basement. Two of the guys doing the digging unearthed it, and couldn’t resist opening what they’d been hired to find and bring back to their employer. Bad idea: They went all stiff, their eyes turned milky-white, and then they died. So did the captive family. The third intruder, however, was unharmed. With box closed, he scrammed.

Turns out these guys were hired by our old frenemy Thomas Jerome Newton, whose zesty arrogance was tamped down by Altivia, who pulled rank on the man we’ve seen lead so many intrusions upon our world: “You work for me,” she said flatly. The item stolen by Newton’s men was a component piece to the great “doomsday” machine for which Peter is the “human interface.”

After a nice little scene reminding us in the new season why we’ve enjoyed dotty old Walter in seasons past — in his lab, he was applying his genius intensity to figuring out a way to make Gene the cow spurt chocolate milk from her udders — Walter grew more serious over the question of whether Peter should be trying to work on this machine. Re-framing the argument, which until now has been driven by a suspense-movie motive (that is: we’ve got to figure this out before the bad guys do!), Walter invoked Oppenheimer and the nuclear arms race, both for the destruction it unleashed upon the world and the moral agony and guilt it instilled in those who worked on it. Peter sees the wisdom, or at least the point, of his father’s words, pausing in his labors to ask: “What if we shouldn’t be working on this thing?”

This Fringe was a good example of how far the series has come since its first season, dominated by pre-credits scare-scenarios for Fringe Division to investigate, some of which spilled over into the show’s mythology. Now, Fringe is a seamless whole (or two wholes, given the double universes, and therefore not seamless, but you know what I mean):  The terrified, now dead family we saw tied up at the start of the episode, along with the mysterious death of two thieves, is compounded by something that baffles both the good guys and the bad guys: How did a third robber manage to make off with the box containing the device? Newton is mystified because he only hired the first two men; Fringe Division is perplexed every which-way… until Thief #3 shows up at Altivia’s door with the box and she discovers he’s deaf. And therefore it was the sound emitted by the contents of the box that killed the others.

This plot culminated in a scene in the subway which might have been your usual guy must disable object on the tracks before the train smashes him, but with a few nice added elements. The first was Newton’s subway interaction with a small man played by Howard Stern radio-show regular Eric the Midget Actor, who was convincingly hardboiled and who exploded like a pro. The second was Altivia having to temporarily deafen Peter by firing her gun twice, once by each ear. I’m sure there were doctors and science majors viewing that scene and cringing, but it helped liven up a familiar adventure-show trope.

The real, deeper suspense in this episode, though, was all the human interaction. I’m thinking of the scene in which Walter and Peter go to hear William Bell’s will being read. Of the way Walter in his awkward but sincere way, embraced Nina Sharpe. Of the way Bell left Nina a little bell, and wrote to her, “I was your right hand and you were mine.” (A tremendously loaded line: Obviously a reference to Nina’s right hand lost during the universe-crossover, but also opening a new question: In what way was William her right hand? My most prosaic guess is that he designed her hand, and perhaps helped her start Massive Dynamic.)

I always tell people who don’t watch Fringe that one of the best things about it is that, at its heart, it’s a very emotional story about family. (I don’t mention that no matter what any fan tells you, you really do have to plow through at least a season-and-a-half of past episodes to understand what’s going on.) This evening proved my point again, as Walter and Peter attempted to have “the talk” about the alt-universe-formerly-known-as-“our” Peter’s kidnapping by Walter. The realism here was acute. Both start off calmly, but soon the guilt, anger, and betrayal overtakes them. Peter says he can’t even look Walter in the eye. “You took my family, my world!” “I should never have crossed the line!” “I can’t talk about this.”

Bell left Walter an envelope containing a key and a piece of paper with one sentence: “Don’t be afraid to cross the line.” Astrid spoke for all of us when she said, “So you were the cautious one?”

The key was to a safe-deposit box, in which Walter discovered the episode’s big surprise: Bell “left me Massive Dynamic. I’m the sole shareholder.” Yowee. I want an episode that includes his first address to the staff right now.

Some observations on the fringe of this episode:

• Peter dancing with Altivia has got to be one of the most casually sexy scenes on TV in a while.

• Newton giving Altivia a guide to pop culture, yielding her response upon seeing a picture of U2 vocalist: “BON-o?”

• Walter made a fart joke upon hearing the phrase “Silent but deadly.” Or I guess I should really just say, he made a fart. Tee-hee.

• Peter saying that the longer he’s back (which, come to think of it, Altivia says is just “two days”) the “less real [the other universe] seems” — sounds as though the groundwork has been laid for Peter to come to terms with staying here without much regret. Although there’s his mom over there…

• Even though I knew she had a good reason and it was a serious moment, I still grinned at the image of Altivia putting a silencer onto her pistol to kill a deaf man.

• Classic Walter-ism: “Bacon-flavored pudding — that would surprise me.”

• Classic Peter-ism: “Walter, use your words.”

What did you think of this week’s Fringe? How would you compare it to last week’s episode, set in the other world? And what do you think Walter is going to do with Massive Dynamic?

Follow: @kentucker

Comments (159 total) Add your comment
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  • Anjali

    Fantastic episode, once again! Anna is just killing it every episode!!! Fantastic portrayal of Faux-livia, pretending to be Olivia.
    Glad to have sexy Newton back!! :)

    • BillyBear

      Her portrayal was so dead on that I caught myself thinking, “C’mon, Peter, you can tell by the way she moves and the lilt of her lips that it’s not really Olivia.” If that isn’t A-List acting right there, I don’t know what is. Not only does Anna nail the scene, but she goes four levels deep by portraying the character portraying the character who is portraying the character. Brilliant.

      • Kate

        I reckon Walter will be the first to realise, only because our Olivia and Walter have a silent boned between them a Altivia seems to not bother with Walter!

    • Lela

      Isn’t it amazing that Anna Torv is now playing three different versions of the same character? I mean, for a while now, she won’t be playing the Olivia we know, but our Olivia memory-drugged into becoming AltOlivia, and AltOlivia pretending to be our Olivia. This show is amazingly, crazy twisted!

    • sfday

      I was blown away by her Altivia pretending to be Olivia – the woman deserves an Emmy!

  • AK

    it wasn’t van morrison’s brown eyed girl. it was patsy kline’s crazy. but yah, great great peter/fauxlivia moment. love it and hate it at the same time, knowing it’s not the real dunham. solid episode for sure!

    • Gator

      Thank you, I thought for a minute I was losing it. I could have sworn it was Crazy by Patsy Cline, and thought there was no way I could be that wrong! I definitely would have remembered it being Brown Eyed Girl!

    • Ames

      It also showed how smart Altivia is. When we met her, she seemed kind of casual about her job. I was wondering how she would manage here. Then she pulls out the “since I’ve been back I’ve changed…” line. Brilliant. Now all the subtle changes people see in her can be attributed to her re-evaluation of her life.

      • erika

        she’ll never pull off our Olivia’s photographic memory, however!

      • Em

        Plus, besides being way more ‘forward’ with Peter than Olivia would be, even after kissing him, she is not showing enough concern/engagement with Peter and Walter, and there were a bunch of other details that I was like come on, Peter, it’s so obvious!

  • MayWeeDum

    You know, if there is a reason why people keep saying “Peter doesn’t do much” its clearly because NOBODY PAYS ANY ATTENTION TO HIM! Peter did a lot in this episode and not one single person even mentions it. All they do is mention what a great actress Anna Torv and John Noble are thus ignoring Peter/Josh.

    • Leithen

      Jackson is good, yes. It’s becoming clearer as the season goes on that Peter is the stand-in for the viewing audience, mediating the strangeness that goes on around him. The “rebel” is actually the most stable person on the show. He’s the sane one.

      • MayWeeDum

        Okay, just the fact that you bypassed the whole PETER/MACHINE storyline proves my point.

      • Leithen

        I didn’t mention any story points, for any character. So am I shortchanging Astrid? Broyles? How about Nina? Complimenting one performance is not a criticism or necessarily oversight of another.

        I did nothing but compliment the role the Peter character and Jackson play. In my opinion (and I stress this is my opinion, I don’t expect it to be yours) he’s the lynchpin on the show.

      • Thrapston Cheesley III

        I would like to see Joshua Jackson plsy Peter covered entirely in sores.

    • allie08

      I love Peter – he is hot, intelligent, funny and sane. Not sure why YOU think he isn’t getting recognition – I think he is awesome and an integral part of a fantastic cast.

      • MayWeeDum

        Because IDIOTS on here keep whining about Peter didn’t tell the differences between Olivias. AS IF THAT’S THE ONLY THING THAT FREAKING MATTERS RIGHT NOW! BTW, it doesn’t help either that NOBODY is giving Walter, astrid and broyles a hard time.

      • Thrapston Cheesley III

        He is angular and gorgeous, and if he were a gas, he would be inert.

    • Svetlana

      People say that Anna Torv is a good actress? Really? I think she is horrible. She is so robotic and stiff. She’s the one person on the show that I keep hoping gets killed off whenever she gets hurt or is in danger. The rest of the cast is great, John Noble is adorable and “Pacey” is hot hot hot!!

      • Jeff

        While I think “horrible” is a little strong, I do agree Torv is not a great actress and pretty wooden in her delivery. I also don’t think she’s that attractive, but that may be a plus as far a realism goes, since too many TV shows have women who look like models playing street cops.

      • Thrapston Cheesley III

        You are a master of exposing tedium.

      • lalala

        I actually thought Anna was lackluster when the series started, but then as I watched more and more, I realized that is just her character. Her character is stiff sometimes, steely, etc. I realized she played her character even better when they introduced Alt-Olivia, who is so snarky and gung ho and has more personality than Olivia. So I think she’s actually good, but that’s my opinion. And MayWeeDum needs to stop attacking everyone, including those that are actually supporting Peter! Such an immature fangirl!

      • sfday

        You are spot on lalala. That’s what makes Anna’s Altivia so amazing, it’s so subtle but so good!

  • Leithen

    I think Anna Torv was great. There’s a distinctly relaxed, yeah, I’ll say it, sexy feel to the other universe Olivia. The dichotomy of her performance now emphasizes just how well she’s been playing the contained nature of the Olivia we’ve seen for the last two years.

  • JWill

    Loved it. The S.O. hates the suspense of Faux-livia living in our world, but I tried to tell her that that’s the beauty of suspense…wondering what’s going to happen next. Fringe delivers! :-)

  • Dube

    I agree: another engaging episode of this smart and well written show. I was wondering if Fauxlivia is naturally a redhead… as if this is the case, how long until Olivia on the other side’s blonde goodness starts showing and she begins to wonder what’s the what. Unless of course she does the red dye all the time over there…

    • Dicazi

      The red dye was apparently in Altivia’s apartment, so, yew Altivia dyes her hair.

      • Dicazi


  • Gregoire

    BEST SHOW ON TV. Well, at least best sci fi/fantasy show.

    • Ames

      No, you had it right the first time. Best show on TV.

      • Addison


      • ajmalzx

        Tru dat!

      • Adroc

        Not better than Mad Men or Breaking Bad. Sorry.

  • kirb

    How did you miss that Bell BUILT HER RIGHT HAND?

  • Leithen

    Also, why is this recap up before the show airs on the West Coast?

    • allie08

      the bigger question is why are you reading spoilers before they air? Those of us on in other time zones want to discuss the show – log off and come back on when your show airs! Come on, you have the control!

      • Leithen

        I’m not in the Pacific Time Zone. I’m just considerate of those that are.

      • SilentRage

        …but the only one complaining is you.

      • Leithen

        Asking why is not complaining. It’s asking for a reason.

  • TheWaltenator

    My guess with the music discrepency is that Ken gets to see a “pre”release version of the show for critics/reviewers. Thus, probably for some licensing problem, Ken got Van Morrison but the broadcast audience got Patsy Cline. Either song works for that scene, so no complaints.

    • Chappel

      I wonder if they originally used Brown Eyed Girl for a reason. Don’t the two Olivias have different color eyes?

  • Andrea

    I loved this episode. The guy’s head exploding scared the crap out of me. I know Walter owning Massive Dynamic is going to result into some awesome storytelling. I was disappointed in last week’s episode because the Walter/Peter dynamic is my fav on the show. When we’re on the Other Side, I don’t get to see Walter’s quirkiness. I’m sure next week will be good, but I think I will always prefer the episodes that take place with the characters I have come to know and love.

  • Lunna

    Don’t get me wrong. I love Fringe and I love this episode, but do the writers really expect us to believe that Peter thinks it’s “his” Olivia? She is obviously not the same one. Altivia is always smiling, opens her mouth a little too much when she talks, wears her hair down, likes to dress sexier… How can Peter not tell the difference? And do you really think our Olivia is gonna “get it on” with Peter when they are having a serious conversation? I think not…

    • MayWeeDum

      Again, another person who didn’t pay attention. Did you NOT notice how distracted Peter was? Did you not see the Walter and peter exchange? God, shut up about this stupid peter/altolivia storyline!

      • Gator

        I think you might not be paying attention. You seem to be watching nothing but Peter, and missing the huge differences that everyone else sees in Altivia.

      • MayWeeDum

        Shut up Gator.

      • Leithen

        Wow, MayWeeDum, such a mature response.

      • Ames

        Hey guys, it’s hard enough to find fans of this show to talk about it. I don’t want to come here and read petty bickering. People have favorite parts of the show, they notice certain things. It’s nothing to get upset about.

      • Lunna

        Dude, chill out! You are taking this show a little too seriously.

    • ML

      I agree with you but we notice the huge difference because we see everything that goes on. Altivia did try to cover herself by saying a lot has changed about her after seeing the other side. Peter might just attribute any differences he sees in Olivia (really Altivia) to the crossing over.

    • Wil

      Yeah, the whole episode I was like “c’MON Peter! That’s NOT how Olivia acts! AT ALLLLL…”

    • Nona

      I agree. I understand the reasons the show provides for why no one notices a different Olivia. However, it is really hard and distracting for me to enjoy the plotline. The differences between the Olivias scream out to me. Maybe I should come back to the show after this plotline is resolved.

      • MayWeeDum

        Nona, you are aware of the OTHER storylines right?

      • SilentRage

        Nona how about you just don’t come back at all, no one cares about your distaste, and Mayweedum why do you change your name every week? An indecisive troll is an ineffective one.

    • Melody

      I think there is an inkling in his mind, but it’s not fully formed or understood. We don’t see what we don’t want to see – that’s human nature. It will be Peter who realizes who she is, but it’s going to take time to get past some of these issues. MayWeeDum – please relax, this is a friendly forum. If the audience has issues, it needs to be expressed. It’s good for the audience and good for the writers who do hear about the issues and keep them in mind. Additionally, no one is bashing on Peter/Josh, they are just recognizing issues that they want resolved.

      • marjowil

        There was a least one moment, when he came upon her investigating the apartment after she failed to return Broyles’ call, when Peter seemed to pause and look back at her a moment, like he didn’t completely believe her explanation.

        Also, the fact that they have kissed and become a bit romantic could account for some differences in her; she might be wearing her hair differently or smiling more because she’s attracted to him. I mean, he might be thinking that. It’s only been a few days since the Olivias switched.

      • Trey

        I get the feeling that Peter suspects that she may not be “his” Olivia, but that he’s letting it play out to see where it leads.

      • Temp

        I agree with Trey. I think Peter is suspecting, and is waiting to trap her with some real evidence.

        I thought he caught on in her apt, but didnt want to confront her with just the two of them alone , letst she beat his ass.

    • Vince from NYC

      I think it may be due to the fact that he doesn’t want to see the differences. They are finally hooking up and he’s excited because he’s head over heels in love with Olivia. I think her being so physcally into him is distracting him. Comon, he is a guy afterall.. When they started making out I turned to my wife and asked if it would be cheating if I slept with an alternate version of herself by accident.

      • avidfan

        I wonder what her answer was?

      • Vince from NYC

        TO avidfan: Her answer was more of a look, which if you saw it you’d know not to ask the follow up question I wanted to ask. Which is would she be down for a threesome? FYI, I didn’t ask the question because I like sleeping in the bed, the couch is too bumpy.

    • Alichat

      I think Peter is noticing things. He has questioned some things, and there have been a few subtle looks and eyebrow raises. So, he’s seeing things, but he’s not putting the puzzle together yet. They’ve only been back two days, and his romantic relationship with Olivia is new. So, he’s probably writing off a few things as them having just come back or him seeing a new side of Olivia. I like the subtle moments when he catches something odd, I just hope they don’t drag it out all season.

  • etm

    I don’t watch this show, but I tuned in for my favorite little guy Eric the Midget. He was awesome!! Much better than I thought he’d be.
    Ack Ack

  • kaydevo

    Loved the will-reading scene and Walter’s hug of Nina. Can’t wait to see what Walter does now with M.D. Love that he first shared the news with Astrid. I agree that no one should be fooled for long by this Olivia, she acts very differently from the “real” Olivia. Her “after meeting another Me I feel differently” excuse shouldn’t fool Peter for long.

    • Chappel

      I suspect that the team will be aware that it’s not “their” Olivia before their knowledge of the fact is revealed to us and they will be playing and using her to their own advantage.

      • RickEW

        Chappel has it right. Given the Peter character’s temperament, he may already know there’s something amiss but has kept that suspicion well hidden.

    • jimbo

      Peter is the epitome of subtle. That’s his character. “Acting” has become so bad and “real life” has become so full of acting that people can’t recognize good drama when it hits them over the head. I think it’s entirely possible that Peter is playing with Altivia as much as she is playing with him. Wouldn’t that be consistent with the Peter we know?

  • Wil

    It’s just so PERFECT…one episode is a tale of isolation and confusion, lost identity and the sadness that follows, this week is about the main character being the villain, having to coerce herself into our Olivia’s mannerisms, and while obviously not getting it 100%, she’s got people fooled (and sooooo brilliantly portrayed)…The gross factor and the humor that mainly stemmed from the first season is coming to meet the darker themes of heavier emotion from the second season, and they are all culminating into something great. It’s like every week now it’s a different show, better than the week before.

    • Melody

      Totally agree – it just keeps getting better. Like Ken said, this is a show about family – the family we have and the family we make. Those bonds that tie us all together. With that as the core, this show will always serve the audience well.

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