'Fringe' recap: 'Real is just a matter of perception'

In the alternating schedule of the alternating-universe season of Fringe, this week’s hour took place on the “other side,” where our Olivia has been steadily absorbing the memories of her swaggering counterpart. We followed a Fringe Division case all the way through the hour, about a man who can start chain reactions that result in death.

Most of the mythology aspects of the episode were front-loaded at the start of the hour:

So the Secretary/Walternate has clued in Col. Broyles (is it my imagination, or does Lance Reddick get more buff with every episode?) to the idea that he’s keeping Olivia here because she can cross back and forth between worlds, and he wants to extract this knowledge from her. If, in the meantime, she can be used to solve Fringe cases, so much the better, right?

This week’s episode, entitled “The Plateau,” was at once cool-looking, heart-tugging, and pretty simple, compared to first-rate previous Fringe heart-tuggers such as “White Tulip,” the Peter Weller dilly last season. In this one, Milo, who’d been subjected to experiments with smart drugs, caused the deaths of some of the researchers who were trying to wean him off those drugs. If the crimes’ M.O. was a bit awkward — seems like a lot of trouble to keep arranging death-by-city-bus — the added detail of Milo using a ball-point pen, an item of great rarity in the alt-universe, was a nice touch.

One of the constants in Fringe is the notion that experiments involving human subjects tend to result in enormous pain and suffering, even death. Whether it’s a Fringe Division case like this one or the overarching theme of Olivia’s Cortexiphan injections in Jacksonville, messing with minds is usually tragic.

Kudos to the casting this week: Michael Eklund, who played Milo, looked like Ethan Hawke crossed with Peter Berg — spindly, intense, and nicely chilling when he made an escape from Olivia by jumping onto the roof of a bus, waving at her with a thin smile. (Speaking of similarities, am I the only person who thought Seth Gabel as a damaged-skin Lincoln Lee looked a bit like a mottled Joel McHale?)

I’m really enjoying the return of Kirk Acevedo. Charlie’s scene with Lincoln, in which the former expresses his nagging doubt about Olivia — “What if it’s not the real her?” — had a beguiling, easygoing rhythm. Also striking was the scene near the end, with Olivia’s vision of Peter, the trick-truth her memory played on her as she heard him say, “Real is just a matter of perception… You can’t forget where you’re from,” culminating in a dreamy kiss. The reality vs. perception message can also extend back to “our” world; it made me think of all those years Walter spent in St. Claire’s Hospital, parsing his own reality.

Speaking of Walter, I have to say, as much as I enjoyed this week’s episode, the coming attractions for next week — an adventure set in this world with more Peter and more Thomas Jerome Newton, with the playfully Dick-ian title “Do Shapeshifters Dream of Electric Sheep?” — seemed even more exciting.

Fringe observations:

• Olivia’s boyfriend Frank is heading off to Texas to deal with an outbreak of smallpox. Does this mean there’s an alt-world Jenny McCarthy?

• Charlie kidding Lincoln about his “Vulcan mind-meld” with Olivia rang J.J. Abrams/Star Trek bells all over Fringe fandom.

• The alt-world’s “compromised air quality,” signaled by an “auburn diamond,” at which point everyone is supposed to grab some oxygen, is further proof of that Earth’s degraded quality.

• Secretary/Walternate’s order to Brandon to “submerge the subject in water” is a call-back to all those times when Olivia has been submerged in Walter’s tank.

What did you think of this week’s Fringe?

Follow: @kentucker

Comments (157 total) Add your comment
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  • Vivian

    I LOVED the episode. The pen thing was hilarious. Fringe has really found its stride.

    • AcaseofGeo

      I gave up on FRINGE the very second they started an “alternate universe”. That theory is absolutely ridiculous! There are sooooo many variables that not one single person that exists today in either place would exist in the other!!!!! Calamities, choices, weather, etc would completely nullify the possibility of any person’s lineage from the beginning of time up to the present as having the same exact characters existing in both and being able to “cross over”. STUPID DUMB IDIOTIC UNINTELLIGENT PANDERING STUPIDITY. Otherwise, Fringe was an intriguing show. My proof need only be seen in its desparately sagging ratings.

      • Dwight K Schrute

        Congratulations! You’re an idiot.

      • K

        You do know what Science FICTION is, right?

      • peg

        OMG – this isn’t REAL?!?! Somebody just made up the whole alternate uni thing?!?
        I suppose next you’re going to say that Olivia isn’t real, she’s just, oh I dunno, someone pretending to be Olivia?
        Well, I know she’s real – I can see her, right there on my TV.

        You want real, go watch Jersey Shore – the scariest show on TV. and ridiculous.

      • Jeff

        Troll – why bother posting if you don’t watch it?
        And when you say it’s ridiculous, I assume you’re all read up on string theory and multiverses?

      • darthwilson

        You do know that most scientists/physicists believe in mutli-versese right?

      • Shaun

        And, of course, no other science fiction has ever, ever, used the conceit of an alternate universe, or many alternate universes before, right? Nope, not Star Trek, not in DC comics, nor any of a number of SF novels. Not even once!

        Let’s forget, for one moment, that Fringe has shown us a great many differences between the two worlds already, and we’ve also seen that not everyone in one world exists in the other. The fact remains that the show, for the get-go, was a sci-fi program. You can accept weird monsters of the week, the Observers and shape-shifters and all that, but you can’t accept an alternate universe? If you can’t have some fun with that, perhaps this isn’t the show for you? Don’t worry, American Idol will (unfortunately) be back soon enough, if you find that more to your liking.

      • Shaun

        It should also be noted that the falling ratings can be attributed to a number of things, including stupid people not having the patience to follow the intricacies of the shows more serialized approach now, and that Thursday timeslot is brutal in terms of competition on the other networks. It was doing much better when it was on Tuesdays.

        More people are probably choosing to stream the show online, download it from iTunes (where it ranks among the more popular shows), or wait for the DVDs. Same thing happened to Lost over time, so I’m hoping FOX is taking all of this into account and will keep the show around.

      • JasonInDFW

        There are an infinite number of alternate universes. Therefore, there would an infinite number with Olivia and an infinite number without her.

      • Sooze

        Hey guys: Why bother?

      • Lisa

        You find the notion of an alternate universe unacceptable but not a baby who ages 80 years in a few minutes, or a woman who emits enough radiation to kill everyone around her or how about a guy who transforms into a slimy, horrible creature on a plane. No. It was the alternate universe that did it for you because THAT’s absolutely impossible, or as you put it so eloquently, “STUPID DUMB IDIOTIC UNINTELLIGENT PANDERING STUPIDITY.” Hm interesting AcaseofGeo.

      • Melody

        Actually, the ratings increased this week.

    • Emm

      I thought the pen was horrific! Not just how he used it, but also the fact that everyone seems to love the AltU because it seems so fun and tech advanced, but they don’t have pens, there are smallpox outbreaks in Texas, at least one common produce item is in limited supply, the government is using people for experimental drug tests involving their minds and then wiping them ‘clean’ afterwords, thousands of people have basically been instantaneously frozen for years, and they don’t even have enough oxygen!

      • Dicazi

        The AU was never presented as a Utopia. Certain things are supposed to be worse there.

      • Dicazi

        Else there would not be a storm (war) coming between us and them.

  • sidsy

    spot on. except it’s white tulip I’m pretty sure.

    • Svetlana

      You are right, it was white tulip. Loved that episode.

  • Miranda

    So so so good!

  • reflection

    “compared to first-rate previous Fringe heart-tuggers such as “White Orchid,””

    Is that the alternate universe title? Because over here it’s called “White Tulip”…

    Despite that slight mistake, this was a great review for a fantastic episode. Thanks!

  • chocolateislove

    Really great episode. Watching it made me realize how much I missed Charlie. It was really good stand-alone but, the hallucination with Peter at the end was a really nice treat.

    • Svetlana

      I was thinking the same thing about Charlie. I hope they find a way to bring him back to the other side. Also, Am I the only one that doesn’t get the Jenny McCarthy reference?

      • Chloe

        No, you’re definitely not alone, I’m as confused as you are. But this episode was really good, what I watched of it. It makes me regret I’ve been missing Fringe. I have to go catch up.

      • Bosey

        I think that it has to do with vaccinations, Jenny McCarthy is a public face for the no vaccine argument…

      • Janie

        Jenny McCarthy is against innoculations – like the one for smallpox. She believes it can trigger autism. Her son is autistic and she is a very vocal on the subject.

      • AcaseofGeo

        Autism, like ADD, is completely over diagnosed. Many many many kids who have neither are diagnosed with them and it takes away from the seriousness of the affliction to those who truly have them.

      • Charlie

        acaseofgeo, you have no idea what you are talking about. Autism is pretty serious, ADD can be harmful as well. Why are you even on this page if you are hating on Fringe, and ADD/Autism? Go watch Jersey Shore and true life ya Turd Sandwich!

      • Jay

        @acaseofgeo.

        I have two nephews, one with ADD and one with autism. Thanks to them being diagnosed they are both getting the treatments and help that they will need to succeed in life.

        I think it’s probably better to be a little more sensitive to people with issues and give help those on the “fringes” of the spectrum, than to underdiagnose them and have those people struggle through life.

  • JaySin420

    This is the best show on all of tv, it’s just a shame more people don’t watch it.

    • Melissa

      Thank you so much for pointing this out! Sadly for me, I watch way too much tv, and yes, this IS the best show on. I just don’t get why its not super popular.

    • davey

      This is the only show I watch live. I tape all my other shows and watch when I have time. I always try and make Fringe appointment T.V. Olivia is so good this season.

      • Jay

        Anna Torv is great as Olivia and Fauxlivia.

  • dropper

    Another fantastic episode of Fringe. It’s a shame this show does not get the recognition it deserves.

  • bell

    It’s really North Texas

    • julie

      And is North Texas a separate state?

      • Jeff
      • mike

        could be “over there”

      • josephrileyland

        i think it is a separate state “over there.” there’s a huge map in Walternate’s office.

      • Shaun

        In last season’s finale, there was a large US map in Walternate’s office… Two major differences included some, perhaps all, of California gone, and Texas divded up into two different states.

      • Emm

        OMG! If I was from the alt-world I’d basically live right next to the beach (I love how they actually incorporated all those fears about how eventually half of CA will break away)! Maybe I shouldn’t hate the Alt U so much!

  • Andrea

    I liked this episode a lot. Olivia’s hallucinations of Walter and Peter were a nice touch. I also thought the inclusion of the ballpoint pen was brilliant. It is a very likely possibility that they will become obsolete in the future (which is weird to think about).

    • PSac

      My wife had an interesting point. The pen was obsolete, but the dry erase marker (for the fridge white board) is not. Why would that be? Doesn’t make sense.

      • Dicazi

        I’ve read alot of schools don’t teach cursive anymore.

    • Melody

      Practically obsolete now. My son hates having to write out his Algebra homework, it makes his hand cramp!! As much as I love my laptop, there is still something special in my opinion when taking pen to paper.

      • Ne Oublie

        I agree that handwritten notes and letters are lovely. But sadly it is a dying art form. It’s the consequences of technological advancements, unfortunately. Although currently there are guidelines, there will be MAJOR ethical battles in the future concerning technological issues.

  • danny

    This was a wonderful sci-fi twist on Flowers for Algernon.
    I loved it.

    • cocojohn

      Flowers for Algernon is classic science fiction; this was a nice tip of the hat to it.

    • Dicazi

      And they even used the split screen thing that the movie “Charlie” used. And it fit so well

      • Trill

        Loved the used of the split screen!

      • Trill

        Loved the use of the split screen!

  • Kaiulani

    Fringe is really hitting it’s stride. This is the one show that I watch live instead of DVR each week.

    • ajmalzx

      Amazing episode!! One of the best show on TV of the week. Hopefully it’s budget didnt get sliced like in season 2. But it seems like when it’s budget got sliced that the writing really improves tremendously!
      Must see TV of the week, you cant DVR this show…

      • Shaun

        Sure you can DVR it… Just press the right buttons and you’re all set.

        Seriously though, why not DVR it? It means I can watch each episode more than once, and watch for clues, etc., that might not be apparent the first time around. There really isn’t much else I watch anyhow.

    • Alichat

      I DVR it and watch it live! It has become my favorite show. I LOVE that Peter is the anchor for Olivia’s mind to her reality. Fringe seems to be doing a great job of balancing the science, heart, and romance in the show. The end scene with Olivia’s mind speaking to brainwashed Olivia in the form of Peter. Fantastic way to interject a romantic and touching moment into all the sci-fi.

      • Lainey

        The whole idea of her subconscious “speaking” to her in the forms of visions of Peter & Walter really took me back to season one when Olivia thought she was having visions of her ex.

      • Casey

        I love Peter being her anchor too! It’s all very touching and romantic without while keeping with the show’s tone. I can’t believe I missed so many episodes last season. I’m definitely going to keep up now.

  • steve

    Agreed, great episode! Fringe is by far my favorite show on TV these days, sci-fi or otherwise ;)

  • Dee

    Ethan Hawke crossed with Peter Berg is a perfect description of that guy. i’ve been wondering the same thing all night.

  • Heather

    I have to say that this episode intrigued me the most so far for this season. Fringe blows all other sci-fi/criminal procedurals outta the water. Thanks Fringe writers for ringing my Pavlovian bell. Can’t wait for next week!

  • psb1962

    I LOVED IT..THIS SERIES IS EVEN BETTER THAN THE EARLY YEARS OF THE X-FILES WAS…

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