Boy, one thing you cannot accuse Fringe of is doling out information in teasing little bits. Last night’s episode titled “6955 kHz” presented a large amount of information that I’d call an info-dump if that phrase didn’t mar the elegance, the inventive wit, of what we witnessed.
The hour began with quick scenes of three people, one each in Maine, New York, and New Hampshire, communicating via chat-room about a series of numbers, and just as they seemed on the verge of making a collective discovery about the pattern in those numbers, they suffered sudden attacks of “retrograde amnesia.” They could not recall who they were, let alone what their numbers work was about — a case for Fringe Division. In “our world.”
In the early days of this series, the amnesia would have been a bit of spookiness to be presented before the credits, a case that would be picked up by Olivia and Broyles and solved with the help of Peter and Walter, with a prominent sub-plot that involved the ongoing mythology of the show. In the current, superlative Fringe, the case is the mythology — a vehicle for both an hour’s-worth of exciting mystery-solving (Walter even referred to Peter and Astrid as “Holmes” and “Watson”) and a deeply gratifying enrichment of everything any hardcore Fringe fan has been tracking for lo these many months.
One of the delights of “6955 kHz” was that many key details were provided by characters who don’t often serve that function. For example, it’s Broyles who uses the term “numbers stations” to define what it was that the amnesia-struck people were trying to reconcile (and Fringe did not make up “number stations“). And Nina Sharpe, usually the soul of discretion, said there had been investigations into this phenomena for decades, specifically this evening’s example of “artificially generated voices reciting random numbers.”
Walter, on the other hand, wasn’t immediately spouting theories and dropping wisdom — he was too distracted and upset with Peter for the son’s continued attempts to figure out how the piece of the doomsday device he’d encountered on the Other Side worked. “You might as well be building a nuclear bomb!” and “Your wretched experiment!” were Walter’s mildest imprecations. Pretty soon, however, he was caught up in the week’s case, mostly because it involved tech dear to his countercultural heart: analog, not digital. Thus the line of the night: “I knew my Jimi Hendrix wah-wah pedal would come in handy.” Affixing it to the voice captured on reel-to-reel tape, chattering about ham-radio aficionados, he separated out the numbers and a separate tone, a pulse, implanted to wipe memories clean. This latter effect was added by a shape-shifter who took the form of
Marshall Flinkman Joseph Feller (Kevin Weisman, executing a fine turn as an Other Side soldier), who set off another mind-wipe in a small aircraft and caused the deaths of six people. He reported to Altivia (thus making her at the least an accomplice to murder, let us not ever forget from this point on), and went splat on the sidewalk after he’d exhausted his usefulness to her and would have been a threat to her cover had she not pushed him out a window.
Looking for others who’d been experimenting with “numbers stations,” Peter came across the name of Edward Markham, the querulous book-seller we’ve met in previous episodes such as the great “Bishop Revival,” and locator of a copy of the ZFT manifesto. Altivia, however, doesn’t have a clue who that guy is — another tip-off for Peter that she’s not the girl with whom he thinks/thought he is/was in love. Peter and Altivia’s visit to Markham’s bookstore made me yearn to wander around in its dusty stacks (and that’s a real-life bookstore, bibliophiles!). It also revealed the night’s greatest discovery: The First People, an 1897 book by “Seamus Wiles” (a “wily” fellow, obviously — “Shame us, our wiles”? — but is this also an anagram of some sort?), which chronicles “the first humans to evolve on this planet,” they came “before dinosaurs, [and] vanished without a trace,” but not before creating a mechanism translated into a code that yields “the vacuum, the source of all creation and destruction.” (I’m guessing the First People didn’t simply vanish; they went to the Other Side and lived longer for at least a short while, which helps explain some of the different, sometimes superior technology Over There.)
As I said earlier, key information came from atypical sources this week. It was Astrid who cracked the number code — this was indeed a terrific, almost Astrid-centric episode. She makes the understandable error of telling the Altivia-she-thinks-is-Olivia about her break-through, and maps what the numbers are: coordinates for the locations of the various, scattered pieces of the “device” that Peter and Walternate are trying to assemble. (Note: After finding one in Jersey City, there are only 37 more pieces to go!)
Final scenes: Altivia visiting The Magic Typewriter and in so doing revealing to us that she intended for all of this information to be discovered, and has now been given the order, “Institute Phase Two.” Cut to the Other Side, where Brandonish cancels a think-tank session with Olivia, and her Imaginary Peter appears to her to say it was canceled because Walternate has what he wants, she’s no longer of use to them, and “you have to get out of here… You have to go home.”
Throughout the hour, John Noble in particular provided an emotional through-line. His identification with the amnesia victims was poignant. Walter immediately felt such a kinship to them via his time in St. Claire’s institution, I was almost surprised Peter didn’t make the connection, too. But then, Peter is distracted by his mission and his blinding Olivia-love; as I write that, I realize what a classic romantic-hero protagonist he now is.
• Walter and Nina sharing a joint on a Harvard campus bench and gazing at the students: “When did they become so afraid? We had the courage to think against the grain of what we were told.” Among many other things, Fringe is television’s greatest-ever defense of the baby-boom generation.
• Nina is also suspicious of Altivia, questioning why “Olivia” hasn’t done more to heal the rift between Walter and Peter: “That’s not like you.”
• Walter’s use of the See and Say toy “The Farmer Says” to detect the number stations was sweet, if confusing for Gene the cow, who seemed to wonder where the moo-sound was coming from.
• As Walter gave Astrid a sandwich of avocado, cucumber, and cheese, we learned that in 1974, the CIA asked Walter to develop the best sandwich for clarity of thought. I guess adding mayo clogs the ol’ neurons…
• Peter romancing Olivia with U2 tickets? Altivia thought Olivia would say, “I love U2″? I think this could be viewed as another one of Peter’s tests to see if he had the “real” Olivia or not, and Altivia failed, because our Olivia would, I firmly believe, have snickered at the notion of attending a U2 concert. UPDATE: A wise Commenter has reminded me that Altivia had mentioned U2 previously (“Who is this Bono?”) so I suppose it makes sense that she’d at least feign enthusiasm for attending a concert. I think Walter would be an Edge man…
What did you think of this week’s Fringe?