'Fringe' recap: 'I knew my Jimi Hendrix wah-wah pedal would come in handy'

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.

Fringe benefits:

• 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?

Twitter: @kentucker

Comments (164 total) Add your comment
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  • Lou

    Seamus Wiles is an anagram of Samuel Weiss aka Sam Weiss aka bowling alley guy from S2! Who previously said “Oh, I don’t know. I’m older than I look” A surviving member of the First People? Would explain why that book knew so much.

    • Ken Tucker

      Good on you, Lou! Thanks!

      • jon

        So, if the first people came before the dinosaurs, that would make their race over 230 millions years old. And if they all migrated to the other side, then does that mean the alternate universe’s civilisation is that old? Or maybe they developed their superior technology after going to the other side, but all died out anyway afterwards.

      • Darth Vader

        Impressive…most impressive

      • Admiral Ackbar

        It’s a trap!!!

    • Anjali

      Yep. Figured that out as soon as I saw the name!
      I knew Weiss would be back… can’t wait!!

    • tracy bluth

      Wow, that’s awesome! I do hope Sam will be back soon.

    • justin

      Holy Cow! Nice catch! Didn’t even realize that.

    • Rabbit

      You. are. brilliant. I didn’t catch that.

    • cfkane

      Wow. Nicely spotted. This good show has become so very very good this year that I so wish more people were watching. Lots of folks who would love this are missing out.

    • tipsy

      You are on the money about the anagram and I hope he is one of First People because it`s funny that they are actually like this guy.

    • Jessica

      Either he’s a first person, or just a shape-shifter planted on our side. Either way, I’m SUPER excited!!! This is the best show on TV right now. It’s come sooo far since its somewhat rocky 1st season.

    • Melody

      That is a very cool discovery. I’m all a tingle. I’ve been waiting to see Sam Weiss back in the show….he’ll have plenty to say.

    • erin

      If there is one person that could figure out that it isn’t our Olivia, it would be Sam Weiss. I still can’t believe that Peter can be a genius and yet have NO clue that it’s the hoe-livia.

    • Emily

      I can’t remember which episode it was, but Sam Weiss showed up in an anagram in an episode last season, too. On the Other Side, Walternate walked into a lab, and an anagram for “Don’t Trust Sam Weiss” was clearly written on a blackboard near the door (don’t remember the exact wording–something with ‘dragon’ in it, though). I’m hoping that is a hint that Walternate shouldn’t trust him, though…I still think he’s on Our Side, in more ways than one.

    • Mike

      Nice catch!

    • Seamus Wiles

      I can’t believe Walter read my book when he was taking care of business in the toilet. I guess the subject matter caused his bowel movement.

    • angeler

      ahhhh, I love it! Just when I thought I couldn’t geek out anymore over this show. so fantastic. I totally want Fauxlivia to run into the bowling alley guy- he’ll see right through her!

  • psb1962

    great….i cannot wait til next week..looks like our olivia may be on her way home!!

  • Sharon

    There were so many tests for Bolivia in this episode! I almost thought she wasn’t going to remember the number sequence in “The First People”, but alas, she did. I hope Peter noticed that she didn’t blurt them out as fast as Olivia does. :)

    • CountryClub

      Yes, I think his skim milk comment was also a test.

      • lilian

        They do somehow seem like tests, but that is probably because we, the viewers, are super alert to anything that might let Peter know in on the truth. I don’t think his character is suspicious at all – more like blissfully happy in love!

  • Nick

    I loved how much screen time Astrid got. I always get the feeling that she’s underutilized on the show, and this ep gave her a chance to be awesome. And yes, the ep was amazing, no question there :) I didn’t even remotely make the First People/Over There correlation. Good on ya!

    • Rush

      The fact that Altivia suggested Astrid work on the code is another tell. She assumed Astrid serves the same function as “Mentat” in our universe that she does in the B universe.

    • JFWilder

      Seems to me that Astrid looks a bit more aged than in previous episodes…more than just a bit. Not just aged…but less bubbly perhaps? More sophistcated or something…just can’t put my finger on it, but definite difference.

      • Rabbit

        More stressed out, for sure. She’s cute when she’s grumpy. ^^

      • Butterscotch

        She was more serious I think because of the mental work she was doing on the #’s code. Also, I think she’s quiet for Walter’s sake while he’s coming to terms with Peter’s tinkering of the device in his lab. She’s still the same Walter-nurterer to me.

      • LezLoverGal

        The actress portraying Astrid, Jasika Nicole, is a lesbian. She’s an enigmatic and vulnerable character with compelling smarts. Love her!!! \(^_^)/

    • ace

      astrid is definitely underutilized. i hope at some point we get a truly astrid centric episode where we learn a little bit more about her life outside of fringe division.

  • Leithen

    In re: the U2 thing, they made a point in an earlier episode to point out that the other universe Olivia had no clue who they were — Walternate apparently has never heard “With or Without You”

  • trish

    “Shame us, our wiles!” That’s brilliant! It’s gerat how this show is peppered with little gifts like these!

  • CMU

    “Boy, you cannot accuse Fringe of is doling out information in teasing little bits.”
    This is not a correct sentence, Ken. Maybe “Boy, one thing you cannot accuse Fringe of…”

  • Lunna

    I think this is the best episode of the season so far. What I loved most about it was that no character was neglected. Astrid finally got to do some relevant work and Nina talking with BOlivia and then to Walter were great character interactions.

    P.S. I began watching Fringe since the second season, so maybe I’m missing something here, but… Was there ever “anything” between Walter and Nina? There just seems to be something very deep-rooted about their relationship.

    • Brigid

      Nothing was really suggested in the first season that I can remember, but did you see the episode where Walter took Peter from the other side?
      Season One did have some Nina/Broyles smooching.

    • darthwilson

      They have alluded to there being some sort of past relationship but that’s it.

    • majamababe

      If you missed the first season, you really need to watch. There is a lot of background information that you are missing. I’m not sure if you can watch it on Fox.com, but I think the 1st season DVD is out. It would really be worth your time to watch.

    • trish

      I think they were two of the dynamic trio: William Bell being the third. There’s an intimacy between them and in the past, Nina’s disclosed she spent a lot of time with young Peter riding horses and she was close enough to Walter to be one of only two attendees at Peter’s funeral besides Walter and his wife.

      • TC

        Anyone think that Nino could be Peter’s biological mother, in an egg-donor sort of way?

  • Austin

    Thank you, Ken Tucker! I am a baby boomer who agrees with almost everything you write (and who loves Fringe)but your observation that “Fringe is television’s greatest-ever defense of the baby-boomer generation” is an instant classic.

    • Sean Murdock

      Of course, Fringe is also a great CONDEMNATION of the baby boom generation, when you consider that Walter’s 1970s experiments were often heinous in a human-rights sense, and that he ultimately almost ripped the universe in half. His free-spirited, we-can-do-ANYTHING attitude was very boomer-ish, and also very reckless.

      • Aimee

        This episode was about Baby Boomers finally giving the reigns to the tail-end of Gen-X. It is up to Peter now to fight for the future. He will be a better man than his father.

        As a 32 year old, I certainly understand this.

      • Aimee

        “Reins” or “Reign” works, I suppose.

  • tracy bluth

    Another great episode! I also enjoyed the focus on Astrid. I really hope Olivia is able to find another way back “Over Here”!

    • alexmom22

      Love that Astrid got to shine in this one. She didn’t just stand in Walter’s shadow. I love how Walter takes a paternal pride in Astrid’s insights.

  • Laurette

    Bolivia said she liked U2 because, if you recall, she was enamored of Bono when she was learning about our universe. Obviously, since then she’s investigated Bono and learned to love U2. So, her delight at the U2 tickets was genuine.

    • slacker

      Of course, you realize, the reason things are so messed up on the other side is they have no Bono. Were it not for him, we’d all be frozen in Amber.

      • Leithen

        Now, now….Larry Mullen, Jr. could just as easily be reason our universe isn’t falling apart…

  • Brigid

    Love, love, loving this season. The dramatic irony right now with Bolivia is fantastic. All those little things Bolivia keeps doing incorrectly are amazing. And Nina knows, Nina totally knows. I hope there’s a Nina/Bolivia showdown in the next episode, I’m not sure what else (except Olivia returning) would make me happier heading into the midseason break.

    • Assturd

      Bolivia is getting really desperate to hang on ther secret, and she is getting careless in taking out those who could expose her. I think Bolivia will meet her Waterloo in Nina, when she tries to take her out.

  • Marion

    I love how compelling the storytelling is on this show and the little rewards from all the clues that connect to things far back in the series. I liked all the tests that Altivia had this week. Peter must know by now! I can’t wait until next week, looks like it’ll be Oliva’s homecoming.

  • lostforever

    The number stations reminded me of the numbers being transmitted on Lost. Some of the numbers were the same to. A shout out to Lost perhaps?

    • Bishop

      Numbers stations exist. I’m pretty sure Fringe used real numbers transmissions in a couple of scenes. You can find the recordings on a 4-CD set called “The Conet Project.”

    • Stella

      That is what I said to my husband as soon as I heard them.

    • Anitamargarita

      I had the same thought. It is the only reason I thought number stations might be a real th because it had been utilized in other shows. But then I realized the two shows have the same creator… but thanks, Ken, for that confirmation. That’s the kind of info I want recappers to share.

  • J

    I cracked up when the pilot started screaming and holding his head, because, as a passenger, that’s not something you want to see!

    • Denim

      All of my quetsoins settled-thanks!

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