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Fringe: The Road Not Taken

fringe1Finally! The Observer returns, and that guarantees us a huge dose of weird Fringe goodness . And it’s about time.

A sick, panicked woman runs out of her Manhattan apartment, can’t hail a cab, and hops on a bus that will be stopping at a local hospital. Her body temperature shoots way up, and mid-ride, she alarms the passengers and driver when she bolts for the exit in a full sweat. On the sidewalk, she cries for help, but within moments, Spotted! She overheats and spontaneously combusts, burning to death right there on the Upper East Side.

Before the Fringe-ettes arrive, Broyles recaps ZFT for the audience at home, because if you really think about it, on the surface they’re just a German terrorist organization. But the writers have really made things confusing with all this talk about war, without us knowing who the opponents are. Sound familiar? But we do know we need super-soldiers, or superheroes, or mutants. Take your pick. Nothing on this show is new.

Broyles has the entire Fringe department investigating ZFT and William Bell for concrete links, which sparks a visit by Nina Sharp. It’s been a while. She refutes Broyles’ claim that Bell leads ZFT. Later, we also have the return of Agent Harris (remember him?), still hard-assing Olivia, because…why not? He demands the department back off Bell because of Massive Dynamic’s government contracts. Broyles agrees, and then turns around and tells Olivia to keep searching. Harris, however, knows Olivia too well, and orders her to take a psychiatric exam in order to undermine her authority and emotional stability. I expected more from him. Like re-assigning Olivia to a different department or something.

Meanwhile, Doc finally shares the news about his typewriter and the ZFT manifesto. But he says that it’s Bell’s typewriter (while I always assumed that Doc wrote the manuscript) and that though the document condemns Bell, it’s also missing a chapter on Ethics. Which is hilarious, because if anybody lacks an understanding of ethics, it’s Doc and William Bell. Remember the experimenting on children? Doc believes that someone has removed that chapter to manipulate the manifesto to suit their purposes. He’s convinced he’s hidden another copy of the complete manuscript … and if he finds it, he believes it will absolve Bell. Doc spends the rest of the episode trying to jog his memory.

But the real show goes on with Olivia, who investigates our spontaneous combuster, Susan Pratt. Doc theorizes Susan was a pyrokinetic (but here, at least, the writers acknowledge that they stole, er, borrowed this idea from Stephen King). She was a test subject trying to control her powers, and unable to do so, turned the power in on herself for fear of hurting someone, and ultimately exploded from the built up energy.fringe2

Funnily enough, I recently saw this episode of NCIS, but I’m sure the writers aren’t bumming storylines from them. There are much better sources out there. For example, Olivia realizes that she’s started inexplicably hallucinating (no one makes a connection to Nick Lane, which would seem logical, wouldn’t it?), and thinks that she sees two bodies charred on the UES, instead of the one. She hallucinates a conversation with Broyles, and then hallucinates a vision of Boston burning and in distress. When she finally confides in Doc and Peter, Doc explains that every time we make a choice, there is an alternate decision we could have made. This alternate choice creates an alternate reality. Olivia has experienced these moments before in her other reality; therefore, her hallucinations are actually moments of déjà vu. Or what we like to call, a glitch in the Matrix. Though no one can explain why she experiences them, Olivia believes that if she can use the “hallucinations” to discover the identity of the second body, she will be able to solve the case.

So! At the next opportunity, she lucid dreams her way through the hallucination and discovers that Susan Pratt has a twin sister. Upon being knocked back into her own reality (literally), a quick search locates Susan’s twin, Nancy Lewis. Olivia and Charlie investigate and discover Nancy has been kidnapped. Peter uses his new fake science device to help find the kidnapper’s identity: we can hear sound/conversations recorded from a glass window. No, I didn’t mistype that. Just go with it. The Fringe-ettes listen to the scuffle and kidnapping of Nancy, including the phone tones of a call the kidnapper placed to confirm the abduction. Olivia dials the number, and guess who answers? Harris!

Olivia and Francis tail Harris to a warehouse (!) where he oversees Nancy’s progress – Harris is trying unsuccessfully to “activate” her Firestarter powers to see if she can control them. Meanwhile, Olivia creeps through the warehouse and finds her picture on a wall with other pictures of experimented children (including the Twins). Whoops! Finally, Olivia stumbles upon Nancy, strapped to a bed and panicking. Harris laughs from the other side of a bulletproof window. He locks Olivia in, realizing his win-win situation: Olivia’s presence caused Nancy to panic and activate her powers. Even now, she’s burning up. If she explodes like her sister, then Harris no longer has to worry about Olivia. But if Nancy controls her powers, then Harris can confirm success to his superiors. Olivia helps Nancy focus on calming down and redirecting the heat, and we watch as Harris suddenly starts to sweat, turn red, and spontaneously combust! Twist!

Later, Olivia confronts Doc about the experiments he and Bell conducted on her and other children in Jacksonville. Doc breaks down, and claims they were Bell’s experiments, and they were trying to prepare the children for what is coming…but what it is, he doesn’t know, and he can’t remember exactly what they did to the children. Doc cries, and it’s sad to watch.fringe31

Back at his lab, a somber Doc locates the missing and complete ZFT manuscript. He excitedly reads the chapter on Ethics, and the necessity of protecting and nurturing the children, preparing them so that they can one day protect the rest of us – and then in walks The Observer! He says, “It’s time to go, Walter.” Doc seems at once to know and not know what this means – but he leaves with The Observer nonetheless.

And finally, Nina Sharpe shows up at Broyles’ home for some action – by which I mean, to report a rise in Observer sightings, which signals some event they’ve both seen before. Uh oh! When Nina returns to her own home, she’s met by two men with tranquilizer guns. And no, they’re not just happy to see her.

That sums up all the stuff you need to know. You should also know that Clint Howard guest stars as a conspiracy theorist who believes (correctly) that William Bell is behind all of these human experiments, as he prepares for War … against the Romulans. Then a few Spock jokes, which would be really funny if we all didn’t know that Leonard Nimoy will be playing Bell next week. What great foreshadowing that would have been. Also, I’m a little tired of JJ Abrams’ pimping of the new Star Trek movie. Obviously, I’m a fan of the franchise, but give me a break already. I fast-forwarded through our special sneak peek during tonight’s Fringe because for everything they’re showing us on the gazillion trailers and commercials, I’d like something about the movie to be a surprise.

Also! Speaking of Star Trek, how cool is the alternate reality stuff Fringe has going on? I admit, I’m a fan of this kind of thing. Ordinarily, I’d be all, “Well, how much more random can we get on this show?” but a season worth of paradoxes and time travel on Lost (other devices I usually like) has prepared me for the completely random. Charlie Francis sports a facial scar in Olivia’s alternate reality and he’s even more angry at his supporting role than he usually is (you know Exposition’s like a mad scientist in this world! She probably even has a real speaking part!), and Olivia’s “got half of Boston in quarantine lockdown.”  Uh! Oh!  And the best part? Olivia just phases in and out – no transporter accidents necessary!

How awesome would Season 2 be if they explored this alternate reality? John Scott’s alive, and somebody’s a crazy sex fiend. That’s always the way it is in alternate realities.

And so: in the finale, will Nina Sharp call in that favor Peter owes her? Will Olivia’s stepfather emerge? For that matter, who’s her real father: William Bell or Mr. Jones? If Doc and Bell experimented on siblings, why didn’t they take Rachel? Or have her powers not manifested yet? Is Rachel even Olivia’s real sister?

Next week: The season finale! And possibly, the answers to some questions.

Season 1, Episode 19: The Road Not Taken (originally aired May 5, 2009)

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Tuesdays at 9/8C, Fox

Photographs courtesy of Fox and IMDbPro

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