Last night's Fringe felt pretty run-of-the-mill after the previous week's incredible episode. Olivia dithered, Walter made taffy, and a creepy guy ran around giving people bubble-wrap face. Spoilers ahead...
The most interesting part of last night's Fringe was probably our journey into the center of Olivia Dunham's dysfunctional personality, and her broken relationships. Olivia has been acting weird around Peter since she realized he's actually a freak from another universe, but she promised not to tell him the truth. As she struggles with this decision, we see once again how much of a rootless loner she is, and how hard it is for her to connect with people. And then, finally, she reconnects with Peter — we guess — while deciding, once and for all, not to tell him the truth. (Except that Walter's already made the opposite decision.)
There was nothing wrong with any of this, except that Olivia Dunham turns out — once again — to be a person we're told about more than we see her. Anna Torv stands around, a slightly quizzical expression on her face, as people psychoanalyze her. Bowling Alley Guy spouts trite observations about her. Nina Sharp tells her what she's really thinking. Peter speculates about what's going on in her head. Even Walter has some pertinent observations about Olivia's state of mind. In some cases, this armchair psychoanalysis actually takes place in an armchair. Throughout it all, Olivia sits absolutely still — the chaste, the unexpressive she.
The Fringe Division can solve cases involving mutants, universe-jumping shape-shifting serial killers and guys with cancer hands. But the one mystery that their collective brainpower is unable to make a dent in is the mystery of just what's going on in the head of Olivia Dunham.
A side note: Really. What is it with British and Australian actors being on U.S. television and not being allowed to use their real accents? Some very fine actors seem to be dancing in chains because of the need to fake a Yank accent. Please make it stop. Why is it that television shows seem to think we'll accept people from other universes and visions of the future, but we won't be able to swallow the idea that Brits and Ozzies occasionally move to the U.S. and keep their accents?
Anyway, so Olivia is working through her dilemma about what to tell Peter — and given that she already has a strong hint that Peter's situation is at the root of this whole interdimensional war thing, you'd think she might have bigger fish to fry — when this healthy woman suddenly dies of Instant Cancer. And then it turns out that a lot of other people have gotten Instant Cancer lately, and nobody else has connected the dots.
Things I liked about the "cancer hand" storyline:
1) Walter figured out the basic problem, but then his main strategy for identifying the killer, via a bizarre fingerprinting scheme, turned out to be a bust. It's good that Walter occasionally doesn't produce a magic answer.
2) When it turned out that all of the victims were Cortexiphan subjects, it tied in nicely with the series mythology, and I always like to see a random "monster of the week" episode flip over halfway through and reveal a mythos aspect.
3) Plus this made it personal for Olivia. How is it that she still doesn't have list of Cortexiphan subjects? Also, she was uniquely vulnerable, alone among her colleagues, and her sudden physical vulnerability contrasted with her total lack of emotional openness in a fascinating way.
4) The monster of the week turned out to be just misguided, or something. And there's the deepened mystery of the man who's "activating" Cortexiphan kids.
So yeah, it wasn't exactly a breakout episode or anything. But it was fun, and cancer hands are better than jazz hands. That's scientifically provable, and no doubt Walter would prove it if he were here.