If anybody had any doubts that Fringe could make alternating between two universes into compelling viewing, last night's creepy, thrilling episode should have erased them. This show just keeps getting better and better. Spoilers ahead!
There were a million great moments in last night's "The Plateau" — I won't be able to list them all, so please do list the ones I miss in the comments. But the moment I knew I was fully invested in the adventures of the Fringe Division "over there" was when Lincoln Lee cut it a bit too fine going into his hyperbaric chamber for his burn treatments. I knew this was coming, because the episode had signposted it several times earlier on, and I was totally caught up in whether Lincoln would be too late in getting back in the chamber. A character who has no counterpart in "our" universe, someone we've only known for a few episodes, and a member of the "enemy" team — and I was totally concerned for his well-being. Even Walternate, a character who's done very little to seem sympathetic up till now, started to feel more relatable and worthy of rooting for.
So in last night's episode, the "other" Fringe Division investigated a series of apparent traffic accidents that seemed unconnected, except for the presence of a bic pen at the scene. And eventually, this led to a psychopath who'd been upgraded from a 55 IQ to mega-super-genius level, Flowers For Algernon-style. The basic storyline could have been straight out of Fringe season one (apart from no references to The Pattern) but watching the alt-team investigate the case gave it a whole extra dimension. Making the alternate-universe investigators into the "good guys" for a change is a gutsy move, but it totally paid off.
I feel like the characters and their relationships on the other side are already pretty clearly sketched out, including alt-Charlie's borderline sociopathic levels of sarcasm, and Lincoln's cockiness, and Olivia's "daredevil" personality and her unwillingness to take anything too seriously for too long. I would happily watch a whole season of just the alternate-universe Fringe team solving shit against a backdrop of weird differences including the sudden need for oxygen masks and the concerns over molecular cohesion.
The holy grail of series television, it sometimes seems, is a police procedural that includes science-fiction elements from time to time — and Fringe has tried to be this at various times. But the show's seldom felt closer to that ideal than it did last night, with the police procedural just happening to take place in an alternate universe, with a psycho-killer whose abilities were, well, fringey. I wish we could sit everyone who watches CSI: New Jersey down and make them watch this show.
So the "B" plot was all about the incredibly flimsy brainwashing of Olivia to believe she's Fauxlivia. Olivia's seeing flashes of Walter and Peter. Alt-Charlie suspects the truth. The incredibly studly alt-Broyles worries about putting a quasi-imposter on his team. And Walternate is making plans to convince Olivia to undergo a series of tests to see how she can cross between universes. Only Lincoln, the guy who can figure out all this other stuff effortlessly, suspects nothing.
So we mentioned Walternate was starting to feel more sympathetic — this little flinch he gets when Brad mentions using Peter's clothes was great. And so was his whole demented routine about how he's still a scientist — just with a much larger laboratory. And he wants to put Olivia into a sensory deprivation tank, just like the other Walter.
In the end, the "A" plot and the "B" plot collide nicely, with Olivia surviving the psycho killer's death trap because she's not really from this universe and she doesn't know the whole "oxygen mask" protocol. Okay, so the final scene where Imaginary Peter macks her and spells everything out for the slow viewers was a bit clunky, but still — this was overall awesome.
So now Olivia is going to be pretending she's still fully brainwashed to be Fauxlivia — while Charlie's trying to figure out the truth, and alt-Broyles and Walternate watching for any signs that the brainwashing didn't take. But first, we're back to "our" universe, where Fauxlivia is worried about getting caught out too. Can't wait!
But what did you think?