Fringe took on a heavy legacy when it decided to name an episode after one of Philip K. Dick's greatest novels. But last night's spectacular episode actually delivered something approaching a PKD-level of insanity and neuron disruption. Spoilers ahead.
So who's having real emotions in the Fringe-verse, and who's just pretending? Who's a machine and who's a living, breathing, soul-having person? After last night's episode, you'd be hard-pressed to say, with the possible exception of Walter Bishop, who is the heart and soul of the show as always.
Just think about the opening scene of the episode, which feels like a throwaway character moment at first. (Not that character-building moments are "throwaway" per se, but bear with me.) Peter and Fauxlivia are out for a drink, and they're people-watching — and Peter's cynical people-reading skills are a wonder to behold. Who's really feeling an emotion, and who's just involved in a transaction, or a sham? He and Fauxlivia enjoy reducing all the people in the room to a collection of users and used, and unloved lovers, because they're both practiced at using emotions to get what they want — I can't remember the last time this show mentioned that Peter used to be a con-man. The real Olivia, of course, took two years to open up to Peter about her feelings, but this isn't the real Olivia. Peter and Fauxlivia are both super-agile manipulators who can use emotions as tools to get what they want.
This knowledge will come in handy later in the episode.
The next thing we see is an older guy who's buying lemonade from some kids, and taking an almost unreal level of delight in being sweet to them — except that he gets in a car accident, and we soon discover he's not a regular guy at all; he's a cyborg infiltrator, a shapeshifter. This sets up a pattern — we learn, over and over again, that shapeshifters do actually have feelings, and the infiltrators can "go native" to an astonishing degree. The old guy, the Senator, revives after being killed a couple of times when his wife shows up. And then there's the other shapeshifter, who's disguised as a cop, with a wife and a kid. He's instructed, by the head shapeshifter Thomas Newton, to erase his traces (kill his family) and take on a new identity. Leading to this absolutely heart-rending scene:
That storyline, with the shapeshifter cop who's been instructed to get rid of the shapeshifter Senator by any means necessary, had me holding my breath several times in the episode. Including a couple times, when you wonder if the family's going to bite the dust. But also, the only reason Walter Bishop survives this episode is because of that shapeshifter's love for his family — the smart thing to do, for our shapeshifter, would be to take on the identity of the man who has absolute top-level access at Massive Dynamic. You even see the shapeshifter considering it, when he's in an elevator with Walter. The only reason he doesn't is because he wants to go home to that family again.
The only shapeshifter who's really comfortable being a machine, a tool, and a faux human is Newton, who spends the whole episode lecturing everybody else about how to be a good imposter with no real sense of self — and then makes the ultimate sacrifice himself at the end of the episode.
Which brings us back round to Fauxlivia — the episode draws some very sharp parallels between the alternate-universe doppelganger and the cyborgs in disguise. (It could have been clunky and sledge-hammery, but the episode handled the parallels with a super deft touch.) Newton's critiques of Fauxlivia are totally contradictory — first, she's not able to go all the way in gaining Peter's complete trust, which requires her to create a super-strong emotional tie with him. But second, she's too emotional and too attached to ideas of integrity to do what needs to be done. Which is it? For Newton, it's both — Fauxlivia should be able to counterfeit a super-intense emotional connection, without feeling anything at all.
Whereas Fauxlivia is the opposite — she feels too much, but she's not able to make her outward emotional displays convincing. (Part of the problem, of course, is that she's impersonating an icicle.)
The biggest mystery of this episode was exactly what went on with Peter and Fauxlivia — they're both so good at playing games, I'm not sure either of them really knows what games they're playing at this point. Peter practically comes out and tells Fauxlivia he knows she's an imposter, but then he plays it off as if it's just a welcome change. For her part, she announces that she's been lying to him, but then offers sex as an alternative to honesty. It's like they're both enjoying playing each other so much, they don't want to bring it to a close. Which is why that opening scene is so revealing, as they're watching other people playing games around them with a connoisseur's eye.
So who's the machine? The "regular" humans, who are able to master their emotions and lie to themselves, or the shapeshifting cyborgs, who can't let go of the emotional ties they were supposed to be pretending to have? Also in this episode, we have Nina Sharp, who won't acknowledge her own feelings about William Bell's last bequest, Broyles, who's willing to put his feelings for the dead senator aside, and the senator's wife, who's willing to act loving towards a cyborg if it'll get her some answers.
But like I said, Walter is the heart and soul of this show — he's irrepressible in the absolute best way, expressing whatever's going on inside him with almost no filter. This was another classic Walter episode, from the LSD-induced corporate seminar (smelling the guy's hair!) to the weird discussion of dinosaur crackers. We got a blow-by-blow on Walter's hallucinations and his slow coming-down process. I was terrified, yet again, when Walter's head got bashed by the cop.
So it's going to be long, long wait until November 4 — curse you, baseball people! — but at least this episode gave us lots to think about, and the promo that aired afterwards hinted that the Olivia/Fauxlivia status quo is going to get a major shakeup when the show comes back. We've had four of Fringe's finest hours in a row, and I can't freaking wait to see what comes next.
What did you think?