Last night's Fringe was full of unspeakably random plot twists, but also full of beautiful character moments — especially this one, where Walter tries to bond with Olivia over being non-neurotypical.
I won't know for a while whether last night's episode really made sense, but this moment and a few others will stick in my mind regardless. Spoilers ahead!
So it occurs to me that one drawback of having a show where only three characters (plus two doppelgangers) really matter is, there's only so many bizarre twists about each character you can serve up. Unlike, say, Lost, which had a ginormous cast of major and semi-major characters, and therefore could reveal that Jack or Locke or Sawyer or Hurley had some hitherto-unsuspected importance in this week's mystery.
When every mystery revolves around the Bishops and Olivia Dunham, your shocking revelations are going to have to involve one of those three people. And when you need to identify the surprising person who's able to serve as a failsafe for your I-can't-believe-it's-not-a-doomsday-machine (ICBINADM), it's never going to be Astrid or Broyles, for some reason. It's doing to be one of those three.
At least, the revelation that Olivia, on top of all the other demented stuff we've learned about her, also has a special relationship with the ancient machine, makes a tiny amount of sense. Because it's true that Olivia does have the ability to move between universes, and it's also true that she's demonstrated telekinetic abilities in the past. So you can just about buy that some ancient graphomaniac prophet might have foreseen her peculiar combination of skills.
Olivia turning out to be the key to controlling the ICBINADM wasn't the only twist last night that felt a bit, shall we say, off kilter. There was also the long-awaited revelation about Sam Weiss the bowling alley savant, and how he knows so much — turns out his ancestor, also called Sam Weiss, had dug up a book, and then two more generations of Sam Weisses had searched for the missing pieces of that manuscript. And after that, another Sam Weiss had written all the First People books. Why did the Legion of Sams devote generations and generations to studying and spreading clues about a random manuscript they dug up? We may never know.
Random plot thread #3 — which may possibly pay off next week — was Peter's amnesia. He wakes in the hospital and seems confused, taking a cab all the way to NYC and then buying a silver dollar for luck, before going to Liberty Island and looking for Walternate. And then one of two things happens: Either Peter gets his memories back and returns to normal, or he's just pretending to be back to normal, and he's still just looking for Walternate, his real dad. If it's the former then the "amnesia" plotline was even more random than all the others. If it's the latter, then I guess the machine did something weird to him and flipped the universe-orientation of his brain or something. Either way, it was confusing, but maybe next week it'll all fall into place.
But like I said, last night's episode was really all about the amazing character moments, and not so much about the seat-of-the-pants "we found another drawing" plotting. And Walter attempting to bond with Olivia over being broken — while apparently forgetting that it was mostly he who broke her in the first place — was absolutely priceless. But in that scene and some of the other scenes that followed, we also got the culmination of a theme that the show has been working into a lot of episodes: Walter (and William Bell) believed that Olivia was special all along. And Walter has total faith in Olivia's abilities as well as her strength of will.
As Walter says to Olivia in a later scene: "You don't fail." Aww. It's actually really sweet that, as damaged as he is, he is able to muster that much faith in her.
Olivia proves that she's got the right stuff by finally getting the telekinetic quantum-entangled typewriter to start tapping out the phrase "BE A BETTER MAN THAN YOUR FATHER" over and over — which is the phrase that Olivia said, in Greek, when she woke up after returning from the Other Side for the first time, back in "A New Day in the Old Town." And it's the phrase that Fauxlivia failed to recognize, which gave her away. Right about now, of course, is when we might be finding out if Peter can really be a better man than either of his fathers.
Another nice character moment: Astrid moves past just making sure that Walter gets food (although was I the only one who craved tapioca pudding and artificial fruit cocktail after this episode?). When Walter decides he's just going to sit by Peter's side and wait for the world to end, she gives him a kick in the ass and convinces him to go do that crazy empiricism thing he does. Which winds up buying the East Coast a little more time, thanks to his deduction that the ICBINADM needs to be moved to Liberty Island so it's in the same location as the machine on the Other Side. Which also winds up being convenient for Peter, since he's already gone to Liberty Island.
So Peter, for the second week in a row, prepares to go inside the machine, and we're still not sure if his brain is scrambled or whether he's turned evil, or what. (I had a fleeting thought that maybe his head trauma had made him decide he loves Fauxlivia after all, thus ensuring that the other universe would survive instead of "ours.") And then the show serves up a smorgasbord of clips from past episodes, which is usually television code for "this character is about to die." Which, all told, is a nice fake-out.
Because Peter doesn't die, of course — unless the last moment of the episode is an even weirder afterlife experience than Lost gave us. Instead, he's zapped 15 years into the future, where everything is post-apocalyptic. (Peter does not gaze around him and shout "Yatta!", however.) What's going on? The only clues are a plaque commemorating 9/11 and a new rebuilt Twin Towers (which I guess means it's our universe) and the fact that Fringe Division has apparently become huge and militarized.
So I guess this is the next mind-frakking change in the show's premise, after the introduction of a second universe. But is this going to wind up making sense, the way the "two universes" bombshell did? We'll learn more next week. Here's your first heartbreaking clip from next week's season finale: