Until recently, Fringe was all about the relationships among its central trio — Walter, Peter and Olivia. Now, everything's changed, and even the Walter-Olivia relationship is a shadow of its former self. Luckily, there's one relationship on the show that's still holding our attention — and it's not one we would have predicted.
The new season of Fringe definitely seems to be taking some time to "click." But at least last night's episode was more interesting than the season-opening "monster of the week" outing. And it's an encouraging sign that we're getting a pretty clever new use of the two universes, and the gateway between them, right off the bat. Last night's episode was all about people meeting their alternate-universe duplicates, and seeing how a different version of your "abusive father figure" storyline could change everything.
And all of a sudden, the relationship between Olivia and Fauxlivia is the main reason to watch Fringe. Anna Torv puts in a virtuoso performance in "One Night in October," playing the two Olivias trying to work together on a case and butting heads. Olivia even watches Fauxlivia put on a wig and do her Olivia impersonation. We get more of the two Olivias acting in scenes together than we've ever seen before, and the results are pretty revelatory — you can really see how Anna Torv changes her body language and her expressions depending on which Olivia she's playing.
And then there's this fantastic moment, where Fauxlivia claims she knows a lot about Olivia's life after living in her apartment, and Olivia just gives her this deadly look.
Over the course of the episode, the two of them seem to gain a bit more respect for each other, especially after Olivia comes up with a way to track down the professor and his serial killer alter ego, by tracing the farm where his/their daddy worked when they were kids. (And one wonders if someone couldn't have thought of that idea before they tried bringing over the professor from another universe?) Fauxlivia comes up with the crazy idea to bring over this other version of their serial killer, but Olivia is the one who makes it work, and salvages the situation after it goes bad. In the end, Fauxlivia starts to understand a bit more about Olivia's inability to trust, while Olivia gains a tiny bit more trust for Fauxlivia.
In last night's episode, we also learned a lot more about what's different in this timeline. Apparently Olivia killed her abusive stepfather instead of just injuring him, as in the original timeline. (Maybe because she didn't meet Peter in that field of white tulips?) And even though Fauxlivia still impersonated Olivia, the details of that event must have been pretty different — last week, Olivia didn't seem to recognize Lincoln Lee from working with him Over There. And now we find out that Alt-Broyles is still alive, meaning he didn't help Olivia escape, or didn't get caught. And as people in comments have pointed out, Fauxlivia is still with Frank — because she never got pregnant with Peter's baby.
Actually, a good question is: Why did Olivia go to the other universe in the first place, if she wasn't going there to rescue Peter?
Meanwhile, the story of the professor and his serial killer alter ego was pretty fun — I liked seeing the professor treat this as a giant ego boost, and then set about profiling someone who's essentially himself with one major difference. "He's very smart. Dinner is important to him." Etc. etc. The idea of a man who studies monsters coming up against the monster he could have been is pretty awesome.
And unlike with the two Olivias, where the reasons for the differences between them remain a bit mysterious, there's a clear-cut difference between Dr. Professor and Mr. Serial Killer — the serial killer version never escaped from his abusive dad and met a woman named Marjorie, who taught him to feel joy and happiness again. Instead, the serial killer version feels so deprived and miserable that he has to go around kidnapping happy people and siphoning off their happiness using a weird machine. When the Professor realizes the truth, he goes off in search of his serial killer alternate, hoping to save him or redeem him or something — but instead, he winds up being the latest head-draining victim.
There's a coda to that story — the Professor loses his memory of Marjorie, the woman who saved him from being a serial killer, but he somehow remembers what she taught him. Meaning that even when someone is erased (like, say, Peter Bishop) something of them remains anyway. Because "people leave an indelible mark on your soul." (Yet another veer into mysticism for this show, I guess.)
But despite that optimistic conclusion, the episode still has a dark cast to it — the Professor fails to save his serial killer alternate, because you can't change what someone has become. Just knowing that things could have been different doesn't actually make them different. So what does that mean for the two Olivias? Once again, Fauxlivia is confronted with the notion that she could have been more fun to be around, although this time there's no Peter to compete over. There's just Lincoln. Who never seems to get the girl.
Meanwhile, poor Walter is relegated to a fairly small "B" plot, where he keeps seeing Peter everywhere he looks — so he's covered up all the reflective surfaces in his lab, and taken to blasting Mozart with as many speakers as he could cobble together. And then at the end, he finally hears Peter calling to him — but in spite of everything else he's seen and heard, he still thinks it's just the latest manifestation of his madness. (Oh, and the fact that we didn't see Walternate at all during our sojourn over there seems significant — is there some reason he's not taking a more active hand in managing his Fringe Division?)
Oh, and yay for alt-Charlie marrying the Bug Lady! I want to see their home life.