So what does an extra-long episode of Fringe look like? Well, sort of like a regular episode, although bloated. Only fitting to show such an episode just before Thanksgiving, really. This week’s outing could be compared to your Uncle Ted about an hour after ingesting his body weight in cranberry sauce: not exactly the shining example of "the more, the merrier." While individual elements were interesting, tonight’s episode showed that sometimes less is indeed more.
Let’s start with the good: finally placing Massive Dynamic at the center of the conspiracy. Sure, the corporation has danced around the edges of The Pattern to date, but by episode’s end we had a good and proper antagonistic relationship between Olivia Dunham and Nina Sharp. Awesome. About time. This particular pairing works on several levels. For one, it gives Olivia’s character focus. For too many episodes, she has essentially sat on the sidelines while the Bishop Boys did all the cool, fun, sexy stuff. And secondly, her stake in this struggle is personal: in learning about Sharp’s true motives, she hopes to eventually learn about John Scott’s true motives.
What brought John back into Olivia’s consciousness? Why, the Pattern of the Week, of course. This week’s edition? Something concocted by a person who clearly admired the film Young Sherlock Holmes. After all, both that film and tonight’s episode featured a toxin that literally scares people to death. Of course, the Holmes version merely caused people to unwittingly commit suicide. Fringe took this idea and gave it the little extra J.J. Abrams zing: this time around, the fear biologically manifests itself within the victim. So, if you think you’re being attacked by killer butterflies, well, your body will start tearing itself to shreds from the inside out. Fringe science: it’s faaaaaaaantastic!
Turns out the victim of this particular Butterfly Effect, one Mark Young, once worked with John Scott. We know this thanks to Olivia’s re-entry into Walter Bishop’s Mystery Tank, in which she went daydreaming through the memories obtained from John in the series premiere. Confused? Don’t worry: the takeaway is that while Olivia dreamed a little dream, she located a smuggler named George Morales, whom she later identified in the real world thanks to Young’s cryptic "MONARCH" reference in his weekly planner. Turns out "MONARCH" was Morales’ phone number, and not a shout-out to television’s best baddie. Oh well.
Dunham soon had Morales in custody. Case closed, right? Wrong. Turns out Morales has some info for Dunham: The Pattern is simply a "smokescreen" perpetrated by Massive Dynamic in order to run rampant and do whatever it wants. "Massive Dynamic is hell, and it’s founder, William Bell, is the Devil," he tells Olivia. Why does he trust her? Because John Scott did. Altogether now: awww. Morales’ words seem to carry some weight, as he fell victim to the same toxin as Young while Dunham interrogated Nina Sharp and her Wonder Woman-esque bracelets of power. (Seriously: in every scene tonight, she wore ridiculous, gauntlet-esque bracelets. I couldn’t tell if she was running a company or attending a Renaissance fair.)
Now, is Massive Dynamic truly behind all this? After all, Broyles told Dunham a few episodes ago that the Pattern was the byproduct of various scientific cells around the world using the world as their laboratory. Both Broyles and Morales can’t be right. So who is? Here’s a hint: no large corporation in the history of popular culture has ever, EVER been a force for truth, justice, and the goodness in this world. Even when governments go corrupt in mass entertainment, it’s due to interference from nefarious corporations. So I’m gonna go out on a limb here and call Massive Dynamic capital-E Evil here.
Now, is Broyles consciously lying to Dunham? Doubtful. But we know he’s in constant contact with Nina Sharp, and we know he can’t even detect that his friend Mitchell Loeb is a mole. So perhaps Broyles isn’t exactly the safest source for canonical mythology for us, the viewing audience. This weakens Broyles slightly as a character, but come on: this is Lance Freakin’ Reddick here. If he learns that he’s been played, there will be no small amount of great vengeance OR furious anger. More than likely, the tension between Dunham and Broyles over Massive Dynamic’s role will boil over the tipping point (hello, February sweeps), only to have him come around and save Dunham from certain Dynamic doom later on (hello, May sweeps).
With the focus so heavily on Dunham this week, the Bishop Boys were left with little to do. After last week’s Walter-centric episode, it makes sense that he stayed in the background for the majority of this edition. At least he got a nice moment of almost paternal care for Olivia at the end when he refused a third trip into the Mystery Tank. But Peter? Poor Peter was saddled with a side story that would have been better served in another episode. With everything surrounding Dunham this week, there was simply too little time to spend on figures from Peter’s past starting to bubble up in the Boston area. Fringe could have imparted all this info in another week or two and done no harm at all. I’m 100% for revealing elements of Peter’s past, but Fringe didn’t do him or us any favors this time around.
Had Fringe been its normal length, perhaps Peter’s plot would have been excised: it certainly would have been the easiest thing to cut for length. But faced with the happy problem of having to produce a longer-than-normal episode, Fringe seemed to tack on these scenes in order to fulfill a corporate mandate rather than satisfy its creative impulses. (See? I told you. Corporations are always, always evil.) I’m all for doling out backstory on a continual basis, but there’s something to be said for focused storytelling as well. The balance is difficult, to be sure. But with a guaranteed full season, Fringe can afford to pick and choose the right time to tell the story it wants to between now and June.
Other tidbits from tonight’s episode:
- Loved the shout-out to Lost, courtesy of the "Oceanic Air" on Young’s ticket. Sadly, not one character shouted, "We have to go back!" at any point tonight. Depressing.
- Couldn’t have Fringe picked a better phrase than "hasta luego" for Dunham to identify Morales? I mean, honestly. Just a touch stereotypical, no? The only other phrase that could have been worse would have been, "Rico suave."
- I want a laptop with the battery power of the one Olivia owns. She never seems to plug the thing in, and yet, it’s always ready to power up when a dead man sends her psychic emails. Amazing.
- I know I wasn’t supposed to laugh when Mark Young fell all Matrix-like to the ground, surrounded by butterflies, but I did. That was just a little silly, sorry. I wish he’d gone whole hog and just said, "Whoa," right before impact.
- I know I mock Olivia’s character for being emotionally reticent (to put it kindly), but I did appreciate her line to John in her dream walk: "I loved you. Tonight, during dinner, I loved you." More of that, please. After all, the central conflict of the show features her never-ending pursuit for the truth about her ex in the face of a seemingly unstoppable global conglomerate. It would kinda help to show, not tell, us how much she truly cared for this man.
- Are we supposed to wonder why Mark Young was late for his meeting? And what is the extent of the "Extense-A-Life" project?
After the last two strong episodes, this one felt like a bit of a let down. Nowhere near as bad as the one involving a self-burrowing torpedo, but a let down all the same. That’s the problem when a show produces stellar work: you want them to keep doing it. Crazy, I know. But Fringe has set the bar to a higher level these past few weeks, and I’d be wrong to say this episode met that new threshold. Interesting ideas were introduced, and will no doubt pay off down the line. Hopefully a return to its fighting weight will re-ignite the spark lit over the past few weeks.
What did you think about tonight’s episode? Do you think the reappearance of Massive Dynamic will strengthen the show or make it impenetrable for the casual viewer? And did you miss the Bishop Boys, or enjoy Olivia’s time to shine this week? Discuss below!
Ryan shuns corporate sponsorship over at Boob Tube Dude.