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Entrances and Exits: An Advance Review of the Next Two Episodes of Fringe

There's always a sense of walking a tightrope when reviewing a mythology-heavy installment of any series, but particularly with FOX's Fringe, which thrives on the unexpected and inexplicable.

Revealing sensitive information or plot twists has the ability to take much of the fun out of the proceedings, really, especially when they're as well plotted as they are here.

Earlier this week, I sat down to watch DVD screeners of the sensational next two episodes of Fringe ("The Abducted" and "Entrada"), the first of which airs this week while the second airs on 12/2, taking a turkey-based break of a week.

Sitting comfortably within the grand design of the current third season of the series, the episodes split their time on either side of the dimensional divide as "our" Olivia Dunham attempts to find a way back through the invisible veil separating the two worlds. On the other side of the curtain, the "other" Olivia is making preparations of her own, her clandestine mission well underway, but both women will encounter distractions and diversions that threaten to derail both their objectives.

"The Abducted" focuses on a distinctive and engaging case of the week "over there," as the Fringe Division investigates the kidnapping of a little boy by a deranged individual known as "The Candy Man," a serial kidnapper whose victims are seemingly drained of their energy and joy. (His sobriquet? Named for the off-putting glucose found in his sweat.) It's an unsolved case that has close personal ties to one Fringe Division agent, making the suspense all the more tense and angst-ridden.

I was happy to see that Andre Royo's cabbie Henry turns up again in "The Abducted," paying off that final shot of him issuing a concerned look toward Olivia earlier this season. Olivia and Henry make quite an improvised team and it allows the viewer to see just how determined, cunning, and clever our Olivia really is. (I was hoping for a shout out to Bubs' red hat from The Wire, but alas it is not to be.)

But it's the final moments of tonight's episode that will likely have viewers cursing that one-week hiatus for Thanksgiving, a fantastic twist that while inevitable trails behind it some rather severe repercussions. It will, undoubtedly, give Fringe fans something to ponder over the holiday break. (I can't say much more than that without spoiling.)

As fantastic as this week's episode is, the next episode manages to top it in terms of scope, drive, and sheer suspense. The superb "Entrada" picks up the already breakneck momentum from "The Abducted" and runs with it, delivering a provocatively intense episode about consequences and battle lines. What defines us as people, as individuals? In the midst of war, can we retain our humanity? What matters more: the greater good or what's morally correct?

These questions slingshot around the episode, giving "Entrada" some philosophical heft. But it's not just an episode about moral pondering: it's an action-packed thrill ride whose foundation lies in the overarching mythology of the season. Typewriters, laptops, shapeshifters, secret weapons, tanks, Cortexiphan: these things all play a key role in what unfolds in "Entrada," a gripping installment that doesn't just push the plot along but propels it at super-sonic speed.

And, yes, the episode's title is most definitely a clue to what's going to happen in this episode, which also features a hilarious portmanteau from Walter that I might have to adopt in real life (won't spoil the gleeful intermixing of words here) and some clever callbacks and surprises to previous seasons.

(An aside, I also can't help but wonder after seeing these next two installments whether Over There's Astrid is autistic, as she certainly seems to be in "Entrada." Or whether she's just devoid of emotion and social awareness. UPDATE: I've since been informed that Jasika Nicole has confirmed that Alt-Astid does in fact have Asperger's. Her performance definitely makes that more than apparent in "Entrada.")

While the "other" Olivia has been a dangerous and unpredictable element in the mix here, we're given the opportunity to get to know her a little better here, to see the stakes that she's facing and to see who she really is under the dyed hair and studied demeanor. Just how similar are these two Olivias? Are they intrinsically the same person or do our circumstances shape us in unexpected ways? It's an intriguing set of questions that get answered somewhat during "Entrada," as we're given a chance to peer into her mind. What you find there might surprise you.

Yes, the war between these two worlds, linked invisibly by threads of fate and verisimilitude, is coming, storms gathering on the horizon. And, with all of the tension and suspense of these two fantastic and gripping installments of Fringe, you'll likely wish that there was a soft spot between you and the television screen. Just don't push too hard.

Fringe airs tonight at 9 pm ET/PT on FOX.

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