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Going Home: An Advance Review of Tonight's Episode of Fringe ("Subject 13")

Home is forever the place we're running to or running from. Or, sometimes, it's both.

On tonight's heartbreaking episode of Fringe ("Subject 13"), the writers have once again peeled away the veil of time to offer the audience another look into the past, a sequel to last season's "Peter," set six months after the events of that episode.

While that episode, set in the heart of the 1980s, depicted the good intentions of Walter Bishop (the always sensational John Noble) in saving the life of another world's Peter after the death of his own son, tonight's episode shows the poignant consequences of his actions, focusing not on the global aftermath of his actions (those damaging soft spots in the universe's structure) but on the emotional toll that his decision makes on both sides of the dimensional divide.

Six months after kidnapping Peter and nursing him back to health, things are anything but stable in the Bishop household. Walter is rarely around, focusing on his research in Jacksonville, Florida, while Elisabeth (Orla Brady) is left to hold down the homefront on her own. But things aren't easy nor are they necessarily better since Walter traveled to the other side and brought back someone who looks like their son... but who isn't him, not really.

[Note: As always, please do not reproduce this review in full on any web sites, message boards, or similar.]

I don't want to spoil too many details about this fantastic and poignant episode, but I will say that it delves into the chance childhood meeting between Peter and Olivia Dunham, here played by two superb child actors gifted with the oldest of souls. There's a grace to the scene they share together, surrounded by a field of white tulips, that took my breath away.

While there's an emotional hook to their crossing of paths, there are also dire consequences to their meeting, unlocking a chain of causality that brings us to the present day. A confession, a drawing, a discovery, each plays its part in the drama unfolding around these children, as the bravest of actions might seemingly damn each of them in turn.

Am I being coy? You bet, but I also don't want to spoil this sensational bookend to "Peter," one that dives into the chasm forming between both world's Walter and Elisabeth Bishop, as they struggle to come to terms with what's been taken from them and the second chances that propel them to make decisions with horrific consequences.

So too do we see the formative years of young Olivia "Olive" Dunham, as the writers offer the first glimpse of someone we've only heard mention of prior, someone who shaped Olivia into the person she is today. We've known for some time what her unique "trigger" is for her powers to activate, but we see here the root causes, the impetus that drives that emotional response. And we see the hubris inside of Walter Bishop that compels him to experiment on this innocent, seeing in her the possibility for Peter's return. But the road to hell is always paved with good intentions, and the path that Walter embarked upon six months earlier is leading him closer and closer to the flames.

As for Walter himself, special praise goes out once again to the magnificent John Noble, here again playing variations on the Walter Bishop of the current story arc. In Noble's performance, we see a dazzling range: Over Here's gifted scientist struggling to do the right thing when faced with a multitude of moral quandaries, and Over There's grief-stricken father struggling to come to terms with the disappearance of his only son. It's a staggering portrayal that only further underlines the lack of awards recognition for Noble.

Reprising her role as Elisabeth Bishop, Orla Brady is once again brilliantly brittle, a woman coming apart at the seams who nonetheless tries to keep her family together... and keep them alive. Her willingness to dive into the icy depths of love after losing her child shows her strength of character. The battle between Elisabeth and Peter raises questions of trust and fidelity, as Peter pleads with her for the truth. Will she break and reveal all? Will she lie and hold onto her son for a little while longer? Will she be able to let him go all over again when the time comes?

"Subject 13" doesn't pull any punches, not with the portrayal of the daily agony faced by the two Bishop couples and by the child caught in the web between them. Emerging from his illness, young Peter is trapped between two worlds, between the childhood he remembers and the one he doesn't, between the small differences between his world and the next. A scene in a toy store between Peter and Elisabeth serves to depict the wide chasm between the two individuals, as Peter browses your typical array of 1980s children's toys (look for a BSG shout-out here) before settling on something simple. I can't shake the feeling that there is something deeply profound about his choice, given that it's a mode of transportation that he chooses here, seeing everywhere the possibility for escape.

Focusing on both realities, the episode shows the cracks forming in the Bishop family, all the more haunting because we know the eventual outcome of these marriages. But just what is Over There's Walter doing in Florida? That you'll have to wait to see, but I will say that you'd do best to remember your 1980s American history and that Walternate's current position makes a hell of a lot more sense now after this mini-revelation.

All in all, "Subject 13" is another heartbreaking and poignant installment, one that will linger with you long after the closing credits have run. Despite the fact that most of our major characters don't even appear in the episode, you'll walk away feeling as though you've gotten an even deeper understanding of just what makes Walter, Olivia, and Peter tick. And it might make you all the more sorrowful as a result.

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

Comments

Old Darth said…
Wow. Brilliantly enticing setup piece for tonight's episode. Thanks.
nalex1013 said…
Thanks. Can't wait

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