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Calendar Man: Observations on Last Night's Phenomenal Episode of "Fringe"

Oh, Fringe, I've missed you.

Last night's episode of Fringe ("August"), written by J.H. Wyman and Jeff Pinkner and directed by Brad Anderson, was to me the absolute ideal installment of the sci-fi procedural series. Despite being a close-ended plot about the disappearance of a young woman, it provided answers to some of Fringe's most enduring mysteries so far and broadened out the mythology of the series and the character's inner lives to boot.

Plus, the series was firing on all cylinders, using each of its characters to their best effect: placing Olivia and Peter in the field in pursuit of the suspect, Walter and Astrid in the lab, and Broyles in an advisory capacity (and good to see they realized he'd still be injured after last week's events; nice continuity!).

So what did I think about the episode? Let's discuss.

As I mentioned earlier, I was head over heels in love with this week's installment, which showed that the series, which had struggled in its first season to find a working balance between the serialized and the procedural, can make the format work for them and not against them. While the plot was nominally about the kidnapping of an art student by the mysterious Observer, it quickly became a story about the choices we make, the bonds we have, and the emotional core of our beings, whether we're a determined FBI agent, a grieving father, or an otherworldly creature.

Playing of a comment made earlier in the series about there being "more than one of everything," the series introduces a novel conceit: there's more than one of the Observer. (We also previously saw a child-like version of one them living underground.) While The Observer has been traditionally played in the series by Michael Cerveris, this episode reveals that there would appear to be at least a coven of them in Boston alone. Like Marvel's omnipresent (and follicularly challenged) Uatu The Watcher, these Observers are instructed (by whom? for what purpose?) to keep a watch over events and never interfere; as a result, they exist outside of time, unfettered by constructs about the past, present, and future that we take for granted.

That directive to observe and not to interfere has been broken before and is broken again with this episode. The Observer known only as August (veteran British actor Peter Woodward) kidnaps a Christine Hollis (Jennifer Missoni) but not everything is as it appears: he doesn't want to kill her but is trying to save her. His effort means that Christine doesn't board a plan bound for Rome, a plane that goes down in the ocean, killing everyone aboard. So why does he save her? That's where things get really interesting.

August's actions put him in direct conflict with the other Observers, who know that Christine was marked for death. Given August's involvement has created an anomaly in the timeline, they move swiftly to "correct" it, drawing in grizzled assassin Donald Long (Paul Rae) to eliminate Christine and push events back into place. (Loved that Donald carries a portable dot matrix printer with him; nice touch.)

But August knows that the Observers have gotten involved before: our Observer moved to save Peter and Walter Bishop when their car went off the road into the frozen lake. But the coven admits that this was only to correct a mistake that they had made. So just what was that mistake? Allowing Walter to take Peter from "over there"? Or was there something else that made both of them "important" enough to intervene and keep them alive? Just what happened on that road? And what mistake did the Observers make that forced them to push the timeline back into place? Hmmm....

So it's not surprising then that August would leave a series of clues for Walter Bishop to find, clues that propel him to rendezvous with August, who asks Walter for his help. Knowing that the Observers will kill Christine, he needs to make her "important" so that they will spare her life. Finding loopholes is Walter's specialty after all; he wasn't limited by the confines of physics when he, grief-stricken, made the decision to steal someone else's child, a choice that haunts him to this day. (It's why he believes the Observer wants to see him, so terrified is he of losing Peter.)

And August does make a noble sacrifice in order to preserve Christine's life, after he twice crosses paths with her, the first time after the Oakland earthquake that kills Christine's parents. In the moments after the quake, the young Christine leaves an indelible mark on August's soul and he keeps her childhood teddy bear safe for her until he can return it. He makes a trade: his life for hers. Olivia and Peter are unable to stop Donald Long from shooting August (or rather he allows it to happen this time) and August knows that his death will secure Christine's life.

As he bleeds to death in the car, August tells his fellow Observer that the reason he wanted to save Christine was that he was in love with her. It's a nice twist as the Observers are meant to be inherently emotionless, detached from humanity, unable to process feelings and having no need for them. But love awakened something in August, a need to protect the thing he felt for, no matter what the consequence. In allowing himself to die, he made Christine "important." As the other Observer says (almost sadly), Christine was responsible for the death of one of them. She is and will forever be important.

There are always consequences. Walter advises August of that in the diner and he knows inherently that it's true. Even if you don't pay the price now, the cost of your actions will always catch up to you in the end. The sadness with which Walter touches Peter's face on the staircase at the end speak volumes about the fear with which Walter lives. He knows that Peter will get his answers, will find out the truth about who he really is, and the thought of losing his son for a second time terrifies him to no end.

Those answers are coming. Broyles believes that Peter was able to fire the last charge in the Observer's otherworldly gun but that's not the case; Peter was able to use it because he is from "over there," a fact that August is all too aware of when he hands him his weapon. It's only a matter of time before Peter learns the truth of where he came from and the lengths to which Walter went to reclaim his son from death itself.

Olivia, for her part, does get her day off with Ella at the amusement park and she challenges herself to overcome her fears and ride the rollercoaster with her niece. It's a moment of lightness and innocence, the last rays of sunshine before the darkness falls. They are observed. Two of the Observers watch Olivia without a hint of emotion. Things are going to get bad for Olivia Dunham; they already see this and these moments of levity and joy may be the last she experiences.

I'm intrigued with just where this plot is going. We know that Walter, Peter, and Olivia are key players in the coming war and that the Observers are there to watch as these events unfold. Just what parts they'll play as the battle begins remains to be seen. But things are definitely going to get very bleak for our Fringe Division stalwarts and I can't wait to see just where Fringe's writers take the plot next. I'm along for the ride, no matter what twist lies ahead.

In two weeks on Fringe ("Snakehead"), the Fringe team investigates incidents involving bodies with unnatural creatures attached to it; Olivia, Peter and Broyles discover that the case is linked to a dangerous organization involved in drug smuggling.

Comments

Tom I. said…
Are things going to be bad for Olivia or for her niece? The Observers only said "her".
Beckacheck said…
Tom, I wondered the same thing.

I think that they are very likely referring to Olivia.
I thought, if they weren't referring to her niece, then what was the real point of having her niece in the episode? I decided that only with her niece would Olivia experience pure joy. It's one of the few times we've seen her smile not sadly and not politely. Also, if her niece were going to become a bigger part of the storyline, they probably would have included her mom (the awesome Ari Graynor) in the episode somewhere along the way.

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