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Universes Collide: The Truth Will Out on the Winter Finale of "Fringe"

Now that's a cliffhanger to tide us over until April.

Last night's winter finale of Fringe ("Jacksonville"), written by Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz and directed by Charles Beeson, may have pushed the members of the Fringe Division to their breaking point.

Several hard truths emerged as Olivia came face to face with a terror from her childhood... and a situation in the present that will likely have dire consequences for their little dysfunctional family unit.

This season of Fringe in particular has done a superb job of keeping the character dynamics moving along while juggling both a complex overarching mythology plot and compelling mysteries of the week. But every now and then an episode comes long (like last season's superlative "Ability") that changes up the delicate balance established among the characters.

You had the chance to read my advance review of last night's winter finale, but now that the episode has aired, we can talk more specifically about the plot.

"Jacksonville" worked on a number of levels. On its most shallow level, it was a horror-tinged adventure story about what happens when two worlds literally collide as molecules intermingle and blisteringly join with horrific results. The gripping opening sequence, depicting an architect (The Wire's Jim True-Frost) literally fusing together with his other-dimensional counterpart, was a gruesome and vivid way to raise the stakes for this week's installment. I thought that the writers did a brilliant job at keeping us guessing just what was going on (and, in fact, where we were) until the very last second. And seeing the head of poor Ted Pratchett (True-Frost) stuck in his chest? Utterly macabre and jaw-dropping.

But it was, once again, the personal stakes for Olivia, Peter, and Walter that made this episode just as compelling as it was. The team headed to Jacksonville, Florida, so that Walter could recreate the experiment he performed on Olivia as a child. By retracing her steps, Olivia was forced to confront not just what happened to her as an innocent but the true nature of Walter Bishop himself, a man so convinced that the ends justify the means that he and William Bell were willing to abuse the children in their care and force them to undergo horrific and terrifying experiences in the name of saving the world.

The look of horror as Olivia came out of her subconscious journey was as palpable as the disgust towards Walter that so clearly registered on her face. Olivia has come to understand Walter these past two seasons and perhaps even regard him as something approaching a father-figure but with the knowledge that he forced her and dozens of other children to visit a nightmarish dream landscape in an effort to tap into their latent abilities and drugged them with cortexiphan is more than Olivia can handle. And I can't say that I blame her. What Walter did to her--mercifully forgotten by Olivia until now--is horrific. That he flipped a switch inside of her and caused her to lash out using pyrokinetic abilities, all for the sake of a mission she knew nothing about, is a truth that's hard to swallow.

It's perhaps only because the clock was ticking that Olivia allowed Walter to create the cortexiphan experiment in the first place. And, luckily for all of them, it does--thanks to some fear (more on that in a bit)--reawaken Olivia's gifts, allowing her to see the location of a building in our Manhattan that is going to be pulled over to the other side to balance the mass equation. Lives are saved, crisis averted. But there's an unexpected side effect of the cortexiphan that enabled Olivia to continue to see that tell-tale shimmer of objects from the alternate universe.

But, first, the elephant in the room. Yes, Peter and Olivia nearly kissed last night and it was only averted because Olivia suddenly experienced a twinge of fear, a terror of intimacy that has marked her entire adult life. With the possibility of a romance developing between her and Peter, she felt fear again, a fear that enabled her to catalyze her ability once more. I have to say that while I'm glad that the series went there after two seasons, I am hoping that this is the closest we get to a full-blown romance between Peter and Olivia.

Personally, I much prefer this duo as something akin to spiritual siblings rather than lovers. The familial aspect of Fringe has always made it particularly appealing to me because these three damaged individuals were able to craft something resembling a family unit out of the terror and horror of their professional lives. In other words: I'm more than happy to see Peter and Olivia remain as friends and partners rather than hopping into bed together.

It's unlikely, anyway, that the latter will happen after Olivia discovered--thanks to her nifty new ability--that Peter himself is from "over there." Witnessing the shimmer cascading over Peter's body, Olivia knew instantly that he had been taken removed from the alternate universe. It's a shocking discovery that will likely break her from any possible intimacy with Peter Bishop.

But the truly heartbreaking moment came after that as Walter begged Olivia not to tell Peter. Will she be able to keep this a secret? Can she ever look at Walter the same way again? All of his crimes have been motivated by keeping the world safe. But this--the kidnapping of a child, the theft of someone else's son, decades of lies--might be more burden than Olivia Dunham can handle.

Just what will happen to our troika of pattern-pursuing crusaders? Will Walter's secret eat at Olivia, just as it has Walter? Will Peter find out sooner rather than later? And how are we expected to wait until April for more Fringe? Discuss.

Fringe returns with all-new episodes on April 1st on FOX.


Anonymous said…
Ah, but are we sure that Olivia isn't from the otherside herself?

Tempest said…
Excellent recap and excellent episode. However, my question: was Olivia's fear due to a fear of intimacy or a fear of what was about to happen to her world and she was (she thought) powerless to stop it?

And small note: I also loved the opening "you have won a trip to New York" interchange between Peter and Olivia. However, their relationship develops, I like the fact that it's based on some type of friendship.
Cassie said…
Excellent episode! At first, I was bummed that Peter and Olivia almost kissed but, as you said, I think her new knowledge of Peter being from the other reality will keep them apart for at least a big longer. And I don't know what that same knowledge will do to her relationship with Walter but I don't think that things will be warm and fuzzy in the lab for quite some time.
Greg said…
Last nights Ep was one of the better ones no doubt. The opening banter between Peter and Olivia shows just how much chemistry they have, yet I agree with you, anything more than they are right now and it could ruin Fringe.

I think it's safe to say Peter will find out, soon. Now Olivia knows, and Astrid suspects, I can't go on past the end of his season, maybe not the end of the next ep.

Wow April seems like so far away! I need Fringe (and Lie To Me !) Now!!
mak said…
this show is amazing and Jacksonville is my new favorite episode. i really liked oliva and peter's chemistry, but i don't want them to be spiritual siblings in the long run! i want the writers to develop this slowly and very carefully!!
Richard W said…
Okay, I can deal with most of the weird science of Fringe, but the "rules" of inter-universe matter transfer in "Jacksonville" were so arbitrarily set to conform to the needs of the episode that it was too silly to be exciting or suspenseful. The only reason the balancing transfer of mass between the 2 universes occurs 24 to 48 hours after the event (instead of instantly, which would make more sense) is to allow the subplot to unfold complete with travel times and still allow our cast members to get back to ground zero. And the idea that the balancing atoms had to come from another building (complete with basement!) of the exact same mass was just too ridiculous. So, if a car travels to the alternate universe, does the reciprocating car have to be the same model? Can it be, say, a truck or maybe a small airplane instead? Does it have to be a form of transportation or will any lump of metal do? How about a car in the scrap yard that has already been crushed into a cube, assuming it had the same mass? How picky is the alternate universe? I'm sorry, it was all just too stupid, and it spoiled what otherwise was a cool opening and a nice reveal at the end.
Unknown said…
You didn't mention the combinatin of the lock (5-20-10). Walter mentions that it was the code he and William always used but he had forgotten the significance. Could it be a date (May 20, 2010) where the gate is opened betweent the two universes which happens to be the date of the season finale?
Jace Lacob said…

That was my thought as well: definitely the date the universes collide and it is the date of the second season finale as well.

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