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The Scarab: An Advance Review of Tonight's Fringe

In Ancient Egypt, the scarab beetle was a sacred insect.

The daily behaviors of the Scarabaeus sacer were viewed as symbolic of greater issues of immortality; among them, rebirth, resurrection, and renewal. They were believed to be created out of death itself, given that the parasitic insects would lay their eggs in the bodies of hosts.

Keep that in mind when watching tonight's stellar episode of Fringe("Immortality"), written by David Wilcox and Ethan Gross and directed by Brad Anderson, which is set entirely "Over There," as we learn that fallout that has occurred in the life of their Olivia Dunham after her escape from "our" world.

Revolving around a deranged scientist's quest for glory and the use of those beetles, here just as sacred to him as they were to the Egyptians, the episode raises questions of immortality. How, as humans, we're ever aware of the fragility of the mortal coil, and how we're so desperate to find a way to escape the limitations of the body, to strive for immortality, not in the literal sense, but the figurative.

Do we choose to believe that we live on in our offspring, our genetic line continuing after we're gone, or do we strive to create something permanent that outlives us all? Just as the names Watson and Crick and Jonas Salk are so etched onto our collective memories for their contributions to science and the way we view the world, this scientist is attempting to outrun his own inexorable demise by leaving a mark on the world.

(As always, please do not post this review in full on any web sites, message boards, or similar. What follows are minor spoilers for "Immortality.")

How he is attempting to do just that is connected to the case being investigated by Over There's Fringe Division, a case that involves scores of beetles erupting out of human hosts, so if you're at all squeamish about bugs, you might not want to watch this episode while you're eating. Or right after, for that matter.

(As for the bugs themselves, keep your ears open for what I believe to be a Charles Manson reference as the Fringe Division discusses the genus and species of this particular beetle. Helter Skelter, anyone?)

As our scientist goes about his work, viewing his research as something analogous to a holy crusade in an attempt to reverse extinction, his efforts at resurrection put him on a collision course with the Fringe team, which has been greatly changed in the wake of the Olivia switch-up. Colonel Broyles is missing and the search for his body near the amber zone of Boston has been called off (of course, we witnessed his demise in "our" world when Fauxlivia jumped back to her reality) and Lincoln has been placed in charge of the team.

But things that look alike aren't always the same. We're acutely aware of this from Olivia's struggles to come to terms with Peter's infidelity with Fauxlivia. The two women might look alike, they might share some characteristics beyond their appearances, but these two people aren't the same. We're naturally shaped by our experiences and the two dimensional twins haven't shared the same sense of loss, the same love, the same life. Peter's inability to tell the difference between them nags on Olivia's conscience. Surely, if we were to go missing, our loved ones would know that the person who replaced us wasn't us?

Likewise, there are differences being displayed between our Walter Bishop and Walternate this week. While Walter attempts to redress the balance between them by making himself "smarter," we're privy to a scene Over There in which we learn that their Walter is bound by moral restrictions that never plagued Walter Bishop. There are some things, we learn, that remain sacred, even when hope is lost.

We're also seeing more damage caused by Faulivia's treachery in stealing Olivia's life and engaging in a love affair with Peter Bishop. As her boyfriend Frank Stanton (Philip Winchester) returns to New York, he brings with him reminders of the time she spent in another woman's life. Just as Olivia has been shaken by what happened during her absence, so too does Fauxlivia feel the weight of the decisions she made, the lies she told, the lines she crossed in pursuit of her objectives.

Frank's return brings up a host of unresolved issues for Fauxlivia as well as questions about their future together. I don't want to say too much here, but I will say that we're seeing another instance of harmonic vibration here. Just as Fauxlivia's presence in Peter's life changed him, so too did Peter's presence change Fauxlivia. The ease she had with Frank in their life together has put off-kilter by the relationship she had with Peter. We often can't change something without risking being changed by it ourselves. Perhaps Fauxlivia wasn't lying to Peter when she said that it started out an assignment but became something else.

The reappearance of Frank on the scene is fraught with personal complication for Fauxlivia and her struggle to come to terms with her feelings and how much to open up to Frank are juxtaposed with this week's investigation. Is there any hope for Frank and this Olivia? Or was their relationship doomed to fail once she returned to this world? And is there any hope for this Olivia to regain her equilibrium? (Cue squirm-inducing bug scene.)

The fantastically crafted episode also features Twin Peaks alum Joan Chen, who here plays Reiko, a woman with a connection to Walter Bishop. I don't want to say too much about who Riko is and the relationship she has to Walter, but I will say that it allows John Noble to offer a side to Walter/Walternate that we haven't yet really seen throughout the series. And it's great to see Chen, who memorably played Twin Peaks' Josie Packard, back on television. (Let's just say that the years have been kind to her.)

I can't shake the feeling that a certain license plate glimpsed in this episode is a clue for next week's episode (entitled "6B"). I wasn't aware of the title when I first watched "Immortality," but I found the letters on the plate to be suspicious enough to ponder. While I'm not sure of its significance yet, there's a similarity between that and the title that's too coincidental to let go of just yet.

(Some other thoughts: I'm curious just when we'll see our world's version of Lincoln Lee, who, on the other side, has stepped up as the insecure leader of the team now that Broyles is gone. Just where is Lincoln "over here," and what is he like? It would be interesting to see. Additionally: I can't shake the feeling that duality we're seeing--the red "Over There" universe and the blue "Over Here"--may be erased somehow by the end of the season. If it's not a case of only one universe surviving, then I wonder whether there wouldn't be the creation of, say, a yellow-colored third universe, perhaps one that combines the two somehow. Hmmm...)

All in all, "Immortality" is a fantastic installment that fuses together the personal with the professional, with a creepy mystery of the week and perhaps a turning point for the season itself, whose effects will be felt long after the closing credits.

Once again, this season has proven that Fringe is in pursuit of not just the mysteries of science but that of the soul itself. No small feat for a sci-fi drama but here the series' writers make it look effortless.

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


Anonymous said…
Judging from the maturity of the review, let's hope a certain rumor is put to sleep and people can shut up about it.
Brandollars said…
Awesome review Jace, but now how am I supposed to work? I'm too excited for tonight!
Mazza said…
@Anonymous What rumor is that? I don't read spoilers so I don't know what your referring to.

@Jace Well done as always. Love how you tease without giving everything away.
Wes said…
I know from experience that there are clues in your Fringe reviews. Trying to figure out what you're pointing us to. Hmm.
Oru said…
It seems like this review is yet another hint to the pregnant Bolivia rumor... God, I can't believe they're actually doing it... Might stop watching the show.
Old Darth said…
QFT - "Once again, this season has proven that Fringe is in pursuit of not just the mysteries of science but that of the soul itself. No small feat for a sci-fi drama but here the series' writers make it look effortless."

Amen! Great teaser review! Thanks Jace!
Carrie said…
I really want to see what Lincoln is like "over here" too. I love Seth Gabel, he's been fantastic! Can't wait to see more of him tonight!

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