Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.
“We’re doing a musical episode? Really? That’s… weird.”
Let’s address the elephant in the room right at the start: Yes, this is the musical episode, and yes, the musical numbers are, by and large, pretty half-assed. This episode was a part of a special week of Glee-related music-themed programming on FOX, though judging by the lack of effort and enthusiasm put into the songs, I’m guessing the powers-that-be at Fringe didn’t necessarily want to do a musical episode and did this under duress from their parent network. For starters, none of the songs are original, which is an immediate sign of half-assing it. Not much time or care is put into the performances: The songs aren’t particularly well arranged, and for the most part we only hear a few timid bars of each. Buffy’s “Once More With Feeling,” this is not.
Songs aside, however, this episode is not a disaster. In fact, I kind of dug it. There are moments that made me wince, sure, but there’s some interesting stuff here, too. Also, the regular cast members all look rather smashing in their fedoras and trench coats, so it’s certainly not a total loss.
In the laboratory, Walter inhales the sweet, sweet smoke from a bong and listens to “Roundabout” by Yes. Enjoy it while you can, because the music choices in this episode are pretty much all downhill from here.
Walter deals with grief in his own special way.
While stoned off his gourd, he uses a label maker to label every single jar in his lab, from the toxic chemicals to the Red Vines. We’ve seen Walter’s penchant for Red Vines before, and here’s my ridiculously nitpicky question, coming from my perspective as someone who used to mail my New York-dwelling sister packages of Red Vines from Los Angeles: Aren’t Red Vines primarily a West Coast phenomenon, whereas the East Coast is more partial to Twizzlers? I know it’s now possible to find Red Vines in the Boston area, but they’re still not all that prevalent on that side of the country. So is Walter’s Red Vines fixation a deliberate character choice, or is it just a (very minor) continuity gaffe, since the show films out west?
Astrid enters and tells him she knows he’s feeling lost with Peter gone. Walter yammers on about the importance of being organized (which we saw last week with his compulsive rearranging of family photos) and how he’s been smoking Brown Betty, his special proprietary marijuana blend. The combination has led to his compulsive label-making. I have half a mind to invite Walter over, drug him up, and sic him and his label-maker on my hall closet, just to see what he could do with all the random crap in there.
Olivia drops by the lab, having had no luck finding Peter. She’d like to follow some new leads, but she’s saddled with looking after her young niece Ella while her sister Rachel is in Chicago. She asks Astrid if she can leave Ella with her for a few hours. Astrid is far too sweet to point out that she’s an FBI agent, not a fricking babysitter. Make sure you send Olivia an invoice for this, Astrid.
This is why babysitters were invented.
Astrid tells Ella to help herself to the snacks in the fridge. (In the background, Ella pipes up, “It smells funny in here.”) Great merciful Zeus, Astrid, did you really just send a small child to root around in the laboratory fridge unsupervised? Remember that first-season episode where Peter happily noshed away on Walter’s omelet, not realizing his dad was, for reasons that only made sense inside Walter’s twisted brain, growing a cloned human ear inside it?
Ella and Walter play Operation. Bossy little Ella berates Walter for his crappy skills: He keeps removing the heart without making the slightest attempt to avoid touching the sides with his tweezers. Fed up with this, Ella demands a story instead. Walter is reluctant at first — he never told stories to Peter, though his own mother, who loved Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler detective fiction, often told them to Walter when he was a child.
With that in mind, Walter segues into a story: “Once upon a time, there was an accomplished detective…”
And we fade into kind of a modified film noir setting. The accomplished detective is, of course, Olivia, who looks smashing in finger curls and red lipstick, her shoulder holster exposed over her tailored shirt. P.I. Dunham, in Walter’s story, is retiring, because she couldn’t mend her broken heart. Olivia looks wistfully at a photo of whatshisname, her partner/fiancé from last season, the one who turned out to be evil but not really, the one played by the guy from Human Target who married Anna Torv in real life. That guy. John? Was his name John? Anyway, at least in Walter’s story, she’s still carrying a torch for him.
Yeah. That guy.
Her sister Rachel, also clad in full 1940s period garb, enters the office and asks Olivia to find her missing boyfriend. Olivia pours herself a glass of Scotch (she proffers the bottle to Rachel with the words, “Drown ‘em?”, which I swear I’m going to use the very next time I offer someone a drink) and settles in to listen. Olivia, by the way, is sporting a pretty good Guys and Dolls tough-cookie accent, and she looks like a million bucks. This episode is not without flaws, but Olivia pulls her weight.
The shoulder holster makes it look like she’s wearing lederhosen.
Rachel explains: She met her boyfriend only a few weeks ago, but it was love at first sight. To make her point, she bursts into a rousing chorus of Tears for Fears’ “Head Over Heels.” Only it’s actually Walter singing, not Rachel. Remember how I said there were some wince-worthy moments in this? We come out of flashback, where Walter is singing to a baffled Ella. Walter explains to Ella that his, er, medication causes his larynx to contract. Astrid rolls her eyes at “medication.”
Walter continues his story: Rachel explains that her boyfriend’s name is Peter Bishop. She hands Olivia a Polaroid of a fedora-wearing Peter. No, of course they didn’t have Polaroids in the 1940s. They didn’t have laptops, or cell phones, or the internet, either, and all of these will crop up in Walter’s berserk narrative, too. Just go with it.
Before watching this, I was concerned about this episode for many, many (many) reasons, not least because it’s a musical episode of Fringe, which is multiple degrees of wrongness right there. The film noir setting also concerned me, mainly because Fringe already draws stylistically upon a couple of eras already, mostly the 1980s and the 1950s. I wasn’t sure the 1940s would be a good fit, just because so many of the ideas Fringe is built upon — parapsychology, biological terrorism, quantum theory — might have existed, but weren’t really part of the popular culture consciousness at that time. But the setting works somehow, probably because it’s loaded up with anachronisms that anchor it to the present instead of being a faithful period piece.
Meanwhile, still in Walter’s story, Peter enters the Bishop house, which is dark and dusty and full of cobwebs. Per Walter, Peter has gone into hiding, because he has in his possession a very special item. Peter opens a metal case and reveals the special item: a glowing, crank-operated, glass mechanical heart.
Crank-operated mechanical heart!
Peter, by the way, has a fedora jammed down over his forehead, and he’s chewing on a matchstick. It’s not a bad look for him. If Joshua Jackson ever gets offered any future roles as a Depression-era gangster, I suggest he grab them, because he’d probably look fabulous in a zoot suit.
Detective Olivia enters a bar, where she runs into a fedora-wearing Police Lieutenant Broyles, who is sitting at a piano and singing, of all the damn songs, “The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys.” The hell? Anyway, Lance Reddick has a good set of pipes on him. Weird-ass song choice aside, in this case it’s a shame we only get to hear a few bars.
Olivia, who is wearing her own fedora at this point — it’s a fedorapalooza! — approaches Broyles, who is clearly not thrilled to see her. He’s probably just disgruntled about having some serious competition in the fedora-wearing arena. He shouldn’t be worried. If Olivia and Peter and Broyles were to stage a winner-takes-all fedora-off, Broyles would win the crown.
Olivia asks for a favor. She shows him a sketch that Rachel apparently found in Peter’s apartment after he disappeared, which Broyles identifies as the logo for some company called Massive Dynamic.
Massive Dynamic: We see the exterior of the company — it’s an entirely different building, with an entirely different logo on the top.
Massive Dynamic looks less… massive than usual.
The inside looks pretty much the same, what with the same bizarre angular architecture and stark interior design. Olivia meets with Nina Sharp, who, apart from some ill-advised finger-waved hair action, looks pretty much the same as well. She doesn’t even get to wear a fedora. Amidst all the surrounding madness, Nina is a constant. Olivia asks for information about Peter. Nina claims Peter deserves all the trouble he’s in, saying he’s a con man with many identities and his own best interests at heart. Nina hopes Peter stays missing, because he’s dangerous. Even in Walter’s fantasyland, the concept of Peter being dangerous makes me giggle.
After Olivia leaves, Nina picks up the phone and calls someone. She tells whoever’s on the other end that there’s been a development…
“J.J.? What’s this nonsense I’m hearing about doing a musical episode?”
Olivia, behind the enormous steering wheel of a bulky vintage car, calls Rachel and leaves a message. Rachel picks up the phone long enough to desperately plead for help. There are the sounds of a scuffle, and then the line goes dead.
Olivia bursts into Rachel’s apartment and finds her dead on the floor. It looks like her heart has been carved out — there’s a square hole in her chest.
Back in reality, Ella insists to Walter that Rachel can’t be dead. Astrid assumes that this is because Rachel is Ella’s mother in real life. Ella, who is a cold-hearted little monster, shrugs off this concern. She says Rachel can’t be dead, because she’s in love with Peter, and love always triumphs. Someday you’ll learn some hard truths about the world, kid.
While a police officer photographs Rachel’s corpse with an old-timey camera with a gigantic flashbulb, Broyles and Olivia chat at the crime scene. It turns out Rachel was actually an actress named Kelsey, hired by someone to pose as Peter’s girlfriend for some nefarious purpose.
Old-timey flashbulb camera!
Broyles gruffly warns Olivia to stay away from the case, or he’ll arrest her. Somehow, their faces are inches apart during this, and… criminy, are there actually romantic sparks between Olivia and Broyles? There are, aren’t there? Has the world gone mad?
Was anyone else disappointed that Broyles didn’t get to say, “Here’s looking at you, kid” in this scene?
Olivia agrees, all too readily, that she’ll stay out of things. On her way out the door, she pockets Rachel’s address book. Safe in her car, she flips through the book. Out falls a check made out in the amount of two hundred smackeroos… signed by one Walter Bishop.
Olivia visits Walter in his lab, which is filled with primary colors and is a good deal more… fanciful than before. The cow now has big multicolored spots, and I’m thisclose to overdosing on whimsy.
There is a very fine line between whimsical and ludicrous.
Walter, clad in a three-piece suit, is in a mechanical wheelchair. He tells Detective Olivia that Peter is his former lab assistant. Despite having the same last name, they’re not related, though he’s come to regard Peter as a son.
No fedora for Walter.
Walter claims he’s dedicated his life to making the world a better place through his marvelous inventions, which include bubblegum, flannel pajamas, rainbows, hugs, singing corpses… At this last one, a trio of corpses with visible autopsy scars sit up and start singing “The Candy Man Can.” Which, seeing as this version of Walter is decidedly Willy Wonkaesque, seems only appropriate.
They’re not just singing corpses — they’re singing corpses doing jazz hands!
Is this episode thoroughly bonkers? Yes. Yes, it is. Since it’s a drug-addled children’s story, though, I’m giving it a lot of latitude. Bonkers seems only appropriate under the circumstances, and I genuinely do like the way it sort of dovetails with reality, down to Peter not really being Walter’s son.
Walter also invented a glass heart, a power source capable of doing many wondrous things. He was kept alive by this glass heart, until someone slipped into his house at night and stole it. Peter disappeared at the same time, so he figures Peter absconded with it. He unbuttons his shirt, revealing a small, square metal door on his chest, which opens to reveal a tangle of wires. He’s hooked up some batteries where his heart used to be, but he’ll die soon if he doesn’t get it back.
Back in the present, Walter tells Ella that Olivia realized she’d need help from her former assistant… Esther Ficklesworth. At this, Astrid (Farnsworth) shoots Walter a look of sheer unvarnished loathing for dragging her into this lunacy.
Astrid has the right idea about all this nonsense.
Having lost her job when Olivia closed her detective agency, Esther/Astrid interviews for a new position at a mental institution. The stern matron seems unimpressed, so Esther breaks into a few bars of “I Hope I Get It” from A Chorus Line. Jasika Nicole has a lovely singing voice, but damn it, these musical numbers are much too short and too half-assed to make much of an impression, other than to feel a wave of embarrassment on behalf of the cast members for having to go through this.
“They said if I don’t sing, they’ll write me off the show!”
Midway through Esther’s interview/song, Olivia calls. She insists she wants to hire Esther back to help her on this new case. While she’s talking to Esther, Olivia gets grabbed by a man in a fedora. Olivia drops her phone, which smashes to bits.
The man — hey, it’s an Observer! — takes out a strange, short knife and stabs Olivia in the chest. While Olivia howls in pain, he carves up her sternum a bit and tells her not to stick her heart out where it doesn’t belong.
Someone goes to drastic lengths to keep Olivia from singing.
Back in Olivia’s office, Esther patches up her boss’ wounds. For anyone who’s ever wanted to see Astrid fussing over Olivia’s exposed cleavage, this episode is for you.
Gratuitous bra glimpse.
Esther thinks the scar is healing fast, which she finds curious (we don’t really see any indication of a fast-healing scar, but let’s take Esther’s word for it). Olivia describes the weapon as some kind of laser, like the one that carved Rachel’s heart out. She thinks this probably means that the same person who attacked her also killed Rachel. Well, yes, Olivia, I kind of thought that was a given. Esther, struck by a sudden idea, asks Olivia to try to draw the weapon — she thinks she knows someone who might be able to help.
Following Esther’s suggestion, Olivia takes her sketch of the weapon to an unspecified office filled with cubicle drones. Oh, look! It’s our Massive Dynamic science guy again, making yet another appearance!
This guy has been in three episodes, and he still doesn’t have a name.
He recognizes the weapon as being the creation of a big tech company in New York, a company he really, really, really wants to work for… Three guesses, people.
Olivia barges into Nina’s office at Massive Dynamic and presents her with the drawing. Nina asks her assistant to bring her the file on the weapon: it’s a quantum laser. Nina grills Olivia on the man who attacked her and identifies him as one of the Watchers. She claims they’re dangerous and not prone to making idle threats. Nina’s whole purpose in this episode is to warn Olivia about terrible yet unspecified dangers. And she still hasn’t burst into song.
Nina looks mighty smug about not having to sing.
In the present, Ella says of Nina, “She was lying, wasn’t she?” Ella distrusts Nina, just on general principle. “Smart girl,” Walter says. (Interesting — have we seen any indication that Walter knows Nina isn’t trustworthy? Walter has always seemed too far off in his own Walterland to pay much attention to Nina’s shenanigans.)
Olivia smashes in Nina’s car’s tail light, which allows her to trail her easily in the dark. Old-school GPS, we call it. While in pursuit of Nina, she calls Esther. Oh, man, Esther is using a WOOD-PANELED LAPTOP. Fringe prop department, treat yourself to a muffin basket for that one.
Anyway, Esther has been investigating Massive Dynamic on ye olde internet. She fills Olivia in on the mysterious company founder, William Bell, who hasn’t appeared in public in a couple of years.
Olivia trails Nina home and spies on her while Nina communicates with William Bell through means of a flickering, grainy, black-and-white projection.
Nimoy, circa In Search Of…
Nina reports that Peter doesn’t have possession of the heart. Nina and Bell, who are clearly lovers, want to use the heart to create a stable door between the two universes. “We can finally be together again,” says Nina. As Olivia watches this, someone attacks her from behind and knocks her out.
When Olivia wakes up, she’s bound hand and foot and lying below deck on a boat. Or, rather, by the tilting camera motion and the ocean sounds outside, we’re meant to assume she’s on a boat. I think there’s a life preserver nailed to the wall, too. Maybe a fishing net. They cut some corners in this episode, but it’s okay: This is a story told to a kid, and it doesn’t matter if the details aren’t all there.
Nina and a Watcher (i.e. an Observer) approach Olivia. Nina tells her she gave Olivia fair warning, but Olivia left her with no choice.
Why is 1940s Nina dressed like an Edwardian nanny?
The Watcher grabs Olivia and stuffs her inside a pine coffin, which is dropped overboard.
The coffin fills with water. Olivia wigs out… and then the coffin lid is opened, and she finds herself staring up at Peter. Peter pulls her to safety into his little rowboat.
In the empty, cobwebby Bishop house, Olivia, her hair soaking wet, pads around in a white T-shirt and striped trousers, both obviously Peter’s. She examines a map on an easel, which features a starburst of pushpins stuck in the Eastern Seaboard. Peter approaches and asks if she’s feeling better. He explains he’s been using this place as his hideout. He fixes her coffee and a tasty breakfast while explaining how he came to rescue her: Someone told him she was looking for him, so he followed her. They banter a bit about jazz and dancing, complete with lots of meaningful eye contact, then Olivia ruins the romantic moment by accusing him of stealing Walter’s glass heart. Peter insists she’s been fed some bad information: The glass heart belongs to him — he was born with it, in fact. He gave his heart willingly to Walter, because he believed in all the good he was doing… until he discovered the evil truth. The 147 pins on the map each represent a child whose dreams have been stolen by Walter for use in his inventions and replaced with nightmares.
…Okay. Yes, this “stealing children’s dreams” business is corny as hell, and if this were a typical Fringe episode, I’d be squawking up a storm. But as Walter’s drug-addled fairy tale? It’s fine. I’m not going to go too far out on a limb to defend this episode, but there are some definite evocative elements here. The way Walter has cast himself as a deceitful villain in his own story, see, that’s interesting. The way Walter understands he hurt children all under the guise of doing good, like his experiments with Cortexiphan, that’s also interesting. It’s also worth noting how the Watchers/Observers, who have always seemed benign and well-intentioned, are flat-out evil here. Does Walter subconsciously mistrust the Observers, and if so, does he have good reason for it?
Peter unbuttons his shirt and reveals a metal door on his own chest. He shows Olivia the glass heart.
Sheesh, they’ll find any excuse for Peter to get his shirt off.
The house shakes. Some kind of electrical device — a sonic boomerang, looks like — appears in the wall. Peter looks at it. “Oh, hell,” he says.
And then a half-dozen or so Watchers suddenly swarm the house, attacking Peter and Olivia, punching and kicking and firing their weird little Observer weapons. Olivia and Peter fight them off as best they can. Olivia, naturally, is somewhat better at this than Peter.
Olivia battles a horde of Eisenhower-era insurance salesmen.
After Olivia finally manages to beat them down, she finds Peter slumped on the floor, his chest plate open and his heart stolen. Peter talks her through the process of replacing his missing heart with batteries. If Olivia touches the sides, she’ll kill him. It’s a callback to the Operation game in the beginning of the episode, or perhaps an homage to the first Iron Man film. Whichever.
Olivia gropes around in Peter’s chest and hooks the batteries up to wires while she talks about why she became a detective. I sort of tuned her out during this scene because it was a bit dull, but I believe it had something to do with Love. This hard-boiled detective version of Olivia is pretty awesome, but the whole needs-the-love-of-a-good-man shtick gets old pretty quick.
She installs all the batteries successfully, but Peter dies anyway. Heartbroken, Olivia starts warbling a sad, whispery version of “For Once in My Life”… okay, please, make it stop. Peter comes back to life, as it’s the only way to get Olivia to knock it off with the singing.
“Peter, don’t you die on me, or I swear to God I’ll start singing!”
Peter identifies the device the Watchers used to enter the Bishop home as one of Walter’s inventions, which indicates Walter was behind the theft of the heart. Peter and Olivia charge over to the lab and confront Walter, who is fondling Peter’s heart.
Amidst all the songs in this episode, no one sings “Heart of Glass.”
Walter insists he never meant to hurt anyone. Peter is unmoved. He takes back his heart and flounces out of the laboratory, with Olivia at his heels. Left alone and broken, Walter sadly sings “The Candy Man Can” to himself.
Ella tells Walter his story has a downright sucky ending. The kid could use a lesson in tact, but she’s not wrong. She berates his storytelling prowess and informs him that all stories need to end with “happily ever after.” Talk to my screenwriting professors, kid. They’ll set you straight on that point. Ella gives her own version of the ending…
Walter’s laboratory, take two: Peter realizes there’s still goodness in Walter, so he splits the glass heart in two and gives half to Walter.
Breaking Walter’s heart in the most painfully literal sense.
Then Peter and Olivia dance around the laboratory while Walter’s gramophone plays “Blue Moon.” And they live happily ever after.
If he dips her any lower, her fedora’s going to fall off.
Back in the real world, Olivia — the real Olivia, not Slinky 1940s Detective Olivia — returns to the laboratory, having had no luck tracking down Peter. Astrid drives a depressed Walter home. An Observer stands across the street from the Bishop house, unseen, and watches them approach. He takes out his phone and talks to someone: “The boy has not returned, and I do not believe Dr. Bishop remembers my warning.”
We survived the musical episode. The only casualty was our dignity.”
Did you get this whole song-and-dance business out of your system, Fringe? Good. Next episode, we’ll return to the original season currently in progress, and let’s never speak of this again.