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An Observer sits in a park in Boston. He’s not the same Observer we met last season, though he’s rocking the same iconic look: pale skin, no eyebrows, bald head, dark suit, fedora. He looks down at an old-fashioned pocket watch and drinks from a metal thermos cup, then scribbles some strange characters into a journal. He glances through an odd pair of binoculars — sort of antique and high-tech at the same time — at a pretty young brunette woman with an assortment of haphazard braids and vivid red streaks in her hair. An old veteran soliciting donations stops and remarks on the Observer’s odd binoculars. The Observer replies, “They’re from somewhere far away.” When the Observer informs him he has no money, the vet pins a flag pin to the lapel of his suit anyway. The Observer looks baffled by this, but thanks him. He places his binoculars in his briefcase (which contains, oddly, a teddy bear) and gets to his feet, leaving his journal behind on the bench.
He approaches the young brunette woman, takes her by the arm, and tells her to come with him. Naturally enough, she struggles and protests. When a passerby comes to her aid, the Observer zaps him with the same non-lethal weapon the original Observer used on Peter last season. He injects the young woman with something and knocks her out. Then he breaks a car window, unlocks the door, and places her gently in the back seat. Considering the outright awfulness of the situation — he’s kidnapping a woman he just knocked unconscious — there doesn’t seem to be anything menacing about him. He seems solemn yet harmless.
A police officer arrives and opens fire on the Observer, but there’s a weird kind of flicker, and the bullet… disappears or something. It’s hard to figure out what happened, but the Observer is unharmed. He gets in the car and presses his thumb to the ignition to start the engine without a key. The Observers are kind of creepy little guys, but no one can say they aren’t handy.
Olivia lies asleep on her couch, fully clothed. Her young niece Ella wakes her up, brandishing a map to an amusement park. Oh. Ella and Rachel are still around, huh? Huh. I was sort of hoping they’d moved away by now. Ella’s a cute kid, and I don’t dislike Rachel. And I get that the whole point is to show the contrast between Olivia’s ultra-normal home life and the bizarre things she sees every day at work. Still, Olivia herself is so interesting and dynamic that her personal life always seems a little anticlimactic. I’d be happier if it turned out she was rooming with, say, a quartet of hot Brazilian soccer players.
Ella has already picked out four roller coasters at the amusement park that she plans to ride with Aunt Liv. Olivia nixes the roller coaster idea, claiming she’s scared. Pshaw, right. When the phone rings, Olivia’s face falls. She asks the person on the other end, presumably Broyles, “Where?” When she ends the call, she tells Ella she’ll have to take a rain check on their planned day of fun. Ella is surprisingly sanguine about this, and indeed seems to be taking the news a whole lot better than Aunt Liv.
Olivia drops by Peter and Walter’s house. She briefs Peter on the new case: An eyewitness accurately described the Observer, but they have no information on the young woman who was kidnapped. In the kitchen, Walter whips up an elaborate series of strawberry milkshakes. Olivia, shouting over the noise of the blender, grills Walter on his knowledge of the Observer. Walter would rather talk about milkshakes: He’s bereft because his favorite ice cream parlor shut down, so he’s trying to replicate his favorite flavor combination.
Olivia and Peter eventually get Walter to the basement laboratory. Walter wistfully brings up the time the Observer saved him and young Peter from dying in the frozen lake. Astrid mentions that the Observer’s journal was found at the scene. She also has surveillance camera footage of the abduction. In viewing the footage, Olivia notices that it’s a different Observer than the one they met before. Everyone seems incredulous at the concept that there might be more than one Observer, but this is old news to viewers — after all, we met that cool little kid Observer back in the first season. Freezing the surveillance tape at the moment the cop fires the gun reveals that the Observer caught the bullet in his hand, faster than the naked eye could see.
In a nondescript motel room, the young woman regains consciousness to find the Observer tying her to a chair. She pleads with him to let her go. He does the tried-and-true Observer trick of speaking simultaneously with her, saying exactly the same words, which is a creepy and effective way to get her to stop talking. He gags her with his necktie and tells her, calmly and not without sympathy, that she’ll be safer if she stays quiet. He puts on his hat and leaves while she sobs. There’s not much menace to this scene — the Observer doesn’t seem like he has any intention of hurting Christine — but I don’t have a big repertoire of quips about frightened and sobbing kidnap victims, so I’m just going to leave it at that.
Broyles and Olivia sit on a park bench and discuss what they know about the case. The young woman is Christine Hollis, who is currently working toward a Masters of Fine Arts at Boston University. Her parents are dead, and she has no siblings. Olivia wonders why the Observer is involving himself in Christine’s life. Broyles advises her to figure out why Christine is so special.
Back at the lab, Walter is still trying to replicate his perfect strawberry milkshake. Peter shows him an orange splotch on the Observer’s journal, which he thinks might be blood, even though it doesn’t really look like blood. You know, what with blood not being orange. Peter asks if the Observer who saved them from drowning in the frozen pond ever told Walter why he rescued them. Walter says no.
Astrid analyzes the symbols in the Observer’s journal. She mentions that it doesn’t make sense: She’s identified 1246 distinct characters, no repeats. This is impossible, because written language can only be understood through repetition. Granted, all the cool stuff happens in the Fringe division, but Astrid really needs to request a transfer to some other FBI department where she can put her linguistics degree and her computer science degree to regular use, instead of using her knowledge intermittently in between acting as Walter’s babysitter/lab rat. Walter looks interested in Astrid’s report. He secretly begins examining the Observer’s journal.
When Olivia enters, they brief her on the splotch of blood. The blood has a distinct orange tint, which might be a sign of hemophilia. Or it might be a sign that IT’S NOT REALLY BLOOD. Olivia decides to check hospital records to see if any local hemophiliacs match the Observer’s description. Save yourself some legwork, Olivia, and wait for those test results first.
Astrid reveals that someone else has been investigating the symbols in the journal, too. Olivia asks who, and we cut to…
Massive Dynamic. Awesome. Massive Dynamic is the epicenter of fun. An energetic young researcher cheerfully informs Olivia and Peter that the symbols have been “blowing (his) mind” for a while now. He’s found the symbols etched on various ancient artifacts. He’s got no idea what they mean, but he’s also found something else. He shows them Paul Revere’s 1770 engraving of the Boston Massacre: There’s the Observer standing in the background. A painting of the beheading of Marie Antoinette? There’s the Observer. A photograph of the crowd before the assassination of Franz Ferdinand (the Hungarian archduke, not the Scottish band)? There’s the Observer. Oh, come on. With any show with a far-fetched premise like Fringe, I have no business complaining when the plot stretches credulity… but I’m going to complain that the plot is stretching credulity. It’s not like Paul Revere asked everyone at the Boston Massacre to stand still and hold their poses while he tidied up his engraving, and in all the mayhem and bloodshed it seems unlikely he’d remember the enigmatic bald dude standing around watching the carnage unfold.
The researcher thinks the Observers aren’t limited by the human perception of time. Somehow, his demonstration of linear versus nonlinear time involves dumping blue liquid through a tube onto Peter’s shoes. The researcher claims the Observers show up at important historical moments. He knows of two dozen Observer occurrences in the past five thousand years — and 26 occurrences in the past three months. In other words, something big is about to happen.
(Considering how they apparently have the entirety of history from which to draw sartorial inspiration, it’s odd how all Observers choose to dress themselves like mid-level accountants, circa 1953. If I were an Observer, I’d occasionally pop up in a toga, just to mix things up a bit.)
At an Indian restaurant, the original first-season Observer and an older Observer dump great amounts of hot sauce on their food. A third Observer joins them. It’s an Observerpalooza! The third Observer tells his buddies, “We have trouble with August.” August, it seems, is the name of the Observer who has kidnapped Christine. This is good to know. It’d be swell if these other three Observers were ever identified by name, too, so I wouldn’t have to keep calling them “original Observer,” “older Observer,” and… you know what, I have no idea how to identify the third Observer to arrive at this gathering. Good thing he doesn’t have much to do in this episode, or else I’d end up calling him July. Anyway, the third Observer shows the others photos of August kidnapping Christine. The older Observer, who seems to be the boss of this group, asks who she is. The third Observer doesn’t know, but she was supposed to be on Tropos Air Flight 821. Grim looks are exchanged all around the table. Deliberately making someone miss a flight! Is there no end to August’s mischief? The older Observer notes that August has created an irregularity that must be repaired. He tells the original Observer, “Contact Donald.” The original Observer uses a small handheld electronic device to send a signal.
(I realize descriptions like “small handheld electronic device” are not terribly useful or evocative, but some of the Observer equipment is tricky to describe. Everything they use — binoculars, weapons, communication devices — looks like it dates from an earlier era, and yet at the same time it looks… strange. Someone in the prop department is doing a good job, I guess that’s what I’m trying to say.)
A paunchy, nondescript, middle-aged man — Donald — carries a sack of produce through an outdoor market. He glances down at his own small handheld electronic device (sorry), which displays a series of three green dots followed by a single red one.
He puts the device in his pocket and the groceries in the trunk, then gets in the car. Safe in the front seat, he opens his briefcase. Inside is a dot matrix printer, just like the one I had in college. I’m old. For my entire freshman year, I used an electric typewriter. While Donald screws a silencer onto the gun barrel, the printer prints a fuzzy photo of Christine, line by painstaking line. Observers, take note: Technology keeps evolving for a reason.
Allston, Massachusetts: In an apartment filled with colorful paintings, Peter and Olivia interview a nameless young blonde woman, who turns out to be subletting from Christine. On the day she was kidnapped, Christine was due to fly to Italy to spend the semester overseas. Peter picks up a photo of Christine as a child, standing on a pier with her parents. Christine’s friend notes that the photo was taken right before Christine’s parents were killed in the 1989 San Francisco earthquake. In the background of the photo stands an Observer (August, presumably, though it’s impossible to tell for certain). Well, that’s mighty convenient. I suspect the Observers are a bunch of secret camera whores.
In the motel room, Christine struggles to get free and ends up knocking her chair over and tumbling to the ground. August comes in with a bag of Chinese food. He removes his hat, then methodically sets the chair upright and lifts Christine, still bound, back onto it. He unties her gag, then notices her wrists are bloody from struggling to free herself. He seems visibly distraught about this. She asks why he’s doing this; he replies that it would be easier to show her, then turns on the news. It’s bad enough he kidnapped her, but forcing her to watch local news? That’s just cruel.
Olivia and Peter drive around. Olivia tells her… car… to call the Jacobsens, who are watching Ella for the day, and the car obliges. Er… I’m assuming this is something cars nowadays can legitimately do, right? Automatically dial phone numbers based on voice recognition? Forgive the question; I don’t drive. Whenever I’m riding around with friends, I’m still vaguely dazzled by these newfangled “GPS” devices everyone seems to have. Especially the ones that speak. Astonishing! Anyway, Ella’s out having ice cream, so she can’t come to the phone to say hello to her aunt. When Olivia hangs up, Peter notices she seems a little melancholy. Olivia explains about their postponed day at the amusement park. She reminisces about how when she was six, her mother took her to see her first movie. Overwhelmed by the popcorn and the red velvet curtain of the theater, young Olivia proclaimed, “This is the best movie ever!” before the film had even started. Oh, Olivia. That’s sort of sad. I guess your crackerjack observation skills developed later in life, huh?
Olivia stops waxing nostalgic when a radio broadcast announces that Flight 821, en route from Boston to Rome, crashed into the ocean, killing everyone on board. Peter checks Christine’s travel itinerary and confirms that she was supposed to be on the plane. If there’s one lesson to take away from regular viewing of Fringe, it’s this: Never get on a plane.
In the motel, Christine watches the news broadcast about the plane crash, aghast. “You were going to die,” August tells her. Hey, I just figured something out: You know the bit with the veteran in the opening sequence pinning a flag pin on August’s lapel? It’s to distinguish him easily from the other Observers — both literally (I don’t mean to sound insensitive, but all Observers really do look alike, and it’s nice being able to spot that flag pin and pick August out immediately) and as a subtler indication that August is somehow different than the others. August tells Christine he saved her, but she’s not safe yet: there’s still something he needs to do. He gags her again, informing her it’s for her own protection.
Walter scribbles on a notepad, decoding the symbols in August’s journal. He overhears Olivia and Peter talking about the crash. Over 200 people were killed; Peter wonders why August saved Christine. Everyone spends a whole lot of time in this episode wondering what makes Christine so special, when they’re kind of missing the obvious: Christine is extremely pretty, and she seems like a sweetheart. How many viewers figured out from the opening scene that August has a crush?
Astrid gives Walter the test results on the blood splotch found on August’s journal: It contains high amounts of capsaicin, and thus is chili pepper juice, not blood. I love Fringe, and I think it’s extremely well-written, but dude — did our entire team of super-sharp FBI agents/mad scientists really mistake Tabasco sauce for blood? Really? Of the splotch, Peter dryly notes, “We’ll add ‘messy’ to the APB.” Walter says the pepper that caused the splotch would rate about 970,000 on the Scoville scale. For context, this puts it above a habanero, but well below pepper spray. Walter, whose staggering breadth of random knowledge apparently extends to chili peppers, identifies the source as the King Cobra Chile from India. Walter reminisces about eating one once: “The flatulence was horrible.” Thank you for that, Walter. Olivia sends Astrid off to find local importers.
August visits the other three Observers at the Indian restaurant. Finally, they’ve got enough for bridge! Or a barbershop quartet! The older Observer tells August, “It appears you’ve been busy.” All the Observers speak the same way, in precise, slow, tense speech patterns. Get a group of them together, and it really becomes noticeable. The older Observer grills August about Christine. August says he’s observed her for much of her life and knows she’s unique. The older Observer notes that all humans are unique, but they’re not allowed to interfere, except to correct mistakes of their own making. August insists that Christine is important. Sure, where “important” means “really, really pretty and has hair that smells like violets.” The older Observer believes August’s perception is in error: “Miss Hollis must be corrected. We’ve already seen to it.”
In the lab, Olivia can’t find anything special about Christine’s background. Peter gives Olivia food and tries to get her to eat, which is sort of sweet, but Olivia barely notices. Astrid tracks down the names of three Boston-area restaurants that imported the King Cobra chilies last year, plus one private citizen who bought some with a money order. The address on the money order is for an apartment in Cambridge. Peter and Olivia leave to investigate.
Walter gets Astrid to taste his latest milkshake concoction: French vanilla ice cream and cherry cough syrup. Sure, you laugh, but my father, who has a healthy mad-scientist streak, does this sort of thing all the time. He insists a splash of vinegar improves the taste of cappuccino. True story. Walter sends Astrid to the market for cherries. As soon as she’s gone, Walter grabs his coat and takes off. As far as ditching Astrid goes, that was a whole lot nicer than the time he jabbed her with a syringe and knocked her unconscious.
Donald breaks into August’s apartment, silenced gun drawn. There’s some furniture, but not much in the way of dÃ©cor. Just a montage of surveillance photos of Christine taped to the wall and a windup toy monkey with cymbals perched on the windowsill.
Walter enters a diner and sits across from August, who notes, “You got my message.” Referring to Walter’s attempts to decipher the symbols in August’s notebook, August says that he suspected the likeness of a nitrogen molecule would attract Walter’s attention. Good call, August. That was an awesomely geeky way to send a message to Walter.
Walter begs August not to take Peter. “Your friend” — the original Observer — “and I had a deal.” Walter babbles, heartbreakingly, about how he knows what he did was wrong, but August, baffled, cuts him off and tells him it’s not why he contacted him. August needs Walter’s help. Walter suggests calling Peter and Olivia to bring them in on this, but August mentions that they’re probably occupied.
In August’s apartment, Donald takes out a knife and runs the tip down the pages of the yellow pages. He flips the book open with the knife tip and finds an ad for the Brooke Motel, presumably because the pages were slightly disarranged at that point. When Peter and Olivia burst in, Donald is nowhere in sight, but the toy monkey is chattering away in the bathroom sink. They split up and search the place. Donald sneaks up behind Peter, puts the gun to his head, and quietly orders him on his knees. Peter, always the rebel, spins around and punches Donald instead. The gun goes off. Donald makes a break for it. In the chaos, Olivia almost ends up shooting Peter, and Donald gets away.
August confesses to Walter that he’s interfered in the natural course of events, which means the other Observers will try to kill Christine to set things right. He can’t see any course of action that will prevent her death. He’s turned to Walter for help, because Walter has solved this same problem before. Walter sadly notes that there was no great trick to it: “I just missed my son.” He asks why Christine is important, and once again August can’t explain — he merely sees it. Walter tells him in order to save Christine, he must make her important… but he must be prepared to face the consequences.
Peter and Olivia search the apartment. Peter finds a newspaper from 1884. Yes, yes, we get it. The Observers move through time. This point was ably demonstrated by the Massive Dynamic dude who kept dumping blue liquid on Peter’s shoes. No need to bash us over the head and shoulders with the information.
August returns and ungags Christine again. He kneels in front of her, unties her hands, and asks if she trusts him. She assures the crazy man who has been keeping her bound and gagged in a hotel room that yep, she sure does. He instructs her to do exactly what he says.
A forensic unit searches August’s apartment. Olivia answers her phone: Someone reported seeing August at a motel in Lowell.
Donald arrives at the Brooke Motel and searches August’s room. August bursts out of the closet and shoots Donald with his strange weapon. It knocks Donald out only for a moment. Donald follows August outside, and the two have a rather laconic gunfight, with Donald shooting real bullets and August shooting his non-lethal stun gun thingy and neither of them hitting the other. Donald insists he’s just trying to do his job and demands to know where he’s hiding Christine. August calmly says, “Goodbye” and raises his weapon. Donald riddles August with bullets just as Olivia and Peter arrive.
Olivia hightails it after Donald. Peter crouches by August, who is barely alive. He grabs Peter’s hand and gives him his weapon.
Donald gets the drop on Olivia. He stands on a motel railing and prepares to fire down at her… but Peter uses August’s stun gun thingy on him. Donald tumbles to the pavement below.
Olivia finds Christine unharmed, wedged between the mattress and headboard. Olivia identifies herself and assures Christine she’s safe. When Christine asks about the nice crazy man who kidnapped her, Olivia doesn’t answer.
August slumps in the backseat of a car. The original Observer and the older Observer sit in the front. August asks if Christine will be safe now. The older Observer wonders why he saved her. August says he first saw her as a child: Her parents had just died, and she was crying, but she was brave. He says, “She crossed my mind, and somehow she never left it.” August comes to the realization that he loves Christine. Well, yeah. He asks again if she’s safe, and the older Observer assures him she is: August made her important. A tear rolls down August’s cheek. He dies as the Observer finishes his sentiment: “She is responsible for the death of one of us.”
Safe in her apartment, Christine asks Olivia and Peter how she can make sense of this. Walter says August asked him to give her something and produces a teddy bear. She recognizes the bear: Her dad won it for her playing skee ball, and she was holding it when the bridge collapsed. Walter tells her she’s safe now. Between the earthquake and the plane crash and the kidnapping and the assassin who tried to kill her, the poor woman is never going to leave her apartment again.
Peter chases Walter down the stairs and tries to grill him about his meeting with August. Walter dodges his son’s queries and suggests they go for a long drive together to get a tutti-frutti milkshake.
Broyles and Olivia walk through a park. My goodness, this has been a Broyles-light episode, hasn’t it? Broyles’s arm is in a sling, a souvenir of Peter shooting him last episode. The assassin, Donald, has been linked to homicides going back a decade. The FBI techs have been examining August’s gun, but have never seen anything like it. Broyles also reveals that August called the FBI himself to tip them off; Olivia reasons that he probably realized he needed help protecting Christine. She asks for the rest of the day off. Broyles asks if she has big plans…
…And we smash cut to Olivia, who is having a fine old time on the roller coaster with Ella. Unseen by Olivia, the original Observer and the older Observer are there, eating Popsicles and watching her. They note that Olivia — I’m assuming they’re talking about Olivia, though they could be talking about Ella, or some random female amusement park-goer — looks happy. The older Observer notes, “It’s a shame things are about to get so hard for her.”