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In Worchester, Massachusetts, a couple of cute teens sit in a car parked outside an abandoned building. They share a joint and listen to Rush’s “Tom Sawyer,” just like so many teens these days. This is still 1981, right? One of the windows of the building explodes, so the guy, an amiable nitwit named Dave, enters the building to investigate, while his girlfriend, a grumpy nitwit named Jill, stays in the car and locks the doors.
Dave prowls around the dark building. He sees a white, spiky sphere pulsing and glowing on the floor. Naturally, Dave picks up a shovel and prods it, which is the sort of thing that seems like a great idea when you’re stoned. Kids, stay away from drugs. Something — sort of a malformed human shape — comes up behind him, grabs him, and breaks his neck.
The human shape –it’s one of those blasted shapeshifters, like the one that killed poor cute Agent Charlie at the start of the season — feeds the end of a cord into Dave’s mouth and places the other end in his own mouth. He then activates some kind of electrical device. Gradually, the shapeshifter starts to take on Dave’s appearance. This is one of the neat things about Fringe: Granted, the scientific ideas they try to float on this show are at best improbable and are often pretty ludicrous, like shapeshifting, but they try, really try, to sell them as best they can. Usually, they do a pretty good job. Contrast this with other films or on TV — I’m thinking specifically of Heroes and X-Men here, but there’s no shortage of examples — where shapeshifters just have to look at someone, or maybe touch them, to be able to flawlessly replicate their appearance and voice.
Shapeshifter Dave returns to the car, where a peevish Jill bawls him out for dawdling and tells him she wants to leave. Dave glowers at her ominously. She sees another malformed shapeshifter approaching the car. She screams, and Dave attacks her. There’s probably a cautionary tale somewhere in the tragic saga of Dave and Jill about the dangers of listening to Rush.
Bishop house: Peter finds a visibly-agitated Walter compulsively rearranging a bunch of framed photographs on his bed. Peter tries to get his dad to relax; Walter insists a well-ordered house is the sign of a well-ordered mind. As Walter has never had anything resembling a well-ordered mind for as long as we’ve known him, I don’t know why he’d be so fixated on trying to have one now. Peter, still worried about Walter’s recent funk, has picked up ingredients for a pecan pie, which he suggests they bake together as a fun father-son bonding experience. Pecan pie is an odd choice for a couple of Boston boys. Delicious, but odd. Can’t hold a candle to a Boston cream pie, though.
Walter tells him the batter can wait — he wants to discuss something important. More important than pie? Unfathomable. He starts going into a long and rambling speech about how death is inevitable, even though no one really wants to talk about it. Just from this scene, I thought for sure Peter would get the mistaken impression that Walter was dying, and the rest of the episode would be devoted to a series of wacky misunderstandings as Peter discreetly tries to make Walter’s final days as comfortable as possible. And then I remembered I wasn’t watching The Golden Girls.
Walter’s confession is interrupted by a phone call from Olivia, who is heading over to pick them up for a new case. Walter assures Peter that their talk can wait. Peter looks at the family photographs, his expression grave. I’m delighted that this episode finally features (spoiler!) Peter’s discovery of Walter’s Big Secret, because honestly, I think they’ve dragged this whole subplot out a couple more episodes than necessary. I’m at my saturation point with Walter moping and fretting and Peter looking perplexed.
Poor Jill has been found in the car, her neck broken. Puncture wounds in her soft palate indicate it was done by a shapeshifter. Or possibly a confused vampire. Olivia wants to send Jill’s photo to local and state law enforcement — whoever is running around in Jill’s body is probably up to no good. Walter finds the discarded joint, which makes him happy and sentimental. Killjoy Olivia interrupts his fond reverie on Joints I Have Known by pointing out the lack of lipstick on the joint, indicating that Jill had company.
Olivia and the others enter the abandoned building. They find Dave dead on the floor, with telltale puncture wounds on his palate. More confused vampires.
Peter uncovers a big, gelatinous, flesh-colored orb. It looks like a gigantic defrosted mutant Thanksgiving turkey, or a flesh-colored Jell-O salad. Yum. It reminds Walter, strangely, of a beanbag chair he once owned. Yet another indication that Peter has been largely responsible for the decorating scheme in the Bishop house, not Walter.
Walter starts to jab at the fleshy orb with a scalpel. Broyles, speaking on behalf of the viewing audience, asks Walter if he really thinks that’s a good idea. Walter assures him he knows what he’s doing. (Hint: Walter does not know what he’s doing.) It starts oozing mercury, which immediately identifies it as a shapeshifter. Walter reaches inside it and pulls out a mechanical object — the shapeshifter’s control device. “Isn’t that wonderful?” Walter asks. Nobody agrees with him.
Shapeshifter Jill and Shapeshifter Dave enter a pawn shop. Hey, look who’s working behind the counter! It’s Newton, Olivia’s nemesis from the alternate universe, the man who swiped bits and pieces of Walter’s brain. I like Newton. He’s mean. Remember how he shot Walter full of the world’s most gimmicky multi-stage poison, then taunted Olivia for being weak when she tried to save him? Fringe needs more nasty recurring bad guys, and Newton fits that bill pretty well. Shapeshifter Jill explains that the third shapeshifter — the flesh-colored Jell-O salad — didn’t make it.
Back in the laboratory, Walter concludes that the fleshy orb is sort of a shapeshifter embryo that failed to properly mature. He exposits about how the shapeshifters are partly mechanical, which explains how they can cross between universes with relative ease. And presumably why they have mercury for blood, too. Olivia deduces that two other embryos crossed over from the other universe as well, though they were able to hatch successfully and kill/replace Jill and Dave.
Broyles calls Olivia to tell her to take a look at some television footage: The television broadcast to homes around the abandoned building was interrupted last night, right around the time Dave and Jill were killed. The footage contains some kind of interference from a signal that might have originated in the alternate universe. Astrid dons her linguistics major hat once again and suggests that the interference might be some kind of language. Peter thinks the interference might be orders to soldiers from the parallel world, as a precursor to an invasion of our world.
Olivia takes the tape to the Massive Dynamic lab and has one of the resident lab rats look at it. I like how the Massive Dynamic scientists are a bunch of wild-eyed kids who loooooove their jobs. Sure, Massive Dynamic is soulless and shady and probably evil, but at least it provides employees with a positive work environment. Anyway, the lab guy — we saw him in the episode “Jacksonville,” too, where he was making outstandingly geeky Raiders of the Lost Ark references — suggests that the television interference is caused by solar flare activity. Massive Dynamic’s Astronomics division picked up some massive solar flare activity, but it doesn’t match Olivia’s waves.
Olivia tells him the interference might have come from a parallel universe, which he thinks would make perfect sense: As time in the parallel universe is slightly out of synch from time in our universe (hey, did we know that before?), the solar flares would be out of synch as well. However, at some specific points, time synchs up between the two universes. To demonstrate his point, he picks up two metronomes — okay, we’ll take it on faith that there’s a legitimate reason why there were two metronomes conveniently sitting around in the laboratory — and shows Olivia how they can be slightly out of synch with each other, and yet still line up on rare occasions. Such is the case with parallel worlds. According to his very hasty calculations, our world and the parallel world will synchronize on the following day at exactly 3:31 in the afternoon. Seriously, it took him about half a second to make that estimation. Make him double-check his figures before you start scheduling some big FBI strategic operation at that exact time, Olivia.
Shapeshifter Jill and Shapeshifter Dave huddle with Newton. Newton distributes metal cases filled with vaguely phallic metal rods. Mysterious! Jill is going to impersonate some guy named McCallister next; Dave will be some guy named Wu. That leaves no one to impersonate someone named Verona, since the third shapeshifter didn’t make it. Jill suggests scrapping the whole assignment. Newton asks, “And I suppose you’ll be the one who’ll give the news to the Secretary?” The question is clearly meant to be rhetorical.
Shapeshifter Jill stops McCallister outside a bank in Chestnut Hill and asks him for directions to Franklin Street. He explains as best he can, but Jill looks at him in an adorably befuddled manner and bats her eyelashes, so he helpfully offers to write it down for her. He has his own pen; she passes him a slip of paper to write on, and he sees it’s a printout of his own picture. He looks at her in sudden alarm. Presumably Jill murders him horribly, though it takes place offscreen.
In the laboratory, Astrid chops away at something with a great deal of vigor. She’s wearing an apron, and there’s a blender right next to her, which makes it look like she’s preparing food. I can’t tell what she’s chopping — it looks dark, but that’s all I can make out. Leaves? Chocolate? Bits of plastic? I have no idea. The weird thing is, the show never addresses what she’s doing. Does this has anything to do with the pecan pie Peter wanted to make with Walter? Is she chopping pecans? Should she really be doing this in the laboratory, what with all the thoroughly disgusting and unhygienic stuff that goes on there? I have so many questions.
Peter comes in and queries about Walter’s whereabouts. Astrid says Walter went out counting cars, as mundane tasks seem to soothe him. He promised he wouldn’t wander into the freeway, for what that’s worth. Peter leafs through one of Walter’s books, and sees he’s using one of their family photos — Peter, Walter, Elizabeth — as a bookmark.
Peter heads off to talk to Olivia. Broyles sent her a list of upcoming events, which the shapeshifters might try to infiltrate. Peter notices there’s a Star Trek convention on the list, which he’d promised to take Walter to. Anyone know if there’s any truth to the rumor that Joshua Jackson auditioned to play Kirk, and J.J. Abrams gave him this role as an awesome consolation prize?
Peter tells Olivia he thinks he’s figured out the source of Walter’s distress: He wants to talk to Peter about how his mother died. A month after Peter got to Europe, Walter called him from the asylum and told him Elizabeth died in a car crash. Peter thinks Walter was trying to protect him from the truth: His mother really committed suicide. He claims this was the only time he ever spoke to Walter during the seventeen years Walter was in the asylum. Olivia tells Peter that Walter loves him very much.
Walter rushes in, wearing a furry hat with ear flaps, Astrid right at his heels. Excited, he claims to know how to find out what the shapeshifters are up to. As they say in Finland, “There’s more than one way to roast a reindeer.” (Astrid says this at the same time as Walter; Astrid, honey, you’ve been spending way too much time in the laboratory.) Walter rattles off the list of things he’ll need — six car batteries, jumper cables, electrical wire, a recently-dead corpse — and rushes off. There are moments when Fringe really does seem more like a zany sitcom than a rather grim and somber supernatural procedural. Those moments usually involve Walter.
Inside a bank, Newton approaches a woman at the front desk and asks to speak to McCallister. McCallister — or, rather, the shapeshifter who previously had taken on Jill’s appearance — hobnobs with Newton about what to do about Verona. Newton says he has some thoughts. Some sneaky, diabolical, evil thoughts. They head into the bank vault, where Newton fiddles around with a hand-held electrical signal-tracking thingamajiggy, then makes a mark on the vault floor with a permanent marker. He applies a little dab of gel to the mark. In seconds, it dissolves a hole clear through the concrete. Handy stuff, whatever that gel is. If it can unclog the fossilized bread dough currently jamming up my garbage disposal, I’m sold.
The woman from the front desk steps into the vault to ask McCallister if he can approve an overdraft withdrawl. Newton casually covers the hole in the vault with his shoe. Yes, it would get mighty uncomfortable if she noticed how the bank manager was helping some random guy drill a hole in the bank vault. All sorts of tricky questions would be raised. After she leaves, Newton opens the metal case, which contains a metal rod sized to fit inside the hole, and orders McCallister to finish it up.
Back at the laboratory, Walter theorizes that he should be able to jump-start the shapeshifter embryo if he pumps it full of electricity. The shapeshifter will then be able to take on the identity of the corpse. Yes, there’s a corpse there, laid out on a gurney right next to the gigantic gelatinous embryo. I think it’s poor Dave from the opening sequence. Anyway, with the capable assistance of his resident Igors — Astrid, Olivia and Peter — Walter zaps the embryo with vast amounts of electricity in an attempt to bring it back to life. Somewhere, Mary Shelley is beaming down on Walter. The power blows out, the embryo glows ominously, and all we really need is Walter bellowing, “It’s aliiiiiiiiive!” to make the scene complete.
The embryo starts to pulse and unfurl, and eventually takes on kind of a rough human shape. Walter notes, “Something’s wrong.” Oh, Walter, there’s all kinds of wrongness going on here. Walter thinks he must have damaged it back in the abandoned building. You know, when he jabbed it with his scalpel? And then stuck his hand inside its innards and yanked out the electrical control device? Yeah, so Walter is kind of thinking now that maybe it wasn’t his best idea.
As Walter scurries to hook up the dying shapeshifter to the corpse, the shapeshifter starts talking to him. The shapeshifter asks for help and tells Walter to contact Newton. At the mention of her latest arch-nemesis, Olivia perks up. She grills the shapeshifter as to Newton’s location. The shapeshifter mentions a name: Daniel Verona, who, per the shapeshifter, is blood type AB negative. Well, that should help track him down, no problem. Olivia asks the shapeshifter what’s scheduled to happen at 3:31 tomorrow. The shapeshifter doesn’t answer. It grabs Walter’s hand, says, “I’m sorry,” and dies. It’s… strangely touching.
A nebbish young man walks through a parking lot to his car. Olivia pulls up in her SUV, emergency lights flashing, and hops out. She addresses him as “Daniel Verona” and whisks him off into protective custody.
Newton, meanwhile, is already implementing his backup plan: He places a call to 911 from a pay phone and says (with an American accent instead of his usual English one) that a man just collapsed from a heart attack. He hangs up, takes out a black capsule from a little pillbox, pops it into his mouth, and, yep, collapses from a heart attack and dies. That’s one thing I like about Newton: When he implements a plan, he commits, damn it.
At FBI headquarters, Olivia and Broyles watch through the one-way mirror as Daniel Verona, a mild-mannered medical examiner at Boston General, gets a blood test to make sure he’s not a shapeshifter.
At Boston General, an attendant wheels a gurney bearing a corpse in a body bag into the morgue. As soon as the attendant leaves the room, Newton unzips the body bag from within and sits up, unruffled and alive. Newton is kind of cool. His whole “coming back from the dead” trick is a good one, too. He whips out one of the metal cylinders and presses a button on top of it. A red light comes on.
Casa Bishop: Walter angrily hacks away at an unsuspecting loaf of bread. Peter mentions that Walter has been awake for two days now — maybe he should chill out a little? Walter berates himself, claiming he should have been more careful with his initial dissection of the embryo. I’m not big on self-recrimination and endlessly second-guessing past decisions, but: Yes, Walter. You should have been more careful with your initial dissection. I mean, you stabbed away at the thing with a scalpel within seconds of first discovering it.
Peter very gently tells Walter to calm down and reassures him it’s going to be okay. Aw, man. I wish I had Peter on hand to make me feel better whenever I do something stupid. Walter, almost teary with happiness, notices that Peter called him “dad” instead of “Walter” for the first time in… well, certainly it’s the first time we’ve seen it on the show. End of an era, folks.
Peter shuffles off to bed, but Walter calls after him in sudden excitement: It just dawned on him what Newton and the shapeshifters are trying to do.
“Newton and the Shapeshifters” is going to be the name of my next band.
Olivia stops by the Bishop house. It’s still night, and apparently Peter and Walter have roused her out of bed and summoned her over for the express purpose of performing a gimmicky little demonstration for her. Walter explains that he’s going to demonstrate how he and William Bell sent a car over to the parallel universe, back in their rapscallion undergraduate days. It requires three harmonic rods — in the case of this example, tuning forks — set up in an equilateral triangle. Walter places a toy car in the center of the triangle. When the tuning forks are activated, their vibrations send the car rolling out of the triangle.
It’ll be even easier for Newton, however, to send stuff back and forth between two universes, because he has agents — the shapeshifters — in both locations. Walter and Peter prepare another demonstration, this time using another set of tuning forks set up in another triangle, with another toy car in the center, to represent the parallel universe. When the forks on both sides are activated, the matter within the centers of the triangles will be transferred to the opposite universe. Adorable little demonstration aside, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when you think about it. Peter and Walter have to physically pick up the toy cars and move them to the centers of the opposite triangles to demonstrate the effect, which sort of ruins their whole nifty visual aid.
My burning question in this scene: Why do Peter and Walter happen to have six tuning forks on hand?
Both universes will be in synch at 3:31, which is about ten hours away. Newton is probably planning on sending over something — an army, maybe — from his world to ours at that time. Thus, they need to find the three points of the triangle before then.
Shapeshifter Dave, meanwhile, has taken on the shape of an electrical repair guy named Wu by this point, all of which happens offscreen. I’m okay with that. A lot happens in this episode; no need to get hung up on minutiae. Shapeshifter Wu activates another of the metal rods and sticks it inside the transformer box on a utility pole.
Olivia, Walter and Peter try to map the three points of the triangle. Astrid reports that McCallister’s corpse was found with the telltale puncture marks in his palate, indicating that the shapeshifters got to him. If they use Boston General as the first location and McCallister’s bank as the second, it means they only need to find one remaining point in the triangle. Since it’s an equilateral triangle, the third point can be in only one of two possible locations. Geometry: Is there anything it can’t do?
Peter plots the triangle points on a map using a straightedge and a protractor. He deduces that the final point can either be located in Hyde Park, or the Charles River. Olivia, clearly thinking of what Walter told her about how he crossed over to the parallel world on the frozen pond, asks if there’s a bridge over the river. Confused, Peter confirms that there’s an abandoned railroad bridge. Olivia fumblingly explains that a large body of water would absorb any excess energy. Walter hastily confirms that this is true. Peter looks suspicious and baffled, like he knows the two of them are hiding something from him, though he can’t quite figure out what it is. Peter sort of looks like that a lot these days.
Newton and the two shapeshifters, still disguised as Wu and McCallister, meet at the Charles River and start to set up some bulky equipment. Behind them is a broken bridge with a hefty gap in the middle. A police car pulls up and parks on the bridge; officers get out and stare at them, clearly interested in what they’re up to. Newton sends the shapeshifters to deal with them.
Olivia, Walter and Peter speed off to the bridge. Walter will be able to nullify Newton’s sound waves with his pneumatic hammer, if they can set it up in the center of the bridge. This will close the doorway between universes. Walter cautions that it’s very dangerous — it’ll amplify the waves, which could be strong enough to tear someone apart.
Olivia parks at the bridge. Two police officers stop them. Olivia pulls out her badge, identifies herself, and tells them they need to get on the bridge. One of the cops says he needs to clear it with his sergeant first. He takes out his cell phone… and Olivia shoots the other cop square in the center of his forehead without warning. Damn, Olivia, you’re a dangerous woman. Mercury oozes out from the wound.
The other cop opens fire. Quick Draw Dunham and Peter duck behind the cop car, while Walter remains safe inside Olivia’s vehicle. Olivia explains to a gobsmacked Peter that a real cop wouldn’t use his cell phone to call the sergeant. I’m not entirely sure that was sufficient cause for shooting someone in the forehead, but it turned out she was right, so let’s move on, shall we?
While Olivia shoots it out with the other shapeshifter cop, Walter drives up to the broken bridge and starts setting up his pneumatic hammer near the gap in the center. On the other side of the bridge, Newton fiddles around with laptop computers and a satellite dish. The three rods are all activated — the one in the morgue, the one in the vault, and the one on the utility pole.
The water beneath the bridge begins to ripple.
With Olivia providing cover, Peter runs through a hail of bullets and joins Walter on the bridge. Walter tries to send him away, claiming it’s too dangerous, but Peter says it’ll go faster if they do it together. Peter is too tactful to point out that, specifically, it’ll go faster if he can do it by himself without Walter mucking up the works.
The bridge starts to shake. Walter’s pneumatic drill is going great blazes, but it’s not neutralizing the vibrations from Newton’s rods. Something’s wrong with his computer program to synchronize the waves, but Peter claims he’ll be able to fix it.
Broyles arrives with a bunch of random agents in tow. Cannon fodder, we call them. They join Peter and Walter on the bridge, along with Olivia. Peter sends them all away. Walter tries to remain behind, but Peter orders him to get to safety, too.
The missing section of the bridge can be seen, blurry and faint but growing stronger, as the two universes start to switch places.
Peter reconnects a cable from the laptop to the drill. A high-pitched sound is emitted. A random FBI redshirt goes to help Peter, but the sound disintegrates him into particles.
Peter can see a shadowy figure walking across the newly-restored bridge. He squints at it. It’s hard to tell, but it looks like a man in an overcoat and hat.
(I’m unspoiled as to anything that happens in next month’s season finale, but my guess and my hope is that the shadowy figure is a vengeance-driven Walternate, mad as hell at Original Walter for stealing his son.)
The missing section of the bridge suddenly disappears again. The gap in the universe is closed with enough force to throw Peter back. He hits his head on the hood of Olivia’s car and is knocked unconscious.
When he wakes, he’s in a hospital room, with Olivia bending over him. She feeds him a tasty snack of ice cubes and cheerfully informs him he’s been out for a day and a half. She says that Walter has been terribly worried about him. An oddly solemn Peter asks Olivia if he can talk to Walter alone.
Walter rushes in, ecstatic. Peter is very quiet for a moment, his expression grave. He saw another man on the bridge, he tells Walter — a man from the other universe. The vibrations disintegrated the FBI agent, but they didn’t affect the man from the other side… and they didn’t affect Peter. “I’m not from here, am I?” Peter asks.
Peter has put a few things together: This is why he can’t remember his childhood. (Wait: Peter can’t remember his childhood? Is this something they’ve established before, or is this something the writers pulled out of their collective asses at the last minute, kind of like when Olivia found out she was able to start fires with her mind as a kid?) He also thinks this is probably why his mother committed suicide: because she couldn’t bear the thought of what Walter had done. It is safe to say that Peter is Not Happy about this.
…You know, I can describe the scene easily enough, but there’s a simple eloquence to the screengrabs:
Peter icily tells Walter he’d like to be alone now, thank you very much. Crushed, Walter stumbles off.
Meanwhile, Newton sits in a dark room somewhere with a mysterious figure — presumably the man from the other side, who apparently did not vanish back to the parallel world when the bridge disappeared — who lies in a bed, hooked up to an elaborate breathing apparatus. Newton addresses him as “Mr. Secretary” and gives him some kind of an injection to ease the aftereffects of crossing over. The figure raises a hand; Newton grips it in solidarity.
Bishop home: Walter wraps a piecrust in a dish towel and snappishly tells a coffee-swilling Astrid he needs her to take him to the hospital now, even though it’s six in the morning. You know, between Walter toting around the piecrust and Astrid fiercely chopping something in the lab, I have the feeling there was a zany “Walter bakes a pecan pie” subplot that got scrapped in the editing bay. Olivia stops by with glum news: Peter checked himself out of the hospital a few hours ago, and he’s not answering his phone. He’s gone.
And the episode, like so many episodes before it, ends with Walter in tears.
Great episode, and I’m glad the truth is finally — finally! — out in the open. We might have to wait a bit for some resolution to this, as the teaser for next week’s episode was… well, I don’t want to spoil anything for people who consider teasers spoilers, but I’ll just say this: Special. Musical. Episode. Did that just send icy fingers of dread down your spine? You’re not alone.