Fringe: “6B”

Healing the Breach


Fox Network, Fridays, 9 PM


Written by Glenn Whitman & Robert Chiapetta

Directed by Thomas Yatsko

“Do you really think this is the end of the world as we know it?” — Olivia

Fringe often makes it easy to forget how tenuous the connections between its stories and reality really are; the show is usually so well written that the suspension of disbelief required to believe in, say, parallel universes, is easy and automatic. But then there are episodes like this one, which jolt me so far out of the story with an absurd premise that I wind up on the other side of my living room. There’s nothing to fault in the writing, the pacing, the production values, all of which are up to par, which is to say first class. No, it’s the basic idea that mere human beings can will into being a hole in the space-time fabric, or open a gate to another universe, that collapses the entire conceit into absurdity.

“Like the other universe, our world is starting to come apart at the seams.” — Walter

Two yuppies arrive at a Brooklyn apartment house (the Rosencrantz, named for a character in Hamlet) for a party. As they wait for the elevator, a woman exits the stairway, carrying suitcases. She delivers herself of an ominous warning, then tells the doorman she’s moving out to the Schrödinger hotel (which may or may not actually be there, given its name). As he gets her a cab, several bodies fall to the sidewalk – they are the party guests from 7C who were on the balcony. The Fringe division investigates, and Peter quickly deduces that the guests didn’t fall over the railing, but through the balcony, which now appears as solid as rock. Further investigation reveals that the entire building has been experiencing so many bizarre incidents lately that tenants are moving out – apparently to the Schrödinger Hotel.

“It is not a soft spot, dear, it is a hole, which could potentially become a vortex.” – Walter

Walter sets up assorted monitoring equipment, and Peter concentrates in inducing a “heightened emotional state” (unintentionally) in Olivia. The result is a glimmer on the penthouse floor; when Peter and Olivia investigate, they find an elderly lady, Alice Merchant (Phyllis Somerville, Life on Mars), watching a ghost of her late husband, Derek (Ken Pogue, The Collector). Walter, who does not believe in ghosts, says that somehow Alice is seeing through our world into the parallel universe, where her Derek did not die in a freak accident. The veil between worlds has apparently worn so thin that now even ordinary mortals like Alice can see through it. Walter deduces that a rift in space-time is opening up, one which is spreading chaos from the Other Side to us. He is terrified that whatever is causing the rift, it will widen and spread, causing the same damage and chaos on our side that he has seen in the alternate universe.

“Some sort of quantum emotional entanglement, perhaps. Spooky action at a distance.” — Walter

Walter decides that the best way to prevent a disastrous rift is to employ the same techniques he saw Walternate using on the other side: amber. Since its first appearance three years ago, we’ve been given several episodes which involve encasing the hapless victims of a vortex (or Level Four Event, as the AltFringies call it) in an amber-like substance. He has Massive Dynamics pull samples of it out of their archives, and “that nervous fellow, Brandon” manages to duplicate it. All is in place now, despite the horrific consequences, for deploying amber at the Rosencrantz Building to seal the breach. Olivia, having seen more closely than the others what the social and personal effects of amberization can be, explores alternatives. First Peter, then Olivia glom onto the idiotic notion that Alice’s grief for her husband is somehow altering the structure of the cosmos. We’ve certainly seen people and events cross over before. In all those cases, some machine or device was at work, whether it was Walter using a gate he built himself, or Walternate using a sensory deprivation tank. We’ve even seen people dosed with Cortexiphan, like Olivia and her fellow test subjects, cross without external equipment. What we’ve never seen before is someone opening that door based on emotion.

“Is it possible that these two people, each grieving for a version of each other in the exact same spot, are somehow causing this soft spot?” – Olivia

No, Olivia, it’s not possible. And this is where the show lost me entirely. If grief alone could open windows between worlds, even if it required such strict circumstances as being in the same physical spot — a problematic proposition, given that this planet rotates at 1070 miles per hour, circling the sun at 30 kilometers per second – then this window phenomenon would surely have been seen at Darfur or Auschwitz or Ground Zero. Even if it were confined to recent events, Haiti alone could have opened a tunnel to the other world. To posit that one person could do it, all by herself, is absurd. Call me picky, but I like to have a dose of science in my science fiction. If Alice or Derek could have been shown as having been dosed with Cortexiphan (the magic chemical that allows people to break most physical laws) I might be persuaded to believe this nonsense. But raw emotion? One person’s emotion? No. I don’t buy it.

“I’m struggling because the reasons are real. I’m not making them up.” — Olivia

And then there’s the whole idea of “amber”. The more the show presents this idea to me, the less sense it makes. I’m being asked to believe that something so fragile you can break a chunk off of it with a crowbar is strong enough to stop a quantum event? This ‘solution’ has never made sense to me. A moment’s consideration of the titanic forces at work, from the weak/strong forces to gravity, would show how absurd it is. Using any terrestrial physical material against such overwhelming forces would be like trying to stop a tsunami by putting a pebble in its path. A breach between worlds would pull whole galaxies out of alignment, let alone rain down a few partyers from a seventh floor balcony. This show, which usually uses concepts on a grand scale, and has indeed made me catch my breath in wonder more than once, here sinks to the level of comic-book absurdity.

“I want what you want.” – Olivia

The best part of this episode was the B story, focusing on the Peter/Olivia romance. From Walter’s sophomoric attempts to get them together over breakfast, to his broad hints to his son, there was plenty of silliness to lighten the mood. But even better, we finally got those important conversations between Olivia and Peter that have been put off and put off and put off, in true soap opera fashion, until the audience has nearly forgotten that they need to be said. Peter explains his feelings to Olivia, and she opens up to him, and the two finally achieve the emotional intimacy that has been missing since the last episode of Season Two. When she finally shows up in the epilog at Peter’s house, kisses him and takes him upstairs, we finally reach the end of an arc that has spun on far too long. Of course, since last week we’ve already known that there are titanic emotional forces about to reach Peter from the Other Side: FauxLivia is pregnant by him. If Alice’s emotional quantum entanglement was enough to open a window, FauxLivia’s will open a freeway.

Fringe saw a gain in audience share after last week, so maybe the soap opera approach is working. At any rate, the show averaged 4.5 million viewers, with a ratings share among 18-to-49 viewers at 1.5. This is a tiny gain from last week’s 1.4, but not spectacular enough to take the show out of the cancellation danger zone.