Fringe: “Bloodline”

Dark Red


Fox Network, Fridays, 9 PM


Written by Allison Schapker & Monica Owusa-Breen
Directed by Dennis Smith

“They’re going to kill me, and they’re going to kill the child that I’m carrying.” —Fauxlivia

The red universe is a grim and dangerous place. From the first time we saw it at the end of Season Two, the alternate universe in Fringe has been in a death spiral: whole continents seem to have been abandoned, new plagues are decimating mankind, all the sheep are dead, and coffee costs more than cocaine. Now we learn that humanity’s very existence is in peril, in an episode that reverses much of what I felt about the Alternate characters, and ramps up the very desperate stakes on their side. Last time we were visiting in the red world, Fauxlivia discovered that she was pregnant by Peter Bishop. At the same moment, she lost her fiancé (no surprise there). We now see a deeply ambivalent Fauxlivia visiting an obstetrician who tells her she may die from the same virus that killed her sister and her child in childbirth. It appears that, on top of all the other disasters visited on this world by Walter Bishop’s thoughtless actions twenty-five years ago, a devastating plague is killing one out of two pregnant women in childbirth. A fifty percent maternal and fetal death rate spells doom for any species, let alone Fauxlivia Dunham. Her doctor advises her that if the tests come back positive for the virus, she should terminate the pregnancy. But when Fauxlivia gets home, she is kidnapped.

“They accelerated the pregnancy!” —Fauxlivia

Most of the rest of this episode involves Fauxlivia trying to escape from her captors, who are performing medical procedures on her without her consent. And since this is Fringe, one constant holds true across the universes: the medical procedures take place in a warehouse. In the red world, apparently surgical masks are black instead of white, which gives every scene with a doctor a creepy vibe. With cold efficiency, they sedate Fauxlivia, tie her down, and begin shining lights and administering drugs to her unborn child. Over the next few hours, the fetus grows at an accelerated rate, until Fauxlivia reaches full term. Say what? At first I was extremely skeptical of this idea, until I remembered that this was the plot of the second episodeof the series! In “Same Old Story”, Olivia and Peter investigated a case in our world of a woman who was pregnant for only hours before giving birth to a child that aged 80 years in a day. Is it possible that the foundations for this story, which will prove to be (in my opinion) a game-changer, were laid down three years ago? I don’t know any series in television history that plans that far ahead. Remarkable.

“This is an inside job.” —Lincoln Lee

In a world as closely monitored/surveilled as the red world, it is no surprise that Fauxlivia’s kidnapping is quickly discovered. This throws Lincoln Lee, now acting head of the Fringe Division, into a real panic: not only is Fauxlivia one of his top operatives, but even Charlie knows Lee is in love with her. He leads an increasingly desperate search for her, one which is foiled at every turn by the kidnappers, who seem to have inside knowledge of the Fringe division and its tracking devices. Lee realizes there is a traitor embedded in Fringe Division and reports to Walternate. Walternate tells him everything: that Fauxlivia was in our universe for awhile, that Walternate allowed Ourlivia to infiltrate the Fringe Division, and that Fauxlivia is pregnant by Peter Bishop. Shocked and disillusioned at the lies he’s been fed, Lee tells Charlie the truth. Worse, Fauxlivia’s mother turns up looking for her daughter; the tests have come back, and Fauxlivia has the deadly virus that guarantees she and the baby will die if she attempts to give birth. Lee is now frantic with worry; he enlists AltAstrid’s help; she deduces that the commercial vehicle that has been casing Fauxlivia’s apartment might have something to do with all this.

“You start hearing things about some other universe, it’s hard to ignore.” —Henry

The commercial vehicle turns out to be the cab driven by Henry Higgins (yes, that’s his name), whom we have seen off and on ever since Ourlivia came to the red world. He’s been worried about her since she “came back”, especially since she does not seem to recognize him. The bewildered agents realize that they’ve been lied to relentlessly and comprehensively; instead of taking matters to Walternate, they begin to form their own little investigative unit to track down Fauxlivia. Fauxlivia is now in the late stages of pregnancy. Despite pleas to her captor/nurse Joyce (Kendall Cross, Caprica), no one will help her. Finally she grabs a scalpel and manages to free herself, only to find herself in Chinatown, surrounded by signs she cannot read.

“I’m a cabbie. I know every shortcut.” —Henry

This was a particularly effective scene, and I have to compliment director Smith for a weird and dreamlike sequence, one that perfectly evoked Fauxlivia’s confusion and bewilderment. She finds a phone booth, calls Lee, and collapses in the middle of a crowd. Henry knows all the shortcuts, and takes Lee in his cab to find her; they get there just as the bad guys from the warehouse are on the point of retrieving her. Fauxlivia is now in advanced labor; they carry her into a gift shop where Henry (who is a little weirded out at meeting an Olivia who does not remember him) offers to deliver the baby. Fauxlivia asks Lincoln Lee if he has spoken to her mother; he does not answer, but his desolate expression tells her all she needs to know. He can do nothing but hold her as labor takes over, and Olivia begs him to save the baby even if it costs her life.

“Why don’t you stop focusing on me, and just admit you’ve got a thing for Liv.” —Charlie

For Olivia’s sake, for the sake of his world, Lincoln Lee has been incinerated (“Over There, Part 1”) and frostbitten (“Immortality”). He’s been her fiancé’s unwilling confidante regarding wedding plans. He’s endured teasing from our scarred version of Charlie (Scarlie?). Now he has to hold her while she risks her life to give birth to another man’s son. The end of this emotional roller-coaster is a heartfelt “I love you”, ripped from him with pliers as his beloved practically dies in his arms. This scene had me on the edge of my seat, hoping that Fauxlivia (whom I hated not too long ago) would somehow survive, that she would not be sacrificed for a plot point unworthy of the death of a major character. I was relieved when she survived, because a living Fauxlivia with something to defend is going to be one kick-ass character.

“All right, you just look at me. You don’t think about an hour from now, you don’t think about a minute. You’re gonna focus on this moment, okay? It’s you and me.” —Lincoln Lee

And Lincoln Lee, the walking Teflon man, reveals his marshmallow center. In that scene, Seth Gabel blew Joshua Jackson out of my sky; his few moments gave us crushing despair, intense love, joy, relief, and confusion all in one. It was a luminous performance, one which sold that relationship in ten seconds in a way that the previous five episodes did not. Jackson has never had a scene like that with his Olivia; he gets more intense scenes with his father. This is an example of what happens when the writers put two passionate characters in the same scene: the more emotional Fauxlivia and the positively incendiary Lincoln Lee make for a scene that sizzled with drama, edge, and heartbreak.

“We are not experimenting on children. I have made myself clear.” —Walternate

So what was the point of this kidnapping? As I suspected, Walternate was behind it—he of the so-self-righteous declarations that he would never experiment on children. Apparently he dances along the line of technical righteousness, since he experimented—or allowed his crew of Frankenstein wannabes to experiment—on a pregnant woman and her unborn fetus. The treatments they gave Olivia accelerated the pregnancy so much that the virus could not replicate fast enough to endanger it. Fine, but why do this in secret? Why not present this technology to a world which is fast approaching extinction? Every human on earth would praise the name of a man who saved the species from annihilation. Certainly Fauxlivia would have welcomed it, and actively cooperated. There was no reason for this clandestine medical abduction, other than Walternate’s habit of conspiracy. But that is so perfectly in character, it sold that plot point for me.

Fauxlivia: Promise me you’ll save the baby.

Lincoln: I promise.

It would seem that Walternate now has what he wants: someone of his bloodline who can power the Doomsday Machine, who can possibly open the doors to travel between universes. He is busy insinuating himself into young Peter Junior’s life as his grandfather, doubtless with some idea of accelerating the boy’s growth or otherwise using him. If so, it’s going to make for a dynamite storyline, because Walternate really does not know what he has done. As usual, Walternate has operated like a calculator, estimating profit and loss, risk and reward, with no consideration for the emotional impact of his actions. Like his counterpart in our world, Walternate has his blind spots; in this case, he cannot read, understand, or assess emotional reactions. He thinks he has won this bet, succeeded in his mission, and concluded a dangerous experiment with triumph. But what he may well have done is to sow the seeds of his own downfall.

Charlie: He should have told us.

Lincoln: Which part?

At the beginning of this episode, Fauxlivia was ambivalent about the pregnancy. Lincoln Lee, Charlie Francis, and AltAstrid were all solidly on the Fringe Division team. By the end of the episode, Fauxlivia has risked her life to give birth, Lincoln Lee has openly declared his allegiance and his love, and Charlie is deeply suspicious of the entire Fringe Division bureaucracy. Lee and Francis have lost their trust in Walternate, and are quietly questioning everything they have been told. These are the kinds of revelations and life events from which there is no going back. If Walternate tries anything weird with the baby now, he will find himself opposed by the head of Fringe Division himself, as well as Lee’s two top operatives. I cannot wait to see how this plays out; it’s far more interesting than whether or not Peter should be shooting shapeshifters.

“Makes you wonder what else we don’t know.” —Lincoln

This was one of the more quietly brilliant episodes of Fringe to date. Reaching all the way back to the first season for its genesis, it was still firmly rooted in the most up-to-date events, tied together several characters in a cabal of resistance, paved the way for major drama down the way, and gave us some emotional highlights we cannot expect to see from Our Side characters. I have to say that I am almost as much invested in the characters from the Other Side as I am in those on our side; they face greater problems, with more at risk, than our trio do, and they do it with more wit, more camaraderie, and more courage. I have yet to see Peter Bishop lose that cool and cerebral exterior, except when chastising his father. Walter Bishop is still a much weaker—if warmer—character than the adamant Walternate. And Fauxlivia is a more open, easy-going, fun-loving—if lethal—character than Olivia. I’m not saying I like the red team more, but they are definitely more than just cardboard characters. The writers have made us care about the other side of this war, forced us to see the opposite numbers of our heroes as real and human and sympathetic; it’s a brilliant move.

“I’ll talk to her, you deal with Travis Bickle. C’mon… Coppola… ‘you talking to me?'” —Charlie

Some fun touches in the inside-out universe that is Over There: Charlie quotes Taxi Driver, but over there it was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, not Martin Scorsese. Berke Breathed still draws cartoons, but the strip is about Opus the Peahen, not Opus the Penguin. The West Wing is in its twelfth season, and apparently Lindsay Lohan is making headlines in two universes. Some subtle in-jokes: baby Peter Junior (what is the boy’s name?) was dressed in both red and blue, perhaps as a reminder to us on a subliminal level that he is from two worlds.

“I’m not calling you ‘sir’.” —Charlie

Finally, another word about the acting. At times it is difficult for me to believe I am watching the same actor play two different roles. Anna Torv has absolutely blown me away this season (three versions of Olivia!!) and John Noble has been astonishing me with every performance, whether he is simple Walter or evil Walternate. But there are other, less spectacular, performances that deserve mention. I’ve already singled out Seth Gabel for this episode, but this entire season has been a breakout role for him. I cannot state too often or too firmly that Kirk Acevedo’s Charlie must remain part of this story and this team; he lifts every scene he’s in into a higher dimension. And Jasika Nicole’s quietly dazzling turn between an insouciant lab assistant and a near-robotic functionary is a crucial and little-heralded turn. There are ensembles and there are ensembles; this one is about as solid and as interlinked as the crew of the originalStar Trek; I cannot imagine this series without all of these characters.

“We have our timetable; there will be no adjustments.” —Kidnapper Doctor

Against all my expectation, and to my unreserved joy, Fox announced last week that it was renewingFringe for a fourth season—a full 22 more episodes—next year. I was certain this show was doomed. Fox, however, claims that the show is now the number one show on Friday nights in all broadcast or cable; someone should probably warn them not to eat that stuff in Walter’s refrigerator. But if it gets my favorite show another year, they can eat all the experiments they want. This episode earned a 1.5 share in the 18-49 adult category, with about 5 million viewers. That’s a slight uptick of about 15% from last week, but 15% of bad ratings is still bad ratings. That any network, let alone Fox, had the patience and the faith to renew this show is, for me, little short of a miracle. It was a week, it seems, for wonders.