Fringe: “Reciprocity”

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Fox Network, Fridays, 9 PM


Written by Josh Singer

Directed by Jeannot Swarc

“You can’t protect me from everything.” — Peter

It’s probably a sign of a low character, but my first thought in tonight’s opening sequence was, “Olivia’s not the only one Peter turns on.” That came after he walked into a construction bay at Massive Dynamic and discovered that the minions of MD had constructed a full-scale version of the Doomsday Machine he studied on the Other Side. Even as Nina Sharpe discusses the fact that they cannot discern a power source for the machine, it detects Peter’s presence and comes to life. So jokes about Peter Bishop’s “magnetic personality” just seem inevitable. This episode got us quickly back on track after last week’s lackluster tale: we got shapeshifters, ancient tech, vanished races and a breathtaking twist involving a major character. Much, much better.

Broyles: Why would someone kill a shapeshifter?

Olivia: You mean someone other than us?

As Massive Dynamic minions flock around Peter, trying to figure out why and how he does what he does to the Doomsday Machine, Broyles and his agents are trying to decipher the computer files left behind by the now officially-named FauxLivia. Broyles, who in the first season would casually disemboweled any of his agents if he thought it would solve a case, now shows almost paternal consideration for Olivia’s and Peter’s tender feelings; he gets Astrid to go through FauxLivia’s files so that neither of the two will learn what she wrote about them. On top of all of this, someone is killing shapeshifters. This sensitivity will backfire on him within the hour, but it’s nice to see a little humanity in the otherwise flinty FBI boss. To complicate matters, a shapeshifter has been found dead in a fountain, and records indicate that he – or the person he replaced – worked at Massive Dynamics. Broyles instantly realizes that there are spies in his ranks, and that they may have had access to FauxLivia’s files, and may be reporting back to Walternate. A manhunt is immediately set in motion to find and secure any other shapeshifters, as well as whoever killed the first one. What no one seems to remember is that FauxLivia herself has gone back to report to Walternate, so it’s unlikely he would need to send spies to learn what she herself can tell him. But hey, don’t let logic get in the way of a rollicking good story.

“We have a mole.” — Olivia

Peter suggests that everyone who had access to FauxLivia’s files be tested to make sure they are not shapeshifters. Soon we see Brandon Fayette administering what appears to be the Voight-Kampff test fromBladerunner to a host of deadpan FBI drones, testing their humanity. Olivia wonders why the doctor who ran some of the tests on Peter was not tested; he went home early. Rushing to his home, they find the doctor dead, leaking mercury, and missing his data retention disk. Could the doctor/shapeshifter have been passing information to Walternate? Convinced that Walternate has sent shapeshifters to spy on their work with the Doomsday Machine, Broyles redoubles his efforts to track them down.

“We’re the same. She would see what I see.” – Olivia

Frustrated in her attempts to track down the shapeshifters by normal means, Olivia follows her instincts and goes back to the best evidence they have: FauxLivia’s files. Over Astrid’s objections, she reads through her doppelganger’s files, noting how much they have in common, right down to why they both love Peter Bishop. Realizing that they both think and write the same way, it is now easy enough for Olivia to discern the code Olivia used, based on childhood experiences they both shared. Broyles could have saved a great deal of time, and possibly saved a couple of shapeshifters, if he had trusted Olivia to be the professional she is, rather than expecting her to fall apart while reading her counterpart’s writings. If we know nothing else about Olivia Dunham, we know she can compartmentalize.

“You mean it’s growing chimp DNA in your brain?” — Astrid

Meanwhile, Walter continues his quest for more brain power – literally – by inhaling some thirty year old “retroviral serum” William Bell left behind, which is supposed to regrow Walter’s missing brain cells. Except the serum lacks a label, and it takes awhile for Walter to come to realize that he was inhaling chimpanzee DNA. He assures Astrid that his body will soon recognize the foreign DNA as intrusive and will reject it, but in the meantime can she please bring him a ripe banana? Fortunately, even having chimp DNA does not slow Walter down much, as he teases out the answer – the terrible answer – of who is killing the shapeshifters.

“When you touched the machine, it changed you – weaponized you.” – Walter

The biggest shock I’ve gotten on this show so far came when the face of the shapeshifter-killer was revealed. It is none other than Peter himself, whose chubby features suddenly take on a sinister cast under the hood of his sweatshirt. By the time we see him execute a moaning shapeshifter in cold-blood, he looks like the Grim Reaper himself. Whether it’s the chimp DNA or native intelligence at work, Walter figures out what Peter is doing and confronts him. When asked why he has slaughtered five shapeshifters and stolen their disks, Peter cannot really give his father an answer. “I’m tired of being reactive,” he says, and tells his father he must know the answer to his relationship with the Doomsday Machine. But even Walter isn’t this confused. Massive Dynamics, the FBI, and who knows what other agencies are focusing all their resources on this very mission – and Peter has sabotaged it. I don’t think Peter was lying, I believe he believed what he said. The fact that he can’t see the damage he has done to his own cause leads me to believe that Walter is right—the machine is affecting Peter’s mind. Peter is acting in the machine’s best interest, not his. Which has deliciously ominous implications for future storylines.

“I’ve conned people. And I know what I would’ve written about them. She must have thought that I was a fool. And I don’t want you to see me like that.” – Peter

Peter Bishop takes on even more fascinating layers in this show. It’s hard to think he has been completely “taken over” by the Doomsday Machine, when he is showing such careful regard for Olivia. When she forgives him for sleeping with FauxLivia (finally!) and says, “We can get past this”, his cherubic smile is wonderful to see. When he tells her he’s embarrassed about what FauxLivia may have written about him, his shame seems real. When he makes a peanut butter sandwich for his father, the easy camaraderie between them seems genuine. So it’s even more shocking to see him switch to serial killer mode, stalking his victims, breaking into a house, ripping up the spinal cord of a still-living shapeshifter. Can this be the same man who loves Olivia, who saved her life, who is giving her all the room and time she needs to come to grips with her reality? Of course, this twist also allows another step in the avoidance dance between Olivia and Peter: as I predicted, when she takes a step forward he will take one back. Even as we watch her affection for him rekindle, we worry about what Olivia will do when she inevitably finds out what he’s done. What I like best about this arc, however, apart from being thrown a curve ball, is the fact that this is Peter confronting and dealing with the emotional impact of what’s happened to him. There’s no reason to think he would deal with the emotional tsunami hitting him in the same way Olivia would; Peter’s a very private, very reserved man, whose turmoil would be expressed not in brooding but in action. Here, his actions turn murderous, which may echo some subterranean chaos behind those placid features. That’s good characterization, and excellent acting.

“It’s bigger than I imagined.” — Olivia

The pace of this episode kept me from asking a few questions that only occurred to me in retrospect, the chief one being, why did Massive Dynamic build the Doomsday Machine? Everyone suspects it is ancient technology from the First People, and suspects it wiped out their civilization. Hello? Weapon, much? Why would you build a weapon powerful enough to wipe your whole civilization out, when you don’t know how it works, how to power it, or how to turn it off? This is Mad Science taken to a whole new level. Another odd moment was the scene where Walter is loudly objecting to Massive Dynamic performing tests on Peter. He snarls at their use of his son for a “lab rat”. But is this not the same Walter Bishop who told us he used to hook his son up to car batteries? Who experimented on children, including Olivia? Who broke not only moral law but the laws of physics to cross dimensional boundaries for selfish reasons? This was a genuine case of the pot calling the kettle black. It is not even possible to excuse Walter’s inconsistency by imagining that we are seeing a more morally responsible Walter, not when he keeps silent about Peter’s murders. It is, however, wholly in keeping with the arrogance that has characterized Walter from the first episode. Even as Peter is showing signs of a psychotic break, Walter is assuring Nina that he does not need her help, or anyone’s, in dealing with his son. Not even after he discovers Peter’s murders, not even after he consents to keep his son’s secret, does he seem to wrestle with any moral misgivings. His silence makes him complicit in Peter’s acts, even though he does not share their impetus.

This was a very good episode, with enough “mythology” in it to reward long-term viewers and enough new stuff to draw in new viewers. For the second Friday in a row, Fringe rang up a 1.9 rating in the 18-49 demographic, and won its timeslot outright with 4.57 million viewers. There are eleven episodes to go this season, plenty of time for these numbers to stay steady or even ease upward. It would be good to see a show break the Friday death sentence; if any show is quirky enough to do it, it will be Fringe.