Fringe: “Safe”



NBC, Tuesdays, 9/10 E/C

Written by David H. Goodman & Jason Cahill
Directed by Michael Zinberg

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any weirder. — Peter Bishop

Now this is science fiction! I was absolutely thrilled by this week’s episode, which starts out with bank robbers using a machine we saw two episodes ago to walk through the walls of a bank. Supposedly, the device vibrates the molecules of the solid wall and steel vaulting in such a way that the human body can pass through it–but only during a brief window before the wall re-solidifies. One unfortunate robber gets stuck halfway through the wall, with fatal results. Even better, by the end of the episode, we learn that this is only one of a series of vault robberies designed to retrieve the components of an even more awesome machine, one designed by (wait for it) Doctor Walter Bishop himself. The world of Fringe gets smaller every day.

The B story, Olivia’s ongoing struggle with the memories planted in her head, bore awesome fruit when she recognized the man in the wall and tracked down his widow, who confirmed that Olivia’s memory of a friendship with the deceased was actually John Scott’s memory, now masquerading as her own. I can imagine how unsettling it must be to be unable to trust your own memory. Olivia’s unstable memory is going to play an important role in the ongoing arc, I am quite sure.

Olivia is not the only one with memory problems; Walter Bishop keeps consistently forgetting important things (such as the fact that the targeted safe deposit boxes were his, not to mention what he put in them) or remembering things wrong (the toys in the box belong to him, not to his son). And then there are the gray areas where neither he nor Peter know what the truth is, such as his memory of Peter’s near-fatal illness, an event Peter does not remember (not to be wondered at, what with his dad hooking his brain up to battery chargers on a regular basis). Even dead men have memory problems; a technician downloading the late John Scott’s memories tells Nina Sharp that only Olivia has the memories they’re seeking. So it appears that Olivia, like NBC’s Chuck, has an entire database in her head. Nor is Nina the only one after those memories; it doesn’t take long for the bank robbers to get a kidnapping assignment from their fearless leader, the imprisoned Mr. Jones of three weeks ago.

Pursuing the leads Olivia-as-John-Scott uncovers takes her and Peter to a bar, where they pose as siblings, then start drinking, and wind up playing card games. And Olivia’s memories amaze Peter again, as she recites the numbers of all the safe deposit boxes broken into so far. Peter recognizes the numbers as a sequence that Walter recites every night–which Walter tells them is a Fibonacci sequence. This obsession with obscure strings of numbers echoes the numbers game on JJ Abrams other hit show, Lost. I keep wondering when the Dharma Initiative will be unveiled as the real puppet master behind Massive Dynamics. Olivia and Agent Francis race to counteract the bad guys as they assemble Walter’s mysterious scene, but Olivia is run off the road by kidnappers. What will happen to her? Who kidnapped her? We’ll find out after New Year’s. Doncha just love cliffhangers?

One thing about this show I love: it is well served by its villains. Mr. Jones is about as cold-blooded a fish as I’ve ever seen: he urges his lawyer, Cole (James Frain, The Tudors) to buy a new, tailored suit, and charge the bill to him. Why? Because he plans to kill the lawyer and steal his suit for his escape. Brother, that is cold. Of course, we might argue that the most cold-blooded character is FBI Agent Mitchell Loeb (Chance Kelly, Generation Kill). Loeb is Jones’ lieutenant and the mastermind behind the bank robberies. This is his third appearance in the series, including the one where he had a massive parasite chewing on his heart. That’s dedication to a cause, I tell you. And can I just say how glad I was to see some actual continuity in storylines showing up. I love standalone episodes, don’t get me wrong, but it’s always nice when the heroes have a Dr. Moriarity to play with.

Meanwhile, the elements of the show are finally achieving some balance. We got Gene the Cow again, and some crazy non-sequiturs from Dr. Bishop (“Baltimore – there was a woman with very large breasts.”). We got Nina Sharp and a tie-in to Massive Dynamics, without making the whole mystery about that mysterious corporation. And we got some cutting-edge, highly theoretical science to ponder. We may even have gotten a time machine. Will next episode’s guest be Dr. Who?

Overnight, this show went from ho-hum TV for me, to must-watch TV. I am only unhappy that we have to wait until January for more episodes.

Fringe came in third in the ratings race, logging a 5.3/8 share for Tuesday night, behind CBS and NBC. Much better than last week’s 4.6/7 share. With a full season order and improved writing, this show may finally take off. See you next year.