Fox Network, Thursdays, 9 PM
Written by David Wilcox & Graham Roland
Directed by Chuck Russell
“There is no crime more heinous than the theft of a child.” – Walternate
One of the difficulties of a background “mythology” to a show is that it threatens to overwhelm the weekly episodes; viewers who are invested in several years’ worth of story development are impatient when the more complicated storyline is “interrupted” by a case not related to the background arc. This episode ofFringe reaches back to earlier episodes to provide a different kind of continuity – with its own past. Olivia, trapped in the Other Universe, is trying to make her way back to our world, but she cannot resist working overtime on a case in that universe, one which has personal implications for their world’s Philip Broyles.
A young boy, Max Clayton (Michael Stusievici, Mrs. Miracle), is abducted by a serial child kidnapper known as the Candy Man for the sugar he excretes in his sweat. Olivia and the Fringe team review the past cases: all the victims were chosen at random, were below the age of puberty, and were released within 48 hours, each one suffering from massive and permanent degradation. Olivia sees that one of the victims was Christopher Broyles (Curtis Harris, Flashforward), son of her boss. Christopher’s account of his abduction differs from most others because he reported seeing two abductors, one old, one young. Against Broyles’ ardent opposition, Olivia persuades him to let her re-interview Christopher. In a tender and carefully handled scene, she learns that the kidnapper who took Max kept reciting a strange prayer. The Fringe team track the prayer to a church run by a Reverend Marcus (David Nykl, Stargate Atlantis), a former physician who founded a church after his wife died in the avian flu pandemic. He gives them a list of the men in his church, and the team goes door-to-door. Olivia interviews a young man named Wyatt Toomy (Will Rothhaar, Battle: Los Angeles), notices his shaved head (common to all descriptions of the Candy Man) and a doll in the apartment. Toomy flees, Olivia discovers Max in a hidden room, and Toomy returns to attack her. Olivia shoots him dead; the Fringe team speculates that Toomy was draining children of various fluids in order to keep himself young. But even as she tries to escape back to her home universe, Olivia realizes that Toomy could not have been working alone. She alerts Broyles, they meet at his house, and sure enough the real mastermind behind the kidnappings – Reverend Marcus – is taking Christopher hostage. In a stunning piece of marksmanship, Broyles shoots Marcus in the head, saving his son.
And this is the B story.
“I won’t forget what you did.” – Colonel Broyles
This episode, on Law & Order: SVU for example, would garner top ratings. Embedded as it is in a highly complicated science fiction series, incorporating references to events in earlier seasons, it is unlikely anyone but dedicated Fringe fans will ever see it. Which is too bad, because it included some of the best acting I’ve seen from the cast yet. Lance Reddick outdid himself; it would be so easy to make Colonel Broyles a tightass, overbearing boss characterized solely by personality quirks. But Reddick (and the writers) gave us a very human, caring hero who has been damaged but not crippled by the tragedy that struck his family. At the office he’s all business – brisk, efficient, no-nonsense. At home, though, his softer side comes out, and his love for his wife and crippled son, while subtle, is undeniable. He bridges those worlds with a ferociously protective stance. I like this Other Universe Broyles even better than the one in our world. And of course, in terms of our longer mythology arc, Olivia has landed herself a solid ally where she needs it most, in the Fringe organization.
“My dad says I need to forget about what happened.” – Christopher Broyles
Anna Torv also brought her A game tonight. From an actress whose first season on this show did not light up the screen, she has become a remarkably subtle performer; in many scenes from tonight’s episode, I could see “our” Olivia shining through the role she was playing. It’s one thing to play a complex role like Olivia Dunham; it’s another level altogether to play a character playing a character, and to let us see the distinction between the two. Of all the actors on this show, possibly Torv has the most demanding role, inasmuch as she must distinguish for the audience the “real” Olivia, the “fake” Olivia she is playing on the Other Side, and the “real” AltLivia who is on our side. That is three roles at once! And apart from the sheer complexity of this role, she is also bringing us some very intimate and revealing moments for Olivia. The beach interview between Olivia and young Christopher was one of the high points of the show, with both Anna Torv and young Curtis Harris showing damage, hope, fear and comfort in a very short space of time. Kudos to both actors for a great scene.
“Aren’t all the best love stories tragedies?” – Peter Bishop
The A story, which connects to the longer, overall story arc, involves Olivia’s attempts to get back to our world. She enlists the aid of Henry Higgins the taxi driver again (Andre Royo, Heroes). This time she asks him to help her get to Liberty Island (talk about an ironic name), and he borrows a boat. Unfortunately, he is terrified of water and unfamiliar with boats, but he does succeed in getting Olivia close enough to the island that she can swim for it. She manages to get back to Walternate’s sensory deprivation tank, and even crosses over to our universe – for a moment. But it’s long enough for her to persuade a cleaning lady to send a message to Peter. It reaches him as he is snuggling in bed with AltLivia, and he finds it profoundly disturbing. I find it profoundly interesting that the writers didn’t let Peter figure out AltLivia’s real identity for himself, rather than hear it via a stranger. Peter is so smart that I would have expected that genius mind of his to have caught AltLivia’s many slips. For the future health of Peter and (the real) Olivia’s relationship, however, maybe it’s better that he has plausible deniability on his side. (“Honey, I thought it was you!“)
“What’s FBI”? – Max Clayton
As always, it’s fun to see the differences between our universe and the Other Side. The most obvious is AltLivia’s ignorance of “our” Casablanca: not only does she think it has a happy ending, she thinks the star is Ronald Reagan (who was once mentioned for the role of Rick). Yonkers is now “New Yonkers”, and the news on Henry’s cab radio describes legislation to limit children to two per family. Colonel Broyles tells Olivia that the FBI was disbanded “more than a decade ago”. There are also a couple of shout-outs to other beloved science fiction shows: besides the casting of Stargate Atlantis’s David Nykl as yet another sci-fi doctor, we also have a villain named Toomy who harvests body fluids to live an unnaturally long life. Surely it is no coincidence that one of The X-Files’ best-loved villains was liver-eating Eugene Victor Tooms. Also as always, the writing staff’s superb attention to detail grounds these fantastic stories in their own reality: Olivia refers to earlier cases in our world such as the first season Fringe episodes “Same Old Story” and “Midnight”, both involving the theft of bodily fluids to heal disease or restore youth. This close attention to the “mythology” created for this series is an extra payoff for those fans (ahem) who have paid close attention from the beginning, another anchor to viewer loyalty.
“I don’t belong here.” – Olivia
This was one of the best, creepiest, most tightly written episodes of this outstanding third season. It’s always a treat when the “bad guys” are at least as smart as the heroine. There was a great balance between the intellectual challenge of the manhunt, and the heartbreaking story of child abduction and damage at its heart. It takes a heck of a writing team to give us a story that is both touching and spine-tingling. I have come to care as much for some of the Other Side characters as I have for “our” good guys: I am really hoping that when Olivia comes home, Charlie and Lincoln will follow her.
Fringe has averaged ratings below 5 million viewers all season, despite massive critical praise and a solid core of fans. Two weeks ago, Fox Network announced that it is moving Fringe to Friday nights in January to make room for American Idol. Most pundits worry that this will be the final nail in the coffin for this show. However, I’m remembering that not only did The X-Files start out on Friday nights, but thrived there. If Friday nights are ratings pits, maybe it is because the quality of the shows is not enough to keep viewers home at night. And in these days of delayed viewing by DVR, maybe the audience will even grow. The ratings for Fringe invariably increase by up to 53% when time-shifted viewing is taken into account. In any case, Fringe’s dismal performance, up against The Office and CSI on Thursday nights, can hardly get much worse.