Fringe: “The Man From the Other Side”

The Sins of the Fathers

By Sarah Stegall

Copyright © 2010 by Sarah Stegall

Tuesdays on Fox at 9/8 E/C

“The Man From the Other Side”

Written by Josh Singer & Ethan Gross

Directed by Jeffrey Hunt

“You are not my father.” — Peter Bishop

Every well conceived television series, any of them that get a long enough run, has at least one defining episode, the one you can point to later and say, “This. This was the one that brought it all into focus, and made it all important.” This episode is one of those defining moments for Fringe. We’ve been waiting for this one for months, and certainly after “Jacksonville”, the anticipation has been intense. This episode finally brought an emotional climax to weeks of speculation and conjecture. I have been wondering who was going to tell Peter Bishop the truth about his origins–Walter or Olivia? While they danced around the question, Peter solved it for himself. I should have realized this would happen–Peter is no fool, and the evidence has been mounting for a year. And the realization, when it hit home, was as devastating as I feared. Poor, poor Peter Bishop.

For all my usual kvetching about television shows that turn good premises into bad soap opera, this emotionally charged episode combined the best of both those genres. We begin in classic horror fashion, with two teenagers smoking pot in a car. We know, from nearly a hundred years of horror movies, that Nothing Good Can Come of This. Sure enough, we learn that pot smoking erases memories, as the boy ignores everything he ever learned from Jason or Nightmare on Elm Street, and goes exploring an “abandoned” warehouse. Worse, he finds the Blob bubbling and growing on the floor, so naturally he pokes it with a stick. You know what happens next: a horrible apparition appears behind him and kills him. We meet again with the shapeshifter soldiers, complete with their three-pronged human adapters. Of the three bubbling into existence in the warehouse, two survive to take over the identities of first, the teenagers, then a couple of other people. They report to Thomas Jerome Newton (Sebastian Roché, Alias), who directs them in the placement of three innocuous looking devices–one in a morgue, one in a bank, and one in a telephone pole box.

The Fringe team come into the story to investigate the death of the teenage girl, who is found to have three holes in the roof of her mouth where the adapter went in. Walter finds the joint she was smoking; of course, he immediately identifies the type of weed. It is Olivia who notes the lack of lipstick on the joint, implying the presence of a second smoker. When they find the boy’s body inside the warehouse, the team also finds the third, undeveloped “embryo” that the boy poked. Taking it back to the lab, Walter sets about trying to trigger its full development so they can question it. Naturally, this being Walter, this involves car batteries. I was grateful that Walter did not dance around the lab a la Colin Clive, yelling “It’s alive!”, so close were the parallels to Frankenstein. The experiment works–mostly. The Thing, er, shapeshifter, evolves into something that can talk, after a fashion. And surprisingly, no transfer to a human body is required, no torture, no persuasion. Walter asks questions, it answers.

And apologizes to “Mr. Secretary”.

Warning bells started going off in my head, and apparently in Peter’s as well, though he keeps them to himself. The pathetic shapeshifter dies, after revealing his target human; the FBI brings the human in for testing and questioning (Bill of Rights? Fourth Amendment? Oh, right: PATRIOT Act. We don’t need no stinkin’ warrants.). Alas, test prove that he is indeed human. Which Olivia and the gang should have figured out, since their underdone shapeshifter never got out of the starting gate, so to speak. Still, it’s enough to let Walter figure out a little basic geometry, and the team is able to deduce that Newton is planning to bring over someone or something from the Other Side. Walter figures out a way to generate an anti-harmonic convergence to thwart him, and everyone decamps to a broken, deserted railroad bridge for the denouement. Gunplay ensues, the anti-harmonic device is on the point of failure, everyone is pulled back out of the path of what Walter says is a “devastating” side effect–everyone but Peter. For a moment, just before he fixes the anti-harmonizer, he sees a man on a bridge from nowhere, before he passes out.

Which leads us to the epochal scene where Peter wakes up, knowing his secret now, and confronts his father. What an excruciating–in a good sense–scene that was. With few words and a steely glare, Joshua Jackson showed us Peter’s icy rage and profound sense of betrayal. There is so much pain in Peter Bishop, he cannot process it. Of course he bolts at the first opportunity. His entire world has literally come undone. These two men go from the apex of their relationship, when Peter calls him “Dad”, and the nadir, when he says, “You are not my father.” Two actors nailing an important scene, with such an emotional roller coaster, in only a few minutes–I don’t ask for better than this on my screen. Unless it’s Anna Torv walking in to tell Walter two things: with words, she tells him Peter is gone. With her expression, she tells us all how devastated she is that Peter has left not just his father, but her. I believe it will now be up to Olivia to reconcile Peter and Walter, if it can be done.

Beyond the dramatic shifts in Peter and Walter’s relationship, the plot has thrown a real twist at us. Why does the embryonic soldier on Walter’s dissecting table answer all his questions so readily? My money says that the “secretary” Newton brought over was Alternate, and the shapeshifter thought he was talking to his boss. We already got a hint of this, when the bridge wavered into focus and Peter saw a man walking on the bridge; the man was wearing Walter’s hat and coat from “Peter”,. Walternate has figured out what happened to his son, and now there is going to be merry hell to pay. I’m pretty sure that the titular “man from the other side” is not Newton, not even Peter, but Walternate.

This is going to be good.

Early overnights show that Fringe pulled in 5.9 million viewers, for a 2.1 rating among the 18 to 49 demographic. This is a drop from last week’s 6.7 million viewers. One can make all kinds of excuses for this drop, including the NFL draft, but I think the truth is that this show is now too complicated for new viewers. The revelations that took place in this episode are of titanic proportions, but only long-time, savvy viewers will understand their true significance. It will be interesting to see how the writers handle this in Season Three. If the quality of this outstanding episode is any indication, it will be one sweet ride.