This week’s Fringe contained everything I love about the show, from LSD to the great villain Thomas Jerome Newton. The hour called “Do Shapeshifters Dream of Electric Sheep?” didn’t use its Philip K. Dick-shifted title as a coy joke — it really was about the dreams of shapeshifters, dreams and hopes which took a variety of forms.
The episode began with Peter and the duplicitous, other-world Olivia flirting in a restaurant in a time-honored way: By making up stories about other couples flirting at adjacent tables. Peter says the false fronts people put on for each other are variations on deceit, and that “we all draw moral lines in the sand… lines we won’t cross.”
Cut to a Senator James Van Horn driving his car. He’s accidentally hit by a truck and rushed to a hospital, where Newton suddenly appears to kidnap the body in a tremendously ruthless, exciting shoot-out in the corridors. Cornered by Broyles, Newton turns his gun on Van Horn, shooting the Senator in the face before making an escape. Broyles is aghast to see that Van Horn’s wound is bleeding shapeshifter-mercury.
After that relentless pre-credit opening, the scene switched to Massive Dynamic, where new owner Walter Bishop was lecturing a group of rather stunned-looking researchers about brain physiology, telling his captive audience that “Inspiration is everywhere!” and proclaiming, “The mind is God!” (This must be what it was like some days when Dr. Timothy Leary was conducting perfectly legal experiments with psilocybin at Harvard in the early 1960s. Leary also intentionally doused himself with acid and mushrooms during his research, to provoke inspiration within himself.)
Peter and Nina Sharpe come upon Walter in mid-rant. “He’s trippin’ his brains out right now; you know that, right?” says Peter. Nina looks at Walter for a second and murmurs her agreement. Clearly, she’s seen Walter under the influence before.
Peter took Walter to Broyles and Olivia, where Broyles had figured out, looking at the hospital security camera tape, that Van Horn (“a good man,” Broyles said gravely) had been shapeshifted and that Newton was there to retrieve him. “I want to know how long ago [Van Horn] was replaced by a shapeshifter and for what purpose,” said Broyles. It’s great the way there’s no longer any FBI-man distance between Broyles and our core trio — he’s so on-board with Fringe phenomena, he’s explaining stuff to them.When Peter points out that if a “sitting Senator” can be shifted, “the whole government can be compromised,” and Broyles said blithely that he’s contacting the CDC for a blood tests for “everyone on the Hill.” Good luck getting a needle into John Boehner, Broyles — talk about government intrusion into one’s private life!
Peter encouraged Walter to “fix” Van Horn rather than merely conducting an autopsy. Walter cut away at Van Horn and discovered that there was still some brain stimulation in the body. To provide that stimulation, Walter summoned Astrid with a few items that included a portrait of George W. Bush and a copy of Hump magazine, but ultimately decided that Van Horn’s corpus (“a data storage unit,” in Walter’s phrase) needed a human touch — his wife, Patricia, whose voice did indeed provoke a response, memories of animpending anniversary. This is the first of numerous moments that humaize the non-human shapeshifters, and which can make their assignments as “way-stations” on this Earth so touchingly poignant.
John Noble’s fine comic form this evening was subtle, because Walter is undergoing a change nearly as extensive as a shapeshifter’s: His ongoing research, combined with the push Bell gave him in bequeathing him Massive Dynamic, is accelerating Walter’s social skills and his insights. Small bits of proof of this were Astrid’s surprise that he remembered her real name, and his ability to recognize the exact moment when the LSD wore off.
Newton told Olivia that Van Horn was a “senior operative” for the Other Side, that he knew about other-side Olivia. (Note: My previous coinage, Altivia, doesn’t cut it any more; I’m going to try out a new name for “other-side Olivia” this week: OOlivia. We’ll see how it goes… ) Newton and OOlivia have an interesting phone chat: The wily Newton, angry and bitter that he has to take orders from OOlivia, baits her with his theory that Peter knows something isn’t right about her, that “you’re not his Olivia.” Newton touched a raw nerve there. “You’re in over your head,” he said. “You’re not fully committed to this task. And because of that, you will fail.” It was nice to see this new side of the bad-ass, alt-world O: She was rattled, because she knows Newton is correct.
Anna Torv continues to let the various shades of her Olivias play behind her eyes. All of the ambiguities felt by her Olivia incarnation last night registered distinctly. A mark of her finely tuned acting: OOlivia’s fear at being found out is different from the kind of fear that Olivia has shown at being held prisoner on the other side. It is, at bottom, the difference between a woman who was raised in love by a doting mother (OOilivia) and one who was raised with debilitating insecurity that she has heroically overcome (this world’s “Olive,” a military brat subjected to Walter and William’s experiments in Florida).
Soon after, Peter searches Van Horn’s office and discovered pictures and intel about Olivia, Walter, Peter, and “every case we ever worked on.” This expands the scope of Walternate’s outreach, how thoroughly and assiduously he’s been seeking information about our world. It places the previous season’s escapades with Newton and his shapeshifters in a fresh perspective. Because Sebastian Roche’s Newton was such a commanding villain, he seemed like a bigger fish than he has now actually proven to be. Indeed, in retroactive Fringe history, we must now interpret him as the patriotic leader of a ragtag bunch, a soldier carrying out orders. Our world is likely to have contained many variations on Newton over many years.
Newton knows he can’t go back into the hospital to get to Van Horn, so he enlists a shapeshifter long planted here — Ray Duffy, a nice family man and police officer, telling him to assume another form and acquire Van Horn. Duffy retrieved a weapon and his shape changing device from a home safe, and there was a lovely scene of him saying good-bye to his son. They spoke as the child lay in his bed, fearing “monsters” under the bed. The scene was shot much the same way the Walter-young Peter scenes were framed in the episode “Peter,” and had some of that poignance, with Ray telling his son that “sometimes monsters aren’t all that bad,” that they’re “capable of great love.” As he is.
Ray declines to shapeshift and goes to the hospital, where he holds Walter at gun-point and extracts Van Horn’s data from the latter’s spine. Walter tries to slice Ray open in a brave action-move, but Ray knocks him out. Peter and Olivia, unaware of Walter in danger, chat in the Massive Dynamic cafeteria, and he tells OOlivia that she’s “a completely different person.” Perfect timing for the series; Peter’s intuition had to be acknowledged for the body switcheroo to maintain its ongoing suspense, and will now morph into something even more interesting in future episodes.
Poor Ray, though. He returned home to find Newton waiting for him. Newton told Ray his “Ray” life is over, that this was “a way-station”: “It’s what we’re made for.” Newton shoots him dead, just as Peter and OOlivia arrive on the scene. After a car chase, with P. steely behind the wheel and OO. nervous about catching “the bad guy,” Newton’s car crashes, OOlivia took the Van Horn data from Newton’s body without Peter’s knowledge. OOlivia is now in possession of the Van Horn data; to what extent is her mission accomplished, and does this mean she’ll be summoned back? (And how will she get there? — no Cortexiphan in her system, no special abilities that we know of.)
In a final scene, OOlivia visited Newton in captivity, a visual call-back to the previous-season ender of Walternate checking on an imprisoned Olivia. Newton tells her she now cares too much, that her emotions will “betray” her, that there’s a “line she won’t cross” (an echo of the line Peter said to her at the start of the hour). Again, she’s rattled, but hides it, giving Newton a translucent chip that is the other-side, shapeshifter version of cyanide, one presumes. Newton swallows it and dies in a puddle of his own mercury-blood.
Final-final scene: OOlivia summoned Peter to her place and said, “I lied to you.” But instead of admitting her big falsehood, she means she lied when she texted him that they needed to talk. Instead, she lured him over to have some delightful sex.
I’m glad for them, for their pleasure, however brief it may prove. But I also grieve: Newton, dead? Really? For real? If so, a mercury-brim-filled hats-off to you, Sebastian Roche — what a superb job of acting. Euro-villainy on the level of Alan Rickman in Die Hard, methinks.
Some final Walter widgets:
• Walter doesn’t like animal crackers (or “animal cookies” here), but occasionally eats them “to honor” William Bell, who loved them.
• Walter, “self-medicated,” looking at Olivia’s head: “Your hair looks like strands of lemon diamonds!”
• Walter re the shapeshifter: “an ingenious creation. Frankly, I’m a little envious that Belly thought of it before I did.”