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April 23, 2010 at 12:19 PM EDT

This week’s Fringe began with science — fringe science, to be sure — and ended with great emotion. As far as I’m concerned, the series has really hit its stride: Its storytelling now surges along confidently, doling out the droll humor, the yucky alien imagery, and the deep anguish and terror of loss that resides in the heart of Fringe.

The return of Sebastian Roche’s Thomas Jerome Newton, the First Wave head from the alternate universe, early in the episode promised lots of Fringe mythology. Newton had three alt-agents to contact — shape-shifters occupying bodies that included, accidentally, a stoned dude who’d been smoking what Walter analyzed as Lemon Zinger. They were assembled to carry out a plan to bring over the episode’s title figure: “The Man From The Other Side.”

In Walter’s lab, we got to see a shape-shifter embryo (wet, blobby, slicked with mercury and “partly mechanical”). Walter and Peter explained to Olivia (and therefore to us) that they’d figured out Newton’s method: he locates a spot in our world where and when the harmonics of our world and the other world synchronize. And so at exactly 3:31 p.m., Newton was on his way to literally bridging the two worlds, only to encounter the fabulous Bishop boys’ counter-attack: their own machine designed to disrupt the harmonic synchronicity. We caught a glimpse of a body that shimmered in from the alternate universe, a bit of damaged goods that Newton would at the end of the hour be shown nursing to consciousness and addressing as “Mr. Secretary.”

In the aftermath of the resulting zap, Peter was knocked senseless for more than a day — but he didn’t disintegrate, the way the FBI man next to him had. This was enough to confirm some suspicions he’d had and to assemble bits of information in a way he’d never done before.

The result was one of the most beautifully acted scenes in Fringe history. Peter lying in bed (symbolically, the sick son who’d been close to death as a child) greeting Walter with cold anger and a series a blunt sentences. “I’m not from here, am I?” “You brought me back.” “I understand everything now.” “I am not your son.”

The acting here was superb, by Joshua Jackson, so quietly enraged and heartbroken, and by John Noble, so crushed (at the start of the episode, Walter had started to tell Peter about his past, but they were interrupted by the case that ended up disclosing some of that information anyway).

By the end of the episode, you could say that everything Fringe has done so far to integrate Peter into the team — finally happy and helpful with his father; enjoying his honorary-FBI work with Olivia — has been undone. He’s gone, in the wind, perhaps reverting to the secretive, bitter, scurrilous character he was before the series started. It’s a wrenching, daring move on the part of the show. (Can next week’s episode, filmed as part of Fox’s all-musical week, possibly address any of this serious stuff, or will we have to wait two weeks to get back to the nitty-gritty?)

Who do you think “Mr. Secretary” is? And most important of all: What did you think of the way the show presented Peter’s new interpretation of who he really is?

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Joshua Jackson, Anna Torv, and John Noble star in J.J. Abrams’ sci-fi drama
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