By Ken Tucker
Updated November 18, 2010 at 12:00 PM EST
Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv)
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The greatest themes in Fringe are The Missing Child and The Missing Father. Walter’s abduction of the alternate-universe Peter to replace his own dead son was such a profound violation of the universe(s) — a cataclysmic sin, to use a religious value that Fringe usually does not traffick in — that it caused both a massive and very specific rift, inter-dimensional and interpersonal.

To take just another quick example: In season one, before things became more complicated, Fringe was fundamentally about a son (Peter) who led a purposeless existence because of the absence of a father (the Walter committed to an asylum; the Walternate in another dimension).

This week’s Fringe elaborated on these themes and extended them to other key characters. The hour commenced with a fright: A little boy on the show’s Other Side, Max, eight years old, is afraid of noises in his bedroom. The pre-credit sequence played out initially as such scenes do in most TV shows and movies — Mom comes in and comforts him, kid settles down to sleep. But then an unnerving figure in a silver metallic mask enters the room and kidnaps the kid from his New Yonkers home.

Because of the “Peter Bishop Act of 1991,” every child-napping is treated as a possible Fringe Division investigation until proven to be a lesser emergency. Lincoln, Charlie, and Olivia are called to the scene, where it is determined that the kidnapper secretes sucrose through his skin. The next phrase was uttered with great dread: “The Candyman, he’s back.”

It turns out this Candyman is a serial kidnapper whose victims included Col. Broyles’ son, Christopher. He was held captive for two days, two years earlier. (Before, we’re told, Altivia joined Fringe Division.) Walternate meets with Broyles to tell him he can remove himself from this case if it’s too emotionally fraught for him — this is the bond these men share: the loss, however brief or long, of a son — but Broyles is resolute in tracking down the culprit.

(Help me out here: I saw the first, 1992 Candyman movie [released one year after the Peter Bishop Act in Fringe-time], but I’m not a big horror-movie buff. A show as self-conscious of its references as Fringe must have used this phrase knowing it would be compared to either the movie or the Clive Barker short story upon which it’s based, but I don’t know those sources well enough to make connections. Anyone care to add something regarding this?)

Broyles also uses this meeting with Walternate to ask when he’s going to get “our Olivia” back, because he wants her, and not the faking-it Olivia, so he can have the strongest team possible. Walternate tels him more than I would have, were I in his position — is there any reason for Col. Broyles to know that the scientists have made a “breakthrough” in O’s “brain chemistry,” which is to say isolating the Cortexiphan? — but in any case, Broyles is assured that he’ll get “his” Olivia back soon.

This plot permitted us to go home with Col. Broyles, where we met his wife and son. Christopher has been severely weakened by his abduction, made blind and worse because of experiments conducted upon him by the Candyman, which drained hormones from him, causing “massive cell degeneration.” The boy spends his days isolated, wrapped up in fantasy worlds that include listening to tapes of The Shadow, which in our universe was a pulp-magazine hero made into a popular 1930s radio show. Every episode began with the narrative exclamation, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” More pertinent to Fringe, the Shadow has the power to “cloud men’s minds” and in the resulting confusion, capture them. Just so, Walter’s, Olivia’s, and Peter’s minds have each been clouded in different ways at different times to prevent them from remembering or knowing key events in their lives.

As I said at the start, Fringe rarely grapples with religion, but in “Abducted” a key clue was a kind of chant or prayer intoned by the kidnapper, roughly: “From suffering comes redemption… Through the pitch-dark comes the cleansing fire; through the fire we shall find the spirit of new life.” It’s a variation on a standard notion of Christian trial and resurrection. The nature of these words leads Fringe Division to investigate religious organizations — Lincoln’s almost throwaway comment that whenever there’s an odd event, “a new church pops up” suggests that Over There is a more secular society, one that may regard religion as mere superstition; there is condescension in Lincoln’s tone, at the least. (Nonetheless, Col. Broyles says bluntly that he is “a man of faith,” perhaps a faith born from reuniting with his son.)

Olivia puts the clues together, overcoming Broyles initial resistence in re-interviewing Christopher, and sussing out that someone who’s hypoglycemic may secrete sugar. The team’s efforts lead them to a Rev. Marcus (who lost his wife in the “avian influenza epidemic” — they were hit harder by the bird flu than we were, Over There) and a Wyatt Toomy, who have figured out a way to “steal youth” by draining of vital fluids. This is a clear parallel to the terrible experimentation done on our side to Olivia and other children by Walter and William Bell in the Cortexiphan drug trials.

The case was solved, along with some solid action scenes — Broyles gets to shoot the silver-masked reverend dead — and Olivia’s cover is officially blown when Broyles overhears Max ask Olivia, “What’s FBI?” It was a verbal slip Olivia made in the heat of the moment of rescuing Max, the FBI having been disbanded more than a decade ago Over There.

I haven’t addressed yet the night’s big sub-plot: Olivia trying to get back to our world, and enlisting the help of the cabbie played by Andre Royo. I like the idea that this is the one guy Olivia feels she can trust, even if, as it turned out, his driving skills did not extend to boating when he agreed to transport her to Liberty Island. Their scenes enabled her to deliver one of the night’s most indelible lines — “I’m from a parallel universe” — with the info, quite wittily, not resulting in a huge reaction, because Royo’s Henry doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about.

Olivia gets to the island, intent on entering the deprivation tank and transporting herself back home, but Walternate has his minions intercept her and she’s yanked from the tank… but not before appearing to a startled employee of the souvenir shop on our side, which led to the final, very cool scene of:

Peter in bed with Altivia, watching Casablanca. Peter got the umpteenth clue that this is not “his” Olivia when she guesses that Ronald Reagan, not Bogart, was the star of that film. He received a phone call from the gift-shop woman saying that before she disappeared, Olivia gave him this number and a message: “She’s trapped in the other universe.” Blam: The end.

I loved this episode for, as I said at the top, its careful layering and expansion of the series’ key themes, and for the way it’s setting us up for a truly superb, universe-shaking episode when Fringe returns Dec. 2.

Fringe benefits:

• Olivia notices in Max’s bedroom a copy of Burlap Bear Goes To The Woods, a kids book that her niece Ella also owns on our side.

• Lincoln brings Olivia a snack: “Red vines — they’re new!”

What did you think of this week’s Fringe?

Twitter: @kentucker

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Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv)


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