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Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv)
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With its first-time-ever blue- and red-tinged opening credits, we knew from the start that this week’s Fringe, titled “Entrada,” was going to be the universe-melding adventure we’d been awaiting. The question was, how were the two Olivias going to get switched back to their rightful universes? The bigger questions — for the season, for the series, for us — were, Who can people trust, and how can people maintain hope in the face of seemingly inevitable disaster? (And I’m not talking about Fringe‘s imminent move to Friday nights.)

The hour picked up right where last week’s ended, with a replay of the scene of Peter in bed with Altivia, receiving a phone call from the souvenir-shop woman saying she had a message from Olivia, that she’s trapped in the other universe. The look on Josh Jackson’s face told you a lot, instantly: that Peter’s worst suspicions have been confirmed, that he has to fake it now with Altivia, that he has to do something quickly to help Olivia.

As a final, confirming test, Peter speaks the Greek phrase meaning “Be a better man than your father,” and Altivia asks, “What does that mean?” We know it’s the phrase Olivia spoke to Peter when she burst back to consciousness upon returning from the alt-world at the start of season 2. Altivia, no dope, pulls a gun on Peter and says, “I failed the test, didn’t I?” The lovers have instantly become enemies. She had Peter inject himself with a paralytic drug, and headed off to the Bronx typewriter shop to commune with the other side. (Lame Typewriter Guy — I admit to only noticing for the first time this week — labors in a red-colored corner of his shop surrounded by the metal-blue hues of his typewriters and metal shelves.) (Also, I call him “lame” only because he uses crutches, not because he’s a lame-o, which he’s not.)

After the red-blue opening credits, Broyles is being brought up to speed, startled to learn that Peter has been making the beast with two backs with Altivia, and ruing the fact that she’s been here for “eight weeks, and none of us suspected.” (Hell, Lame Typewriter Guy’s been here for seven years, waiting for some workable legs.)

The episode switches to the Other Side (by my count, “Entrada” had six scenes set in our world and four over there), where Walternate is saying he wants to bring his Olivia back, and the ice-in-his-veins Brandonish simply asks whether he wants our Olivia sent back dead or alive, because he’d much rather kill her to extract her brain for research — all Walternate needs is a comparable body-mass to make the switch, right?

Flip over to our side: Peter and Astrid are watching Altivia being debriefed by her superiors. (Altivia has been incredibly sloppy about not putting stickers on her Apple laptop, which means it looks just like Peter’s, he’s taken hers, and thus now has a valuable source of info on her.) Walter is wandering around jabbering nervously, trying to figure out how Altivia will get back and how Olivia can be brought back, but even meditation and a “two-gram dose of Brown Betty” have not clarified his thinking.

Walter goes on a funny tear about how deceitful Altivia has been, what with her “carnal manipulations,” and how his son couldn’t help but “fall right into her vagenda.” (Who knew Walter was a fan of Moldy Peaches’ Kimya Dawson?)

Always sensible, however, it’s Astrid who notes that Altivia’s pastries for Walter come from a bakery in the Bronx, and soon our team is off to the outer borough, hitting pay dirt in the typewriter shop, where Altivia — good heavens, this girl would lose her head if it weren’t attached to her neck — has left Peter’s laptop. Grilling Lame Typewriter Guy (“They promised me new legs!”), they discover what I think Walter termed a “quantum-entangled telegraph” (I know “quantum entanglement” is a concept that would apply here). At any rate, Walter knows it’s used to communicate with the Other Side.

Speaking of which, it’s back to Colonel Broyles visiting Olivia in her locked room, her face dotted with the areas Brandonish is planning to buzz-saw open to extract whatever gray matter interests him most. Broyles thanks Olivia for not betraying him last week. What follows are the pivotal moments for Colonel Broyles. He argues with Olivia over what he’s been led to believe is a coming war with the Other Side, and then, at home, tells his wife that he needs to prepare for such a battle. Both women tell him, in their separate ways, that there’s more hope than he imagines for the future. This will come back as tragic irony later.

Olivia is next seen strapped down on an operating table, pre-op helpless at the hands and saw of Brandonish. Colonel Broyles comes to her rescue, and they blast their way out, escaping Liberty Island, but not before Olivia grabs some plastic bags filled with what she assumes is Cortexiphan. “It could help your people cross over to my side,” she tells the colonel. They repair to the Other Side version of Walternate’s old lab, Olivia banking on the fact that there’ll be a Way-Back Machine tank that’ll get her home. She fills up the empty tank and climbs in, complete with an Olivia’s-face-upside-down-in-water shot that echoes Fringe‘s first-season ad campaign.

Back over here, Peter, Walter, and our Broyles head to Penn Station to track down Altivia. She’s met with a shape-shifter there (eight identities in the past five years, this guys says he’s endured) to help with her universe transport scheduled for 4 p.m. Lesson here: Don’t try sci-fi in a train-station bathroom. A citizen walks in, sees the strange scene (it must have looked to her as though the shifter were about to shoot Altivia in her comely lower back). Broyles, Peter, and an FBI team swarm Penn Station, Altivia comes out holding the woman as a hostage, but Peter does a head count, realizes bearded guy is missing, figures it out, and takes both a chance and a shot: He kills the woman right in front of her screaming daughter. Except it isn’t her mother — the shifter had inhabited her. (Not that Mom isn’t still dead, back inside the washroom, with doubtless three prong-holes in her upper palate.) Altivia is apprehended, led to a police van.

Over at Walter’s old lab, Astrid is the only one around when she hears some noise in the deprivation tank, and Olivia emerges, wet and shaken. Cut to Altivia in the police van, her hands glowing, and Walter discovers some of those little “harmonic rods” that aid interuniverse travel as a clock with red LED numbers ticking closer to 4 p.m. Blam! Like a magician’s trick, when Peter opens the police-van door, Altivia has vanished, and in her place is the displaced, charred corpse of Colonel Broyles. This stuns our Broyles, of course — a great moment for Lance Reddick, when he closes the eyelids of his dead alt-double.

A quick scene on the Other Side shows Altivia back to being her swaggering old self, exchanging repartee with Lincoln Lee. Then we are Back Here, as a man in a red sweater visits Lame Typewriter Guy, gives him an injection that enables Typewriter to walk, in exchange for a box — the box left by Altivia, containing another piece of the doomsday machine Walternate is trying to reconstruct (I think that makes 18 pieces accounted for, right?).

In the final scene, Olivia awakens in a hospital, Peter at her bedside. She tells him, “You were the only thing that got me through … you saved my life.” Peter kisses her forehead.

“Entrada,” written by the series’ key producers, Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman, closed a Fringe chapter in bringing Olivia back, while opening up all sorts of fresh new possibilities for the future. Both Olivias are changed women with new amounts of information about their opposing universes, and thus will be able to influence their Walters in how to proceed henceforth. The series can resume plot threads that have been given scant attention in recent weeks, such as Walter’s takeover of Massive Dynamic, and what I’m hoping will be an increased presence by Nina Sharp, whose role in the interuniverse machinations is ripe for exploration.

As for Peter, I think his commitment to loving an Olivia he now knows was the “wrong” one will not lead him to shut down emotionally, as he has in the past in dealing, for example, with Walter and his betrayal. This is a character who’s grown as the series has proceeded. It seems right to me that Peter can recognize, at this point in his life, that that part of him that was born “over there” is also the part that allowed him to love the “wrong” Olivia, even as he can now be grateful to have the Olivia he truly fell in love with back. Romantic realism, I’d call it.

Beyond this, it’s important to note another element that distinguishes Fringe from so much recent sci-fi/fantasy television: It is, at its center, an optimistic, positive, we-can-change-the-world(s) show. Whereas everything from The X-Files to Battlestar Galactica was essentially doom-struck, a constant battle against conspiracy or malevolent fate, some Fringe characters have arrived at the idea that there is “another way,” that this doesn’t need to end up with one world destroying the other. “We need to restore hope,” said Colonel Broyles’ wife. “If you don’t trust me, there is no hope,” said Olivia to Colonel Broyles. That’s not to say that Fringe isn’t going to leave a few more dead bodies in its wake as it proceeds — that Broyles was one, for sure — but rather that Fringe‘s heart is pure, unironic, unabashedly inspirational in its core belief in the power, goodness, and decency of intellect and imagination.

Fringe benefits:

• Lincoln Lee’s face is just about entirely healed. I’ve found this character a tad frustrating only because it’s so clear Fringe could probably build an entirely different show around Seth Gabel’s Lincoln and his gang — they’re that charismatic — and Fringe simply hasn’t had the time to flesh him out, as it were. This is at once the mark of a great show (a deep bench of rich characters) that’s also one under fire (the producers have to keep moving, keep the focus primarily on the stars, to keep attracting more viewers and driving the stories forward).

• Comic highlight: Broyles hands Peter a gun. Walter to Broyles: “No gun for me.” Broyles, drily: “Good idea.”

What did you think of “Entrada”?

Twitter: @kentucker

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Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv)
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