Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv)
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This week’s Fringe, an episode titled “Reciprocity,” was about breaking codes and breaking down defenses. It began on a rather light note, when it was revealed that our heroes had cracked the encryption code on the alternate-world-Olivia’s case files. (In deference to Walter, who this week started using the widely-employed fan term “Fauxlivia,” that’s what I’ll call her here.) What was the key to the code? All Walter would say, with a slight shudder, was, “Fauxlivia ruined U2 for all of us.” (Bono ruined U2 for me quite a while ago, Walter.)

I was glad to see much of the hour was set in Massive Dynamic, where the nearly-assembled doomsday machine and Nina Sharp co-habit. Upon the entrance of Peter, Olivia, Walter, and Broyles, the lab surrounding the machine began to shake from a spike in electro-magnetic activity. Peter, whose nose bled at the same time, recognized that he was the thing that had set off this reaction. We also met bio-medical engineer Dr. James Falcon, who I’m sure you pegged as someone to keep a close eye on right away simply because he was too male-model perfect not to be either a new very good guy or a very bad guy. Turned out he was the latter, a shape-shifter who’d be killed a bit later. Oh, and we were blithely informed that William Bell had invented a super-duper lie detector machine far superior to the kind ordinary law enforcement uses. Really, Nina keeps a lot of stuff to herself, doesn’t she?

Walter told Nina about his mission to make himself smarter, to equal the intelligence of Walternate and restore his missing brain matter. Nina was very suspicious throughout. She balked, as she so often has in the past, about letting anyone see William Bell’s research materials. When Walter requested Bell’s notes, she said they were 15 years old and so difficult to locate. Nina has pulled this 15-years-was-an-eon-ago eye-rolling bit before. A bit later, she suddenly revealed that she’d not only found Bell’s notes, but also had vials of a “retro-viral serum” that would re-grow Walter’s brain cells. Problem was, it had been tested on rats and chimps, and Walter, in his blithe haste, inhaled the chimp stuff, which led to some monkeyshines back at the lab, suddenly craving a banana split and baring his teeth at Astrid to “display dominance.”

The humor was short-lived. Dead shape-shifters started cropping up, and they were traced to a list of names (“government employees, cops…”) in Fauxlivia’s vast file. Wondering about all this, Broyles suggested that “someone on our side” had told Walternate, and Olivia got to say, in a clipped, hardboiled manner, “We got a mole.” This kind of feint was well-done, since it briefly distracted us from Peter’s suspicious behavior right from the start of the hour, when we saw him return home and then lie to Walter about it. It turned out he was not, as I and you may have thought, out on an Oliv-ooty call, but rather on a mission that was the key to the hour.

Which was that Peter himself was dispatching the shifters. We have been periodically reminded of Peter’s shady past, so seeing him blasting mercury-filled humanoids wasn’t far-fetched. Less believable by the hour, however, was the idea that Peter was ever a very good con man. This evening, speaking to Olivia in the context of embarrassing girl-diary-like entries Fauxlivia left behind, he said, “I’ve conned people,” and in seasons one and two, we saw that side of Peter in action occasionally. But Peter can’t ever seem to con his father or Olivia for very long. Walter tumbled upon Peter secret quite quickly, and I don’t think he needed the chimp serum to do it: Peter had left the notes he’d cribbed from Fauxlivia’s file right on his bedroom desk.

Walter’s discovery of Peter’s actions led to a short speech that gave the episode its title. Boiled down: “Every relationship is reciprocal,” said Walter. “When you touched the machine, it changed you… it weaponized you.”

The steady gaze that Peter gave his father — and seconds later, as we gazed at the machine — suggested that Peter has already accepted his “weaponized” state and is willingly acting upon it.

This Peter may at first seem not to square with the more Zen-like Peter we saw last week, the man who had been sending a book to the Olivia he was in love with, to help her understand why he has trouble getting close to people. But then we remember that his favorite book is If You Meet The Buddha On The Road, Kill Him! — ostensibly a self-help-ish, self-awareness tract, but one that talks about accepting responsibility for who one really is. If Peter has decided that at least part of him is a killer, then Buddha and the rest of the universes had better watch out.

Stepping back a week, I haven’t figured out how this week’s hour squared with the Observer info we gleaned last week, have you? As Olivia said — twice — “We’re always just a step behind.”

Fringe benefits:

• Lotsa good Brandon stuff this week, including momentary suspicion that our favorite Massive Dynamic slab o’ science was a murderer. It was Brandon who also said that William Bell had been looking for copies of the First People book some years ago.

• Playing in the background of Walter’s lab, perhaps to rinse any lingering U2 melodies from his brain: Leo Sayer’s “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing.”

What did you think of “Reciprocity”?

Twitter: @kentucker

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