Filled with clues, jokes, poignancy, and lipstick, “Concentrate and Ask Again,” this week’s episode of Fringe, can be viewed as completing a trilogy of episodes that bring together a lot of the show’s mythology. “The Firefly” brought the Observers back; “Reciprocity” was a fairly massive Massive Dynamic info-dump; and this week we learned more about Nina Sharp and the Cortexiphan drug trials. What tied them all these together? The doomsday device, and Peter and Olivia’s connections to it.
“Concentrate and Ask Again” had a Fringe Division case as its dramatic motor. Various people in positions of power were being targeted for death — a death that left the victims without any bones. The unifying factor among the victims and perpetrators was that they were involved in a secret government project called “Operation Jellyfish” — a jellyfish, Walter told us, being a fish that has no bones. To locate the people involved, Walter suggested using a Cortexiphan patient who could read minds. A damaged soul who lives in isolation because he can’t turn off his ability, he was used by our heroes to track down the villains.
I’ve intentionally simplified this plot because it wasn’t, at bottom, all that fascinating by itself. In fact, by the time the hour reached a climax that featured an Olivia dolled up for a swanky social function, her mouth rimmed with blood-red lipstick, a gun beneath her formal dress, Fringe could have passed for an episode of Undercovers.
No, what made the hour transfixing was the cascade of details. Early on, Nina went to a Massive Dynamic room containing many William Bell items, including framed diplomas from Yale and Princeton(!), an old photo of a young Belly and Nina arm in arm, a bookshelf containing tomes ranging from Dr. Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care, the classic Boomer-era, “permissive-child” advice book, as well as a couple of Carlos Castaneda mind-blowers. And, oh yes, a first-edition of the First People text.
The Cortexiphan patient Walter brought into the case, Simon Phillips, was part of the Worcester, Mass., trial group, but he was cut loose by Walter because, Peter deduced correctly, Walter didn’t want Simon to read his mind and know his secret — that Walter had taken the Other Peter back to our world. Simon was, therefore, another bit of wreckage wrought by Walter, more guilt for him to bear, and as Peter pointed out with an anger tempered by pity, “How many more, Walter?” How many more Cortexi-kids are out there, unaccounted for? (Credit must be given to Omid Abtahi for a marvelously anguished performance, especially the last, wordless scene he and John Noble shared, with Walter thinking an apology that only Simon can hear.)
The lingering effects of the two Olivias reverberated strongly. This was a lovely bit pacing on the part of the producers. Having led us to think, the past few weeks, that Olivia was well on in the process of working through her jealousy regarding Fauxlivia, and that Peter was committed to the Olivia he’s known the longest, Simon the mind-reader let Olivia know that Peter still has feelings for Faux.
The Nina Sharp elements this week became instantly profound when — to the squeals of delight among Fringe fans across the universe(s) — she figured out that First People author’s name “Seamus Wiles” was an anagram for “Samuel Weiss” and, lo and behold, Nina swanned into the bowling alley. There, Sam told her that the machine could be “a tool of creation or a weapon of destruction” and “whatever frequency Peter is vibrating at will determine how the machine reacts.” Which is dependent upon whether he chooses “the Olivia from here or the Olivia from over there — it’ll be her universe that survives.” Right now, the balance is tipping toward Fauxlivia, and next week’s episode will be set in her universe.
I have come to think of a possible scenario moving forward, though. So much time on Fringe has been spent talking about balance; thus far, we’ve seen far more bad/hostile/negative/cataclysmic effects of the interactions between the two worlds Peter straddles. But, despite what Sam Weiss said, isn’t it possible that love will prevail (it’s a very countercultural optimism, fitting for Walter) and the device will end up permitting the two universes to coexist in peace and harmony? This would allow for both sets of parallel characters to work together instead of being foes, and send the series off into new adventures, in which Walter and Walternate, the two Olivias, and Peter can fight new battles, enemies, and unexplained phenomena together.
It’s one theory, anyway.
What are your theories?
• Walter and Bell did some work for Richard Nixon (still “Tricky Dicky” to Walter), and the assignment was “uncomfortable,” Walter said, because Pat Nixon “came on” to him.