Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv)
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The conclusion of this week’s Fringe — and the remarkable amount of information crammed into the coming attractions for next week’s season finale — was so startling, it’s difficult to regroup and pull back. But we have to take the full measure of “The Last Sam Weiss” to truly appreciate its shocker ending.

Last week’s episode “6:02 AM EST” did a number of surprising things in matters of both plot (the revelation that Walternate could start the doomsday machine from his universe; Nina explaining more of what she knew about the imminent doomsday, via Sam Weiss, to Olivia) and pace (the quick rejection of Peter by the machine, after such a dramatic build-up, was so clever I laughed aloud at its blunt wit; the way the hour made room for Walter to pray on his newfound, “White Tulip” inspired faith was daring and moving). And here let me pause and apologize to you for not writing a recap of “6:02 AM EST”; I was out of the country — believe me, it felt like a third alt-universe there.

This week’s Fringe was equally surprising in its plotting and pacing, but not, by now, in the extraordinary degree of intense emotion. As I’ve said before, one big reason Fringe can stand with the great sci-fi and fantasy shows is the way it invests these frequently cold, pessimistic genres with warmth and optimism. The hour began by lighting a fire in the sky (in the form of “dry lightning storms” sparked by the alt-universe’s remote machine ignition) and by lighting a fire under Sam Weiss: Kevin Corrigan and Anna Torv made a terrific pair, early on, chasing after “the key,” “the crowbar,” that would unlock secrets to the machine that had repelled Peter and landed him in the hospital.

It was fun to learn that generations of Sam Weisses have possessed and increased the First People-based knowledge, and this week, the current, “last” Sam was shaken out of his usual bowling-alley cocksureness. (Although his bowling skills came in handy during a ridiculously funny, Indiana Jonesy moment when he wedged a large museum vase under a closing gate to enable the pair’s freedom.) He was as startled as Olivia was to discover that our O., not a piece of tech, was the crowbar — it was her powers of telekinesis that could override the pre-programmed machine’s defense mechanisms. She was also able to harness her abilities to use the Selectric 251 typewriter. (The series-recurring “Be a better man than your father” popped into her head as the test phrase to type.)

Walter was the one who gave Olivia the confidence to use those powers. He’s now almost completely redeemed himself for his early sins of experimenting on little Olive and other children, by attaining self-knowledge (as when he spoke of “embrac[ing] those parts [of himself] that are peculiar and broken”) and passing on faith to Olivia (“You have no idea how extraordinary you are,” he told her; “You don’t fail”).

And it was Walter who proved more valuable than Sam Weiss in sussing out possible solutions to Walternate’s other-side manipulations. Walter is now so self-possessed that he commanded sufficient conviction to make Broyles move our machine from Massachusetts to the parallel location of Walternate’s — Liberty Island.

For all its intensity, this episode never forsook Fringe-humor: Walter lured from Peter’s bedside with the promise of tapioca; his glee at finding classic old fruit cocktail; his flying a kite, inspired by Benjamin Franklin. (And hearty congratulations to Jasika Nicole for being John Noble’s nimble partner-in-laffs as the always essential Astrid.)

Viewers who’ve been a bit frustrated with the season’s emphasis on the two Olivias to what some have felt is the detriment of the “one” Peter would have to admit that this week’s hour placed Peter at the heart and soul of the episode. Peter found his way (via an $800 cab ride) to the New York pawnshop where he grasped the Walking Liberty half-dollar that’s figured in previous episodes as a talisman signifying that there is more than one of everything. And it was Peter who took Olivia’s hand and led her to the machine — they were united in both love and in heroic purpose. In this context, his delivery of the line, “Don’t say I never took you anywhere” was delivered by Joshua Jackson with a debonair suaveness worthy of Cary Grant. As for the conclusion of the episode — well, a lot of you Commenters have jumped on me in the past for using the phrase “mind-blowing,” but don’t you think it fits here? Leaping ahead 15 years, introducing time travel to Fringe, suggesting, if I’m not mistaken, a “yellow” universe containing elements of the “blue” and “red” ones we’ve now seen so much of — it was all both startling and thrilling. I also have a very strong idea who dies next week, don’t you?

How grateful I am that there’s one more episode plus one more full season of Fringe in our future.

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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