Olivia hunts a perfumed pervert while Peter finds a beacon that guides him to romantic enlightenment

By Jeff Jensen
March 24, 2012 at 12:35 PM EDT
Liane Hentscher/Fox
S4 E15
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Friends, the ‘ship has come in. “A Short Story About Love” – one of the best episodes of Fringe’s fourth season, well directed by co-showrunner, J.H. Wyman — gave us answers that were long in coming. Enlightened by the specter of an Observant friend that Rebootlandia was where he belonged and that this Olivia Dunham was truly the Olivia Dunham that he loved, Peter Bishop overcame his alt world-induced anhedonia and raced to find the Annie Hall he’d been running away from. That kiss! Victory in Fringeville. The multiverse mershed. Totally irrational. Crazy. Absurd. But hey: Love. We all need those eggs. Even disfigured psychopaths who use sex pheromones boiled from dead husbands to mack and kill widows and mistresses. I love a show that can give me sentences like that.

In an episode that explored different ways to define romantic love, Fringe’s freak-of-the-week storyline ruminated on the idea that amorous attraction is basically a blood-and-guts biological event – a rapture and snare of hormones. Played by Michael Massee, one of Hollywood’s best creepazoid specialists, Anson Carr was Snape gone Moreau, a mad, cracked potions master who just wanted to be loved. Is that so wrong? Well, when you’re killing men for their seminal fluids, all in search for connection – and a fragrance that could give free love to everyone – then yes: Epic Fail. Carr’s dark heart was shaded by the smallest of degrees. He had the disadvantage of his never-explained scarred visage. (Scarface theory number 1: Burns?) A shattered widower himself? A scene that saw him shedding a tear while stroking a photo of a pretty brunette suggested the possibility. (Unless that was the mistress of his last victim. Couldn’t tell.) Also: A dog lover. So how evil could he really be? I’ve convinced myself: This modern dress Perfume: The Story of a Murderer was inspiring, not sickening! Amnesty for this homicidal sensual rapist!

Tangent (or another one): Was “Anson Carr” a winky nod to Anson Mount, star of AMC’s Hell On Wheels? ‘Carr’ = ‘Wheels’ = the hellacious Anson Carr. Yes? Back-up theory: A wrinkled lovelorn potsie in desperate need of some face cream, in an episode that could have been subtitled ‘Happy Days Are Here Again!’ = Anson Williams, star of Happy Days and co-founder of StarMaker Cosmetics. Yes?!

[Crickets]

We met Anson lurking in the shadows, dabbing some scent on his neck, as if primping for a date. He was waiting to pounce on Jane Hall, a grieving woman just returned from her husband’s wake. He pinned her against the wall and throttled her by the neck… and waited. There was a pregnant pause that allowed Jane’s panic – and her revulsion at the sight of his hideously scarred face – to subside… and when she did, she caught a whiff that surprised her, then calmed her even more. Her eyes were telling her that the home invader with the pruned cheeks looked nothing like her late husband, Mark. Yet every other fiber of her being barked otherwise. They kissed. She stroked his rumpled cheek. He liked that. They kissed again. But then something like common sense or sobriety reclaimed Jane. Seeing it, the monster wrapped her head with shrink-wrap (bonus points for murder weapon innovation!) and clutched her to his chest as she suffocated. His parting gift: A ritualistic smear of chemicals – pheromones, we would later learn, extracted from Jane’s dead husband Mark – applied to her wrists and neck. A little dab’ll do ya in. FUN FACT! “Shrink-wrap” = “She dead… wrapped in plastic.” Was Wyman paying homage to David Lynch? Perhaps. I saw a rough cut of this episode a couple weeks for the purposes of reviewing it for the magazine, and the temp soundtrack used the song “Strange And Unproductive Thinking” from Lynch’s recently-released electronica album Crazy Clown Time during the sequence in which Anson boiled that one dude alive. I was bummed the strange, stream-of-consciousness tune about creativity (and bad dentistry) didn’t make the on air version.

To make his corrupt cologne, Anson would hunt for potential victims at the local park while sitting on a bench stroking his pug. He preferred happy young couples without children. (He gave up on one husband and wife after their young boy showed up.) He took the men first. He killed them by dehydrating them – alive – in a vat. I loved the moment when Anson, decked in a hazmat suit and a shower cap dotted with stars, wiped off the muddy remains of his victims using a squeegee. (Scarface theory number 2: Withering via dehydration. Had Anson once tried his technique on himself?) He extracted the pheromones, whisked in castoreum (urine-mixed Beaver secretion; a type of “rancid note” used in perfume, too); and voila! Eau de roofie. Then it was off to the ladies he had widowed.

NEXT: My “organic ocular suggestion”? 228 ½ ‘KEEP FRINGE ALIVE’ STREET.

Fringe division got a jump on this nut after finding another shriveled husband in a local park, a louse named Andrew. Anson had not yet killed Andrew’s wife, so agents Dunham and Lee set a trap. When Anson didn’t show, quick-thinking Olivia dared to ask about the state of the marriage. Nope, it wasn’t good. Andrew had recently copped to an affair. And yep, Anson was now after awful Andy’s mistress, not his mate. Our heroes rescued the other woman just as Anson was about to choke the life out of her. “I don’t want you to think I did it just for me,” Anson told Olivia. “Well, not just for me. We’re not meant to be alone. It’s every human being’s right to know love. And had I succeeded – if I had found just the right chemicals in just the right balance – I could have given the world what you have.” And what was that? “Love,” he said. “I can smell you’re in love.”

She was indeed – whether she wanted to be or not. And at first, Olivia did. Her story began one Saturday morning in a coffee shop with Nina, the woman she loved like a mother. Both of these strong, resilient women looked remarkably recomposed after last episode’s regrettable ordeal. On their table: A vase containing two drooping white tulips. Olivia shared that her mind was becoming increasingly flooded with memories of original timeline Olivia, and that her heart was becoming increasingly full of affection for Peter – and she liked it. She was in love, she announced. Nina tried to be happy for her — the way nervous parents try to be happy when their hormonally-tweaking teenage son or daughter announces he or she is totally, legitimately gaga for another. Nina was deeply concerned about the inexplicable psychological event that was gradually reformatting her mind – especially when Olivia proposed they begin meeting weekly for breakfast. “Olivia,” Nina said, “we meet every Saturday breakfast.” Gulp. Implication: Rebootlandia Olivia was not just gaining Original Timeline Olivia’s memories; Original Timeline Olivia was beginning to displace Rebootlandia Olivia’s memories, too. Her identity was in flux. Olivia suddenly became very afraid. She was literally losing herself. She even asked Walter to cook up a cure for her…

Yet after catching Anson, Olivia had a change of heart. She recognized a little bit of herself in cheating Andrew’s wife  — a woman who had given up on love – and Olivia didn’t like it. She came to believe something else: The Olivia that was taking over was “a better version of me,” for various reasons, but particularly because she had true love in her life. I thought the scene in which she told Nina that she was going to let the new Olivia that was swelling within her replace the old Olivia – which would effectively end their mother/daughter rapport — was provocative and heartbreaking.   “You have so much in your life, Olive,” Nina said. “You’re going to let that disappear for… what? Memories of a life you didn’t live?”

Olivia said, “Yes.”

Nine was devastated, but after a dumbstruck few seconds, she rallied. Like a good mother, Nina realized she had to let her daughter leave and cleave to another. Olivia offered this consolation: “When the day comes, if I don’t remember this, I want you try to build something with me again. Don’t give up on me.” Nina said she would.

Now all Olivia needed was the man in her life to reciprocate. Problem: Peter Bishop – convinced he was a bad influence on Cortexiphan-tweaking Olivia – decided to heed Walter’s counsel and distance himself by decamping to New York. He was called back after Walter made a stunning discovery while analyzing secret surveillance footage of their recent adventure with The Observer. In the last episode, it appeared to our heroes – and to us – that the wounded September had vanished from the lab. In truth, other Observers, moving faster than the human eye can detect, had abducted him. However, September – with some crafty sleight of hand – placed something in Peter’s eye using some flashbulb tech. Walter used tweezers to extract the object – a granule of microfiche inscribed with an address. “228 ½ Morrow Street.” (“2… Morrow.” Nice.) Walter’s theory: “Organic Ocular Suggestion.” The scientist explained that this tiny little post-it note that The Observers had tacked onto Peter’s cornea would have eventually dissolved and the message would have imprinted itself on Peter’s brain. This whole scene was rather preposterous, even by Fringe standards. A video playback machine capable of detecting faster than light objects? Okay, sure. Also, I want one. “Organic Ocular Suggestion”? Streeeeeeetch. (If only it existed, though. I happen to know a certain network that would love to use it for a subliminal advertising scheme designed to prod people into watching a certain ratings-challenged sci-fi show.) Judging from the cheeky tone John Noble brought to these scenes, I suspect Fringe was all but acknowledging said ridiculousness. That said? Loved it. And Scooby-Doo, too! Playing on Walter’s TV in the background! And I thought both sci-fi tech ideas, however far fetched, were actually really cool. “Organic Ocular Suggestion” certainly seems like the kind of thing an Observer would do if he felt it necessary to meddle and influence action. Makes you wonder how many other “Organic Ocular Suggestions” have made over the years.

NEXT: Broyles was right.

228 ½ Morrow Street brought Peter to an unmarked black door. On the other side: A narrow hallway, two more doors, and an umbrella stand. Nice. Peter turned a glass knob and entered a veritable time capsule — The Observer’s abode, a spare bachelor pad filled with old newspapers and tricked out in mid-century décor. Very lime green. Inside a wardrobe closet: Suits and extra hats. I was hard on Fringe in my recap of the previous episode for the way it disclosed The Observer’s backstory. Too direct, too little mystery. I preferred this episode’s approach to revelation. Showing, not telling; letting us discover and uncover with Peter, allowing us to dream into the details and draw our own conclusions.

As Peter cased the place, he heard a beeping emanating inside an old record player. Hidden inside: September’s briefcase. Inside that: High tech pocket binoculars and the beeping thing – a homing device. Peter – excited; smirking; digging the mystery — decided to see just what exactly was being tracked. He eventually found himself at a spot in the woods in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The earth suddenly shook – and digging upward from out of the ground came The Beacon, that mysteriously unstoppable meka-mole. The bullet-shaped groundhog saw no shadow, and decided to stick around. Springtime was about to arrive in Rebootlandia.

Peter brought the grooved cylinder back home and tried to make it do… something… by jolting it with electrical current. Nothing. But then he ate a potato chip – something Walter would do –and then gave it something like a quizzical stink eye and SNAP CRACKLE blue light POP! The Beacon shot a shaft of light up through the ceiling. Peter raced upstairs and found September looking dapper and unbloodied, standing in an inverted spotlight. The Observer explained that his fellow future-scientists had “hid the universe from him” and “locked” him out. By activating The Beacon, Peter had been able to bring him back. I didn’t understand any of this (perhaps this event is still to come, just as like gunshot wound), but I rolled with it.

Peter asked September to return the favor by telling him how he could get back to his home timeline. Guess what? “You’ve been home all along,” September revealed. Peter was baffled. “I have a theory, based on a uniquely human principal,” September said. ”I believe you could not be fully erased, because the people who cared about you could not fully let you go. and you could not let them go. I believe you call it… love.” (Which, if you recall, is basically what Broyles told us back in the second episode of the season: “At the risk of sounding sentimental, I’ve always believed that there people who can leave an indelible mark on your soul – an impression that can never be erased.” Now we wonder: Will Walter and all follow Olivia into awakening?)

“And Olivia?” said Peter, full of hope.

“She is your Olivia,” September said.

And with that, Evita called, and The Observer was gone, another suitcase, another hall. Actually, what happened was that the earth began to move under their feet and The Beacon burrowed back into the earth, making a wreck of Peter’s floorboards. He couldn’t care less. He was out the door, out into the Boston night, to search for Olivia. He found her as she coming home to her apartment. They locked eyes. She knew that he saw her for the woman she had decided to be, the woman he loved, and she made beeline for him, and he for her, and then with the hugging and the kissing and the stuff. Destiny. Mersh.

(And at that moment, at an all night diner nearby, Lincoln Lee’s heart went CRUNCH.)

Walterism Of The Week! An all-timer: “I went beaver hunting in Eastern Canada in the seventies. Of course, back in those day, beaver meant something else entirely.” John Noble had a ball with that one, didn’t he?

Twitter: @EWDocJensen

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