Olivia gets stalked by a magnetic mass of blue gas, then finds the man of her dreams in 'Subject 9'

By Jeff Jensen
Updated October 15, 2011 at 01:52 PM EDT
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Liane Hentscher/FOX
S4 E4
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The second coming of Peter Bishop was a miraculous event, marked by strange portents and paranormal activity. There were no shepherds to bear witness – but there were fishers of men. There were no wisemen — but there was a germaphobe genius with stigmata. The road to rebirth began in Olivia Dunham’s apartment. The time: 6 AM. Sunshine flickered on Olivia’s face, a breeze pushed through the curtains like a spirit… and then metal objects began to stir and migrate toward a blue-hued ball of energy. Olivia jolted awake as the mysterious mass expanded and grazed her arm, searing her skin. A veritable Close Encounter of the Third Kind. But this was no alien visitation. Shocked by the electric feel, Olivia grabbed her gun and took aim at the electromagnetic home invader —but then it was gone. At that moment, we saw the clock – and it ticked to 6 AM all over again. Groundhog Day, Fringe style. There was no Sonny & Cher, but in retrospect, the sentiment was there. Peter to Olivia: I got you, babe. Now come and get me.

(An aside: I think I was tainted by Fox’s promos for the episode, which framed the story with the question: Has Peter Bishop returned? So I never considered other explanations for the aqua-hued anomaly. I was further locked into a Peter perspective by the alarm clock and the magnetic nature of the entity. I was reminded of the “soul magnet” concept from last season, which brought us the storyline that put William Bell’s consciousness inside Olivia’s body with a literal ring of a bell. The only time I considered any other possibility was when we got that curious bit of business about nanotechnology; more on that in a few graphs. I’m curious to know if you watched the episode with a similar ‘Blue Plasma = Body-challenged Peter’ bias, and if so, if you felt the promos robbed the episode of some suspense.)

To Harvard, where were found Walter Bishop a little more nuts as usual – and by that, I mean throwing peanuts into the air and photographing their descent using a ring of 28 cameras. The madcap Muybridge was beta-testing his real ambition: Capturing on film “the ghostly apparition” – Flashing Peter – that only his eyes could see. (Speaking of which: Walter’s left orb looked healed from last week’s ill-considered attempt at old school lobotomy.) Walter said he was inspired by the bullet time fight scenes in The Matrix. “He watched it last night to take his mind off his fear,” Astrid told Olivia. And it worked, according to Walter. His phantom menace no longer filled him with dread. “Now I welcome his visitation,” the scientist said hungrily, madly snacking on some peanuts. (I wondered if The Matrix reference was suggesting another idea for this new version of reality and the Missing Peter mystery. Is the new timeline an incidental byproduct of Peter’s actions — or a product of intelligent design, created by a TBD villain? Was Peter inadvertently displaced — or purposely subtracted from time, even abducted by my hypothetical time tamperers?)

Olivia showed Walter her burn and explained how she got it. She wondered, with some small worry, if maybe she had conjured the Fringe event in her apartment. Her reasoning revealed that in this new version of Fringe history, Olivia retained much of her “Subject 13” past. As in the original timeline, this Olivia had been a Cortexiphan guinea pig who scorched Walter’s lab when she briefly went FLAME ON! pyrokinetic. Walter vowed to figure it out. Olivia took off her jacket and went to another part of the lab to give Astrid a DNA sample. Walter noticed an envelope from St. Claire’s Hospital in Olivia coat pocket. Gulp. He peeked. Olivia needed to make the call: Was Walter mentally fit to stay with Fringe Division or did he need to be re-institutionalized? Double-gulp. Walter was now in a race against time to solve the Flashing Peter problem that was threatening to unravel his already frayed mind.

The mystery of the blue blaze deepened while Olivia was collecting an atmospheric sample at her apartment with Astrid. The azure haze manifested anew, flashing Olivia in her bathroom. She ducked to avoid impalement by a rush of magnetized grooming accoutrements. Walter saw it coming before anyone. Literally. Watching the real-time feed from his lab, Walter saw the door slam and heard Olivia cry out before the event actually occurred in the Astrid/Olivia frame of reality. The phenomenon reminded Walter of another Cortexiphan kid who had briefly, temporarily developed the power of astral projection, an ability that came with a destructive side effect: Producing disruptions in the electromagnetic field. Walter theorized that the former patient, now all grown up, was trying to reach out to Olivia via a psychic link that connected all of the Cortexiphan kids. But why target Olivia? Walter had a theory for that, too. Most of the Cortexiphan kids developed destabilizing emotional problems as a result of Walter’s drug. But Olivia never did. And because she was so resilient and strong, the other kids were naturally drawn to her. Walter couldn’t recall the boy’s name – but he knew he was Subject 9.

NEXT: Nina and nanotechnology: Foreshadowing or red herring?

With that, Fringe paid a visit to Massive Dynamic, where we found Nina Sharp giving a presentation on nanotechnology to a group of suits. The set resembled a closet-sized version of the ominously lit war room in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love The Bomb. And with her dark attire and black gloves (on both hands in the reboot world — thanks for the catch, Ken Tucker), Nina herself evoked a Strangelovian je ne sais quoi. “The bloom is not off the rose,” said Sharp in an attempt to minimize concerns about the chaotic potential that the bleeding edge tech might have on society. Regardless, she wanted to be clear: “We create nanotechnology. How it is used is not our concern. We just own the patents.” (Add morally ambiguous smirk.) Interesting: In the end, this scene had… well, absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the episode, unless the writers were trying to plant red herring possibilities for the story’s electric blue whatchamacallit. (A hazy-winky shade of the nanotech theories that chased Lost’s smoke monster for years.) My take: Foreshadowing. I’m thinking a major nanotech storyline lies ahead.

Nina generated more intrigue as she tried to help Olivia and Astrid find Cortexiphan files that could put a proper name to Subject 9. Eavesdropping on their conversation via Astrid’s a/v Bluetooth, Walter spat venom at Nina. “Viper!” When he heard Nina speculate that he and William Bell may have destroyed their records, Walter fumed at the implication of cover-up and hurled the accusation right back at her. Nina couldn’t hear any of this, but she didn’t need to. When Astrid refused to parrot back Walter’s acid retort and instead offered a more gracious translation, Nina quipped: “Walter has said many things to me over the years, but ‘thank you’ was not one of them.” No, Nina does not have a good relationship with Walter in the rebooted timeline. But she does have a warm rapport with Olivia. Now, the two have a history that dates back to Olivia’s high school years. “I haven’t seen this much fear in your face since Bobby Hastings asked you to the prom,” Nina said. I’d love to hear your theories about this, readers. Did you sense a mother-daughter vibe between the two? I’m not trying to say that new-timeline Nina is new-timeline Olivia’s biological mother – just that she played a maternal role in Olivia’s life. Your thoughts?

We did get a few more tidbits about alt-timeline Olivia’s history as she and Astrid made small talk while searching Massive Dynamic’s archives. Olivia told Astrid about the Cortexiphan trials, how there were two groups of kids, how it was an attempt to access extraordinary abilities latent in all people but get “socialized out of us when we grow up.” Among the abilities: Crossing over into parallel worlds. Olivia said that she effectively quit the trials when she ran away, and that Walter and William shut the program down two years later. (Where did Olivia go when she ran away? To Nina? And at what point did she kill her stepfather? I am beginning to suspect Fringe is keeping a few Things Are Even More Different Than You Think! joker cards in its back pocket. But when will they be played?) Regardless, I was struck by Astrid’s reaction to Olivia’s narrative. “And so they… experimented on kids,” she said, shocked by the revelation. Disgusted, too? Back at the lab, after muddled Walter called her Claire, Astrid snapped, as much as sweet Astrid is capable of snapping. “Really? Claire?! That doesn’t even start with an ‘A.’” A thought to consider: Over the past couple episodes, Astrid has exhibited more irritation toward Walter’s idiosyncrasies. I wonder if Astrid is souring on Walter, and if these disclosures about his perverse, ill-fated attempts to turn children into super-powered Dark Angels will accelerate the curdling…

Olivia found a name for Subject 9. Cameron James. Just like Dark Angel creator James Cameron, except transposed. Wanting to atone for his Cortexiphan sins, and wanting to prove himself competent to Olivia, Walter insisted on joining her for this field trip to New York, even though he hadn’t been outside the lab for three years. Manhattan’s sights and sounds and smells were initially overwhelming and noxious (at one point, he got faced by a blast of cigarette smoke), but he quickly rose to the occasion. He even flirted with the manager of Subject 9’s apartment building! Dirty dog. Olivia got a kick out of that, too. They learned that Cameron James was living under an alias: Mark Little. He was a furniture truck driver – made a lot of trips to Maine, we were told – and he wasn’t home when Olivia and Walter went knocking. They decided to come back the next day. Should I crank my crazy research brain to maximum overdrive and spend the next 1000 words arguing that the conspicuous reference to “Maine” and “trucker” was a wink at some Stephen King work, especially since the episode was co-written by Akiva Goldsman, who has been working with Ron Howard on bringing The Dark Tower to both the large and small screens? Should I also spend another 300 words explaining how about “blue energy” + “Manhattan” = Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen? What? What do you mean “Hell freakin’ no”?!?! Oh, okay. Moving on.

NEXT: Of chocolate stains and seminal fluids. Plus! How to stab a root beer float.

Any great story about a miracle birth needs a beat where the human heroes — an anointed woman; a totally confused man — struggle with harsh, unsanitary accommodations on the eve of the blessed event. To the Hotel Manger, then, where microbe-spooked Walter likened his $200-a-night remote controlled room to a Petri dish. “I can’t imagine what I would see with a black light. Or worse, I can imagine!” He tried to be funny-brave about his phobias, but soon he was ripping apart his room in terror, ranting about hair follicles and skin cells and chocolate stains. “And urine on the carpet! Don’t you know what kind of harm these pathogens can provoke!?” Walter was shushed by Olivia – and then felt ashamed when he saw how badly he had cut up his hands from playing rock star hotel room trasher. Olivia gently wrapped his stigmata palms and busted his chops for being the kind of man who can bravely battle spectacular Fringe phenomenon but can’t deal with measly microbes. (More nanotech foreshadowing?) “Elizabeth used to say I was a man of contradictions,” mused Walter, referring to his late wife, who in this new timeline committed suicide after Peter’s death. “She liked that about me.” Then, after a pause, he added: “I liked everything about her.” Olivia sweetly stroked Walter’s injured hand as her face radiated internal conflict. She had to make a big decision about his future – and Walter wasn’t exactly helping his own cause. He said as much himself in the next scene, another very nice moment for both the characters and the actors. Neither Olivia of Walter was going to get any sleep (the lights in Olivia’s room were out, and she was jittery, anyway), so they hit a late night cafe for root bear floats. After teaching Olivia his stab-and-suck technique for extracting maximum sugary goodness (“Better!” she marveled), Walter turned serious and confessed he had peeked at the St. Claire’s letter. He sounded resigned to his fate as he acknowledged that there was no reason for her to treat him as anything more than an employee… or maybe he was working her, playing some pity cards to manipulate her decision. She played it inscrutable. “I want you to understand that whatever decision I make I only want to do what’s best.” Walter gave her a cool look and pushed. “Best for whom?”

Alas, Walter and Olivia’s Date Night was interrupted just as things were heating up. Attack of the Blue Light Special! Did Olivia’s electromagnetic stalker assert itself at that moment in order to prevent Olivia from answering the question, to buy Walter more time to prove his value and capability? In the moment, it seemed like a possibility. It also seemed like an attempt to put an action beat into the episode, as if the storytellers were worried we’d go all sleepy from too much talking. To escape the anomaly, Olivia shot out the diner’s window, then ran into the street. The energy gave chase, then got struck by a car – and vanished. Olivia leveraged her blanket authority to take charge of the investigation (and cover-up the Fringey-ness of it all), while Walter was shaken by this belief that his Cortexiphan legacy was to blame. Or was he?

Cameron James certainly thought so. When Olivia and Walter finally caught up with Subject 9, the man growled in terror at the sight of the man who ruined his life by trying to unlock his inner X-man. The chandelier started swinging; elevator doors started banging. But no blue blazes. And no astral projection. He hadn’t been able to do that since he was a kid. “All I have left is the bad side effects!” he bellowed that man he called “Dr. Freak.” Whatever or whoever was after Olivia with that energy, it wasn’t him. This anecdote was chilling-genius. “You want to hear about my last date? I take a girl out for something to eat. I say something stupid. I see that she saw I said something stupid. Suddenly all the metal fillings are being pulled out of her mouth. So thanks for that.” He changed his name, he explained, because “Cameron James” had been his father’s name – and his father had stolen the trust fund that had been set up for him by Walter and William. Used it on his drugs. Mark Little didn’t want that man’s name. If he gotten a super-power, something that made him useful to the world, he might have felt differently toward Walter. Instead, Mark was an unloved, friendless freak. “Can you understand what’s that like?” And of course, Walter could.

NEXT: Olivia comes face to electromagnetic face with a man from her dreams.

But Cameron was about to pull a “Hey Jude” and take the sad song of his life and make it better. The strange byproduct of Cortexiphan warping — the ability to manipulate energy by marshaling and focusing his emotions (sounds like a super-power to me, dude!) — made him the hero that was needed for the moment at hand. (Or so it seemed at this point in the story.) When the anomaly showed up yet again, Subject 9 panicked and yelled at it. POOF! Gone. Weird. It was up to Walter to figure out what it all meant. Here was his chance to prove himself anew. His brain froze. Mad scientist stage fright was settling in. But with Olivia holding his hand and pumping him full of faithful energy, Walter had a breakthrough. His theory: The anomaly was located within the field of time that surrounds us. If left unchecked, the anomaly would break free and destroy everything in its path. Walter’s big idea: Fighting blue fire with fire. They would destroy the energy by throwing energy at it. He believed Cameron could be the router; they just needed the power. They found it at a power grid terminal on the West Side. So began Fringe Division’s own version of The Manhattan Project.

As they waited for Olivia’s quantum stalker to make another pass at her, Walter peed and Cameron put an interesting idea into Olivia’s head. He suggested that Olivia might be self-generating the anomaly — an expression of latent abilities of her own. He also suggested that Walter may be keeping that theory from her — maybe because she represents the potential fruition of what he was chasing with the Cortexiphan project. “You weren’t there anymore [at the end],” Subject 9 told Subject 13. “I remember he wasn’t happy when the experiments stopped.” It was as if Cameron was accusing Walter of harboring a secret agenda — of being a snake in the grass. And what was the next thing we saw? A length of chain, moving through the weeds behind Walter as he whizzed — a snake in the grass. More foreshadowing? Will Walter become this year’s big bad?

The blue light special flashed anew, bigger and bolder than before. Olivia insisted she was not actively producing or summoning the distortion. (Subconsciously, perhaps?) Walter directed Cameron to harness the energy of the power grid and prepare to blast the anomaly with it. But as Olivia gazed at the azure amoeba, the energy began to coalesce into a shape, one that resembled the mystery dude from her dreams — a Peter Bishop-shaped shape. Their Manhattan Project was actually making a man. Suddenly, Olivia didn’t want to destroy the anomaly. She wanted to preserve it. She shot her gun in the air, hoping to break Cameron’s focus. But he was already working his Cortexiphan Tai-Chi against The Fiery Man With Turquoise Hair. POOF! The entity was gone before it go the full Pinocchio and take flesh.

Cut to: Reiden Lake. The same Reiden Lake where decades earlier, Walter had built a bridge to a parallel world; the same Reiden Lake where in this new timeline, the dying “over there” Peter Bishop drowned during Walter’s misguided rescue mission. We saw the blue light special dance across the surface of the water — and then we saw Peter Bishop break the surface with an explosive splash, a Phoenix rising from a watery grave. As a pair of fishermen in a canoe — a father and a son, fittingly — came to his aid, The Observer watched from the shore. Uh-oh, September. I think someone’s in trouble…

Back at the power station, Walter asked Olivia why she tried to save the anomaly instead of destroying it. She told him she acted on a hunch — an irrational feeling that the entity wanted to protect her, not hurt her. Walter — making yet another not-too-subtle play to influence Olivia’s decision about his fate — reminded her that when he goes with his gut, when he acts irrational, people call him crazy. Their adventure had cinched it: Olivia decided to keep Walter in the Fringe fold. She checked the box indicating her belief that Walter was not a threat to society. Oops? Something to watch as the season progresses. Olivia asked Cameron if there was something she could do to help him. “Make him forget about me,” said Subject 9, referring to Walter. I suspect Olivia has the power to do just that. More in a sec.

Olivia and Walter were ordered by Broyles to travel to a hospital in upstate New York — near Reiden Lake. There was a man there, recently fished from a lake, who knew all about Fringe Division, and wanted to see Olivia. And so, at long last, we got the reunion. But there was no instantaneous restoration of the old timeline or even an instantaneous restoration of memory about the old timeline. Just confusion. Peter expected — or hoped — to be recognized by the woman he loved. Olivia treated him like a stranger. “Who are you?” A wince of either confusion or disappointment creased Peter’s face. To be continued on Oct. 28, when the next new episode of Fringe hits. Damn you, baseball!

We were left with many questions and possibilities. Can Walter be trusted? What was Peter doing while he was at play in the fields of time? Was he really outside of reality, trying to break back in? Or was his essence living inside Olivia’s head, trying to break out? Personally, I think it’s the latter. I also think Olivia’s subconscious could be the back-up drive for the original timeline. Her Cortexiphan super-power: The ability to load the content into the mainframe of reality. In this way, she’ll be able to fulfill Cameron James’ wish and make Walter forget all about him. That’s what I got. How about you? Theorize and opine below, and we’ll see you back here in a couple weeks. Damn Baseball! BTW: Our critic Ken Tucker revisits the Fringe beat for the first time this season with some big picture thoughts that I think you’ll appreciate. Check it out here.

Twitter: @EWDocJensen

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