'Making Angels' shines the spotlight on Agent Farnsworth as Fringe Division hunts an all-knowing wannabe savior with mommy issues

By Jeff Jensen
Updated February 04, 2012 at 06:51 PM EST
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Fringe Astrid
Credit: Fox
Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv)
S4 E11
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  • TV Show
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  • Fox

Aspirin. Astrix. Astro. Astrid. Call her anything you want, Walter, just as long as you call her awesome, too. “Making Angels” had me the moment Agent Farnsworth walked into the Harvard lab and screamed at the unexpected presence of her “over there” doppelganger, who had made a surprise, unsanctioned trip across the Bridge to pursue a personal, poignant mission. (“I always wondered why nobody does that,” Olivia quipped in response to Astrid’s panicked yelp.) Jasika Nicole rocked the long-overdue showcase that was written for Astrid, and the entire cast rose to the challenge of a touching, rib-tickling script that had great fun with the relationships between characters. I got so lost in the interplay that I completely forgot that we were in Rebootlandia…

Which itself was provocative. Have I come to fully accept and invest in the new dramatic paradigm? Has the new time line so successfully become my new orientation that I don’t even think about it? Or does it speak to the failure of the gambit –- to how inconsequential it is to the storytelling — that I can so easily look past it and enjoy these people as if all of them were the same people they’ve always been? I am confused in my own mind on the matter – but not so baffled that I can’t recognize that my conflicted dissonance was reflected back to me in the episode. “Making Angels” found the scrambled egghead wrestling anew with Peter’s disconcerting presence, and I wondered if alterna-time line “over there” Astrid was actually addressing fans frustrated with the current state of things when she tried to convince him to pull a Dr. Strangelove and stop worrying and learn to love this bombshell. “Wouldn’t it be preferable for you to choose to believe that he was your son…and not be angry?” My brain understands the reasoning. My heart wants to reject it. The whole of me is unsure of its wisdom. Fascinating.

I was equally engaged by the freak of the week. The strange case of Neil the Self-Appointed Savior –- a wannabe guardian angel trying to earn his wings by clipping short the lives of doomed individuals — was compelling and a clever way to provide insight into the Observers without actually telling a story about one of them. We came to know Neil by degrees, and initially, by his victims. First: Chet Williams, a man with a small malignant mole on his hand and feeling rather gloomy about it, despite being told he had a 95 percent chance at survival. Drawing upon omniscient knowledge no ordinary human should possess, Neil told Chet him that he was going to die, slowly and painfully. “You’re the other 5 percent,” Neil announced with Observer-like detachment and a voice that came thisclose to sounding like the Anonymous guy. (Just add a shot of digital distortion and you’re there.) He left Chet to die in a bus shelter advertising vacations in a tropical paradise –- possibly an oblique Lost reference, and not the only one in the episode.

Next, the morbid fortuneteller cornered an alcoholic named Carrie Watson and informed her that try as she might, she was never going to beat her addiction. It was going to kill her, Neil said. And he told Carrie that before she died, she would do great harm to those she loved. Her boyfriend was going to die from her drunk driving. Her brother was going to alienate his wife in his obsessive bid to save her. Carrie scoffed. She refused to believe her fate was set in stone. And Neil agreed: “There is no future. There is no past. Everything happens. Right now.” And then he took her life the same way he killed Chet: By spraying a toxin that couldn’t possibly exist –- at least, not yet –- and which caused victims to cry blood before expiring. Walter said that the effects of the poison reminded him of “a legendary alchemical mixture” known as the Tears of Ra. “Egyptians used it to euthanize beloved pets so they could be buried with their owners who pre-deceased them,” the scientist and armchair mythologist explained.

NEXT: Bees and Lost references.

Ra was the sun god of ancient Egypt, and according to the myths about the deity, his tears descended from the heavens and manifested on Earth in the form of…bees. I found the following from an article posted at the Northern Berkshire Beekeepers Association‘s website: “In this context, the bee was seen as the messenger of the gods, falling down, like tears, towards the Earth (and man) to pass on some secret message.” This must be true, because why would Northern Berkshire beekeepers lie to us? Applied to our episode: Behold Neil the honeybee Christ, buzzing with forbidden future knowledge from the mind of god, descended from the heavens to take the sting out of death!

The agents began to piece together Neil’s story after the misguided mercy peddler failed to spritz and slay a businessman named Jared Collins. Instead, the suit ran and got rammed by a car, leaving Jared a paraplegic. Thus –- in one of those noodle-cooking predestination paradox twists — Neil had effectively launched the unhappy man toward the very tragedy he was trying to deny him. Way to go, a–hole! (That group home – run by a man “who is not … [ominous pause] … kind” – sounds like a real house of horrors.) The Astrids figured out that Neil worked as a TSA agent at Logan International Airport. Longtime J.J. Abrams fans no doubt seized upon his very familiar badge number: 0047. (There was also France-bound traveler Wendy Petersen — a Peter Pan reference? — and her “OA542” boarding pass. “OA” = Oceanic Airlines?) Olivia and Peter learned that Neil was once a brilliant if cracked mathematics professor at MIT who came back from summer vacation with a head full of high-differential equations and some radical new notions about time. Specifically: That past, present, and future can be seen and experienced all at once, in a Minkowski SpaceSlaughterhouse-FiveDr. Manhattan sort of way. Which is to say: Like an Observer.

It turned out Neil spent that aforementioned summer vacation at his (curiously unlocked) home at Reiden Lake –- the same Reiden Lake where the young Peter Bishop of Rebootlandia’s “over there” world lost his life decades earlier; the same Reiden Lake where original time line Adult Peter materialized into existence back in “Subject 9” as the Observer bore witness from the shore. We were ultimately led to believe that at some point –- either years ago when New Coke Peter drowned or more recently when Classic Coke Peter splashed down –- September lost an oracular gadget that allows all Observers to calculate the future. Neil found this device and figured out how to work it. More, Neil, a very religious man with a messiah complex, believed God wanted him to find September’s pocket prognosticator to execute a grand purpose on Earth by…well, executing miserable people. Neil himself was a miserable soul: When he was a kid, his father and his twin brother Alex died in a car accident, but the event that really marked him for life came soon after, when he overheard his hard, horrible mother wishing God had spared Alex and taken Neil instead. In the climax of the episode, Neil told his mom that he didn’t resent her (liar), as her brand of limp Eloise Hawking, unintended Tiger Mom harshness had driven him to be the best damn Daniel Faraday he could be, one uniquely positioned to do God’s will…and glean a glorious exit from his wretched life. Neil knew his own destiny was to get gunned down by Olivia Dunham in his mother’s living room, right before his mom’s horrified eyes –- and he let it happen. Hope that halo is worth it, buddy.

NEXT: A noble lie?

The pursuit of Neil was compelling. The drama back at the lab was even better. “Over there” Astrid (do I dare call her “Bastrid”) –- devastated by the death of her father; shaken by the spectacle of his funeral –- needed help processing an experience that would be challenging for anyone, let alone someone (mildly?) afflicted with Asperger’s Syndrome. Astrid’s mother had died when Astrid was young; what “traditions” the woman may have had for making sense of loss had not been passed down to her daughter. And so Astrid trekked “over here” hoping that her parallel world soul sister had grieved through an analogous ordeal and could provide insight. Astrid A’s yelpy shock quickly gave way to “This is cool!” goosebumps. She even instinctively grabbed onto her Other’s hands. “Olivia told me about you but it’s nice to meet you in the flesh,” she said. Astrid B’s emotionally challenged corrective response: “All personal meetings are in the flesh.” She grew more elliptical and scattered as she tried to explained her need. It was evident that she had issues with her father, and that the funeral had agitated them. Reverend Stewart’s sermon recalled “a great man” who would be “sorely missed.” Yet the man Astrid remembered wasn’t so great; he could never nurture his daughter with unconditional love. She blamed herself: “My father — I can’t get the thought out of my mind that I could not give him what he wanted because of the way I am. Do you think if I was more like you that he could have loved me more? If I was normal?” By not specifying what exactly Astrid meant by “the way I am,” Fringe created a moment that anyone who has ever felt unloved and judge for being “different” and not “normal” could relate to, and I liked that.

I also liked how “over here” Astrid could not offer any easy answers for her “over there” twin – only a lie. “My father -– we’re not very close,” she said. “He’s a very complex man. He doesn’t show a lot of emotion. He does the best with the tools he has. It’s just how he is. I know he loves me. At least, that’s what I tell myself. Even though it doesn’t really seem that way. You shouldn’t regret that you couldn’t have been more for him. It wasn’t you.” Astrid had carefully constructed a narrative tailored to assuage, to some degree, her alter ego’s heartache, and the two parted company grateful for having met. In the coda, we saw the extent to which Astrid had fibbed: Her still-alive father, a lovable, huggable bear of a man blessed with considerable emotional tools (and apparently loaded with mad cooking skills) (the “Shiitake Happens” apron — genius), was quick to recognize his daughter had suffered through a truly shiitake day. He enveloped her in an embrace. Told her that he loved her. Nice.

“Over there” Astrid wasn’t the only parallel world visitor to the “over here” lab. Bolivia volunteered to retrieve her gone-rogue colleague, and since she’s far more sensitive than she lets on with that jocular demeanor and smirky, ironic sense of humor, she knew exactly where to find Astrid. Neither Walter nor Olivia was thrilled to see her; after all, in Rebootlandia, some Peter-less though equally traumatic version of Operation: First Half of Season 3 had taken place. Upon Bolivia’s arrival, Walter greeted “the viper!” with spite: “Mata Hari! Deceived and betrayed anyone yet today? It is almost lunchtime after all.” Later, Walter huffily returned a bunch of stuff that Bolivia had left behind, including a small metal box that he was convinced was one of her “tools of spy craft. … A sinister communication device? Some kind of devious encoder?” Nope: Just a box of candy. Walter was humbled. Bolivia — surprisingly gracious, but not one bit apologetic – was able to roll with Walter’s hostility. She even had a theory. “Did you ever consider that you enjoyed having me around? Admit it. You like me, Walter.” Of course he did. Who wouldn’t like this woman?

Indeed, both Bolivia and “over there” Astrid made quite an impact on the “over here” heroes over the course of “Making Angels” –- a positive impact. If I was a better writer, I might try to bring that “Tears of Ra” business into play here and say something like “Astrid and Bolivia were akin to spiritual honeybees, spreading sweet pollen into the lives of Walter and company, causing them to open up and bloom just a little more, blah blah blah.” As you can tell, I know shiitake about flowers. And bees. Or writing. And yet, consider how by episode’s end, Walter had softened and warmed toward Peter and Bolivia. He even gave her a Red Vine! “Are you flirting with me?” she teased. In this time line, Bolivia does have one Bishop boy wrapped around her finger, after all. Who wants to see their miracle-grow child? (This is where you all tell me that Bolivia is actually all kinds of bad and probably put a bug in that candy box she gave back to Walter. You cynical hard-hearted meanies!) And then there was that curious bit of shipper-baiting business when buttoned-up Olivia praised Peter for being a good partner. (Agent Lincoln Lee – celebrating his god-daughter’s birthday in Baltimore – was MIA.) This, after Bolivia had checked him out in the lab and declared him “cute” but not her type, as she liked “nice guys” instead of boys that are “contradictory” and “tricky.” I got the feeling that Bolivia had inspired Olivia to see Peter in an attractive new light –- and to realize that she prefers her men with a little more edge than what Agent Lee has to offer. See? Bees! Spreading sweet pollen! Blossoming!

“Making Angels” left us with two Observers (including domehead major domo December) seizing Neil’s future-telling tech and realizing that September had failed to follow through on the order given to him in the premiere to snuff Peter out of existence once and for all. December was clearly not pleased. I think we’re going to find out how time-shifting September got that gunshot wound sooner rather than later.

I also find myself thinking that Fringe won’t keep us waiting until the finale to reveal if Peter will be able to get back to his home time line. For the past couple weeks, I’ve been promoting the theory that Peter’s destiny is to remain marooned in Rebootlandia and to find peace in his present circumstances, whenever and wherever the present may be. But here’s a thought: In his time line, Peter forged the bridge between the two parallel worlds so the Walters and both Fringe division could get together and solve the catastrophic problems imperiling each universe. Before they could begin that work, Peter disappeared. (See: the season 3 finale.) What if the doomsday machine salvation machine magical electromagnetic waffle iron was designed to send Peter to a specific version of reality that could teach him how to save his own? What if in the episodes to come, we’re going to see the conflict with Nina and David Robert Jones conclude in such a way that produces a piece of learning that Peter can take and implement back home? Could that be the whole reason Peter’s even here?

Of course, that leaves the whole issue of how Peter will get home, and while I don’t know how he’ll do it, I have a new theory about who will do it. And it’s not Rebootlandia’s iteration of Walter.

It’s going to be original recipe Olivia, breaking into this mutant alternate reality to save her one true love.

What do you make of that one, shippers?

Until next week:

“Kirk out!”

Twitter: @EWDocJensen

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Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv)

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