Fringe recap: Rhubarb, Sweet Rhubarb
“Welcome To Westfield” was the game-changer that Fringe fans have been waiting for – the “Happily Ever After” that brought long-awaited relief to a season of sometimes-frustrating “Sideways” world storytelling. It was also a gift to the show’s shipper fans, an early Valentine’s Day bouquet that can be summed up in the one word that concluded the episode, voiced by Peter Bishop with a tone of both shock and recognition: “Olivia.” Not just any Olivia. Certainly not Rebootlandia’s Olivia. Peter’s Olivia. Forget about fixing the doomsday machine salvation machine magical electromagnetic waffle iron to boomtube back to original recipe history. Time to recalibrate Walter’s reality-warping whatchamacallit into an alarm clock that can awaken a universe full of fuzzyheaded sleepwalkers like a quantum rooster call or a stiff Cinnabon-flavored morning cocktail. Or something like that. Whatever. That’s tomorrow. Today: “Olivia.” Mersh. And we begin.
I am convinced that the ridiculous over-emphasis on Walter’s quirky food fixations of late has been all about setting us up for a defining moment that may not have happened if not for the mad scientist’s hankering for a piece of rhubarb pie. I’d like to think Fringe was winking at us with its choice in pastries: “Rhubarb” is Hollywood jargon for those dramatic moments when a stunning development spurs a large group of people to excitedly murmur amongst themselves. Example: The hubbub of hubbah-hubbah-hubbah that rippled through Fringe Nation (and my Twitter feed) during Olivia’s blue light special dream sex with Peter in the opening sequence, and again at the end with Olivia’s smooch and Peter’s proverbial Whoa! Fringe knew these beats would get us talking. Did they give them to us because they’ve been listening to conflicted blogger board grumblegrumblegrumble about the season? I know the producers pay attention to us, bless ’em, but I also believe they know their story better than we do.
But I am seriously digressing: The road to Peter’s “Olivia” via Walter’s quirky dessert cravings began with (as so many game-changing events do these days) a suspicious plane crash. The cause: A peculiar burst of electromagnetic energy. Apparently, some guy in an underground bunker forgot to input a numeric code at the proper time… oh, wait. Wrong show. Like Olivia, I’m suffering from flashes of another life. (In my defense, last night’s episode poked repeatedly at our collective geek memory, evoking everything from The Twilight Zone to Close Encounters of the Third Kind to The X-Files to The Walking Dead to Stephen King.)Broyles and Olivia and Astrid raced to the scene of the catastrophe, and were soon joined by the Bishop boys: Walter – surging with confidence, desirous of camaraderie, eager to shore up his place in the unit, all because of Peter’s presence and influence – decided he wanted to tackle this assignment personally, not from the safety and security of the lab, via the remote viewing proxy of Astrid. Walter sized up the situation, ordered Astrid to organize and execute some tedious, time consuming CSI-ing of the Atlantic 554 crash site, then proposed to Peter and Olivia they wait out of the work by heading into nearby Westfield. “Just down the road,” Walter whispered conspiratorially, like a schoolboy trying to convince his pals to play hooky with him, “I saw a sign for a place that served delicious homemade rhubarb pie. Who’s hungry?” Damn, it was a fun to watch the three of them Fringe-ing in the field again. (No offense to Broyles and Astrid and Lincoln Lee, MIA for the second consecutive ep.)
Westfield, Vermont. Population: 584 and dropping like flies. The kind of backwater burgh that goes ghost town dark at night, save for the all-hours diner. “Come in out of the cold,” said the man behind the counter, The Shirelles’ “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” on the jukebox. Immediately, my mind hyperlinked to the season premiere, and the diner scene between the Observers, set to the psychedelic chill of “California Dreaming.” Later in the episode, in Olivia’s
love shack apartment, we’d hear Jeff Tweedy singing the warmer, equally dreamy “California Stars.” The subtext I heard: The winter of your reboot discontent is beginning to thaw. Olivia wasn’t getting cell reception, so she excused herself to use the pay-phone up the street. Peter needed to take a whiz, so he excused himself to use the head. That left Walter all alone with the seemingly friendly counter man, whose beady slowly, creepily became battlefields for a pair of duplicate, competing irises. He also wasn’t right in the noggin. One moment, the dude was digging Walter’s quirky cheese and offering him free pie. The next moment, he was referring to a not-present waitress named June and acting like he had never taken Walter’s order and accusing him of stealing food just like that bastard Cliff. Huh? Cliff?! Walter’s internal monologue: Either he’s crazy or I’m crazy. Waitaminute – I already am crazy! There is clearly something wrong with this man!
NEXT: Hawk-Snarl, Fringe Style!
Suddenly, scary diner man with the eerie eyeballs was swinging a knife at Walter’s face. Peter – who had found a bloodied guy in the back room – rushed to help. Olivia saved the day with a gunshot that put the rabid dude down. Our heroes tried to get the bloodied backroom guy to a hospital, but they quickly discovered they couldn’t get out of town; every time they passed the Now Leaving Westfield sign, they soon found themselves approaching the Now Entering Westfield sign. It was like they were stuck in a loop – Bill Murray in Groundhog Day meets subway station Neo in The Matrix Revolutions. Or, per Walter’s frame of cultural references: Like Brigadoon. Westfield, Vermont, had been turned into an Escherized anomaly. Walter, Olivia and Peter – stranded within a bubble world of unreal real estate, marooned on a spit of wonky space-time. Aren’t you proud of me for not making a Lost allusion? Wait. D’oh! (That was me doing a Mindy Grayson/”Secret Word” impression. Pretty bad, huh?)
Our heroes clicked through a series of locales (a police station; a high school; a bicycle shop) and a couple different hypotheses (some strange zombie-plague contagion, maybe?) before lighting upon a working theory that could properly explain a town caught in the grip of a schizoid-inducing, teeth-duplicating continuity snarl: Bad guy David Robert Jones – making catastrophic use of his purloined stockpile of Amfilocite (see: “Enemy of my Enemy“) – had caused a rupture between the “over here” and “over there” worlds, causing the parallel Westfields to overlap and collide and select people to merge and mash with their alt-reality Other, the mind first, then – grotesquely – the body. There was nothing that could be done to stop this reality storm, which was also ripping up he environs of Westfield itself. All our heroes could do was get Westfield’s surviving citizens into a safe zone – the proverbial eye of the hurricane – and ride out the weird weather. (This most excellent episode might have been marginally better though certainly doubly more complicated if we saw the “over there” Fringe Division agents simultaneously investigating the Westfield weirdness on their side of the quantum divide.) In the end, everyone was left to pick up the pieces, shake an angry fist at David Robert Jones and ponder his awful motivations, and ruminate on the paradoxes. Olivia tried to offer solace to troubled Cliff, grieving the loss of his home and the near-miss of losing his family. He moved into some wisdom: “We have each other. Whatever happens, we’ll face it together.”
Throughout the episode, Agent Dunham worried that she, too, was coming undone. There was the sex dream – or was that another Olivia’s memory, bubbling up from some dark recess? (Or: a peek into the future?) At another point in the story, Olivia was reminded of a case from her past (“Johari Window“; season 2, episode 12) – except it was case from Original Recipe Olivia’s past, not Rebootlandia’s past. Trudging through the stormy streets of Westfield, she began to feel not right in her body as well as in her head. When she began speaking seizure–victim gibberish, Olivia surrendered her gun, afraid that was eating away the brains of Westfield was also eating away at her . She was relieved when Walter determined that she wasn’t at risk – what was afflicting the locals wasn’t exactly afflicting Olivia – but the phenomenon that was messing with her (reformatting her?) wasn’t done with her yet. In the episode’s final scene, Peter dropped by her apartment for a friendly, platonic hang – and instead got a glass of wine and a smack on the lips from a driven, stubborn, sees-the-best-in-all-people lover that was expecting their usual Friday night in-house date of Domiono’s and cheesy horror movies. Surprise. Recognition. “Olivia?” Rhubarbrhubarbrhubarb.
My diagnosis? The Westfield reality warp agitated and accelerated an ongoing condition, one that has been bugging Olivia for quite some time, at least since the experience of temporal distortions in “Subject 9,” perhaps since the start of the season, when the deeply empathic ex-cortexiphan kid — possibly a living antennae for all kinds of quantum world signal and noise — began dreaming dreams of Peter. I wondered: Have they all been so sexy? (As for Nina Sharp’s secret drugging of her foster daughter: The Massive Dynamic honcho has either been trying to cultivate Olivia’s condition or manage/slow/quell it.) Some theories: 1. Rebootlandia isn’t what we think it is. I could elaborate, but I don’t know if I know how to explain this idea yet, not without being really confusing. For now, let’s just leave it like this: Rebootlandia isn’t what we think it is. 2. Tweaking Olivia is proof that Rebootlandia is being reset by an event that’s still to come. I’ll give this one a crack: Basically, at some point in the near future, Peter is going to activate the magical electromagnetic waffle iron. But instead of transporting him back to his home timeline, the machine is going to alter and amend aspects of Rebootlandia, perhaps incorporating elements of various alternate histories, creating what philosophers call The Best Of All Possible Worlds. Said Ultimate Fringe will include Original Recipe Olivia, who will displace and replace Rebootlandia Olivia (the process, retroactive, has begun). In the end, only Peter will retain any awareness or memories of previous renderings of history.
Time for you to rhubarb. See you here next week.