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Sunday, April 17, 2011

"Fringe," Season 3, Episode 19

ITS CALLED INCEPTION. I MEAN, EMULATION. Joshua Jackson and Anna Torv
  • Courtesy of Fox
  • "IT'S CALLED INCEPTION. I MEAN, EMULATION." Joshua Jackson and Anna Torv
The respectful response to “Fringe’s” latest episode, “Lysergic Acid Dietheylamide” would seem to be an awkward silence followed by “Let us not speak of this again.” But the thing about train wrecks is that the insurance guys need to take a close look before the survivors can find closure.

Given that the previous episode took place in the alternate universe, and then came a two-week break, “Lysergic” opens with a reminder: “Oh yeah, Leonard Nimoy William Bell’s ghost is still in Olivia Dunham’s body. Because of the soul magnets.” The first scene establishes that hooking up Anna Torv’s forehead to wires attached to a recently-deceased cadaver does not, in fact, solve the problem, but it did provide us the image of the dead guy’s big, undulating tummy. (I’m sure there’s a GIF of it on-line already.) Before Walter started the procedure, he said, “Ready, Belli?” “Aye-aye, Captain,” replied “Bellivia” in this week’s requisite ‘Star Trek’ reference.

‘Bellivia’s’ starting to have seizures, indicating that Bell’s theory that he could happily pilot Dunham’s body for two weeks was way off the mark. Taking possession of someone else’s body? Turns out it’s a bad idea, and they’ve actually got 24 hours to restore Olivia’s consciousness, or it’ll be permanent. Much as we enjoy the way Anna Torv scrunches up her forehead, raises her eyebrows and hoarsens her vocal chords to do her Nimoy impression, we can’t have that.

How to retrieve Olivia’s consciousness from the hidden corners of her psyche? Bellivia and Walter swap ideas like “acupuncture” when Walter has a Eureka moment — they drop heavy doses of LSD and use “Whole Brain Emulation” to go into Olivia’s mind and deliver the message that she needs to get back in the driver’s seat. So Walter, Peter and Bell go into Olivia’s mind, which initially appears to be a crowded metropolis. And the passers-by — largely dressed in black like Olivia does — recognize Walter and Peter as intruders and chase them with hostile intent.

Yes, it’s a total, tip-to-toe rip-off of Inception. (BRAWWW!) Given the level of humor in this episode, Walter might as well have just said, “Let’s do what they did in that Leonardo DiCaprio movie!” Oh, and they also plan to upload Bell into a computer, somehow.

The presence of the World Trade Center looming over the streets provides a powerful image, as if it’s haunting our collective subconsciousness since 9/11. Walter and Peter follow a signal to the towers, nearly get pushed down an elevator shaft by Nina Sharp and find William Bell’s office, where Bell himself is… a cartoon. About half of the scenes in Olivia’s mind are animated along the lines of the rotoscoping from the film Waking Life, but the actors’ animated avatars look pretty lousy (despite their nifty, realistic eye movement). Partly the gimmick provides “Fringe” a chance to show stunts and effects that it can’t afford on a TV budget, like the heroes escaping from zombies by unmooring a dirigible from atop the World Trade Center.

But given that Nimoy had earlier announced his retirement from acting and never appears “live” in the episode, one wonders if the animation provided a means to accommodate him on the show. At any rate, it looked pretty creepy and primitive — “Archer’s” simplistic cartooning is much more effective.

So Bell, Walter and Peter need to find Olivia in the planet-sized realm of her mind. Peter suggests they look in Jacksonville, “the last place she felt safe.” They pilot the zeppelin south but a saboteur with a stylized X t-shirt cuts the blimp’s fuel line and pushes Walter into free fall — the image of and the X-man tumbling through the air made the animation pay off.

Walter wakes up back in the lab, while Bell and Peter continue the search — Peter bets that Olivia will be at his family’s old house on a Jacksonville military base, from before she met Walter and Bell. (It’s kind of like that episode of “The Office” from earlier this season when they realized that Holly was Michael’s true love because she was the only one who could retrace his steps when he was lost.) And, in fact, they find the house, which turns to hazy-focused live action when Peter (sans Bell) goes in. Grown-up Olivia greets him, but Peter realizes that she’s a fake, and the real Olivia is Olivia as a little girl.

But it switches back to animation when random soldiers — more of Olivia’s “antibodies” — chase after them, “killing” Peter. Bell tells Olivia “You’re your own worst enemy. You let your fears overwhelm you.” Little-girl Olivia tells the antibodies to stop and go away, facing her fears and resolving a lingering personality flaw. But I’ve got to call bullshit on this. For three seasons, Olivia Dunham’s been practically fearless as an FBI agent and Fringe investigator, charging into dangerous situations — going into alternate universes is the least of it. Sure, she’s a little reserved in her private life, and occasionally freaks out in high-pressure situations, but this episode paints her as some kind of emotional coward, and I don’t think the show has ever presented evidence to support that.

It starts raining in Olivia’s mind, and Bell prepares to leave, saying to Olivia “Tell Walter I knew the dog wouldn’t hunt.” Olivia wakes up, back to normal but the computer transfer didn’t work — Bell is apparently dead for real. Walter has a sad.

I should say that the Joshua Jackson and Lance Reddick had some very, very funny moments on this episode when they were tripping their brains out. I suspect that Reddick particularly appreciated getting a chance to play comedy. When he sees the Disney style animated songbird, it was like “Fringe” acknowledging that it was offering a sort-of animated episode, like last year’s sort-of musical episode.

In the denouement, Peter and Olivia have a pleasant, private reunion at her place. She’s cheerful and drawing a picture of the X-man. Peter asks about him and she says, matter-of-factly, “I think he’s the man who’s gonna kill me.”

Questions
Okay, who’s the X-man?

When Broyles said "I saw Death, and it was me," he was talking about seeing alt-Broyles' body, right?

Olivia’s abusive stepfather is the first person to chase Walter and Peter in Olivia’s subconscious. Apart from Nina Sharp, were there any others we’d recognize? Were the lab-coated zombies supposed to be Brandon?

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