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Sunday, May 1, 2011

"Fringe," Season 3, Episode 21

THIS IS WHAT I SPENT MY LIFE PROTECTING? Kevin Corrigan and Anna Torv
  • Courtesy of Fox
  • "THIS IS WHAT I SPENT MY LIFE PROTECTING?" Kevin Corrigan and Anna Torv
“The Last Sam Weiss,” the snappy-paced penultimate episode of “Fringe’s” third season, takes a detour into Da Vinci Code territory. Olivia and Sam Weiss (Kevin Corrigan) go on a kind of scavenger hunt by decoding ancient scrolls for even older and more mysterious artifacts. Right off the bat, however, the episode presents evidence of an even grander conspiracy, with hidden messages in plain sight: product placement!

Before the credits, we see a family driving along a highway, with the teenage son listening on his headphones to The Doors “Riders on the Storm” (which is appropriately moody, but a little too on-the-nose). Then — ZAP! — an electrical storm breaks out right in front of them as the latest symptom of the earth-threatening weather conditions. Behind the wheel, the Dad throws the Ford Focus into reverse — and whaddaya know, we see that the model features a little rear-view camera screen in the dashboard, so you can see where you’re going when you’re backing up, without going to the effort of turning your head! Considering that the Dad’s backing into oncoming traffic, his actions seem suicidally, even homicidally reckless.

And just to prove he’s not the brightest crayon in the box, the Dad promptly gets out of the car and goes atop a bridge — because you really want to be on the highest possible elevation during an electrical storm.

Peter’s still comatose after his ill-fated attempt to shut off the Doomsday Device last week. When Walter takes his pulse, I find myself wondering if Dr. Bishop’s an M.D. or what — Wikipedia doesn’t specify his actual degrees. Astrid entices Walter away from Peter’s bedside with the promise of tapioca pudding in the cafeteria. She also gives discouraged Walter a pep talk to investigate means to stop the environmental disturbances.

Meanwhile, Olivia and Sam visit our universe’s Doomsday Device. “It’s not a Doomsday Device, but it’s acting like one,” says Sam. (Oops. Sorry, Device.) Sam suggests that if they can get past the protective force field, Peter could turn it off: “In case of emergency, break glass.” And suggests a means of finding a “crowbar” to open the forcefield.

That’s where the Robert Langdon stuff kicks in. Olivia and Sam first go to some kind of crypt to get a box, where he reveals that he’s one in a long line of guys named Sam Weiss (the last, if the title is to be believed) who serve as the stewards of the knowledge of the First People. I don’t recall that they actually mentioned the First People by name, and it’s not clear whether the Weiss’s are trying to keep the forgotten lore secret, or remembered. Sam, at least, appears to be a regular human being and not a First Person or Observer or anything like that. When they go to a lightning-ravaged museum to get the hidden key to the secret box, Sam stops a security gate from trapping them by rolling an object into a big vase, which props the gate open. “I work in a bowling alley,” he explains. I like Corrigan's down-to-earth performance, and it's too bad we don't get to learn more about Sam and his family.

Inspired by Astrid (who’s overdue to star in her own episode by now, isn’t she?), Walter flies a kite. Like a cross between Ben Franklin and King Lear, Walter taunts the electrical storm to strike his airborne kite — “I’m fully insulated,” he explains — and gets lightly struck twice, disproving the old adage that lightning never strikes the same place twice. It also gives him an idea to slow down the Doomsday disturbances, which he illustrates thanks to another experimental demonstration. He shows how the Devices in both universes are working like opposing magnetic fields with the old magnets-and-iron-filings demo, and suggests that if they move our Device to near Liberty Island, the site of Earth 2’s device, it’ll diminish the disaster. Or exacerbate it — one of the two.

Meanwhile, Peter wakes up in the hospital, which at first seems practically deserted, a la 28 Days Later or The Walking Dead. It’s not, but he makes his way out anyway, and tries to take a cab to “42nd and Lex” in New York. Like the old sitcom gag in which a bonk on the head causes amnesia or personality change, Peter apparently believes he’s a resident of the alternate universe, where his (real) father is the Secretary of Defense. So he takes a cab to New York, finds a pawn shop and buys a rare coin at a pawn shop.

Sam and Olivia use the key to open the box and discover a scroll that suggests that the crowbar is… Olivia herself! Walter interprets the drawings as indicating that Olivia can turn off the machine with her brainwaves, as she revealed limited telekinetic abilities in one of the encounters with David Robert Jones (that great creepy guy played by Jared Harris, now on “Mad Men”). They get the weird typewriter that the Earth-2 spies used to test Olivia’s powers, but Olivia has trouble with it. Walter also suggests that Olivia’s powers can turn off the Earth-2 device, and for a minute I thought he was going to dust off the old window to Earth-2 that he used in the 1980s. Maybe next week?

The Fringe team realizes Peter is missing, but fortunately he identifies himself near the ferry at Liberty Island, where the Device has been shipped. At first Peter doesn’t seem to recognize his Earth-1 buddies, but his memory improves, and the typewriter starts typing “Be a better man than your father,” which apparently had been Olivia’s message. Olivia and Peter approach the Device, and Olivia turns off the force field. Back on Earth-2, Brandon and Walternate are surprised to see that their machine has apparently turned itself off.

Peter and Olivia kiss. Then, for the second time in two weeks, Peter portentously approaches the Device, steps inside, sees a montage of events from “Fringe’s” previous seasons and then…

… wakes up in war-torn New York, at the foot of a Sept. 11 Memorial office building, surrounded by civil unrest. WTF?

Questions
So where’s Peter? Apparently he’s on a third alternate Earth in the future of our world. One can only assume that had this been “Fringe’s” last season, we wouldn’t have found out about Earth-3. the future.

Speaking of which, since Peter Bishop is still a member of the Fringe division in the future, is there an old version of him around somewhere?

On an earlier episode, someone speculated that the Earth with the strongest connection to Peter would be the one to survive the machine effect. Since Peter entered the machine in, possibly, a lingering state of confusion about which is his real home, did that send him into the other world? future?

What’s the significance of the coin? I think it’s a shout-out to an earlier episode, but darned if I can remember it. For a minute I thought it was going to be one of those Earth-2 Richard Nixon coins, but apparently not.

It sure looked like Olivia turned the Device all the way off, not just the force field — the Earth-2 one was definitely off. So did Peter really have to activate the machine in the first place?

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