For a show that started out as a pretty shameless ‘X-Files’ knockoff, ‘Fringe’ has taken its time coming into its own. Over the course of the previous two seasons, the series slowly introduced an interesting mythology regarding the impending war with an alternate universe much like our own. Finally, last season’s finale jumped whole hog into that storyline by sending Olivia and Walter over to the alternate universe on a mission to rescue Peter. The episode had some issues with story logic, but was a very strong and very exciting way to cap off the year. It also ended with a doozy of a cliffhanger. Now ‘Fringe’ is back for a third season, and the premiere episode, ‘Olivia’, has to deal with the repercussions of that finale.
As we last left things, Olivia’s evil doppelganger, the Fauxlivia, traded places with the real one and jumped back to our normal universe with Walter and Peter. That left the real Olivia stuck in the alternate ‘verse, imprisoned by the evil Walternate.
The season premiere is set almost entirely in the alternate dimension. Like the finale, it opens with red credits. Olivia is still under lock and key. Waltnerate has attempted to cover up the situation by convincing everyone that Fauxlivia had a mental breakdown and is suffering delusions. It’s a simple and effective story that easily discredits anything she has to say to the contrary. He’s also been pumping her full of an experimental gene therapy that he hopes will dump Fauxlivia’s memories and personality into her head. So far, it doesn’t seem to be working.
Naturally, this being a TV show, Olivia manages to escape her maximum security confines at the Statue of Liberty facility. She spends most of the episode on the lam, wandering alternate New York. In a plot development straight out of ‘Collateral‘, she hijacks a taxi and forces the cabbie to ferry her around the city. (The writers subtly acknowledge this with an offhand line of dialogue about watching Tom Cruise movies on TV.) Meanwhile, Walternate assigns the rest of the alternate Fringe squad to track her down and bring her in, alive if possible.
As with the previous episode, the most fun parts of ‘Olivia’ involve discovering the little details of how the alternate universe differs from ours. Dirigibles are a common form of transporation. JFK is still alive. There’s a gas station chain called Shexxon. Billboards advertise regular flights to the moon. My favorite is also the most groan-inducing: the ad on top of the taxi for ‘Dogs: The Musical’.
More to the point for the show’s storyline, there’s no Massive Dynamic in this universe.
As she continues to run, Olivia experiences an intrusion of unfamiliar memories and is drawn to her (alternate) mother’s house. Eventually, Walternate’s plan works. Fauxlivia’s memories and personality overtake Olivia’s body. She allows herself to be taken back to Fringe Division peacefully.
In the final act, we learn that Fauxlivia has been blending in pretty well on our side. No one seems to have noticed the change. Peter even gives her a big romantic smooch. Uh oh.
This is a pretty good premiere episode. It sets up interesting directions for the season to go. I’d like to see the show drag this storyline out a bit. My fear is that the Olivias will swap back and straighten everything out in an episode or two, and we’ll spend the rest of the season on monster-of-the-week stories. At this point, that would be kind of lame.