‘Fringe’ 4.06 Recap: “Too Many Variables and Not Enough Constants”

For those of you who follow such things (and I usually don’t), it looks like the ratings for ‘Fringe’ are down again this season. In fact, this past Friday’s episode was a series low in that regard. Part of this may be attributable to a splitting of the same target audience with NBC’s new ‘Grimm’, which airs in the same timeslot. Partly, this may just be due to the audience losing interest in the series. Whatever the case, it’s a shame, because the episode was actually pretty good.

In ‘And Those We Left Behind’ (a title that doesn’t have much bearing on the episode, it turns out), the Fringe team investigates a series of time anomalies that have developed ever since Peter returned from wherever he was between seasons. An apartment building exhibits signs of a fire that happened years earlier. A decommissioned railroad track sees portions of a train race by. Sections of a recently-built underwater tunnel vanish, causing the rest to flood. In all cases, the anomalies appear in the form of a bubble where the events of four years ago bleed through to the current timeline. Olivia and Peter both theorize that his appearance is related. This seems to be backed up when Peter experiences elliptical jumps in time perception. Interestingly, Peter had no idea that he had appeared to both Walter and Olivia during his absence.

Walter, meanwhile, still wants nothing to do with Peter. He is cold and dispassionate when forced to interact with his son. Peter is forced to tackle this case largely on his own.

It turns out that these problems were actually caused by an electrical engineer named Raymond (Stephen Root), who has built a “time chamber” based on the research of his brilliant theoretical scientist wife (Romy Rosemont, Finn’s mom on ‘Glee’ and Root’s real-life spouse). The wife Kate has Alzheimer’s and can do little more than sit and rock in a chair now, but Raymond can create a 47-minute window into the past where he can interact with her before the disease took hold. She thinks that it’s 2007 and doesn’t know what he’s up to. He needs her to complete her equation so that he can extend the time window. Raymond was also unaware that the time chamber had side effects happening outside his house.

While canvassing the neighborhood for the source of the anomalies, a random FBI agent gets vaporized when he approaches the house. Peter builds a portable Faraday cage (which winds up being a silly contraption involving lots of belts and wires) that allows him to pass through and confront Raymond. Kate is shocked to learn the truth. Raymond agrees to turn off the device, but begs Kate to write down the completed equation in a journal so that he can rebuild it later. Instead, she blacks out all of the pages of the notebook and leaves a note telling him that he needs to let her go.

Peter still thinks that he is somehow responsible for all of this. Raymond’s time chamber didn’t work at all until after Peter appeared. Peter believes that he damaged the space-time continuum and doesn’t belong in this universe. “Clearly, I’m in the wrong place.”

In a lot of ways, ‘And Those We Left Behind’ is reminiscent of the Season 2 episode ‘White Tulip’. Both feature well-meaning scientists (Peter Weller in the earlier case) who experiment with time travel in order to save a loved one, only to cause unwanted repercussions to the world around them. Both episodes also achieve surprising emotional depth and poignancy. It’s too bad that this show keeps losing its audience despite strong episodes like this.

1 comment

  1. JoeRo

    Stephen Root makes this episode work. I’ve seen a lot of sci-fi where a husband goes to ridiculous, often harmful, lengths to be reunited with his wife, but Fringe absolutely nailed this one. Root was simply fantastic.

    Aside from that I just don’t know what to think about Fringe anymore. I keep watching it out of loyalty and a desire to see how the show works its way out of this current pickle, but there’s not really any enthusiasm in it. The new episodes tend to sit on the DVR until I’m bored enough to watch them.

    I can see why the ratings are dropping. Fringe isn’t resolving any of its major story arcs. Once the origin of (some) Fringe events were explained we saw Olivia visit another universe. Then we saw the Olivia’s switch places for awhile, only to have them ultimately make it back to their respective homes. Then the stakes were set; fix the damage Walter has done to the universes and save both of them. We then ignored those goals to do … other … stuff. Olivia foretold her own death, but nothing came of it. Peter became “weaponized” and began hunting down shapeshifters, but nothing came of it. There was some fascinating nonsense about a doomsday device, which led to the disappearance of Peter. This was admittedly cool, but so far this plot device (ahem … doomsday device) has only been used as a kind of get out of jail free card for the writers.

    No matter how you slice it one of the universes we’ve been exploring is going to never be heard from again. Either Peter manages to return to his adoptive universe, in which case the one he’s inhabiting now is never heard from again, or he doesn’t. At some point the show has to confront the “everything you’ve just seen didn’t really happen” conundrum, and that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

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