Every time ‘Fringe’ takes a break from the broadcast schedule, I worry that it won’t come back. Every time it does feels like a pleasant surprise. Despite the show’s ever-dwindling ratings, Fox seems committed to letting it play out at least the current season. After a few weeks off, the series returned on Friday. It’s just nice to be back in the company of these characters, even if this particular episode isn’t one of the season’s best.
‘A Short Story About Love’ is a mix of both case-of-the-week plotting and recurring mythology. In the former, a man with horrible burn scars on his face has been targeting couples in love. First he kills the husbands/boyfriends by rapid dehydration in order to squeeze out the essence of their pheromones. Then he uses that to make some sort of love potion cologne that he wears so that he can seduce the newly-widowed wives/girlfriends. This usually only gets so far as to make the women stop struggling and kiss him before he strangles them to death.
In other words, someone on the writing staff saw the movie ‘Perfume: The Story of a Murderer‘ and decided to put a ‘Fringe’ twist on it. While this is far from the first time that the show has borrowed ideas from other sources, the premise feels a little half-baked here. For one thing, it’s never at all clear what the killer’s motivation is. Apparently, he was some sort of chemist for a perfume company. After Olivia captures him, he says something about wanting to give the world love. That’s pretty vague. Is he doing this because the burns on his face have prevented him from finding love of his own? Not explained. How did he burn his face? If that was revealed in the episode, I must have missed it. Other than kissing his female victims once (which could just be to test that the potion works), he doesn’t seem overly interested in going further or keeping them around.
The other half of the episode is also pretty frustrating. While looking into the disappearance of the wounded Observer named September (who appeared to have died the last time we saw him), Walter discovers that the Observer placed a microdot on the pupil of Peter’s eye. The dot has an address on it. Peter follows it to the Observer’s apartment hideout, which in turn leads him on a trail to discover a weird capsule that drills its way up from underground in a park.
The capsule is a homing beacon. When Peter activates it, September (or maybe a hologram of September?) appears. He explains that the other Observers had locked him out from visiting the universe again, like he was in the Phantom Zone or something. The homing beacon led him back. So, if he was imprisoned, does that make him a bad guy, or just a clutzy moron who keeps screwing up the universe’s timeline and had to be given a Time Out?
Peter asks for September’s help in returning home to his own timeline, to which September replies that, “You’ve been home all along.” He doesn’t tack a “Dorothy” on the end here or tell Peter to click his heels three times, but I feel like he should have.
What this means is that Peter is not in a new alternate universe. He’s in his own original universe, but things here just got screwed up a little. He’s back because the power of love prevented him from being completely erased from the timeline. (Ugh, really? That’s where we’re going with this?)
The Olivia here is his Olivia. Peter races to tell her that he loves her, and she likewise decides that she’s going to let the personality changes she’s experienced run their course, because she’d rather lose her memories than lose Peter. The episode ends with them getting smoochy smoochy.
I’m not impressed with this plot twist. I mean, I want the characters to be happy again, but the show tends to lose me when it gives up any pretense of the science in science fiction in order to throw in some inexplicable fantasy nonsense. This has happened before, such as the business with Olivia being able to travel between universes just by wishing for it really hard. I never liked that development, and I don’t like this one.
I really hope that the remaining episodes of the season get back on track.