‘Fringe’ went missing for a little while there. The series skipped a couple weeks without new episodes since the last one aired on October 14th. It returned last week with a new story that brings us back to the alternate universe, where Olivia is still trapped and has been brainwashed to believe that she’s her own doppelganger. This show is confusing, isn’t it?
In ‘Amber 31422’, we finally start to learn a little more about the weird containment protocol that the alternate Fringe team uses to stop breaches in the fabric of their universe. We’ve previously seen areas (even most of the city of Boston) sealed in an amber resin that freezes anything (and anyone) in its reach permanently in place. Presumably, people caught in the amber bubbles were dead, unfortunate casualties of the war between universes. At least, that’s certainly what the public has been lead to believe. However, that turns out to be a convenient mistruth. In fact, these people are still alive, stuck in a state of suspended animation. In this episode, one man gets out.
Joshua was a bank robber who used super-advanced tech that allowed him to walk through solid objects, which was a really convenient way of strolling into bank vaults. The problem is that this technology destabilized the areas and caused those nasty universe-tearing breaches. Eventually, he got trapped in an amber quarantine before he could escape from one of his heists. Now, a couple years later, his twin brother Matthew (a seemingly nice, normal, law-abiding family man) has found a way to cut him out of the amber and revive him.
During her investigation of this case, Olivia figures out that Joshua was never trapped in the amber at all. Brother Matthew had shown up at that particular bank to talk him out of his life of crime. It was Matthew that really got trapped, and Joshua took over his identity. Burdened by the guilt of his actions, Joshua has finally freed Matthew to switch back their lives. Olivia and the Fringe team are tasked with capturing the fugitive – not to bring him to justice, but primarily to ensure that the public never learns the truth about all the other victims in amber.
On the one hand, I find the “bank robbers who walk through walls” plot disappointingly similar to the Season 1 episode called ‘Safe’. On the other hand, the switched-identities storyline has nice resonance with Olivia’s own situation. The episode also ends very strongly, with Joshua staging another bank robbery just so that he can intentionally get himself locked in amber, as he should have in the first place (rather than his brother) – thus protecting his brother from further scrutiny.
In a subplot, Olivia has also agreed to let Walternate experiment on her to find out how she can travel between universes. (He tells her that he wants to figure out how the other Olivia does it, and is hoping her genetic makeup is similar.) All the while, Olivia continues to have visions of Peter popping up all over the place to play Mr. Obvious and nag her about not being who she thinks she is. To be honest, he’s kind of annoying.
Suspended in a sensory deprivation tank, Olivia does manage to slip over to our world a couple of times – once for a very brief pop-in, and an second (longer) visit where she sees that some things Peter’s been telling her are true. This causes her to lie to Walternate, and tell him that she only blacked out and never went anywhere. Something tells me that he’s not going to take that story at face value.