‘Fringe’ wrapped up its second season last week with the last half of its 2-part finale episode, ‘Over There’. I’d been a little backlogged on the show, but managed to catch up this weekend. That weird musical episode from a few weeks back may have disappointed, but the series was back on its A-game and ended on a very strong note. (Spoilers to follow.)
While I’ve enjoyed ‘Fringe’ since the beginning, it’s always struck me as a little too shamelessly derivative of ‘The X-Files’. Over time, it’s developed its own original mythology involving a war that’s been brewing with an alternate universe, a world very similar to our own, but where dirigibles are a common form of transportation and 9/11 never happened. We’ve only seen small glimpses of that world in previous episodes, even when Olivia Dunham visited briefly to meet William Bell (Leonard Nimoy). The ‘Over There’ 2-parter finally delves whole-hog into that storyline, and it’s a doozy.
Episode ‘Northwest Passage’ ended with Peter, who’s been on the lam since discovering that Walter kidnapped him as a child from the alternate universe, meeting his real father, the man we know as Walternate. He’s agreed to go back to that other world to meet his mother and see what his life may have been. When Walter and Olivia discover this, and also learn that Walternate plans to use Peter as part of a doomsday plan to destroy our world, they mount a rescue mission. Little does Peter know that he needs rescuing, of course.
The best parts of ‘Over There’ involve learning about the other world and how it differs from our own. It turns out that Walter’s original intrusion set off a chain of un-natural disasters there that left holes in the fabric of reality. Boston has been almost totally destroyed. Fringe Division exists as a paramilitary task force that investigates and seals such breaches. There’s an alternate, rough-and-tumble version of Olivia, as well as an alternate Charlie Francis, who obviously never died. Walternate is the country’s Secretary of Defense, and one of the few people who knows what the holes really are, and about the parallel universes. He seems pretty evil.
The little details are interesting. The country is basically a police state. Citizens carry “Show Me” cards as ID. Andrew Jackson apparently never existed, and Martin Luther King, Jr. is pictured on the $20 bill. Technology has advanced differently in some ways, and videophones actually did catch on there, for some reason.
Unfortunately, some aspects of the storyline just don’t work. The rules for how to cross over don’t make any sense at all, and seem to directly contradict how we’ve seen it done in the past. The former Cortexiphan kids are now some sort of superhero team. Only by standing around in a circle and wishing really hard can they open a doorway. That’s frankly just plain stupid. They all get killed off pretty quickly, and the explanation for how Walter, Olivia, and Peter get back at the end is equally nonsensical.
This sort of silliness reeks of the writing of Akiva Goldsman, hack screenwriter of countless crap movies like ‘Batman & Robin’ and ‘Lost in Space’. He’s a producer on the series, which has always annoyed me, but generally his influence has rarely felt too pronounced. He did direct both parts of ‘Over There’, however.
Walternate’s doomsday machine is said to derive from ancient technology, and requires Peter’s specific DNA code to work. Why do I suddenly feel like I’m watching ‘Alias’ in one of its later, terrible seasons? This is not a story thread I approve of.
Nor am I particularly sold on Olivia suddenly declaring her love for Peter. There’s always been a little bit of chemistry between them, but this feels forced.
Fortunately, the cat fight between the two Olivias is a lot of fun. I think I like Alternate Olivia more than the original. She seems less annoying so far. The season’s final twist, in which Alt-Olivia has taken the place of the original and traveled back to our side, was telegraphed far too early. But it’s still a great way to end the season, and opens up a lot of interesting possibilities for next year.