After one hell of a premiere, Fringe settles into a nice rhythm with its Earth-1-set “The Box,” creating what I believe is a season-long toggling between the two universes. And though it’s inherently not as exciting because it lacks the mystery and general coolness that comes with episodes set in another universe, “The Box” suggests that Fringe has completely figured out how to tell procedural stories with mythology underpinnings, and that’s a glorious step forward to take.*
*Is it possible that there really won’t be ANY procedural-y episodes this season because every episode “over there” is automatically mytho-heavy and the halved number of efforts “over here” means more time to focus on the important stuff?
Perhaps what is most impressive is that though this episode is fairly self-contained with just a few beats that will play out in the mythology later, “The Box” is again very confident in its desire to just let these characters interact with one another and continue to deal with the emotional repercussions from the events of last season. For a science fiction series, it’s easy to get caught up in your mythology and for a procedural series, it’s easy to get caught up in telling a start-to-finish story in 42 minutes, but somehow Fringe balances both those frameworks and still tells a slew of great character-centric tales with relative ease — and that’s why it’s one of the handful of best series on television.
The little epilogue-like fun moment at the end of “Olivia” with Peter, Walter and Fauxlivia was something of a facade, as this episode shows that all those relationships are still full of conflict and those people still have even more personal conflicts they’re trying to work through on their own. Peter seems slightly content to be back in Earth-1, but he cannot get past the fact that Walternate is building a machine that supposedly only Peter can power, a machine that will supposedly destroy the world. For some reason, I was a little concerned the series wouldn’t return to Peter’s issues with the device since it felt like something of a McGuffin to get to Earth-2 last season, but the frustration, fear and confusion Peter shows in this episode totally prove me wrong.
Meanwhile, Walter is noticeably off his game throughout this episode because he’s racked with guilt and sadness over both his past actions and the death of William Bell. The theory out there (or maybe the writers have confirmed this?) that Walter’s current state can be identified and analyzed based on how he interacts with Astrid and how he pronounces her name and throughout this episode, he misspeaks, seems distant and generally feels like season 1 Walter all over again and that’s clearly because he can’t deal with what he did to Peter, even though Peter is back. Plus, I think Walter is still shaken from his trip in Earth-2 because he believes (though I’m not so sure this is the case anymore) that his actions caused all these awful things to happen. Add in William Bell’s death and Walter having to attend the reading of his will and it makes sense why the elder Bishop man would be one giant mess of emotion.
Finally, Fauxlivia is still trying to assimilate into her new life while working some missions for Walternate with that wily bastard Newton, who reveals he’s been over at Earth-1 for a long time (I’m assuming that pre-dates his whole headless body thing). She’s reading up on pop culture (I guess U2 isn’t popular over there) and learning all sorts of fun things about her Earth-1 counterpart (over here, Olivia trades in the crack-shot for a photographic memory).
Amid all that personal drama, Walter finds the guts to talk to Peter, but the son is not quite ready to face the “father” and what he’s done. Instead, he’s willing to express all sorts of inner demons to Fauxlivia, and the two also share nice dance and make-out sessions. There are hints that Peter is picking up on something different about Fauxlivia (could we please have a flashback episode that explains how and why Peter is just so smart and good at everything?), but because he’s an emotional wreck, the straddling and kissing probably distracts him well enough.
In the premiere, we saw that Olivia has basically been chemically brainwashed into being the “other” Olivia, but I’m wondering if it makes sense to have Fauxlivia experience the same sort of identity crisis and transition because of emotional persuasion? Though she’s certainly a cold-blooded killer and top-flight spy, Fauxlivia is inherently more emotional than Ourlivia, so isn’t it possible that she’ll get swept up in the emotions of the mission and the nice-ness(?) of Earth-1? That also ties into the differences in the two worlds in a way: One Olivia gets manipulated by science, the other by warmth and environment.
In any event, every one of these interactions and conversations is top-notch because of the stellar performances from the lead three. Anna Torv has improved her already-rising stock tenfold in these first two episodes and she’s just as good playing Fauxlivia pretending to be Olivia as she is the other way around. It’s nice to see her be able to play some form of the character having a good time like in the dance with Peter.
Because all the other actors get to play multiple versions of the same character, Joshua Jackson is going to be overlooked this season, but that’s unfortunate. I’m not sure the series ends up being as good as it is now without his work throughout last season and the creative team’s decision to put him at the forefront there, and although Torv/Olivia is back at the center, Jackson’s still damn good at being both a betrayed and hurt son and classic male hero.
And of course, John Noble is freaking fantastic as Walter. FANTASTIC.
As for the box and its relationship to the Peter Device, one line has me thinking. There’s an implication that the Peter Device is created from a series of ancient technological pieces. So let me ask this: Is the Device tied directly into the Observers and that long, missile-like orb thing from waaaaaaay back in episode four? It has to be, right?
- Broyles and Walter openly calling Walternate, “Walternate?” Awesome.
- In his will, William Bell left Walter enough shares to be the sole owner of Massive Dynamic. Do we think this is all that game-changing or perhaps will just force Nina and others to be more open with the Bishops and Olivia/Fauxlivia when the come with questions?
- Another sign of Walter’s current state: He’s trying to feed the cow cocoa beans so that she’ll produce chocolate milk.