Fringe, “Stowaway”

Because I was taking something of a minor sabbatical from criticism for my spring break last week, I didn’t write a review or get to put down some thoughts on the cliffhanger from last week’s Fringe. You know, the one where William Bell’s soul/consciousness took over Olivia’s body, which was probably one of the biggest WHAT THE HELL? moments of this television season. To be honest with you, I wasn’t sure how to react. At first, I couldn’t help but laugh because it was just odd to see Anna Torv doing a Leonard Nimoy impression (and a fairly decent one at that). But as the week went on and I thought about it I realized that it was actually a pretty ballsy move from a production team that hasn’t been shy to take risks in the past. After those few bumpy weeks in February where it seemed like the series was pushing too hard on the OMG PETER AND OLIVIA 4 EVA stuff, the last two episodes have done a very nice job of subverting expectations and leading the narrative in new, interesting directions, without compromising much of the momentum the first dozen episodes of the season built up.

Despite all of that, I probably still had some reservations about “Stowaway” just because I wasn’t sure how well Torv’s Bellivia would work for an entire episode. And while I have some issues with the episode itself, I can’t say any of those issues really stem from Torv’s performance, which at this point, is just fantastic no matter what iteration of her character or role the producers throw at her. Seriously, how many different roles has she played this season? Olivia, Fauxlivia, Olivia pretending to be Fauxlivia, Fauxlivia pretending to be Olivia, Olivia slowly turning into Fauxlivia, Bellivia and probably something else I’m forgetting. I wish I could go back in time to 2008 and smack that version of myself in the face for ever doubting her abilities as an actress. She won’t be nominated for Emmy because Fringe is a science fiction series that’s very close to be cancelled, but she honestly, legitimately, absolutely deserves one. This isn’t one of those throwaway platitudes that people like to bestow on their favorite performers, this is just fact.

“Stowaway” works primary because it doesn’t spend too much time on Bellivia. The episode doesn’t skirt around the issue and most certainly allows Torv to do excellent work while Peter, Broyles and Astrid stand around frustrated and dumbfounded in every moment they have to spend with she/he, but there’s still a mostly solid and compelling case at the center of the episode to divert attention away from the fact that the series’ lead character is now being inhabited by Spock. By the end of the episode it’s obvious that Bellivia is going to be around for at least another week or two, so these 43 minutes spend just enough time explaining how in the hell this happened (Bell put the soul magnets in Olivia’s tea when she visited him on the Other Side in the S1 finale), how long it could last (a few weeks, but they need to find a new “host”) and hinting at what Bell’s purpose could be in the season’s endgame (he’s obviously pushing Peter towards the machine). Throw in a number of truly funny moments with Bellivia hitting on Astrid, calling Broyles “Young Man,” and speaking in weird, creepy old scientist language with Walter and I more or less got the most out of the conceit for one episode.

Similarly, I actually welcome a plot like this and an episode like this for a few reasons. First of all, I like it when Fringe is just nutty and this might be the wildest thing the series has done to this point. As we’ve seen, the audience is the audience and I think most of us are willing to go with a development like Bellivia because the series has really yet to fumble any of its big mythological moves (at least in my opinion). I think people are a bit turned off by the whole Soul Magnets conceit, but I’m willing to bet that a lot of that has to do with the word “Soul” in the phrase. Take that away and explain the process heard here blindly to a Fringe fan and it feels like something they’d say “Cool!” or at least “Cool.” too.

Secondly, as I sort of hinted at the beginning of the review, I really like how this whole Bellivia thing totally disrupted some of the seemingly obvious beats the end of the season was going to take. The first half of the season was absolutely fantastic, but it was also straightforward in the sense that it very successfully explained the players, the stakes, etc. and created what looked to be an obvious direction for the end of the season. That’s not necessarily bad, but it could have turned that way, or in the least, became a smidgen boring. I’m not saying the series needs to be full of twists and turns and constant goal-post moving, but I really like how this plot has thrown a wrench into the love “triangle,” the machine and some of the other primary beats that this season has focused on (again, in fantastic fashion). Now there’s a bit more mystery and confusion as to what the hell is happening, but for the characters and us at home, and that’s a good thing.

I did, however, have some issue with the case this week. I’m a human being so I obviously like Paula Malcomson and her character’s inability to die unspooled mostly interestingly. However, I am a bit troubled by Bellivia’s end-of-the-episode analysis that perhaps her character finally died after consistently cheating death because it was her fate or her destiny. Bellivia also mentioned these things to Peter earlier in the episode when trying to talk about the Doomsday Machine and heading into fate/destiny territory is a very, very dangerous route to take. Once you start assigning the F- or D-word to your world’s events, it allows you to go back and explain away anything and I don’t want that in my Fringe. Again, this is a production team that has consistently proven that they know exactly what they’re doing and I find it hard to believe that suddenly the whole series will be about fate, but it’s certainly something took look out for.

Other thoughts:

  • Our universe’s Lincoln Lee! That was an anticipated reveal and it was pretty much worth it. I love how well he and Peter get along.
  • Speaking of Peter, Joshua Jackson’s performance as the completely overwhelmed and frustrated boyfriend watching his girlfriend become a dead old man was just glorious. The disdain and frustration in his eyes was very well done.
  • Next week, we’re back in Earth-2, which is very exciting. It feels like it’s been a while, even though it really hasn’t.

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