TV Review: FRINGE 4.10 “Forced Perspective”

Different timeline, same show: FRINGE offers another case-of-the-week episode.

Fringe reverted to case-of-the-week mode after opening 2012 with two suspenseful arc-heavy episodes. This week’s ep, “Forced Perspective,” introduced us to Emily, a teen who could predict tragic future events but couldn't prevent them from happening. The only good Emily could do with her precog powers was try in vain to warn the doomed parties with macabre doodles depicting their grisly futuredeaths. (As far as superpowers go, I’d say Emily got the short end of the stick.) Peter and our Timeline 2 Fringies spent most of the episode studying Emily’s ability and attempting to decode her latest vision, in which many people die in a horrible, horrible way.

My favorite Fringe episodes are usually the ultra-serialized, arc-based hours. It’s thrilling to watch the larger story unfold, piece by piece, and the characters move closer to the season’s endgame without any distractions (Think last season’s final four eps. I mean, what a ride). But Fringe wouldn't be Fringe without its one-off, procedural episodes. Thankfully, the show consistently delivers remarkable standalone episodes that cleverly tie in with the season's longer arcs. Most of Season Four’s previous case-of-the-week eps offered deep and captivating stories and characters; especially “And Those We Left Behind” and “One Night in October,” but this week’s offering lacked the emotional bite and terrific performances of those earlier eps.

Young actress Alexis Rich did a serviceable job playing our troubled prophecy girl here, but I never became truly invested in her story the way I did with John McClennan’s in “October” or Raymond Green’s in “Behind.” I recognize that those previous episodes were elevated by the brilliant acting chops of pros like John Pyper-Ferguson and Stephen Root, who both painted rich and deeply textured portraits of men in pain. But those stories were also clever, engrossing, and unpredictable. I’m still thinking about them to this day. This week’s procedural A-story felt rote and reheated. It had a been-there-done-that vibe that sort of took the air out of the whole thing. But, as is the norm with Fringe’s more procedural episodes, the case had thematic ties to the season’s more curious running threads, like the mystery surrounding Olivia’s fate and Peter’s quest to return to his family.

Let’s talk about Peter first. The alternate timeline arc -- that has many viewers and critics questioning the integrity and significance of this season -- was pushed to the margins this week as Peter and Walter turned their attention to Emily and her visions. As fun and satisfying as it was to see Fringe Division trust Peter to help solve another case in this alternate timeline (so much that it seemed like he was leading the bomb squad raid on the court house, despite the presence of Broyles), I found myself wanting to drag him back to the lab and force him to solve this season’s big skewed-timeline puzzle. Thankfully, the Bishop boys did get to devote a little lab time to Peter’s plight at the beginning of the episode. It seems they both agree that Peter must interact with the machine again in order to get him back to his timeline, but they’ll require some kind of “biomechanical interface” for that to happen. According to Peter, the machine won’t respond to him because he’s not supposed to exist in this timeline. This seems like a convenient (annoying) way to stall Peter’s inevitable meeting with the machine, but at least Walter and Peter are finally working together again. I miss Peter’s relationship with Timeline 1’s Walter, but I enjoyed the dynamic that was on display here, with Peter inspiring Timeline 2 Walter to do some of his best work. As I pointed out last week, Peter is the force that helps push these characters to greatness. With Peter around, Walter seemed more stable and perkier than ever, even if he kept electrocuting himself and was having trouble feeling his “urine response.”

On the surface, this week’s A-story didn’t really seem to tie in with Peter’s arc in any significant way, but it was hard not to notice the parallels between Peter and the courthouse bomber. Much like Peter, forces he couldn’t control stripped the would-be bomber away from his family. The bomber was desperate, confused, and lost without his family, and the situation drove him to seek revenge in the most violent way possible. The revelation that the bomber was a family man who was pushed to the edge after being pushed out of his home prompted me to wonder: Could the same thing happen to Peter? Our man has been handling his strange and tragic situation quite well so far, but we know Peter is hurting and possibly feeling pretty damn angry on the inside. (I don’t know about you, but I’d be pretty pissed if I was erased from existence.) What would happen if Peter came face-to-face with the thing or the person responsible for his displacement? And what if he was convinced that he could never return home to Olivia and Walter? Would he lose all perspective and seek bloody vengeance like the bomber did in this episode? It’s possible. Peter wasn’t always a sober, clear-headed hero. It doesn't seem like a stretch to think that more extreme circumstances could drive him to the edge this season. But Peter seems nowhere near the edge at the moment. He’s focused and even a little cheery now that Walter is on his side. It’s Olivia we should be worried about these days.

Olivia was coping with The Observer’s warning from last week. She was consumed with the idea that, as The Observer related, her death was imminent and inescapable. It’s an understatement to say that Timeline 2 Olivia is in a really bad place right now, and it’s frustrating to watch her respond to all the craziness by isolating herself and retreating from the other characters. But at least Olivia was able to connect with one person, Emily, this week. Olivia and Emily had a lot in common. They shared troubled childhoods colored by unexplainable occurrences, and they both had an uncomfortable connection to Massive Dynamic. Emily’s futuredeath visions clearly hit Olivia on a deep, emotional level as she was grappling with her own fate and The Observer’s warning that her death will occur in every possible version of the future.

Olivia and Fringe Division were able to change Emily’s dark vision of the future by nabbing the bomber, perhaps giving Olivia hope that her fate was not yet written despite The Observer’s claims. But witnessing Emily’s death on the park bench sent Olivia back into the brooding abyss; she returned to obsessing about The Observer and his warning and keeping it all to herself. She couldn’t even confide in Peter, who knows more about The Observers than anyone else in this timeline. Peter offered Olivia some valuable intel about the Observers in a quiet, well-acted scene, but his words, “They don’t predict the future, they’ve already experienced it,” only put Olivia more on edge.

Peter believes The Observers can’t be wrong about the future, but we know better. It’s true that we’re not privy to all the rules that govern these guys, but Fringe hasn’t exactly been consistent about the Observers' motives, agendas, abilities or the legitimacy of their perspective. It’s entirely possible that Olivia has the ability to defy her fate no matter what The Observer claims to have seen. But it's also possible that her death could be the key to restoring the original timeline and delivering Peter back home. The theme of a heroine sacrificing herself for a greater good should be familiar to fans of quality genre TV (Buffy, anyone?), and it wouldn't surprise me if Fringe exploited that convention this season, with its own unique twist, of course.

Other Thoughts:

- An Observer is still observing Olivia. But was he the same one she met last week?

- A wonderful and insane theory from Walter and Bell: Future events can echo backwards through time! I hope the show gets a chance to explore that one further.

- Blair Brown is doing an amazing job selling Nina Sharp’s deception. Her mommy act to manipulate Olivia is delightfully sinister.

- I appreciated Peter’s struggle to explain The Observers to Olivia. Been there.

- “This is a weird one.” (Der.)

- “The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long.”