I was tempted to describe this week's episode of Fringe as “Cronenbergian,” which would have been a fitting description for a story about a grotesque-looking killer who extracts pheromones from his victims and uses them to beguile (and ultimately murder) their mates. But this episode, titled "A Short Story About Love," proved to be much more complex than that. Along with the Cronenberg-isms (unsettling scenes of violence and body abuse perpetrated by a twisted soul), Friday's episode also explored overtly romantic themes and ideas familiar to fans of eccentric dreamers like David Lynch and Pedro Almodovar. The mingling of such disparate elements can't be easy to pull off, but it worked here – call it another risky but successful Fringe Season Four experiment. "A Short Story About Love" was uniquely complex and tender and, well, uniquely Fringe.
Like most great Fringe episodes, "A Short Story About Love" split its time equally between the case-of-the-week and the season-long mystery plot. Both stories intersected, of course, as Olivia worked on the grisly case while processing her deep feelings for Peter.
With her love for Peter essentially reshaping her mind and memories and transforming her into a different person, Olivia was forced to answer the question at the heart of the episode: Is finding true love worth losing everything, including the world? At the start of the episode, Olivia realized her connection to Peter was slowly erasing her memories as well as her relationships with friends and family, namely Nina Sharp. Nina's concern prompted Olivia to ask Walter to find a way to reverse the process. But Olivia finally chose to throw caution to the wind and embrace her new love (and her new personality) after hearing a murder victim's wife describe her own one-sided marriage. "People get tired of looking and hoping" for true love, explained the mourning wife, who said her husband never understood the difference between loving someone and being in love. This scene could have easily played out too sappy or obvious, and while it did skate that line, it was clearly crafted with care. It was an emotional and complex scene that pushed Olivia where she needs to be -- with Peter -- while paving the way for a clever third-act twist. The scene also quietly closed the door on the possibility of a full-blown romantic relationship between Lincoln and Olivia. (Sorry, Lincoln, but remember, there's another Olivia just waiting to be wooed on the Other Side.)
There were several tonal shifts throughout the episode, and some scenes moved at a fast clip while others played out more slowly, but everything here, even the slower scenes, felt essential and unified by a single vision. Take the scene with the scarred killer, Anson Carr (guest star Michael Massee), working in his dingy mad scientist lab. It was creepy and terrifying, but like the rest of the episode the scene was firmly rooted in emotion and longing. Carr obviously had experienced true love before (that's what I gathered from the photo of the woman he was holding), and it was clear that he would do anything to experience it again and share it with others, even for a brief moment. Carr's behavior mirrored Olvia's – both characters were willing to risk everything for a chance at feeling real love with another person. Of course, Carr did horrible things to strangers to get what he needed, but Olivia also caused people pain with her decision to follow her heart – Lincoln and Nina were both quietly devastated when faced with the reality that their deeper connections to Olivia would eventually fade away. When Olivia told Carr, “Do you know how much pain you’ve caused?” she may very well have been speaking to herself.
In a nice callback to the opening scene, Olivia later confessed to Nina that she did not want to let go of the possibility of love. “Olive” chose to allow her love for Peter to grow and her memories to slip away. Nina was heartbroken, but she accepted Olivia’s decision. I like that Olivia has chosen to become “a better version of herself,” but I’m going to miss the mother-daughter dynamic between Nina and Olivia if it fades away. Their relationship was one of the best things about Season Four’s sideways strangeness.
And speaking of strange … Earlier in the episode Walter discovered that September the Observer had placed a message inside Peter’s eye. This “organic ocular suggestion” led Peter to the Observer’s spartan apartment at 228 ½ Morrow Street. Once inside the apartment, Peter found a few fedoras, some futuristic goggles and a cool looking sci-fi tracking device that lead to a homing beacon. This was all a bit silly, but I was on the edge of my seat as Peter tracked down the apartment and the beacon. The payoff was surprising (I don’t watch the previews) as the beacon beamed down September, who returned with more shocking revelations for Peter. And here’s where the finely tuned machine started to get a little … squeaky. September confirmed what most of us had already guessed – Peter doesn’t need to return to his timeline because he’s already home. Fine. Good. Great even. As I said, most of us saw this coming, and I'm good with it. But it took me a little longer to get on board with the next bit... The Observer also revealed why Peter wasn't fully erased from existence at the end of Season 3. So why was Peter able to return after being blotted out of reality? I think Hughie Lewis put it best -- It’s the power of love! Yep, love. The love Peter’s friends and family have for him, and the love he has for them, was so powerful that it pulled him out of the ether and back into existence. Of course, this was only the Observer’s theory, but we’re gonna have to take it as fact, since there’s no other solid explanation for Peter’s reappearance.
So … the answer to one of the season’s big mysteries is … love? Sure it’s a little corny, but I can dig it. As I’ve said before, Peter, Olivia and Walter were always destined to live together as a loving Fringey family unit. They’ve been at the center of Earth-changing events and have saved two worlds working together. I suppose it makes sense that their bond would transcend and even bend the rules of space and time.
The revelations didn't stop there. Before the Observer disappeared (People need to start tagging those guys), he revealed that New Olivia was in fact Peter’s Olivia, or our Olivia. Cut to the street: Peter and Olivia’s eyes met, the music swelled, our heroes kissed and embraced and love stood triumphant. It looked like a well-earned Hollywood ending, and even the most cynical person had to appreciate that on some level.
A lot was resolved concerning Peter’s fate and his relationship with Olivia, but many questions still remain: Will Walter and everyone else have their memories reset? Why does Olivia have to die in every version of the future? Who will run out to buy Walter more M&M’s? And we still don't have a firm answer to the biggest question of all: Will Season Five be a thing?
- Walter says Peter is a better man than he is. I loved this. Also … The Greek phrase Peter uttered meant “Be a better man than your father.” It’s the same phrase his mother used to say to him when he was a boy, and it's also the phrase Olivia shouted when she woke up from a coma in the Season 2 premiere.
- Walter bought his Teddy Bear cam on “the Interwebs.”
- More Walterisms: He watches Scooby-Doo while working and eats potato chips while examining dehydrated organs. Oh, and he hilariously ponders the multiple meanings of the word beaver. - Only on Fringe is the image of a dead woman’s hand touching a dehydrated dead man’s hand considered romantic.
- “Bring the poor dear down and put her on the slab.”
- “Which of you has fearless nasal passages?”
- “I can take that picture for you, if you want.” (Shudder)