Friday, October 08, 2010
Fringe, Season 3, Episode 3: "Plateau"
After two seriously rousing episodes to kick off the season, this episode couldn't help but feel like a letdown, I think mostly due to the relative weakness of the Freak of the Week plot (although that one picked up in resonance -- if not excitement -- in the second half). It felt like we'd seen the beats of this kind of strings-pulling, mousetrap-devising villain before. The only difference here is that the David Thewlis-looking MF-er causing all this chaos doesn't instill any dread or much suspense.
And to be fair, I don't think he was supposed to be all that scary. The second half of the episode makes it clear that this guy -- a mentally handicapped man whose sister signed him up for experimental drugs meant to boost his cognitive function, only it went too far and he got too smart to be able to relate to anyone, but still, rather than return to what he was, he escaped and set up elaborate, Final Destination-style deaths for those wishing to send him back.
Did I mention this is all happening in Alt World? Which means we get to spend more time with Olivia and her awesome dark hairstyle. But more importantly, we get to spend time with her partners in Fringe-based crime fighting, Charlie Francis and Lincoln Lee. Huge props to Kirk Acevedo and Seth Gabel for their work (along with Anna Torv) in making Alt-Fringe Division seem like a lived-in unit worthy of caring about. There was such a big chance that we'd have no interest in the characters in this world beyond Olivia, but by this point, I'm totally invested in the team and what will become of them.
So anyway, Flowers for Algernon targets Olivia for his next mouse-trap death, because now she's the one threatening to take his brain away, and while she manages to avoid his trap, she does so only because she's an outworlder deep down and thus doesn't always twig to things like when, say, the air quality in Alt World dips to zero and you're supposed to whip out your breathing apparatus so you don't die -- I'm pretty sure this was the inciting action in Spaceballs, by the way.
In other words, Olivia's not as brainwashed as she should be, seeing visions of Peter and our Walter that are making her question her identity (or at least her sanity). And with Walternate stepping up his plan to use her to cross between worlds (perhaps ushering in a counter-invasion from Alt-World), things sure do seem to be coming to a head. So there were some good building blocks in this episode, and it certainly did the job of making me emotionally tied to Olivia, Charlie and Lincoln as a unit. But it's a functional episode more than a memorable one.
Some random notes:
-- Olivia meets with Algernon's sister, and their talk about sibling bonds reminds me that Rachel is dead in this reality ... and once again gets me impatient for Fauxlivia to have her emotional moment with Ari Graynor.
-- They found a fine way to involve Alt-Astrid, who in this reality is super Aspergersy and even more of a factotum than she is in Our World. (Also, has no one decided to fan-fic a comic series where Astrid, Ivy from Dollhouse, and Marshall Flinkman from Alias team up to solve crime or run a candy store or something?)
-- I enjoy the way Alt World opens up the possibilities of fringe science even further than we can in Our World. "Smart Drugs" are a great example of something that feels too esoteric to work as satisfying sci-fi in our world but which gives Alt World its own flavor. Same with the smallpox outbreak in North Texas, which Olivia's boyfriend doesn't seem to be treating with the apocalyptic air that same situation would lead to in Our World.
-- Once they introduced that Chekhov's gun of Lincoln needing to get back in his healing chamber within eight hours, I was really psyched for something to happen in the story where he and Olivia and Charlie were bunkered down and he couldn't get back. The way it did play out couldn't help but feel like a letdown, but those few seconds where his burn injuries began to regress and bubble up were intense.
-- I enjoyed the way the Fringe team has to promise people at investigation sites that they're not looking to quarantine the place. I guess nobody's all that psyched about being encased in amber.
More Fringe on Low Res:
Fringe 3.1 "Olivia"
Fringe 3.2 "The Box"