Monday, May 17, 2010

Fringe 2.20: "Brown Betty"

“All you’ve done is eat all my snacks and talk about weird stuff.”


I really wasn’t sure what to expect going into “Brown Betty.” I knew it was being billed as a “musical episode,” and I had seen publicity stills of Anna Torv and Joshua Jackson in their 1940’s finest, but I didn’t know what to make of that. And I’ll admit, I didn’t love the episode when I first watched it. It didn’t seem to have any consequence. Tonight when I rewatched it, though, I pretty much loved it. It was a beautiful, emotional meditation on something traumatic that had happened in the episode before. I think that time was necessarily to process the enormity of Peter discovering his true identity and running off. I’m not sure if Walter could have adequately expressed how he felt about losing Peter and the circumstances that lead to it any other way.

Walter has decided to try and get through his grief over Peter in the only way he knows how, smoking “Brown Betty,” his own special blend. And labeling things. This is the scene that poor, patient Astrid walks into. Olivia isn’t far behind. She’s got no new information, but she wants to follow a few leads. There’s just one small problem. Rachel is in Chicago for the weekend, and Olivia said she’d watch Ella. Astrid agrees to watch Ella for a little while so Olivia can go off and follow the leads. Walter tries to keep Ella entertained with snacks and a game of Operation, but it doesn’t go well. Ella wants Walter to tell her a story. Walter didn’t tell stories to Peter when Peter was a boy, but he does remember that his own mother loved stories, especially noir detective novels and musicals. And he weaves his own noir, steampunk musical for Ella.

Olivia is the heroine of Walter’s story, as a PI who is shutting down her practice after not recovering from a broken heart. The world Walter creates is rather beautiful. The 1940’s clothing and styling suits the actors extremely well, and it’s fun to see it juxtaposed with random modern technology like cell phones or the sleek interior of Massive Dynamic. As she’s packing up her office, Olivia is visited by Rachel who is not related to Olivia in Walter’s story. Rachel’s boyfriend is missing, and she wants Olivia’s help in finding him. They haven’t known each other for long, but Rachel feels like it must be true love. This peaks Olivia’s interest, and she agrees to take the case. Rachel tells Olivia her boyfriend’s name is Peter Bishop, and Ella interjects, telling Walter her mother isn’t in love with Peter. Walter agrees that in real life this is true, but tells Ella to just keep listening to the story. I like to think this is a little nod to how it appeared like the writers were trying to set up Peter and Rachel for a romantic relationship when Rachel was first introduced, but we fans did our best Emerson Cod impression and said, “Oh Hell no!”

Although “Brown Betty” was billed as a “musical episode,” there wasn’t exactly a whole lot of singing. I honestly think there could have been more. If you’re going to go there with the quirk and the music, go all the way. There’s Broyles (“Lieutenant Broyles” in Walter’s story) singing a few bars at a club before giving Olivia information that links Massive Dynamic to the case. There’s Astrid singing a few bars from “A Chorus Line.” She’s interviewing for a job at a mental institution (which I find hilarious, considering that her real work mostly involves taking care of Walter) after being laid off when Olivia decided to close her firm. Walter sings twice- once as Rachel when she first speaks with Olivia, and once near the very end of the episode. There are even singing corpses! And for my second “Pushing Daisies” mention of this blog post, I have to think that Bryan Fuller approves of such a development, what with all the corpses and all the singing that was in my still-all-time-favorite show. My favorite musical moment belongs to Olivia herself, though, and I’ll talk about that more in a bit.

Despite Massive Dynamic’s obvious involvement in whatever is going on, Olivia is also led to “Dr. Walter Bishop.” This happens after she discovers Rachel dead in her apartment. It turns out that Rachel was actually an actress hired by Walter to peak Olivia’s interest in the case of Peter’s disappearance. I thought Walter killing Ella’s mom in the story was kind of harsh, and luckily, Astrid agreed. It would have been unforgivable if someone hadn’t called Walter out on that particular bit of insensitivity. The Walter in the story is a Willy Wonka-esque inventor of all things good like hugs and chocolate bars. He has a dark secret, though. What’s fascinating about story Walter is what it shows about how “real” Walter sees himself. He wanted to do good but somehow seriously lost his way. Walter tells Olivia that Peter stole something very important from Walter- a glass heart that was keeping Walter alive. Walter is currently running on batteries, and that won’t work for very long.

Olivia is roughed up by some “Watchers” (who are basically the Observers from the “real” Fringe world), and she’s rescued from the encounter by none other than Peter. Given Walter’s story and Nina Sharp warning her that Peter is a con man, she’s naturally a little skeptical at first. Peter tells her the truth about the heart and his disappearance, though. The glass heart was originally Peter’s, and he was prepared to give it to Walter because of all the good he thought Walter did. Then Peter learned the truth. Walter stole all of the wonderful things he “invented” from the dreams of children and replaced those dreams with nightmares. I was a big fan of the cartoon “Moon Dreamers” when I was a little kid (it had a similar premise to Walter’s evil scheme, and it aired after episodes of “My Little Pony”), so I found this development to be entertaining. The chemistry between Peter and Olivia in Walter’s story is undeniable. I used to find Anna Torv kind of cold, but when given a little room to be creative, she and Joshua Jackson just sizzle on the screen.

The flirting is interrupted by yet another Watcher attack, and they steal Peter’s heart. A very nervous Olivia has to connect Peter to batteries to keep him alive. I half expected something like Jack’s “count down from five” speech from “Lost,” but what we got was so much better. Olivia thinks she has hooked up the battery properly, but Peter falls unconscious. Olivia thinks she’s lost him, and she sings a most heart wrenching rendition of “For Once in My Life.” It’s probably my favorite moment of the episode because it is so raw and beautiful. Peter wakes up, and he and Olivia go off to confront Walter. Walter imagines an ending to the story where he gives the heart back to Peter, leaving himself to die.

Ella isn’t satisfied with that ending, though. She believes all stories must end with a “happily ever after.” In Ella’s version, Peter and Walter share the heart, and Peter and Olivia happily dance to awesome 40’s music as we fade to black. Walter is pleased with this alternate ending, but his happiness is short lived. The real Olivia arrives back at the lab, and she still has not had any luck at all finding Peter. All Walter can do is hope that since he hasn’t gotten his “happily ever after” yet, the story isn’t really over.

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