Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Fringe 3.05: "Amber 31422"

“I am not a lingering symptom. You can’t ignore me.”

As impatient as I am for all my favorite characters from “Fringe” to be settled again back where/with whom they belong, I have to admit that splitting the show between the two universes for a short while has really taken the storytelling to a new level. “Amber 31422” was, in a word, fantastic. It really hits all the right emotional notes, and it progresses the story nicely as well. It’s kind of a relief that by the end of this episode, Olivia finally seems ready to accept that she’s not who she thinks she is, and she’s not where she belongs. Her final visit to our universe was heartwrenching in its brevity.

Olivia doesn’t begin the episode in that place of acceptance, though. She begins by being examined by Brandon. Brandon asks if Olivia has felt any lingering symptoms following her “psychotic break,” and Olivia denies it. Walternate enters the room and asks Olivia if she has read the dossier he gave her. It’s a dossier on her true self, and it includes the information that our Olivia can jump between universes. Walternate says that because the two Olivias’ DNA is the same, she should be able to jump between universes too, and he wants to put Olivia through a series of tests to see if it’s possible. Olivia agrees, but following the exam, she gets a bit of a talking-to from her vision of Peter, who is upset that she’s ignoring him, and thereby ignoring her true self.

Elsewhere in New York, we see a Brooklyn subway station encased in amber. Two men enter the station and start hacking away at part of the amber. They extract a person who had been encased in the stuff. The amber victim, who is the twin brother of one of the men who broke into the station, is eventually revived. Of course, for dramatic effect, he doesn’t start breathing until after an alarm signaling a break in the structural integrity of the amber goes off. The two brothers manage to escape, but the other thief is entombed in amber. The process is really quite horrifying to watch. The amber begins as a gas, and it quickly solidifies. I’m glad we’re getting some good, solid, interesting information about how things work on the Other Side. It feels like the writers are really having a good time getting to be creative in creating this other universe.

The Fringe Division is sent to investigate the amber breach. Charlie brings up a documentary about amber on what looks like a sort of slate computer, and it includes some footage of the Brooklyn subway station they’re investigating. By comparing the scene in front of him to the documentary, Charlie sees that there is a new addition to the amber. Looking at the debris of the cut amber, Lincoln sees the impression of a face. While Olivia, Charlie, and Lincoln are at the subway station, Walternate and Broyles are having a meeting. Walter starts with some exposition. He talks about when and why he developed the amber, and he also lets us know the stakes for the episode. The public doesn’t know something very important about amber. When people are accidentally encased in it, they don’t die. They are kept in suspended animation.

With their fancy technology, the Fringe Division is easily able to figure out that the man who escaped the amber is a bank robber named Joshua Rose. The device he was using to break into banks caused small spots of degradation in the fabric of the universe, and each required an ambering. Broyles reveals to the team what Walter told him about amber victims. The team all agrees that Joshua must be captured so the public will not learn amber victims can be revived. If the public had this knowledge, there would be a revolt. One of the things I find fascinating about the Other Side is the well-meaning totalitarianism. I love dystopian future stories, and this is a different take on it than most I have read, in that we really see the motivations (other than lust for power) of the people doing the oppressing.

The team next investigates Joshua’s apartment, which has been sealed since he was ambered. They are about to give up on their snooping around when Charlie finds a hidden room. In the room, there are a bunch of strange objects strewn about. Lincoln recognizes the objects as things that are needed to build a device that lets the user walk through walls. I’m pretty sure there’s been an episode of “Fringe” before where someone from our universe had a similar device. The team doesn’t get to look around the secret room for too long, though. Olivia hears a noise, and she warns her colleagues to get out. As they are running away from the building, an explosion rocks all of them. Everyone survives, but the team needs to spend some time back at headquarters getting patched up. While there, Olivia steals a vial of the anti-psychotic medication she’s been taking. She’s trying to shut Peter out.

Recovered from the explosion, Lincoln and Olivia pay a visit to Joshua’s twin brother Matthew. He gives all the right answers and manages to convince Olivia and Lincoln (Lincoln moreso than Olivia) that nothing out of the ordinary is going on. It turns out, of course, that all is not normal in the Rose household. “Matthew” goes to the hidden room where “Joshua” is recovering and begins to talk to him. It’s quickly apparent that it’s Matthew who had been entombed in amber, and Joshua has been living Matthew’s life ever since the ambering. And this is when the episode begins a fairly obvious parallel between Joshua and Matthew and Olivia and Alt-livia. There’s lots of talk about people who are genetically identical with very different personality.

Olivia has agreed to undergo experiments to see if she can universe jump, and because this is “Fringe,” that inevitably leads her to be immersed in a tank of water while under the influence of psychotropic drugs. At first nothing happens, so Walternate orders Brandon to increase the dosage of the drugs. All of a sudden, Olivia starts to go a bit crazy, then the monitor watching her goes black. Olivia has crossed over, and she finds herself dripping wet, wearing a nightgown in what looks like a Statue of Liberty gift shop. Olivia is only there for a few moments before she’s once again yanked back to the Other Side.

Olivia finally gets back to her apartment, completely exhausted. Her mom stops
Olivia’s mom stops by concerned. All of a sudden, Olivia has a vision of Peter talking about twins he knew in high school and how they cheated on tests. She rushes off to work, leaving her mom bewildered at the apartment, and she tells the rest of the team that she thinks the Rose brothers switched lives. They bring Matthew in for an interrogation, and he passes all tests with flying colors. Olivia is agitated that her coworkers are starting to think she’s crazy. To make matters worse, Olivia’s mom pays a visit to Broyles to voice her concerns. Seriously. I’d be pissed if my mom pulled something like that. But my mom wouldn’t, because she’s awesome.

In response to Olivia’s mom’s really meddlesome intervention, Broyles takes Olivia off the Joshua rose case and puts Lincoln on lead. To add insult to injury, he sends Olivia home. Meanwhile, Matthew calls Joshua in a panic over the interrogation. Matthew’s wife (who has been living with Joshua in the years since the ambering, presumably…awkward) is seriously pissed at Joshua for causing her family all this strife. Joshua says he’ll fix everything, but Matthew’s wife is dubious. Not one to let a direct order stand in her way, Olivia goes to Astrid and asks her to run some calculations. She wants to know the bank Joshua is most likely t hit now that he’s “back.” Astrid says she already ran that scenario for Lincoln, but Olivia has another twist on it. She figures that after the trauma of what happened to his brother, Joshua will favor targets that minimize the chance of civilians getting ambered. According to Astrid, this narrows it down to three banks.

Next thing we know, Olivia has found the correct bank. She heads down into a nearby subway station, and she pretty promptly gets tasered by Joshua. Lincoln and Charlie soon arrive to save the day. They see Olivia’s car and know she’s around somewhere, so they beg Broyles for five minutes to find and rescue her. They manage to accomplish the rescue fairly easily. When the show goes back to its regular paradigm, I will miss Lincoln and Charlie. They and “Alt-livia” have great chemistry. Anyway, Matthew shows up at the scene too, and he finds Joshua in the bank vault. It turns out this robbery was all a set-up so Joshua could get himself ambered. Both he and Matthew can’t exist at the same time, because, as Joshua explains it, the government will want to experiment on the only person to survive being encased in amber. Matthew, after a protest, leaves the scene, and Joshua looks serene as the gas that turns into amber begins to seep into the vault.

In one last ditch effort to be proven right, Olivia makes another visit to the Rose house. Matthew answers the door, and Olivia tries to catch him in a lie, but then Matthew’s son appears at the door, and his happiness makes Olivia change her mind. The case is officially closed. Back in her car, Olivia once again sees a vision of Peter. Peter is upset that Olivia will use his advice for cases but refuses to believe she’s really from our universe. He starts rattling off things about our universe that Olivia could only know if she was from here. Acting more like her old self, Olivia goes back to the lab and asks Brandon if she can be put back in the tank a day early.

Brandon grants Olivia’s request, and Walternate stops by the lab while Olivia is in the tank. Brandon shows Walternate something very interesting. When Olivia’s brain chemistry is kicked into high gear by the drugs and the tank, he can see that there’s a synthetic chemical bonded to the neurons. That would be Cortexaphan, of course. The conversation is interrupted by Olivia seemingly crossing over again. Olivia finds herself back in the Statue of Liberty gift shop, and somehow it happens to be deserted in the middle of the day. Olivia sees a 9/11 memorial post card, looks out the window at the Twin Towers-less skyline, and knows that Peter is right. She picks up the phone, and the first call she makes is to Ella. It’s Ella’s birthday. Tragically, Olivia barely has a chance to say “hi” before she’s yanked back to the Other Side yet again. As Brandon and Walternate help Olivia out of the tank, they want to know what she saw. Olivia claims that the procedure didn’t work and all she saw was blackness. Walternate clearly isn’t believing it, though, and I’d bet some plotting against Olivia will be afoot the next time we see the Other Side.

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