Monday, December 13, 2010

Fringe 3.06: "6955kHz"

“Fine. If you end up breaking the universe, this time it’s on your head.”

This episode dealt with one of my favorite creepy/conspiracy theory-ish topics—numbers stations. For those of you who either very young or don’t like conspiracy theories (or both), numbers stations could be found on short wave radio, especially during the Cold War. The broadcasts would begin with a creepy little tune to identify the broadcast, and then a monotone voice would read out seemingly random strings of numbers. A common theory is that these numbers stations were part of clandestine operations, used to transmit secret, encoded messages to undercover operatives. Of course, since this is “Fringe,” that’s not the “true” explanation at all. The story of numbers stations in the “Fringe”-verse is much more extensive and has ties to the Other Side.

The episode opens with several people throughout the North East United States tuning into a numbers broadcast. The two who are most memorable are a guy who runs a light house and a suburban mom. I thought the idea of the suburban mom as closet conspiracy theorist was especially creative. Even her husband not totally understanding what she does when she rushes into her office with the short wave radio. Her name is Becky. Anyway, everyone’s sitting attentively at their radios when the creepy, tinny-sounding tune starts up. The monotone voice starts to read off the numbers in a language other than English, and everyone listening starts seizing. One by one they pass out. We then see some of them start to wake up again (at first I thought they were dead, so this was a surprise), only now they have amnesia.

Peter and Alt-livia are having a romantic morning, with Peter bringing Alt-livia breakfast in bed, when thankfully (because their being together just irritates me), Walter interrupts the mood by calling Peter to complain about his discovery that Peter is still working on the device from the Other Side. Walter does not want that device anywhere near his lab. The mood is further interrupted by Broyles calling Alt-livia with news about their new mission. It’s the mass amnesia caused by the numbers station, of course. Only the Fringe team doesn’t yet know about the numbers station. We see the team investigate most in-depth at Becky’s house, where Becky’s husband first introduces them to the concept of numbers stations.

This revelation prompts a visit to Massive Dynamic, where Nina admits that Massive Dynamic was once hired to investigate numbers stations. They could find no answers as to their source. Here I think the writers are stretching the legend a bit, considering, according to the legend, intrepid numbers stations enthusiasts once traced some broadcasts to specific U.S. military installations. Walter think he may have an answer about why the numbers stations are suddenly hurting people, but he says that to test his theory, he needs something from Massive Dynamic’s child development center. Considering Walter’s history (the Cortexiphan experiments in Jacksonville), I think we’re supposed to believe he’s contemplating something icky, but we later see that all he takes is a See N’ Say. Yay for the classic 80’s toys of my childhood! Peter escorts Walter to the child development center, and Nina and Alt-livia have a conversation about the recent tension between the father and son. Alt-livia, naturally, thinks Walter is being unreasonable on the doomsday-device building issue, and Nina thinks it’s strange she hasn’t confronted him directly about it.

There’s been a rather horrific incident at a radio tower with multiple people dead, and Fringe is naturally sent to investigate. They find an odd metal box hooked up to the tower’s electronics. Meanwhile, back at the lab, Walter has made a bit of a breakthrough, thanks to the See N’ Say. He has modulated the signal (so it can’t cause more damage) from the numbers broadcast that caused the amnesia. Essentially, he has split the signal in two. There’s the numbers, and then there’s an inaudible pulse beneath that. Walter’s theory is that the pulse is what caused the amnesia. Peter, obviously more concerned with his own personal drama than the case, is mostly just pissed that Walter used the soundboard Peter was using in his own, doomsday device-related experiment. On a similar note, although it did turn out to be somewhat connected to all the Other Side mythology, I did appreciate that this case, overall, seemed kind of separate. The team was investigating a freaky event and had no idea of the connection. Anyway, to speed the investigation forward further, some fingerprints are found on the device from the radio tower. The Fringe team visits Becky’s family to see if they recognize the suspect while the suspect is setting up another device in another radio tower. This case especially hits home for Walter, who has his own cognitive issues he constantly has to battle.

Soon enough, the stakes are even higher. The second device goes off as a pilot is trying to land a plane in the D.C./Baltimore area. He’s scrambling to tune in the air traffic control tower on this radio, and he accidentally tunes into the numbers station. With even more casualties built up now, Walter is getting really frustrated. He’s trying to solve the full mystery of the cube device that broadcasts the pulse. Astrid puts on some Bach to try and calm him down. Meanwhile, Peter and Alt-livia visit a used book shop for some insight. The proprietor points them to a book called “The First People.” It’s about people who lived and had advanced technology before our history was recorded. On the car ride back to the lab, Peter takes a look at the book and thinks that the numbers printed on the First People calendar correspond to the numbers from the numbers station broadcast. He asks Alt-livia if she can recall the numbers from the broadcast. Olivia would be able to do so easily, of course, since she has a photographic memory. Alt-livia hesitates for a second, but she manages to recall the numbers. It turns out Peter is right.

Nina drops by the lab for a chat with Walter. At Alt-livia’s request her job is to try and convince Walter to be more supportive of Peter’s research on the doomsday device. She and Walter sit on a bench outside on the Harvard campus and wonder why students are so serious these days as opposed to back in the 60’s when they were students themselves. Feeling a little nostalgic, I suppose, they share a “sandwich” as they’d say on HIMYM. Nina tells Walter that she thinks Peter should be allowed to continue his research because they need to know what they’re up against. Walter reluctantly agrees. Walter’s mood improves wants Peter gets back to the lab and tells him all about the First People. Walter is super excited about the concept. He thinks the numbers are basically the code to the universe.

Peter looks at the numbers cube and notices a particular type of Polish transistor. Apparently this bit of electronics is very difficult to obtain, and Peter thinks he should be able to pretty easily check into who has purchased one in Boston recently. Also, Astrid thinks she might have an idea about how to crack the numbers code. All she needs is a decoding matrix. Because the team is actually making some breakthroughs, Alt-livia is nowhere to be seen. She’s off warning the guy who has been planting the devices. He’s a shapeshifter frm the Other Side. Alt-livia is warning the shapeshifter that he’s been sloppy when she gets a phone call from the rest of the team that they’re on their way. Desperate to maintain her cover (and when has she really felt remorse for anything anyway), Alt-livia shoots the shapeshifter and pushing his out the window as backup arrives.

Peter looks over the body of the shapeshifter and is upset to see that the storage unit is busted. While he stares at the device, Alt-livia smirks. I am so glad that we’re not going to have to deal with her in our universe much longer. The investigation is delayed by a phone call from Astrid. She has finally cracked the numbers code. The numbers are locations. Walter has a theory that something is probably buried in the earth at those locations. The nearest location is Jersey City, so that’s where the team is headed. At the dig site, Alt-livia does an about face and tries to convince Peter to stop working on the doomsday device. Peter says that he thinks there has to be a better way to resolve this problem besides the destruction of a universe. Just as he’s finishing up his rather pretty speech, the diggers find something. When it’s finally unearthed, the team sees it’s a piece of machinery. Astrid calls Alt-livia and says she thinks all the locations she found have pieces of the machine buried in the ground. Alt-livia agrees, but she’s certainly not going to tell the rest of the team that. It turns out that they are all pieces of the doomsday device.

Alt-livia is informed that it’s time to initiate “Phase 2” of the plan, whatever that is, and we swoosh over to the Other Side. Olivia gets a rather unwelcome phone call from Brandon at the lab. They won’t be doing a universe jumping procedure today. Echoing my thoughts almost exactly, Peter appears to Olivia in a vision again and tells her that Walternate and his goons don’t need her anymore. Olivia is most definitely no longer safe. I’m looking forward to seeing how things escalate to her eventual return to our universe. Of course, everything won’t be back to how it was, because so much has changed since Olivia got left behind, but it will be nice to have everybody back in the right place.

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