Friday, February 4, 2011

Fringe 3.10: "The Firefly"

“There are things that I know. But there are things that I do not. Various possible futures are happening simultaneously. I can tell you all of them, but I cannot tell you which one of them will come to pass. Because every action causes ripples. Consequences both obvious and unforeseen.”
-The Observer

While “The Firefly,” which happened to be the first episode of “Fringe” to be aired in the infamous FOX Friday night death slot, may have been a shout-out to a former death-slot dweller, the episode was not really at all like its namesake. The themes it tackled were not the same themes Joss Whedon explored in “Firefly.” “Firefly” was all about the triumph of the individual spirit, while this episode of “Fringe” was about desperately trying to avoid the consequences of mistakes. The feel of the episode was also much darker than “Firefly” generally was. “Firefly” could be grizzly (I still have trouble rewatching “Ariel” and “War Stories,” but the companionship and “found family” feel among the Serenity crew always provided some warmth. While Peter, Walter, Olivia, and Astrid are a sort of “found family,” that family is pretty broken right now thanks to Alt-livia. And I fear that particular situation is going to get much, much worse before it gets better.

The episode opens with Walter setting up an experiment in his house in the middle of the night. Whatever it is involves Walter injecting himself with something, and since I hate needles, it immediately squicked me out. Peter wakes up and stumbles into the room to ask Walter what he’s doing. It turns out that Walter is trying to figure out a way to compensate for the pieces of brain he lost. He feels like he needs to be smarter to go up against Walternate. He doesn’t think it’s a fair fight at the moment. Peter reminds Walter that he himself asked for those parts of his brain to be removed because the information they contained was too dangerous, but Walter doesn’t really seem to care.

For once, the introduction to the case of the week actually isn’t really creepy and gross. We see a rather disheveled older man, Mr. Joyce (played by the great Christopher Lloyd), in a nursing home. Nursing home staff are watching the CCTV when they see Joyce out and about in the hallways- definitely cause for concern. Then they see a second person appear in front of him. The two men have a conversation, and then as quickly as he appeared, the second man disappears again. It turns out that the second man was Joyce’s son, Bobby, who died in the 1980’s. We then switch an outdoor scene. The Observer is talking to Bobby, and it’s pretty clear that we’re back in the 1980’s. The Observer brought Bobby forward in time to deliver an important message to his father.

Before the Fringe team gets involved with the case, we have a brief aside with Olivia. She is at her apartment when she gets a knock on the door. She has a package delivery. Olivia is rather surprised, especially when she opens the package and sees that it’s a book from Peter. It comes with a note that simply says “Because you asked.” This book turns into a bit of a thing throughout the rest of the episode. Olivia looked at the packing slip and noticed that Peter ordered it before Olivia returned from the Other Side, so she gives the book back to him, saying it wasn’t for her. Peter explains that he sent it because Alt-livia had asked him about his favorite book. He explains that the book wasn’t meant for Alt-livia, though. Peter doesn’t open up easily, and he meant for the person he had been getting to know for three years to know about his favorite book, not an imposter. That doesn’t placate Olivia in the moment, but by the end of the episode, she seems to soften a little, asking Peter about why this particular book is his favorite.

Anyway, it wouldn’t be an episode of “Fringe,” if the team didn’t get called to the strange happening of the week. It turns out that Joyce is a mucial hero of Walter’s. Walter most definitely geeks out over meeting him, which is quite amusing. Joyce explains about how his son appeared to him with a message, but he can’t remember what that message was. Walter brings Joyce to the lab so he can try some hypnotherapy on him. Walter actually gets him into a trance, then sits him in front of a piano. Walter claims that Joyce thinks through music, but everyone suspects Walter just wants a free concert. Joyce starts to play the piano for the first time in years, and just at that moment, Olivia’s cell phone rings. The Observer has been spotted in Brookline. Walter is kind of pissed that Olivia ruined the concert, but Olivia and Peter have to rush off, so he doesn’t have time to be mad at her.

It turns out that the Observer has at least part-time turned to fighting crime. He stopped a heist at a fancy store in Brookline and gave a tied up/gagged store clerk her asthma inhaler before he left. He then goes to meet with another Observer. This conversation makes it apparent that the Observer hasn’t just developed an altruistic streak. He stopped this crime because he wants to set off a chain reaction series of events. This kind of reminds me of that episode that took place on the Other Side earlier this season where the guy could kill people by setting off perfect chain reactions. I think it might have been a bit too soon for the writers to revisit that concept. The chain reaction here is meant for Walter, but the second Observer doesn’t think Walter will do what the first Observer is hoping he’ll do. I found the dialogue in this scene to be really forced and stilted. It wasn’t just the actors’ delivery- Observers are supposed to speak in a monotone- the word choice was just really over-the-top.

Back at the lab, Joyce finally remembers what Bobby said after a little more piano playing jobs his memory. Bobby told Joyce that he would meet Walter and that Walter needed to help him. The two men then bond over their mutual love of strawberry milkshakes, which I found pretty adorable. Walter sends Astrid out to get the ingredients for the recipe that he’s taken years to perfect. As Astrid leaves the lab, the Observer arrives. He needs to have a chat with Walter. Walter and the Observer have a walk and talk, and Walter voices his fears about Peter’s future. Walter’s fears are perfectly legitimate given there’s a drawing of Peter with flames coming out of his eyes (I was going to make a “Clue” joke there, but it just didn’t seem to fit).

The Observer explains that while he can see futures, he doesn’t know which future will happen. He illustrates this by telling a story about how when he saved Peter from the car crash, he didn’t know Peter would catch a firefly, and catching that firefly would start a chain reaction that would lead a pedestrian to be killed when he was struck by a pick-up truck. The Observer leaves Walter with the advice that “when the time comes, give him the keys and save the girl.” This felt kind of “Wonderfalls” to me. It reminded me of how the Muses would tell Jaye what to do, but the meaning of their message would change throughout the episode.

Walter starts to really put all the pieces together when Peter calls him to tell him about the Observer fighting crime. He thinks that Bobby is the person who was hit by the truck, and the sales girl the Observer saved was the little girl who was meant to catch the firefly Peter caught.
Walter calls Peter back because he wants to talk to the sales girl and confirm his theory. She’s not in the car with Peter and Olivia, though. She’s in a police car in front of them. As Peter and Walter are talking, there’s a huge accident. The police car is damaged much worse than Peter and Olivia’s car, but Walter panics when Peter stops talking to him to deal with the accident. Walter is so upset that he shows up at the accident scene. Peter tells Walter to give him the keys and save the girl. Remembering what the Observer told him, Walter fears the worst. He has this really severe emotional reaction and almost refuses to give up the keys.

Peter goes off after the Observer, and it turns out Walter had good reason to be worried. When Peter gets out of Walter’s car to continue the chase on foot, he barely avoids getting hit by other cars three times. That whole sequence was just over-the-top and lame. It reminds me of those early episodes of “Chuck” where Bryce Larkin just.would.not.die. Peter eventually catches up to the Observer, who says “It must be very difficult, being a father” before shooting Peter with some sort of beam that knocks him unconscious. I suppose the surface reading of the Observer’s line is that he’s talking about Walter’s love for Peter, but I swear, if Peter knocked up Alt-livia, this show and I just might be done. After I finish blogging this season for you (few) readers, I suppose.

Anyway, when Peter and Olivia are back at the house chatting (here’s hoping their relationship is beginning to be repaired for good), Peter accidentally drinks some milk that contains the serum Walter was developing in the beginning of the episode. He immediately collapses and starts convulsing. Olivia calls Walter in a panic, and Walter has to talk Olivia through how to save Peter over the phone. She handles it capably after only a minor freak-out, thankfully. Walter doesn’t really feel guilty for what happened to Peter, given that Peter is fine. He thinks that the Observer must have started this whole chain reaction to get Peter to drink the serum instead of Walter. If Walter had taken the serum, he would have died. He happily feeds Peter some chicken soup, not realizing how wrong he is. The two Observers are outside, and their conversation reveals that the whole chain reaction was actually an experiment to see if Walter would be willing to give up Peter in the future when it was necessary.

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