Thursday, February 10, 2011

Fringe 3.12: "Concentrate and Ask Again"

“I was her for a while. She’s like me but better.”

“Concentrate and Ask Again” made me seriously concerned about the direction in which “Fringe” is heading now that all Olivias are back in the universe where they belong. I know that during the first eight episodes of the season, I was clamoring for our Olivia to come home, but I’m not entirely satisfied with where the plot has gone since that even finally happened. Mostly, I’m concerned about how Peter and Olivia’s romantic relationship has become the focal point for the series mythology. Now don’t get me wrong, I may be quite geeky, but I also like my rom coms, and I am definitely a fan of Peter and Olivia getting together romantically. I also don’t mind genre shows exploring romance (in fact, I prefer it). I just don’t think that the romance is what the entire mythology and future of the series should hinge on. In this episode, the Peter/Olivia/Alt-livia triangle was revealed to be the crux of the entire series, and I don’t think I approve.

The episode opens with Nina going into a secret room, presumably at Massive Dynamic. The room is filled with William Bell’s belongings. She opens a safe (which even has a warning written on it to keep away), and in it she finds yet another copy of the book about the First People. She places the book with all the copies that Massive Dynamic have recently procured, and she and Olivia discuss the conundrum. They wonder if the story told in the books is true (about an ancient civilization that created a device to control creation and destruction) and why William Bell was interested in it. They also have some girl talk about Olivia’s issues with Peter. Olivia explains that she read Alt-livia’s files and didn’t have a problem with it because she can understand why Alt-livia would develop feelings for Peter. What troubles her is whether or not Peter still has feelings for Alt-livia. Nina advises Olivia to ask Peter this directly.

Next we get to the obligatory creepy and gross reveal of the crime of the week. This time, we see an office birthday party for a scientist named Warren. As he happily heads back to his office after the party, Warren’s assistant gives him a package that recently arrived in the mail. Warren figures it’s yet another birthday present, so he opens it without giving it much thought. Inside the box is a rag doll with a pull string. At first, I thought it was a voodoo doll. Warren pulls the string, the doll makes a creepy laughing noise, and then it shoots a sort of powder at Warren. Warren is instantly in horrible, agonizing pain. At first it looks like all his bones are spontaneously breaking, but we later find out that his bones were actually disintegrating. Painful way to die, to say the least.

Because this incident is creepy and gross, the Fringe team is obviously on the case. Both Olivia and Walter have important breakthroughs. Olivia, noticing that the package arrived by US Postal Service, has a breakthrough in identifying the suspect by looking at CCTV footage from the Post Office from which the package was sent. Walter has a breakthrough because, once again, he recognizes what is going on, this time thanks to an experiment he and William Bell did during the Nixon Administration. I think it’s interesting that they’ve brought back the concept of these strange things happening mirroring things Walter once did. That was a big focus in the early first season, and then it was kind of dropped in favor of racing towards the parallel universes story.

Putting their breakthroughs together, Olivia and Walter figure out that the suspect is a former Marine named Aaron. The FBI raids his house, but they just miss him. As the Fringe team combs through everything in the house, Olivia chooses the most inappropriate moment for a relationship conversation with Peter. It’s inappropriate because, hey, it’s a crime scene! She’s upset because when peter brought her coffee earlier that day, he brought her coffee with milk, not black coffee with one sugar. She (rightly) assumes that coffee with milk was Alt-livia’s usual order. Peter apologizes, and he insists that when he thinks about Alt-livia, he only thinks about her betrayal. I’m not sure I believe that, and I don’t think Olivia does, either.

While snooping around the second floor of Aaron’s house, Peter hears a noise and realizes that Aaron hasn’t left after all. Aaron jumps off the roof of the house, and Peter follows him. Aaron runs out to the street and suddenly gets hit by a car. The accident leaves Aaron in a coma, unable to provide any information to the team about what he has been doing and why. Walter thinks he might know of a way to question Aaron in spite of the coma, but he has to think about it for a bit. Meanwihle, Peter and Olivia question Aaron’s ex-wife. She’s horrified, but not surprised, when Peter and Olivia tell her what has happened. Apparently, Aaron had threatened to kill this particular scientist before. She had a late-term miscarriage due to a “DNA pathogen” passed on by Aaron. Aaron believed the pathogen came from his time overseas with a defense contractor working on a weapons project overseen by Warren.

Peter gets a rather odd phone call from Walter, who is randomly stranded on a highway in New Hampshire. He was on his way to visit a former Cortexaphan test subject who had show ability as a mind reader. Walter didn’t notice that the car was getting low on gas. Peter puts gas in the car, and they all head to the rural compound where the mind reader lives. The mind reader greets Walter with a gun, but luckily, Olivia, also with a gun, brings the situation under control. Like many telepaths in fiction, the mind reader, Simon, has been seriously affected by the constant cacophony in his mind when he his near other people. That is why he has chosen to live in the middle of nowhere. He can’t hear Olivia’s thoughts, though, probably because of her Cortexaphan exposure, so he doesn’t mind talking with her. She asks him to come to Boston to read Aaron’s mind, and he is hesitant. He thinks his mind would be overwhelmed in a city. Meanwhile, at a defense contractor’s office, another doll goes off in an elevator, killing three people.

Simon eventually agrees to help the Fringe team, and the process of getting any information from Aaron is quite painful for him. It is not entirely in vain, though. At first, all Simon hears is fractured images and words, but Olivia talks to Aaron to focus him, and Simon picks up the words “Project Jellyfish.” Broyles runs off to Nina to ask her about it, and she has a CIA guy look into it. He finds that Aaron got some land south of Boston in a Project Jellyfish-related settlement. We see two other ex-defense contractors continuing to work on weapons there. While Broyles is off learning about Project Jellyfish, Simon and Olivia have a talk about what else but romantic relationships. Simon says there’s a girl at a coffee shop that he likes, but he doesn’t want to pursue her because he would know exactly what she felt. Olivia says she wouldn’t mind that ability, and the both significantly look at Peter, who is in the next room.

The Fringe team goes to the farm Aaron received in the settlement, and it has been abandoned. It is obvious that something big was going on there. The Fringe team can see that the disgruntled ex-defense contractors were planning to deploy the Jellyfish material on a larger scale. Through some other words Simon picked out of Aaron’s brain, they figure out that the remaining members of the group are planning to attack a Congressman’s fundraiser at an art museum. Olivia, in a fancy black dress and red lipstick (very unusual for her), takes Simon to the fundraiser, hoping Simon can find the remaining two ex-defense contractors. Simon finds the first suspect, but he’s not the one with the vest of Jellyfish material. Olivia and Simon go onto the main party floor, and Simon finally hears the other suspect. Olivia, not as much of a crack shot as her doppelganger, shoots him perfectly in the neck, which was necessary to keep the vest from exploding and killing everyone.

At the end of the episode, Nina plays with anagrams of the author names for all her copies of the First People book and realizes that Olivia’s old bowling alley buddy Sam was the author. She pays him a visit at the bowling alley, and Sam says that whether the doomsday device will be used for creation or destruction will depend on which Olivia chooses to be with. Apparently the Olivia he chooses will affect which frequency he exists on or something. I found this to be kind of lame. I love the Olivia/Peter romance, but, like I said in the introduction, making it the crux of the mythology is too much. Chances aren’t looking quite so good for our Olivia being Peter’s choice. As he leaves to go back to his cabin, Simon hands Olivia a note. It says that Peter still has feelings for Alt-livia.

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