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'Fringe' recap: 'Real is just a matter of perception'

In the alternating schedule of the alternating-universe season of Fringe, this week’s hour took place on the “other side,” where our Olivia has been steadily absorbing the memories of her swaggering counterpart. We followed a Fringe Division case all the way through the hour, about a man who can start chain reactions that result in death.

Most of the mythology aspects of the episode were front-loaded at the start of the hour:

So the Secretary/Walternate has clued in Col. Broyles (is it my imagination, or does Lance Reddick get more buff with every episode?) to the idea that he’s keeping Olivia here because she can cross back and forth between worlds, and he wants to extract this knowledge from her. If, in the meantime, she can be used to solve Fringe cases, so much the better, right?

This week’s episode, entitled “The Plateau,” was at once cool-looking, heart-tugging, and pretty simple, compared to first-rate previous Fringe heart-tuggers such as “White Tulip,” the Peter Weller dilly last season. In this one, Milo, who’d been subjected to

experiments with smart drugs, caused the deaths of some of the researchers who were trying to wean him off those drugs. If the crimes’ M.O. was a bit awkward – seems like a lot of trouble to keep arranging death-by-city-bus – the added detail of Milo using a ball-point pen, an item of great rarity in the alt-universe, was a nice touch.

One of the constants in Fringe is the notion that experiments involving human subjects tend to result in enormous pain and suffering, even death. Whether it’s a Fringe Division case like this one or the overarching theme of Olivia’s Cortexiphan injections in Jacksonville, messing with minds is usually tragic.

Kudos to the casting this week: Michael Eklund, who played Milo, looked like Ethan Hawke crossed with Peter Berg – spindly, intense, and nicely chilling when he made an escape from Olivia by jumping onto the roof of a bus, waving at her with a thin smile. (Speaking of similarities, am I the only person who thought Seth Gabel as a damaged-skin Lincoln Lee looked a bit like a mottled Joel McHale?)

I’m really enjoying the return of Kirk Acevedo. Charlie’s scene with Lincoln, in which the former expresses his nagging doubt about Olivia – “What if it’s not the real her?” – had a beguiling, easygoing rhythm. Also striking was the scene near the end, with Olivia’s vision of Peter, the trick-truth her memory played on her as she heard him say, “Real is just a matter of perception… You can’t forget where you’re from,” culminating in a dreamy kiss. The reality vs. perception message can

also extend back to “our” world; it made me think of all those years Walter spent in St. Claire’s Hospital, parsing his own reality.

Speaking of Walter, I have to say, as much as I enjoyed this week’s episode, the coming attractions for next week – an adventure set in this world with more Peter and more Thomas Jerome Newton, with the playfully Dick-ian title “Do Shapeshifters Dream of Electric Sheep?” – seemed even more exciting.

Fringe observations:

• Olivia’s boyfriend Frank is heading off to Texas to deal with an outbreak of smallpox. Does this mean there’s an alt-world Jenny McCarthy?

• Charlie kidding Lincoln about his “Vulcan mind-meld” with Olivia rang J.J. Abrams/Star Trek bells all over Fringe fandom.

• The alt-world’s “compromised air quality,” signaled by an “auburn diamond,” at which point everyone is supposed to grab some oxygen, is further proof of that Earth’s degraded quality.

• Secretary/Walternate’s order to Brandon to “submerge the subject in water” is a call-back to all those times when Olivia has been submerged in Walter’s tank.

What did you think of this week’s Fringe?

Follow: @kentucker

Originally posted October 8 2010 — 1:07 AM EDT

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