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On The 'Fringe': Scoop on tonight's new episode, The Observer, and the possible return of a 'Mad Men' villain

Fringe-amber

Fringe-amberImage Credit: Liane Hentscher/FoxTonight’s new episode of Fringe takes us through the looking glass and into my favorite topsy-turvy wonderland currently on television. Fringe fans know it as “Over There” – a parallel universe realm that resembles our “Over Here” world but is distinguished by a few outré sci-fi touches and alternate versions of our history, our culture and ourselves. “Over There,” there are daily flights to the moon. “Over there,” Eric Stoltz starred in Back to the Future, not Michael J. Fox. “Over There” has no long-running musical named Cats – but there is one called Dogs. And in the New York City of “Over There,” the Empire State Building isn’t just a tall building, but a docking terminal for dirigibles – which, by the way, was the original intention for the spire section atop the art deco Manhattan landmark. (Another pop culture fave of mine that brought this idea to life: the near-forgotten Jude Law/Gwyneth Paltrow retro sci-fi/cutting edge f/x marvel Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.) I’m told everyone over at Fringe HQ pitches in to help flesh out the Over There world – from the L.A.-based writing staff to the Vancouver-based art department – and I look forward to seeing what rich little throwaway details the show will give us tonight.

Fringe introduced the idea that a war between these parallel worlds was a crucial part of its mythology back in its first season, most memorably with a story that focused on one of the show’s best villains, a teleporting terrorist named David Robert Jones (the name is a wink – it’s David Bowie’s birth handle). In the season 1 finale, Mr. Jones – physically deteriorating from too much instantaneous transmission – tried to open a portal into the “Over There” world. He succeeded, but just as he stepped one foot over, the portal closed, and Mr. Jones was literally cut in half. Ouch. The villain’s death was painful for Fringe fans, too: Mr. Jones was a charismatic presence, played with relish by English actor Jared Harris, who is now a member of the Mad Men cast. Still, even though the “Over Here” version of Jones is dead, there could be an “Over There” version that’s still alive – and I can report that Fringe exec producers Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman recently talked with Harris about coming back for an episode or even a whole arc. Harris seems to be game, but he has some scheduling problems. The actor is current shooting Sherlock Holmes 2 in London with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. Still, I’m psyched to know that the producers and Harris are even talking about trying to make it happen, be it sooner or later.

Tonight’s new “Over There” episode is entitled “Amber 31422.” We’ll be meeting two mysterious twins, played by real-life twins Aaron Ashmore (Smallville) and Shawn Ashmore (Iceman from the X-Men movies). The drama centers on “Over Here” Olivia, who has been brainwashed into believing that she’s actually her “Over There” doppelgänger. But Olivia’s mind is beginning to rebel against her brainwashing. In the last “Over There” episode, an “apparition” of Peter – a figment of the part of Olivia’s mind that is struggling to hold on to reality – popped up and tried to convince her of the truth of her situation. Expect to see more of Olivia’s mental tumult in tonight’s episode.

For those of you who may be a little fuzzy about what is exactly at stake in Fringe’s clash of quantum realities, this is what you need to know. The “Over There” world is literally falling apart. The reason? Walter Bishop, the frazzled, say-anything, dessert-addicted, mad scientist brilliantly from the “Over Here” world. About 25 years ago, Walter’s young son, Peter, died from an illness he couldn’t cure until it was too late. Walter and his partner, the late William Bell, had invented a device that allowed them to peer into a parallel world – and there, Walter saw his alternate egghead self, a.k.a. Walternate, struggling to develop a cure for his own ailing Peter. At a crucial point in cooking his own serum, Walternate was distracted by a visit from The Observer, a member of a bald-headed band of hot sauce-loving brothers whose function is to simply bare witness to pivotal moments in history. But does the very act of their observation help create those moments? In the case of Walternate’s effort to save his son, yes, for The Observer’s visitation prevented him from completing his cure. (FYI, while the Observers haven’t been a major part of the current season, I’m told we will be seeing their kind again. Soon.)

Watching all of this drama from “Over Here,” Walter saw an opportunity. He opened a portal into the parallel world, abducted Peter, brought him back, saved his life – and then kept him here as a replacement for his own dead boy. Problem: When Walter opened his portal, he tore the fabric of reality in the “Over There” world. As a consequence, the laws of physics “Over There” have been breaking down with increasing rapidity – and with intensifying and consequences. These anomalies of nature – known as  “Fringe Events” – are a common and very public occurrence for the people who live “Over There.” Negatively impacted areas – which in some cases can be entire cities – are put in quarantine and sealed with amber. (My guess is that the title of tonight’s episode refers to a very specific quarantine zone.)

The average “Over There” person does not know why their world has gone all wonky, nor do they know anything about all of us “Over Here.” But Walternate does – and he’s mucho pissed. Now the Secretary of Defense, Walternate is pursuing a two-fold agenda: 1. He’s trying to save his world; and 2. He’s trying to get his boy back. His master plan involves finding a way to cross back and forth between the worlds safely, without resorting to methods that … well, which are way gross and too complex to explain at the moment. The unique Olivia physiology holds the key – hence, he has kidnapped and brainwashed Olivia so he can study her.

Walternate’s scheme also includes a mysterious machine, believed to be – and literally dubbed – a doomsday device. Only Peter can operate it. At present, pieces of the doomsday machine are popping up in the “Over Here” world, and Peter and Walter are finding them and putting them together – which is apparently what Walternate wants them to be doing. Now, I have two theories about said doomsday device. THEORY 1: The doomsday device will unravel the histories of both worlds back to the date in which Peter was abducted. THEORY 2: En masse psychic transference. The doomsday device will cause all the minds from “Over There” to move into the bodies of their counterparts “Over Here,” while the minds of everyone “Over Here” will move into the bodies of their counterparts “Over There.” Since “Over There” is doomed, it’ll be the “Over Here” people who will technically die, because they’re now living in the “Over There” bodies, while the “Over There” people will survive, because they’ll be living in the “Over Here” bodies.

Really, I don’t think I could spell any of that out more simply. And strangely enough, it speaks to Fringe’s strong storytelling (and/or my own crappy writing) that all of this is easier watched than explained. I’m looking forward to tonight’s episode – and to Ken Tucker’s recap, which will post here tomorrow. In the meantime, if you’re in the market for more teases, you can check out our exclusive sneak peek over here, as well as see a few more over there at Fox.com. Until then, I’d love to know what you think Walternate is up to with his doomsday device. Please, fill the virtual chalkboards below with your elaborate equations – or email them to me at docjensenew@gmail.com as next week, I’ll begin a reader mail section of “On The Fringe.” You can also find me Tweeting: @ewdocjensen

Originally posted November 4 2010 — 10:37 AM EDT

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