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'Fringe' recap: Feelings, nothing more than feelings?

Fringe was almost all about feelings, wo-o-o-feelings, in the hour titled “6B,” in one of the most Twilight Zone-ish episodes of the series. The storytelling gave equal weight to the lurching romance between Olivia and Peter, and the romance between an elderly couple separated by death and the vagaries of the universes.

The hour began with a scene set in Park Slope, Brooklyn – an apartment building seemed to expel some party-goers against their will out a seventh-story balcony. (There was an exaggeratedly comic moment early on, when we saw a woman dragging her suitcase out of the building, acting as though the place was haunted – very Rod Serling; very un-Fringe-like.) An occupant in apartment 6B, played by Phyllis Somerville (The Big C), was glimpsed reminiscing about her deceased husband, yearning and sadness creasing her face.

This was then contrasted with a scene in which Walter prepared a romantic breakfast-by-candle-light for Peter and Olivia, hoping their love would be warmed by his blueberry pancakes. Never subtle  about these things, Walter even had a crooning version of “Feelings” streaming out of his record player to set the mood. But as much as Peter and Olivia want each other, Olivia’s feelings of betrayal surfaced once again.

The two scenes were brought together by the Fringe Division case, as Walter theorized that the Brooklyn phenomena had to do with “the energy after death.” Walter said William Bell used to think this energy might be harnessed if he could create “soul magnets.” Trying to make a connection with the dead, Walter asked for the files from an earlier case – the one we know as the third episode of the series’ first season, called “The Ghost Network,” although in “6B” Walter seemed not to detect the mysterious radio frequency that broadcast the emanations of death as they did in that episode.

Using their combined knowledge of the Other Side, Walter and Olivia conjectured that this case might be more evidence of the ever-thinning membrane separating the two universes, and that over there, a widower was trying to contact his dead wife – the flip side of the romantic coin: “Quantum entanglement,” permitting people to connect between worlds. The result, they feared, would be a vortex, a gaping hole, into which Park Slope might disappear, much to the dismay of hipsters throughout Brooklyn.

This opened up something else in Fringe: an excuse for our side to use the amber material that immobilizes such rift activities over there. Where is it being manufactured? At Massive Dynamic, of course, as Nina Sharp and Brandon showed us. The hour built to what I thought was rather minimal suspense, with Broyles yelling for Peter and Olivia to get out of the shimmering, glimmering building before “the amber device” would have encased our heroes. Come on – did you think for a second that was going to happen?

Instead, Peter and Olivia convinced the elderly lady to disengage from her Other Side husband, there was a nice, quick scene of Lincoln Lee and Bolivia answering a “class-four event” alert at their apartment 6B, and Walter pondered whether he might be more like Walternate than he’d thought, or wanted to think he is.

And the episode circled back to the same sort of Peter-Olivia scene that started the hour, this one more successful. Putting aside her misgivings, Olivia said, “I want what you want,” they kissed, and ascended unto Peter’s bedroom to pursue their love.

All in all, not the best Fringe, primarily for the reason I stated at the start: Its Twilight Zone construction, with a supernatural event serving as a big, obvious metaphor for something else – in this case, the rift between lovers (Peter and Olivia; the elderly couple Alice and Derek).

Me, I worry about the imbalance between the series’ romantic, family, and mythology ingredients. If there’s one thing I was hoping all of this season’s alternating-universe episodes would cure, it was the sort of scene that unfortunately popped up here: Anna Torv forced back into season-one-Olivia poker-faced dolorousness, moaning this week about her fear of being “incapable of being vulnerable.” I thought Fringe had moved beyond having to become ponderous to convey its serious romantic agony.

By contrast, the preview next week’s episode looked like a potential doozy. A flashback to a young Peter and Olivia, who might have met as children? It’ll either be a classic Fringe, or just a superior version of an episode of Smallville. I am hoping for the former, of course.

Fringe benefits:

• Walter’s blithely heartless initial theory about the splattered sidewalk bodies: “A flash-mob for suicide.”

• Broyles knows the President; in fact, he has beaten Obama at golf.

What did you think of this week’s Fringe?

Twitter: @kentucker

Originally posted February 19 2011 — 7:23 AM EST

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