Review: ‘Fringe’ Episode #104
Note: Click here for last week’s mystery!
Autopsy Report: "The Arrival"
In Brooklyn, New York, an entirely bald man called The Observer watches in anticipation as a construction site suffers an explosion. The cause is an egg-shaped capsule, sitting perfectly still. The Observer calls someone and says: "It has arrived." Later, the device is delivered to a warehouse in Chelsea, Massachusetts, where Philip Broyles shows it to Olivia Dunham and Peter and Walter Bishop. Walter has an idea of what the object is, and desperately needs it moved to his laboratory. He reveals that he had worked on an experiment involving subterranean torpedos that could go straight through the Earth, but it’s still too early to say whether this is the same cylinder. Olivia is sent to meet with her old friend Jacobsen who was involved in a very similar case several years prior. He warns her to stay away from this assignment.
Later, Jacobsen is assaulted by a man with a strange explosive gun. The gunman uses a telepathic device to translate Jacobsen’s thoughts, learning that Olivia knows where the cylinder is now located. Olivia learns that the warehouse originally holding the capsule has been attacked, by the same man who tortured Jacobsen. On hearing this, Walter tranquilizes Astrid and steals the cylinder away from the laboratory. He later meets up with The Observer, who thanks Walter for relocating the cylinder. Elsewhere, Broyles and Olivia discuss The Observer, who has been spotted at over three dozen incidents tied in with The Pattern. They have no idea who or what he is.
Walter is arrested and questioned by Peter and Olivia. He tells them of The Observer, and yells at Peter for being too narrow-minded all the time. Peter decides that he’s done with this Pattern business and leaves. He’s attacked and tortured by the gunman from earlier. Even though Peter doesn’t know where the capsule is located, the gunman is somehow able to glean the information from Peter’s brain. Olivia tells Walter that Peter’s been abducted, and Walter is worried that the gunman will know how to get the information from Peter. He offers Olivia the location of the capsule.
The capsule is buried at the gravesite of Robert Bishop, Walter’s father. Peter is forced to uncover it, and the gunman runs off with it as Olivia chases him. She shoots him from behind, but before she’s able to uncover the capsule, it torpedos straight down into the ground. The Observer watches from a distance, and calls someone to say "Departure on schedule." Peter attacks The Observer and attempts to question him, but The Observer mimics every word he says as he says it. Finally, The Observer shoots him with some sort of sonic weapon and runs off. Recovering in the hospital, Peter declares to Olivia that he wants to stay and figure out what this Pattern is. Walter reveals to Peter that when he was a boy, they were in a horrible accident where they nearly drowned in freezing water. The Observer pulled them out and saved their life. Somehow, Walter knew that by hiding the cylinder, he was repaying his debt to the bald stranger. He also reveals how Peter was able to know the cylinder’s location: "Ideas can be absorbed by osmosis and proximity."
Olivia finally returns home after days of strange, strenuous work. Waiting for her in the kitchen is Agent John Scott, who Olivia believed to be dead. Looks like bedtime’s gonna have to wait.
For the first time since the pilot episode, it feels like Fringe is honing in on the long term stories that had previously been beneath the surface. This most recent episode is harder to get into on a standalone basis than the previous three installments. There are no easy introductions to cast members, nor needless exposition regarding The Pattern. With "The Arrival," viewers are thrust into the thick mystery nose first and are expected to breathe underwater or die trying.
Depending on your interest in Fringe, this new direction may or may not be up your alley. If you’re more interested in a procedural drama, this episode will disappoint. This one was for fans planning to stick with the series. When people look back on Fringe‘s history, they’ll likely mark "The Arrival" as one of the hallmark episodes in the series. It’s title refers not only to the obvious arrival of the cylinder device, which is admittedly not the weirdest science seen on the show thus far. It also marks the arrival of a solid definition of Fringe as an entity: a provocative series that can at once be a superficial case-of-the-week as well as a thoughtful drama with lingering mysteries.
There’s another arrival this week in the form of the show’s newest character, The Observer. Played by Michael Cerveris from Fox’s short-lived The American Embassy, The Observer joins a prestigious roster of creepy characters on television. It’s a delight to welcome him into that fold. He is Fringe‘s answer to The X-Files‘ Cigarette Smoking Man, albeit significantly more alien in nature. C’mon, clearly this guy’s from outer orbit. Do you know anybody that eats raw roast beef, eleven jalapenos, a full shaker of cracked pepper and half a bottle of Tabasco sauce just to stimulate their barely functioning taste buds? That’s got Area 51 written all over it. Whatever the species, The Observer is bound to play a significant role in the mystery of The Pattern.
The arrival of The Observer heralds many important developments for Fringe‘s plot. For one, it appears that Walter and Peter have been staked out for several years, considering The Observer’s involvement in their mutual near-death experience. It’s already clear that Walter has a strong part to play in the Pattern, as all of the mysteries tie in directly to his previous research. But given Walter’s insistence on Peter’s unique medical history and their apparent telepathic link, not to mention Peter’s own curious encounter with The Observer, it’s looking likelier and likelier that Peter will have a large role in the scheme of things.
Olivia, too, looks tied in the mystery of The Observer. Agent Broyles pointedly notes that it took them a year to spot the Uatu wannabe, where it only took Olivia three weeks. Every week, Olivia demonstrates time after time why she’s so valuable in the Pattern investigations, and proves her worth to both Agent Broyles and to Nina Sharp at Massive Dynamic. A solid nod goes to actress Anna Torv, who plays Olivia. She entered Fringe with a fairly short resume and is proving once again J.J. Abrams’ knack for casting strong female leads. He’s done it before with Keri Russell, Jennifer Garner and Evangeline Lilly, and Torv is certainly following the tradition. It’s easier to buy Olivia Dunham as an FBI agent than it was for Garner’s Sydney Bristow on Alias. Might have something to do with the fact that Torv ain’t sleepin’ with Affleck. Buuurn!
Is the episode flawless? Not by any means. For one, it’s getting old that every episode ends with another John Scott reveal. Is every episode gonna end with Mark Valley popping out from behind a corner? Look, we get it: the guy’s supposed to be dead, but there he goes walkin’ around! Spooky! C’mon. It’s not that the Scott storyline has no potential, it’s just being mishandled. We’ve known something was up with him since the end of the pilot episode. They showed his preserved body in a test tube last week, and now this episode concludes with Scott in Olivia’s kitchen. How much more effective would this reveal had been if we hadn’t already seen John in stasis? That dramatic beat gets squashed for the week-to-week fans, when this really should be a big payoff. Fringe needs to be more conservative with how they use this character. It’s like balsamic vinegar, man… a few drops does the body good, but it’s so easy to spill the bottle and ruin the whole damn sammich.
Lastly, the proof is oncey again in the pudding as Charlie Francis and Astrid Farnesworth have zilch to chew on. Astrid gets drugged by Walter, Charlie makes a few phone calls. Easily performed by Olivia and Peter. Imagine how different the dynamic between Walter and Olivia could’ve been had he drugged her, a character we’re invested in, rather than Astrid. She’d still need Walter’s help, but their relationship would be irreparably strained. The writers are taking away meat from the dogs that deserve it. This should be the "Olivia and The Bishops" show, but it’s brought down by Charlie and Astrid. As soon as the writers fix this problem, Fringe will instantly become a better character drama than it is now.
Setting minor problems aside, "The Arrival" might be Fringe‘s best episode yet. By strengthening the leads, advancing the overall plot and introducing the latest freak in the freak show, the series has significantly upped the ante from standard procedural to meaningful mystery.
The Next Case: Airing in Two Weeks
From Fox: "When it’s discovered that a rather simple man has the ability to harness electricity, dangerous and deadly occurrences follow, and our unlikely trio investigates this super-charged oddity. Meanwhile, Olivia has a high-voltage encounter of a different kind when she is rocked by a blast from her past, and Dr. Bishop turns to his feathered friends and enlists homing pigeons to help him break the case."