Saturday, November 19, 2011

"Fringe" Review: "Wallflower" (***1/2)

God damn, I miss loving "Fringe" this much! I'm having trouble remembering the last time I was this invested and this into an episode of the show. It was probably "Marionette" from last year, which conveniently arrived around this time of year. However, maybe what I loved more was the palpable sense of mystery and unknowing. This show has done a fine job of keeping us in the dark lately. I didn't know how last week was going to unfurl at the start, and was just somewhat satisfied with how they worked that reveal. However, last week felt doused in the semi-hokeyness that this season has been laced with.

Yet in spite of my worries last week that we'd simply be getting a middling and somewhat anticlimactic treatment for the last "Fringe" episode of this year, it quickly established that it was a lot more than that. The episode starts out with Olivia experiencing migraines, which may sound like it has some greater purpose, but kicking things off, it just felt like good storytelling. Such small moments like her going out for medicine give us such subtle indications about her character, and it shows that maybe the writers are picking up on what I've been putting out there. And then her chance encounter with Lincoln was such a sweet discourse between characters. Lincoln started out as something of a shell, but now he's seeming like such a glyph of emotion, with somebody struggling to find a connection in a drastically changed world.

And then we get to our actual cold open, which couldn't have been staged more brilliantly. The tracking shot behind our unsuspecting victim through a dual lineup of greenery gave such a classy tone to the kickoff. And that's something else I've got to emphasize is that the cinematography for this episode was simply brilliant. The hotel confines became such a welcoming presence as to give the feeling of occasion much needed to this show at this moment. And shockingly, the whole invisible "ghost" element didn't feel hokey where so many of the cases in past weeks simply have. If anything, it made me all the more eager for an answer.

The way this mystery unfolded clicked on all cylinders, with the opening recap leading me to believe that it was maybe a cortexiphan subject. Close, but it was actually somebody whose suffering started before he was even given a chance to feel anything. Massive Dynamic is placed in a tricky position in all of this, given the fact that they saved his life, but also caused his torment. His affliction is something that any viewer will find profoundly sympathetic. In today's world, we're so often overlooked by even people who we know. It's easy to just forsake the joy that somebody recognizing you would give. Our freak, Eugene, certainly doesn't, and even though he's killing people, you really feel for him. I've got to say, this is one of the most exquisite stories this show has put forth.

As for the current main storyline of the season, that being Peter, he was surprisingly sidelined throughout most of the episode. And oddly enough, that was completely fine with me. It was wonderful to see a real portrayal of where Peter fits in this world, which is not that much. At the start of the episode, his bodyguard/babysitter/"friend" keeps him from interacting with anybody, which is much similar to Eugene's own situation. Small little ticks like that. Precise storytelling. I'm glad I didn't completely lose hope on this show's ability to surprise me. Peter's role in this episode coincides strongly with Lincoln's. Both are outcasts, and they form this kind of bromance, to use the technical term.

The fact that there's so much going on with Peter, Lincoln, and Olivia this week speaks to how adept this episode is at juggling multiple stories in equal focus. Walter is kept on the sidelines, being just as irritable as ever. His suffering and anger at Peter is lessened by the fact that Peter isn't even part of this case. It's the "new world" Fringe team working on a case, and I love that they exclude Peter. He's not important to this case, and it gives the others a chance to shine. Now this show has had problems recently getting us invested in this new world, but I think they've finally pulled it off. Not only am I behind these characters, I don't want to think of them as simply alternatives. As much as Peter may hate it, I want this to last.

Circling back to Olivia, she's really given the opportunity to thrive in this new character. There is a vulnerability there that we had not seen until now. That insecurity coming off the cortexiphan trials has had so much time to bloom inside her. The fact that she's so desensitized from everything really adds a strange vibe to her character that is much needed to fill her out. Her opening up to Nina does feel really bizarre, and it's so interesting to see these characters we thought we knew depicted in such a capacity. The Olivia we knew before didn't have a mother, and that was instrumental to who she is. This Olivia has formed an odd family complex with Nina as mother and Walter as father.

And we've seen Olivia and Lincoln gravitating towards each other ever so much, and Peter doesn't even try to stop it this week. As far as he's concerned, his Olivia is waiting for him elsewhere. It's going to suck when he realizes that isn't so, and it's likely to throw all these characters into a chaotic and beautiful blender of a mess. For now, it really seemed like we were prepping for a really sweet date between Lincoln and Olivia. And then Nina ruined everything! We're not about to shout evil at her, but until we shed more light next week, WHAT THE FUCK!?!

POST-REVIEWS: It seems everybody thinks this week was run-of-the-mill and standard season 4. I cannot disagree more.

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