“Fringe”: The Arrival

Posted by SH

It was just a matter of time, I suppose, before a series that owes so much to The X-Files would come up with its own version of Cigarette Smoking Man. For Fringe, that is The Observer — a bald bloke with no eyebrows who bears more than a passing resemblance to Ed Harris in A Beautiful Mind. Well, except for the eyebrows. Actually, he reminded me initially of the little dude Charlotte married on Sex and the City. Did he have eyebrows? Can’t remember.

We meet The Observer at a Brooklyn diner, ordering everyone’s favorite — roast beef, as raw as possible, water at room temperature, and 11 jalapenos. Mmm, just like Grandma used to make. As he calmly devours his raw meat and observes the construction site nearby, suddenly a rumbling takes place, followed by an explosion. Everyone else runs away, but The Observer simply puts on his ’60s G-man hat and speaks these words into a communication device: It has arrived.

“It” turns out to be a cylinder that looks a lot like the Gherkin building in London. Nothing like it has been seen since 1987, when a similar item mysteriously appeared at Quantico before just as mysteriously disappearing. Walter nearly shutters when he sees the thing, then goes on a bit about how he was asked to build a missile that could tunnel through the Earth’s core to reach a target on the other side of the world. He doesn’t say whether this is that concept perfected, but he is awfully insistent about working on it in his own lab. Peter has had enough of his father’s antics — which include reciting the chemical formula for root beer at 3am — and tells Olivia he wants out. Tired of playing baby sitter to a crazy old man, he wants to be free to pursue whatever shiftless course he was treading before she snatched him up. She persuades him to give it one more chance and off they go.

Of course, they’re not the only ones interested in the cylinder. A crazy dude with a big-ass gun goes on a rampage searching for it, sometimes just shooting people, but other times hooking them up to some psychic machine so he can read their thoughts. Then kill them. When Walter learns a killer is on the way, he sends Peter out for some aluminum foil to hide the vibrations, and sedates an unsuspecting Astrid as he makes off with the cylinder. I wondered at this point what made him think the killer wouldn’t just tie up Astrid and question her, but I guess the guy is kooky enough to not think that far ahead.

Olivia notices The Observer in a picture from the scene of the explosion, and realizes he’s the same guy who was in a shot from a couple weeks ago. You know, the episode where the hooker gave birth to an old man? Broyles tells her he’s been spotted at several Pattern-related events over the years, and his appearance has never changed. They know nothing about him, including his name. Hence the comic-booky moniker.

While Olivia is learning about the mysterious guy, Walter is having a root beer float with him, and handing over the cylinder. They seem to have known each other for a long time, lessening my initial idea that The Observer is a psycho killer. The real psycho killer is busy strapping Peter down and shoving wires up his nose so he can read his thoughts. And even though Peter has no clue where the cylinder has gone, the interrogator is able to glean the answer from his brain. How? Because whatever Walter knows, Peter somehow knows, too. Or something like that.

The search leads to the grave of Peter’s grandfather, where the killer makes him dig up the cylinder. Not sure why it was more logical to keep Peter alive and have him do it, rather than the killer just doing it himself — or for the guy to just take off when he sees Olivia coming rather than just using the aforementioned big-ass gun to wipe out her and Peter — but at least it keeps everyone alive for one more week. Olivia ends up shooting the killer dead, and the cylinder sinks into the ground. What she cannot see is Peter confronting The Observer, who is able to get into Peter’s mind and say the words he is thinking before he even says them. Even with all of Fringe’s special effects, this was one of the series’ creepiest scenes.

It’s all enough to make Peter decide he can’t leave until he knows more about The Pattern. So consider that fire put out for at least a few episodes. But he has even more to chew on as Walter tells him the truth behind an old family memory. One Thanksgiving, when he and Peter were driving on an icy road, their car fell through some ice, and Peter always heard that Walter saved them both. But Walter says that isn’t true. A mysterious man — bald, no eyebrows — saved them. And he knew that one day that man would need something from him, and that once he saw the cylinder, he knew that the time had come. Pretty fascinating stuff. It’s carried out with a lot more grace than Olivia’s big scary moment at the very end, when she turns around in her kitchen to see her deceased lover standing there, saying hi. Honestly, this bit was defanged a bit from the opening credits, when I noticed Mark Valley’s name popped up. And from the looks of the preview for next week, Olivia writes it off as a vision.

The writers are laying on the mysteries pretty thick, showing they’re very good at posing the questions. Hopefully, the answers will be as satisfying.