By Stacey Harrison
So all of you people who say there’s not enough Leonard Nimoy in current pop culture just need to shut up already. First there was the onslaught of publicity for Star Trek, including appearances on Letterman and SNL, and then the movie itself (which kicks total ass! Go see it.)
We’ve known for weeks now that he would pop up on the season finale of Fringe as William Bell, the CEO of transnational uber-corporation Massive Dynamic, whose been painted as a Bill Gates figure gone evil. He’s also Walter’s old research partner, who spearheaded those long-ago experimental drug trials, which included a young Olivia.
We pick up with Walter having gone missing, following The Observer on some quixotic trip, and Nina Sharp having been shot by armed intruders. She’s OK, though, because it turns out she’s practically half robot. That bionic arm of hers would make the Terminator sweat. It also contained a destructive energy cell, which her assailants procured for truly otherworldly purposes. Though he’s heavily bandaged, the Fringe squad is able to use voice recognition to ID her shooter as Dr. Jones, and Nina reveals that Jones is a disgruntled former Massive Dynamic employee bent on revenge against Bell. And he’s taken the cell in order to kill Bell. More on that later.
Jones and his goons are busy conducting strange experiments in seemingly random places, opening up a portal in the middle of a New York street and at a youth soccer field in Providence. Both cases lead to severed items, the first a semi-truck, the second a youth soccer player. Ewww. The reason they’re doing this is to try to hunt Bell, who is apparently hiding out in an alternate reality. Nina explains all this in great detail — which is puzzling given her past reticence — but she makes Olivia and Broyles a juicy offer. If they can stop Jones from getting to Bell, she will set up an interview for them with Bell, so they can question him about his apparent ties to the Z.F.T. terrorist campaign.
Walter, meanwhile, is holed up at his family’s old beach house looking for some object of relevance. Trouble is, he’s not even sure what it is. The Observer says he’s taken him as far as he can, and that he’s not supposed to interfere, yadda yadda. I’m really hoping the backstory behind this guy is worth it, because I’ve never been a fan of those mysterious characters who know everything but for some dramatically sloppy reason aren’t supposed to affect the outcome. Even though they always end up doing so. Walter’s memory improves once Peter shows up to collect him and they start reminiscing about their time in the house when Peter was still very young. One of his jogs down memory lane stirs Walter’s memory and he finds an odd-looking MacGuffin — er, device, which he says is a plug between dimensions. He knew that opening up the portal to an alternate reality could also let dwellers from the other side into our world, so he created a device to keep them out. So it’s off to the spot where he believes Jones will next try to cross over.
It’s the same spot Olivia and the team have come up with, thanks to Olivia’s deciphering of the Pattern (Haven’t heard that word in awhile, eh? Well, you still don’t in this episode, oddly enough.) of incidents, a lake in upstate New York. All the attempted crossovers have taken place at “soft spots” in our world, where the laws of physics and nature have weakened enough to make crossing over possible. Places like the Bermuda Triangle. The number of soft spots, Nina explains, has increased dramatically as technology has grown more powerful and evil toward nature.
As they are in the car waiting to spring into action, Walter tells Peter about when he was a young boy and got very sick. He says Peter took up coin collecting to forget his troubles, and Peter says he doesn’t remember it at all. They’re both then yanked out of the car by heavily armed agents, who lighten up once Olivia explains that the Bishop boys are all right.
Jones & Co. show up and begin their crossover attempt, leading to a shootout. Walter hands the cosmic plug to Peter while Olivia takes shots at Jones. Even her direct hits are futile, however, as the man keeps walking. The teleportation, he explains, is killing him, but also making him into something which cannot be harmed by bullets. He is almost through the portal when Peter aims the plug and zaps it closed, making Dr. Jones literally half the man he used to be.
This was all very exciting, but I must admit, my mind was stuck on the realization that there were only about 10 minutes left, and still no Nimoy. Come on, after all this buildup, we’re going to get more than just a dramatic entrance, right? Well, yes and no. But first, Walter has something to show us. Something jaw-dropping. He’s visiting a grave, one we assume to be his wife’s/Peter’s mother’s. Instead, the inscription on the tombstone is “Peter Bishop 1978-1985.” Wow. There’d been hints indicating that Peter might be some odd creature, but all signs now point to him being from another dimension, a replacement for this world’s Peter, who apparently did die as a young boy. I feel much better knowing this. While there are still questions coming out the yin yang, it really feels like there’s a definite direction for this character.
OK, on to Nimoy. It appears at first that Olivia will be out of luck in her quest to meet Bell, as the powers that be all of a sudden put the kibosh on the Fringe division’s inquiries into him. But Olivia gets an off-the-record call from Nina saying to meet her in Manhattan the next day. Once there, Olivia believes she is being strung along yet again after a phone call informs her that Nina is out of the country. As she’s descending on the elevator to leave, something weird happens. The lights flash, and suddenly there are several people standing beside her who weren’t there before. In another flash, they are gone. Olivia never notices them. When the door opens, it is not to the lobby but to a sterile white, ultra-modern area, where a woman says they’ve been expecting her. She enters a room, notices a recent newspaper on the table, and a man in shadows saying he’s been waiting to meet her for a long time.
“Where am I?” and “Who are you?” are her questions.
The first answer is “complicated.” The second is, “I’m William Bell.” And there he is. Mr. Nimoy, looking spry and ornery in his seventh decade, with a devilish smile that seems anything but reassuring. Then we pan out to see what building Olivia is standing in, and it’s one of the towers of the World Trade Center.
Now, I’m sure there will be some who will find the inclusion of the towers in what can be a silly sci-fi show to be on the side of bad taste, and the thought of seeing them in the first episode of Season 2 (which presumably will air sometime in September, right?) is a bit disconcerting. But I’m willing to go along with it for now, and enjoy the wow factor.
The first season is in the books, and it’s been a consistently enjoyable ride. The show settled into a rhythm pretty quickly, and was never too impenetrable for anyone who wanted to jump in midstream. Sustaining that season after season could be tricky, but I know there have been many great shows that I didn’t catch from the start. The Wire, The Sopranos, Scrubs, I was late coming to all of them and now count them among my all-time favorites. Who knows if Fringe will get to that level, but if the quality remains high, it should have several seasons to try.
Photo: ©2009 Fox Broadcasting Co. Credit: Craig Blankenhorn/FOX