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Recap: “Fringe,” Season 3, Episode 13 (CL Atlanta)

Fringe” goes back “over there,” to the alternate Earth home of Walternate, Fauxilivia and the gang with the new episode, “Immortality.” One of the most fascinating things about the other Earth is the way the damage wrought by Walter’s old experiments has changed American culture in ways both drastic (everyone carries “Show Me” I.D. cards) and subtle (with coffee a global luxury, tea shops serve as the equivalent to Starbucks).

Something that always nagged me about the America of “24” and the England of “Doctor Who,” to pick two loosely comparable shows, is that the countries look basically like their real-life counterparts. But if the U.S. suffered a 911-scale terrorist event on an annual basis, or London was the epicenter for frequent, failed alien invasions, the sociopolitical structure would be wildly different, even though people would still have jobs, go on dates, etc.

“Immortality” establishes that “over there” isn’t just an evil version of our world, like “Star Trek’s” mirror universes where everyone has a bad, goateed alter ego. Walternate, for instance, has seemed utterly ruthless in seeking the return of Peter Bishop and striking back against our world (and he’s got a legitimate beef with our universe, with the whole kidnapping and holes-in-space thing).

This week, however, Walternate discovers a line he refuses to cross. His chief scientist, the creepy version of Brandon, discovers that the experiments they’ve been running on Olivia’s brain matter would be more effective on children than grown-up hosts. Given the precarious state of his universe, Walternate could use an ends-justifies-the-means argument to literally mess with kid’s heads — our Walter and William Bell ran such experiments even without the end of the world at stake. Walternate seems to shock himself with his refusal to cross that line, and has a moving scene with his mistress (apparently), played by “Twin Peaks” alumnus Joan Chen. John Noble and Anna Torv so impressively play their dual roles that I feel bad that Joshua Jackson only plays “one” Peter Bishop.

Walternate’s ethical approach to science finds a contrast in this week’s villain, Dr. Armin Silva, who goes to grotesque lengths in pursuit of a cure for a devastating disease. Silva specializes in “Skelter Beetles,” which used to grow in sheep but have gone extinct “over there.” Silva attempts to breed a new strain of beetle that can live in human beings, since he needs living beetles to complete his research. In a remarkably nasty plot point (even for this show), he spikes strangers’ drinks with bug-egg-water and harvests the creepie-crawlies after they eat their way out of their victims. Walternate wants to protect human young, while Silva sacrifices children for the sake of his new generation of bugs. Adding insult to injury, he’s more motivated by ego and reputation than a desire to help mankind. He wants to be as “immortal” as Jonas Salk.

Most of the mystery unfolds from Fauxlivia’s point of view as she and her version of the Fringe team adjust to the absence of their Broyles. Apparently Fringe Division doesn’t know that their Broyles was sacrificed to bring Fauxlivia back from our universe, unless Fauxlivia is feigning ignorance. Seth Gable’s Lincoln, who’s grown all his skin back, has taken command and struggles to live up to expectations. (Is it wrong of me that I find Lincoln more vulnerable and likable than Peter Bishop?)

For the past few weeks the real Olivia has been feeling competitive with her doppelganger, and this week it’s pretty clear that Fauxlivia’s a bit more fun to be around. I like the part when she says “Don’t worry, we’ll catch this guy together!” to a colleague in a “Go team!” kind of way. She delights in joking around with Charlie when comic relief-bug expert Mona Foster clearly digs him. (But does Mona like Charlie for himself, or the fact that he has spiders in his bloodstream?)

Fauxlivia’s relationship with her boyfriend Frank is not so carefree, unfortunately. Nobody’s an imposter this week, but there are plenty of scenes that question people’s identity, from Frank and Fauxlivia’s guess-who? game when they meet at the Empire Docking Station to lines like “They look the same, but they’re not the same.” After her mission in our universe, Fauxlivia’s not the same, as Frank realizes upon reuniting her after their months-long separation. We suspect that Fauxlivia really does carry a torch for Peter Bishop, but when Frank proposes, she says, “Yes,” anyway.

Then comes a series of crises that end up playing an elaborate practical joke on the couple. At Silva’s lab, a baboon frightens Fauxlivia, who falls through rotten floorboards into a basement. Silva handcuffs her, gives her a drink and leads her to believe that she’s incubating the next batch of bugs. (Fauxlivia, like our Olivia, freaks out under certain kinds of stress.) Frank, who works for the CDC, arrives and rushes her to the hospital, and in the ambulance, they do an ultrasound to see if she’s got bugs. It turns out that Silva was just messing with them, and incubates the queen himself. The ultrasound, however, reveals that Fauxlivia is six weeks pregnant, so Frank can’t be the father, and Fauxlivia refuses to deny that she’s in love with another man.

So it turns out that Fauxlivia is carrying Peter Bishop’s baby, and Walternate’s grandchild. Arguably having kids is another kind of immortality. But can Peter Bishop send child support payments across dimensions?

Early on, Silva says, “Everyone talks about the weather. No one does anything about it,” and cites the quote as “Samuel Clemens.” Does that mean that in this universe, the author never took the pen name “Mark Twain?”

Speaking of which, since J.J. Abrams co-created “Fringe,” has the alternate universe ever had shout-outs to “Lost’s” parallel pop culture artifacts like Apollo bars or Geronimo Jackson?

How do Brandon and Walternate plan to use Fauxlivia’s pregnancy to get Peter back? Are they just going to send him an email about it, or will they experiment on the unborn or do something equally unsavory?

Last week I asked, “Are we really supposed to think Peter would chose Fauxlivia, who betrayed him every which way she could, over Ourlivia?” Here’s the answer: if Fauxlivia’s carrying Peter’s baby, he’s going to feel seriously divided, which means bad news for our universe if the Doomsday Machine does whatever it’s going to do.

What’s “Fringe’s” chances for a fourth season? The Vulture speculated about the future of two dozen TV series “on the bubble” for renewal or cancellation, and was optimistic:

When Fox said this show was moving to Fridays, fans immediately assumed it was dead. And yet, ratings have held up well, making the network competitive on a low-key night. There’s no reason not to renew Fringe for at least a limited run next season.



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