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FRINGE: The Calm Before the Storm

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Episode 11 “The Boy Must Live”

THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD!

[Photos: Liane Hentscher/FOX]

You know that feeling you got after Christmas is over when you were a kid?  That one where you had so much anticipation built up, but it all went by too fast, you didn’t get nearly all the things that you wanted, and you’re just left feeling like, ”Was that it?”  After Friday’s lackluster Fringe episode of “The Boy Must Live”, I experienced similar disappointment. For goodness sake, there’re only two episodes left; surely a lot must happen in every little second in order to get to the amazing end that is the inevitable culmination of this show?  Apparently not.

Last week (and I promise this isn’t just a random tangent), I attended a call (see write-up here) wherein Anna Fricke, executive producer of Being Human, spoke about the challenges of writing for their show. Specifically, she mentioned that for their writing team, the biggest challenge is how to space things out; they have the end in sight, but how to a) get to that end without making it too easy to predict what’s coming and b) get the pacing right, so each episode has just the right amount of drama?  That’s the trick. It’s one that the Fringe production team didn’t get right this time.

Let’s cover the precious little that did happen. Walter reasons that he can access more deeply the memory of Donald that Michael gave him if he goes into the sensory deprivation tank. We do get a great and funny Walter-Olivia moment when Liv peeks in on Walter in the tank, only to wince and ask Walter why he decided to take his swim trunks off. Too restrictive, of course. Once inside the memory, Walter peeks out of the window of the apartment he is in, where he sees the Empire Building and the Williamsburg Bridge in NYC.

En route to Donald’s apartment, Walter tells Peter that the brain piece removal is no longer necessary, as the mindmeld that Michael did on him helped him remember things from the other timeline. A touching father-son scene ensues, in which Walter shares that he didn’t think it was possible to love Peter more, but that the extra memories of everything they’d been together made him feel that love more strongly. Walter gives Peter a heartfelt embrace, then recalls that Peter never did like public affection…or going number two in a public bathroom. Oh Walter, how I shall miss you.

Walter hones in on Donald’s apartment with little difficulty, knocks, and lo and behold, a grey-haired Donald opens the door. After sharing with Donald how they found him (they followed the tapes to the pocket universe, which led them to Michael, who showed Walter the memory of Donald), Donald shares his story. Apprehended for interference in the timeline and his interaction with Walter, Liv, and Peter, the Observers removed the tech from Donald’s head.

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More importantly, perhaps, Donald sheds light on Michael and how their plan revolves around his existence. On February 20, 2167 in Oslo, Norway, a scientist realized that if he could rewire the human brain to eliminate jealousy, it could increase intelligence. That discovery ultimately led to the Observers, and eventually, not only did anger, greed and aggression get eliminated as obstacles to intelligence, but so did compassion, empathy, and love. Without romantic love, new reproductive technologies were created.

Michael was created hundreds of years in the future, but his brain developed differently. Originally, Donald thought his abilities were empathic, but ultimately, his intellect functions much higher than even that of the other Observers, despite having emotions. Since Michael was viewed as an anomaly, September (i.e., Donald) hid him in the past to prevent his termination.

The two big reveals from this conversation are that Michael was reproduced using September’s (i.e., Donald’s) genetic material, and that the plan all along was to take Michael to the scientists in Norway and show them a different kind of intelligence that was enlightenment. The hope is that once they study him, they will never decide to sacrifice emotion for intelligence, and the Observers will never exist, never invade.

Because Donald no longer has the tech in his head that can help them move through time, they have to build a device to send Michael through time. Most of the pieces, the team has already gathered, but the device also requires some technology from September’s time. Fortunately, Donald thought ahead while still September, and hid the technology in a storage unit not far from his apartment.

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While the Fringe team has been locating and catching up with Donald, Windmark has been a busy little hate machine. He meets with the Commander (see, there is an Emperor!) in 2609, and reports that he has located Michael in 2036 but doesn’t yet understand Michael’s purpose. Windmark also does a little digging in the genetics records, and realizes that September is Michael’s father. Windmark requests permission from the Commander to eradicate them (Walter, Liv, Peter, Donald and Michael), but the Commander is not prepared to deal with the readjustment of probabilities and feels that the fugitives are inconsequential. Windmark admits that ending their existence consumes him, but again the Commander denies him.

Unfortunately for our heroes, the denial to eradicate doesn’t prevent the continued pursuit of them. Since Donald was detained before, he would have been tagged with a tracking device, and Windmark and one of his lieutenants apparate into Donald’s apartment. A bloody scalpel in the sink confirms that Donald has removed the tracking chip, but the cup of coffee on the piano is still warm, and Windmark knows they can’t be far away. He demands that camera footage from the area be reviewed. A sensor in Donald’s apartment, however, both notifies Donald that he’s been breached, and auto-detonates a bomb. Wily Windmark just misses getting flattened…again.  Knowing that he’s just missed them by minutes, Windmark requests that a perimeter be set up.

Walter tells Olivia, Peter and Michael to stay behind in the hotwired mini-van, while he and Donald get the technology still needed to build the time device. Walter uses this time with Donald to verify something that Michael showed him during their mindmeld: that Walter will have to sacrifice himself for the plan to work. Donald sadly confirms this, but assures Walter that it was Walter’s idea. Because Walter had felt he had caused so much unintended damage, this was his way to make amends.

Walter and Donald also talk about the white tulip, the symbol of hope that Walter had received in the mail from a Fringe victim back in season two. They acknowledge its importance as a symbol of absolution for Walter. Donald said he took it from the other timeline and gave it to Walter prior to the Walter mind scramble, but neither Walter nor Donald have it now…so where is it?  Donald says only Walter would know what he did with it.

Donald bids the rest of the group adieu, pleading the need to get a few more things before they begin. The rest of the group heads for home, but find themselves locked within Windmark’s perimeter. The team decides to split up into two groups: Liv and Michael in one, Peter and Walter in the other. They head on foot for their best chance, the monorail, but it requires that they hide in plain sight as they saunter past a Loyalist checkpoint.

These scenes in which the two groups walk by the checkpoint, to the monorail, and find their way on-board are the nail-bitingest of the episode. Liv and Michael are able to board successfully, but Peter and Walter have a lot more Loyalist side-stepping to do. Just before they finally board the same car as Liv and Michael, Michael sacrifices himself, and steps off and out of the car just as the doors close Liv off from him. Olivia watches helplessly as yet another child is torn away. Michael is marched by Loyalists to meet Windmark; Michael simply observes passively as Windmark evilly caresses the word, “Hello.”

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While this episode didn’t move the storyline along as far as it seems like it should have, how can a loyal Fringe follower help but be both excited and heartbroken about the series conclusion on January 18th?  By my reckoning, the series starts an hour earlier than normal next week to accommodate the two-hour finale, so be sure to take that into consideration as you’re making your weekend plans.

I will, of course, be with you guys to say goodbye.  Just be sure to have a box of Kleenex ready to go.  The previews indicate a number of old frenemies will play a role, and if Walter really does have to sacrifice himself, yours truly will be a mess.  Hopefully, Liv’s prediction that she and Peter will get Etta back will come to fruition and salve any wounds that we might incur along the way.  Personally, I’m hoping that we all get to picnic together in Boston with Peter, Olivia, and a dandelion-blowing Etta.  ‘Til next week, Fringe friends.

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