A good episode of Fringe leaves you curious, asking questions like, “What is the Observers’ involvement in this?” or “Why is the First People’s technology so important?” A not-so-good episode of Fringe leaves you annoyed, asking questions that begin with “WTF?” “Reciprocity” was an example of the latter, more interested in shocking viewers than in telling them a compelling story.

Let’s just go straight to the biggest WTF of the episode. What the hell is up with Evil Peter? I understand that Peter tends to colour outside the lines and that he wouldn’t feel bound by FBI protocol, but I can’t buy him as a shapeshifter serial killer who keeps his secret from his friends and family. This is starting to sound a bit like Dexter, and there’s a reason I don’t watch that show, which I’ll get to in a minute.

Part of the reason that it has taken me so long to write this review is that I was so thrown off by Peter’s actions that I wanted to read others’ explanations for them. (Usually, I do these very unprofessional write-ups before I read anyone else’s reactions.) The most common explanation was that Peter finally succumbed to all the stress that he’d kept bottled up inside. Now, there are many very intelligent fans and critics who have proposed this explanation, and I respect them and understand where they’re coming from. But I just don’t agree. At all. Why did Peter break now? Why not earlier, when he found out that he’d been played by Fauxlivia?1 Why not right after Olivia told him that she didn’t want to be with him? Why now, when he’s rebuilding his friendship with Olivia, when he’s as close to Walter as he was before “The Man From the Other Side,” and when he hasn’t been shown to be worried about the machine for a few episodes? It just doesn’t make sense. Therefore, I must believe Walter’s explanation, i.e. that the machine was influencing Peter’s actions. This feels like nothing more than an arbitrary character rewrite designed to create drama, which isn’t Joshua Jackson’s fault – he really sold it – but even his vastly improved acting skills couldn’t make the idea of Peter as a shapeshifter-murdering vigilante any more palatable. All it had was shock value.

And even then, it didn’t have much shock value. The fact that either Peter or Dr. Falcon was the killer was too obvious, and once Dr. Falcon had been killed, I knew it was Peter. I’m going to lay the blame at the director’s feet for this one. Jeannot Szwarc’s directing put too much emphasis on Peter’s nighttime return at the beginning of the episode, and that lingering shot of Dr. Falcon’s face while Dr. Bishop and Peter talked about a mole in the background was clumsy. In the end, the revelation of Peter as the serial killer had shock value only because it was scary, and not because it was surprising. In that way, it was unfortunately reminiscent of many earlier Fringe episodes, which relied too much on graphic horror.

Speaking of earlier Fringe episodes, this must be the umpteenth mole plot line for the show. In season 1, we had both Sanford Harris and Mitchell Loeb. In season 2, we were introduced to the shapeshifters. Shapeshifters are kind of like olives. They work best in small quantities. Putting enough shapeshifters within Peter’s reach to go on a killing spree lessens the impact of finding a shapeshifter in our universe. If they’ve infiltrated Massive Dynamic and the FBI so easily and in such large numbers, why haven’t they yet taken over?

Between the poor plotting and the clunky dialogue – yes, the Exposition Fairy2 was out in full force in this one – there were a couple of other WTF moments. Even though it shouldn’t have been amusing, watching Walter act like a chimp was quite funny. But it makes me wonder how stupid Walter must be to sniff an unidentified serum after his son drank from an unlabelled bottle in the previous episode and almost died. The other WTF moment came from Fauxlivia’s diary. If those files were intended for her superiors, why the hell would she admit to falling for Peter in them?

It may seem as if I’ve been overly critical of “Reciprocity,” and in some sense I have. I’ll admit that despite all its clumsiness, it was still pretty exciting and enjoyable. However, I’m not willing to be forgiving of missteps that could have more negative consequences down the road. Unlike in “What Lies Below,” Peter’s abnormal behaviour wasn’t resolved in this episode. Walter is now keeping Peter’s identity as the killer a secret. If Evil Peter makes no reappearances, then he will have just been a stupid plot device. But if he reappears, he’ll turn Peter into an antihero figure. I don’t want to root for antiheroes. (That’s why I don’t watch Dexter.) A large part of Fringe’s appeal is that it’s about good people fighting evil, regardless of whether it’s Here or Over There. I don’t want to watch a show about people who must fight “the evil within,” so to speak. In a season as serialized as S3 has been, this is the kind of significant misstep that could sink the rest of the season.

 

1 It seems as if the writers have caught on to the online discussion and have finally adopted the Fauxlivia moniker. Tee hee.

2 The Exposition Fairy is a magical creature who puts clunky, expository dialogue in the characters’ mouths, often because it believes that the audience is too stupid to keep track of what’s going on.

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