“Find the crack.”
– inscribed on a pen given to Mathis by Ferguson

The great thing about filming Fringe in and around Vancouver is that when the producers want to set an episode on the upper west coast, they can achieve a level of authenticity that can’t be reached by filming in New York or Hollywood. “Northwest Passage” takes place in an area renowned for its perpetual grey skies, casting a gloomy pall over the episode’s proceedings.

Director Joe Chappelle nails it when comes to creating this episode’s moody atmosphere. He uses it to establish the episode’s tone, but he never calls attention to it or uses it as a crutch. (Anyone who directed an episode of The Killing, please take note!) He creates an aura of mystery around the fictional Noyo County, transforming it into a setting straight out of the horror movie playbook. It’s not exactly terrifying, but one can sense that something strange is afoot.

Thus, “Northwest Passage” presents one of the series’ biggest departures from its regular style. Fringe isn’t a happy show, by any means, but the relentless gloom of “Northwest Passage’s” west-coast setting stands in stark contrast to the rest of the show’s episodes, which usually don’t rely on the weather or the environment to establish tone. However, unlike what a show like Community does, this stylistic departure has an actual purpose: it’s not just a great way to tell the story; it’s also a way of setting “Northwest Passage” apart as a special episode. (Which works only because Fringe doesn’t try to do “special” episodes every friggin’ week, but let’s not turn this into another anti-Community-season-2 rant.) This is Peter’s turn in the spotlight, his chance to draw Mathis into the Fringe universe, just like he did with Agent Jessup at the start of the season, bringing everything full circle.

This is almost an entirely different show without Olivia leading the investigation. Peter’s style is brasher and looser than hers, not bound by protocol or formality. He runs experiments in a lab, but with none of Walter’s joy for science. Peter is calling the shots for a change, and he approaches the investigation with a sort of fierce determination, as if the clouds won’t clear until he solves the case.

But when he does, the weather hasn’t changed. There are still clouds in the sky, and he still feels burdened by the knowledge that even if he might have thwarted Newton’s plans, he’s nonetheless living in what he believes is the wrong universe. After the case is over, Mathis hands Peter a pen with the inscription, “Find the crack.” It could have been an incredibly lame, treacly moment – imagine if this had all been taking place in sunny SoCal – but instead, it’s the perfect fusion of atmosphere and story: Peter must find the crack to let the light in. That crack could be anything from forgiving Walter to finding a way back to what may be his rightful home. Peter lies down to contemplate all of this, the sound of Seattle band Band of Horses’ “Is There a Ghost”1 in his ears.

Suddenly, Peter’s biological father, Walternate appears through a crack in the fabric of the universes (not a pun, but a moment of possibly unintentional brilliance from Fringe’s writers). Walternate offers Peter a chance to return to his birth universe. Peter thinks this is the crack of which the inscription speaks, and so he accepts and travels to the Other Side with Walternate.

But Peter might be gravely mistaken. All the while, Olivia has been doing everything she can to track down Peter, even managing to get Broyles to break his promise to keep Peter’s whereabouts secret. She’s ready to jump on a plane to Washington and get Peter back. But now, he is in the alternate universe. However, as we’ll see in the next episode, even that won’t be enough to stop Olivia from providing Peter with the crack he needs to see the light and come back home.

For more information on the Fringe rewatch project, please click here.

1 This is one of those WTF-worthy music videos that will make you wonder what the band was smoking when they thought it up. ^