The best way for Fringe to get viewers interested in the new reality, where the two universes are connected by a bridge, is for the show to take advantage of this reality’s new storytelling possibilities. “One Night in October” was built around a case that straddles both worlds, and it demonstrated that there is indeed life in the concept of having a bridge between them.
This week’s case involved taking a criminal profiler, John, from Our Side to the Other Side to catch his double, a serial killer, both of whom were played to perfection by John Pyper-Ferguson. (Our Olivia’s profiling expertise was apparently forgotten by the writers, but one could fanwank and say that in a Peter-less world, Olivia never learned how to profile. That doesn’t make much sense, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) When John realizes that he has been taken to an alternate universe, he goes off on his own to confront Alt-John and tell him to renounce his criminal ways. John believes that if he can fight his macabre urges, then his doppelganger should be able to as well. When John was a young boy, he met a woman named Marjorie who showed him that he could be happy, that he could live his life without killing things. Unfortunately, Alt-John never met Alt-Marjorie.
Even if Fringe has previously addressed the idea that people are the product of their choices and circumstances, it’s a concept rich enough to be explored again. So far, we have only seen characters who are well-acquainted with the alternate universe meet their doubles. It was interesting to see John, a civilian who was never aware of the multiple universes, learning about his double and then going to confront him. The scene in which Alt-John hooked John up to his brain freezing machine while John told the story of Marjorie was both creepy and effective, showcasing Alt-John’s desire to experience the happy memories of others. Conceptually speaking, this was a very compelling case.
Unfortunately, the case got a bit too dark at times, sucking the fun out of the episode. Moreover, it was built on a foundation so riddled with plot holes and contrivances that I’m surprised the entire episode didn’t fall apart:
- John found out about the alternate universe by seeing a photo of Alt-John’s father in Alt-John’s house. He then ran outside and saw an Ambered section of the city in the distance. No one thought to remove photos that John could identify from the house, and no one thought to lock the front door! (Alt-Olivia pointing out that she should have removed the photos doesn’t excuse this contrivance. If the writers were aware of it, then they should have fixed it!)
- John escaped to go find Alt-John by crawling through a bathroom window. (Really, they used that cliché.) Nobody standing outside the house saw this, and the guard standing outside the bathroom didn’t hear anything.
- Alt-John was able to capture Noreen in broad daylight at a busy gas station.
- It’s implied that John spent a lot of time with Marjorie after running away from his father. Wouldn’t Marjorie report the missing child to the police?
- John conveniently had the kind of amnesia you only see on TV. Having Alt-John’s freezing tube inserted into his brain caused him to forget about his time in the alternate universe, and voilà! Just like that, we’re back to no civilians knowing about the Other Side.
There was also a lot of eye-roll-inducing silliness in this episode, like Olivia and Astrid gossiping about Lincoln and Olivia (which is hopefully not setting up an Olivia/Peter/Lincoln love triangle), and Alt-Lincoln’s Scooby-Doo-esque discovery of Alt-John’s hideout. (“There was a structure here.” “There’s another one.” “There was a group of structures here!”)
And of course, there was the expected heavy-handedness about Peter not being there. Alt-John had extracted John’s memories of Marjorie from his brain, but John didn’t forget the lessons she taught him. Broyles said it was because “some people leave an indelible mark on your soul.” We then cut immediately to Walter having yet another Peter-lucination. (‘Cause that’s not totally on the nose, right?) At least this one provides a sort of intriguing mystery with Peter’s voice calling out to Walter for help.
But that didn’t happen until the episode’s final minute, and if “One Night in October” showed anything, it’s that a Peter-less Fringe can work. (Blasphemy, I know, right?) Now, I don’t mean “work” in the sense that I’m fully invested in this new timeline, because I’m not. But the show can still put out a relatively entertaining episode that I can enjoy from a distance, plot holes notwithstanding. I feel like we’re kind of back in season 1 here, when I often loved the concepts of the cases of the week, but didn’t care for Olivia’s John-Scott- or Sanford-Harris-related drama. It’s telling that one of my favourite things about this episode was finding out that Alt-Charlie had married the Bug Lady from last season’s “Immortality,” a continuation of something we saw in the previous timeline. While I enjoy seeing what the new versions of the characters are doing, I don’t really care what happens to them, or at least not as much as I care about what happened to a minor character from the previous timeline who had less than five minutes of screen time.
In any case, unlike last week, I actually enjoyed this episode, though I wouldn’t call it a great installment of Fringe. There were too many plot holes, and though the case was compelling, it got weirdly dark at times, almost oppressively so. I’m still not confident that Fringe is going to stick the landing on the Peter mystery, but at least the show has now proven that there are rich storytelling possibilities in being able to tell stories that straddle both worlds, which heightens my level of interest in the new reality considerably.