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Fringe is back from its small break due to, sigh… baseball, but the trend of it being one of the best shows on television continues. That’s a bit surprising for me to say, since I think the show started off somewhat sub-par, but with a lot of potential. However, since about the halfway point of last season, it has escalated to a much higher level of quality. Mainly thanks to the show becoming more serialized and quickly developing its characters. The trend of each episode switching from our universe to the alternate one also continues.
In “Amber 31422”, we follow our Olivia in the alternate universe. This episode is split into two focal points, Olivia seeking the truth and the case that the Fringe division is trying to solve. Of course, the two somewhat mirror each other. The Fringe division is trying to find a man that was broken out of a quarantine zone by his twin brother. The revelation that everyone that’s frozen in that golden gel, aka Amber, is still alive was actually quite horrendous. Even though they said it was “suspended animation”, the brother that was frozen says that he was aware of every second. Due to millions of people being in such a horrible state, the government is rightfully worried if the truth gets out then citizens could try to free the frozen people from quarantine zones, which could make their universe collapse.
That type of duality in the alternate universe is what helps make it so interesting. They’re recovering from such a tragic situation that one of our protagonists accidentally created, so it’s hard to hate them. In earlier seasons the “other side” seemed more like evil monsters than actual people, but this season has done a great job in humanizing them. Olivia having Peter talk to her in almost a Dexter/Harry situation is a good element too. In the case of both shows, the imaginary character is vocally acting as the hero’s subconscious. As Olivia’s suspicions of who she really is grows, so does the complexity of their case.
It turns out that the brother that was frozen in Amber was the innocent one who was there to stop his criminal brother from robbing the bank. During the four years that he was frozen, it seems as if the criminal brother has reformed his ways and has been living under his brother’s identity. That seems to include raising his kids and possibility taking up his martial duties too. Whether or not he slept with his sister-in-law is left ambiguous, but a twin living with his brother’s widow for four years pretending to be her husband and kids father, probably isn’t going to sleep in the guest bedroom for all of that time.
Twins switching is obviously hard to prove and our Olivia being the only one to notice says a lot about her character. It seems as if our Olivia is a better investigator and leader, while alternate Olivia seems more like a soldier and assassin. The past two episodes back that up. Alternate Olivia allowed Peter to be the leader in the previous episode and had very little problem with killing an innocent deaf man or cheating on her boyfriend with Peter. While our Olivia was the only one to realize what was going on and allowed the innocent brother to live his life after the former criminal brother sacrificed himself. It seems as if the differences between the two Olivias and all of the characters in each universe are more nurture over nature. The alternate universe characters are so extreme because of the adversity that they have faced, which goes back to the tragic nature of their universe and this show in general.
Both plotlines end on a slightly somber note. The scene where it’s revealed that the former bank robber wasn’t trying to get “one last score”, but instead purposely be frozen in Amber so his brother could live his life, was a bittersweet moment. The same goes for Olivia experiences next. After imaginary Peter finally convinces her to a certain point that he’s right, Olivia volunteers to take another trip in the tank and returns to our universe. Things going from so hopeful that she’s back home in our New York, to then being transported back to the alternate one, was another sad moment. On the bright side of things, at least she knows who she is again. Both universes and set of characters have been very interesting. Between watching a somewhat futuristic version of our world and rotating to one that’s even more advanced but also totalitarian, it almost seems like two different shows are being aired. Now that our Olivia knows what’s going on, it’s only a short matter of time before she’s home for good. The dramatic tension of her doing so and the pending collision from when she finally does, is probably the most interesting plotline that’s on television right now.