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“Worlds Apart” did many things wrong, but what was done right was done extremely well. Regardless of how we got to the final farewell scenes, each of them was a gem and showed how much Fringe, like all the best sci-fi series, is more a character study than a tale centered around advanced technology and a world unlike our own.
The episode told the story of the beginning of the end of the two universes and of their decision to be apart to prevent that end from happening. David Robert Jones sets things in motion by having cortexiphan subjects connecting with their counterparts on the Other Side, causing earthquakes at the same locations in both universes. The earthquakes are only the first signs of the apocalypse as the end goal is to get the two universes to vibrate at the same frequency and destroy each other. The crisis is such that the two Fringe teams and the Secretary meet at the bridge to listen to Walter. One thing leading to another, Peter ultimately suggests to sever the link between the two universes to prevent their destruction by cutting off what is perceived as the means through which the cortexiphan subjects communicate.
Since its breathtaking introduction at the end of season two, the Other Side has always been that alternate place with fascinating characters of which the series couldn’t afford to dwell too deep. When you are in the business of telling stories, you generally have to pick your protagonists and stick with them, and in Fringe our heroes have always been Olivia Dunham and her companions on this Side. After what I consider the creative leap at the end of season two that introduced us to Fauxlivia and the alternate universe’s impressive Fringe Division, the show spent some time on the Other Side where Olivia was held captive and many didn’t like having to follow “two” stories, no matter how gripping things became then. After Olivia returned, some people (like me) hoped for more of the crimson universe, but we knew the show would only return there when it had to.
Because the Other Side was arguably designed well after the first season’s full run, the showrunners could use it to project a place and alternate characters, unlike the originals we were then familiar with. Going back to the drawing board always gives us the possibility to improve, which is what was done here to an extent, while making sure the viewer’s heart was still in the right place (read with Olivia and her Bishops). Because the show couldn’t afford to spend too much time on the Other Side, those improvements and the need to give us enough to understand the place and its people gave a certain quality to every single episode set in the crimson universe (speaking of crimson, is it only a coincidence that the color of the intro for episodes set on the Other Side matches Fauxlivia’s hair color?)
To supplement all those details and make the Other Side even more thrilling, there were the dynamics of the relationship between the universes, which mostly mirrored the resentment harbored by the Secretary, as well as the relationships between some characters and their doppelgangers. To be more specific, it came down to how some members of the cast could make us love or hate different versions of the same character throughout most of the third season, then gradually turn things around and make us feel for both versions. All this is why the farewell scenes at the bridge were so heartfelt.
Alt-Astrid said goodbye to a friend, maybe the only one she has ever had. It was sweet to see her initiate the farewell with her usual shyness. Those two had a refreshing relationship, unlike any other between the universes. On a very different note, Peter’s farewell to the Secretary came with the reservation one might have with a father that’s never been a dad. No matter the timeline, Peter will always associate the word “dad” to Walter, for better or worse. That was a given with the character, even before factoring Olivia into the picture.
Lincoln’s choice has been in the making for several episodes now, but I liked how the episode brought it up through Peter with the “home is where the heart is” line. It was smooth to have Fauxlivia both genuinely surprised and pleased by Lincoln’s decision. To me, the best thing about the scene was how Fauxlivia’s reaction was restrained, nothing in her showed she had jumped to any conclusion about his decision, meaning Lincoln might spend the rest of his life on the Other Side as her friend and nothing more, which would really be sad.
When Walternate discovered what Walter had done by crossing over to “abduct” his son Peter, he turned his self-destructing feelings into resentment and that almost brought the world to its end in both timelines. Walter always knew that his actions were responsible for the dire conditions on the Other Side, but also that he had robbed a man and his wife of their child. “Worlds Apart” showed that very well through his attempt to appear dignified (with the help of his tie) in front of Walternate, and with his worry that his doppelganger couldn’t even stay in the same room with him. Bidding goodbye to the other universe could not be complete without some sort of closure between those two and Walter got just that. The scene with them sitting on the floor was excellent and those tears Walter shed were as much about the risk of losing Peter with the Machine shutdown as they were about Walternate making “peace” through his words and through the act of sitting down in such an undignified way with him.
Which brings us to the most interesting farewell of all. More than others, the differences between Olivia and Fauxlivia mirror those between the two universes. The buttoned-up Olivia and her low-key Fringe team on this Side have always been a stark contrast to the loosened-up, restless Fauxlivia and her all-powerful Fringe Division. What is interesting is how they have always been awkward around each other, with Olivia being even more distant than she usually is and Fauxlivia harboring that smirk she uses to hide some of her feelings. As expected, it was Fauxlivia who opened up first and actually expressed her admiration for Olivia who returned the favor. Through their conversation, it was as if the story was telling us that the two universes together are better than each of them taken separately. I liked how that spoke to the larger narrative.
What the episode lacked was a smooth ride to those final moments. The science in Fringe is better when it doesn’t give us the time or the possibility to think too much. Here, when Walter spoke of Jones’s intentions, he gave us both the time and the wrong visual connections. The expression, “big bang” conjured up the primordial singularity at the beginning of everything, so there was no way for me to picture anything or anyone managing to shield themselves from it like Jones is planning to do, even with the drawings of the planet showed to maybe reduce the scope in our minds. In the same vain, with only six hours before the end of things, I thought Olivia could have just shown the Other Side to Nick Lane to prove her point instead of discussing how both sides are at peace. After all, they brought alt-Nick over to Walter for some mundane mind connection earlier. Finally, although we would like such things to happen, it didn’t sound right when Washington handed over executive power on something that was to govern the fate of the world to Broyles and a team that really doesn’t seem that powerful on this Side.
“Worlds Apart” brought a heartfelt conclusion to the connection between the two universes. It might have been precipitated by the series uncertain fate, but it would be wrong to reverse it. I would rather welcome a glimpse to the Other Side to check how they are faring, or even a spin-off of the series revisiting the events of the last four years with Fauxlivia as the main character. Well, one can dream.