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Fringe always seems to step its game up whenever they do an episode outside of the standard formula – basically, whenever the opening credits look different. There have been a couple episodes set in the 80s that explore the origins of this whole crazy war between universes that have been pretty amazing, and also a number of episodes this season set entirely on the other side that have been very good as well. It’s like the change in setting invigorates the writers and cast, and lets them do new things. Last night’s episode was another one set in the other universe, and while it seemed to function mainly to move the plot along, it was still a very effective and interesting hour of TV.
So the other Olivia (from this point forward just assume every character’s name would be preceded with “the other”) is pregnant, and while Walter and her mom are excited about their grandchild, Olivia is terribly worried. On this side her sister died in childbirth along with her infant daughter, due to a condition known as VPE, and because of the familial connection Olivia has an 80% change of also being a carrier. Any excitement at the thought of being a mother is tempered by the strong odds that she won’t survive to experience it. Her concerns become more focused though when she almost sees an Observer outside her apartment and then gets abducted before the security detail Lincoln sends can get there.
Lincoln and Charlie are anxious to get their partner back, and they think they have a shot because of the tracking device in her. It’s a dead end though, because apparently the kidnappers knew about the tracker and had the protocol to throw them off the scent. Only someone with high clearance could have done that, so someone inside the Fringe division must have been in on it. They’re also aware she’s pregnant, because we see them strap her into a gurney and turn on some equipment, including a strange light that they shine on her stomach.
Astrid uses her crazy data analysis to find a car that has driven by Olivia’s house an improbable number of times recently. Thinking it might be connected to the kidnapping, Charlie and Lincoln track it down, but it’s just the taxi driven by Henry, the guy who helped our Olivia a while back (or The Wire's Bubbles, as he'll always be known to me). He saw his universe’s Olivia recently but she didn’t seem to recognize him, which concerned him, so he’s been checking up on her. Some things he says lead the Fringe guys to figure out that the Olivias were switched at some point, which Walter confirms to Lincoln. They both become aware that they’re not being told everything about this whole conflict.
We find out that the kidnappers are accelerating her pregnancy, causing the infant to grow to term in only a few hours, and they also seem to be preparing her body for childbirth. It’s an idea the show has played with before, and they get some nice sick imagery out of it. Despite being able to grow a fetus that quickly, the kidnappers aren’t smart enough to keep her sedated with something better than a pill, which eventually enables her to escape their clutches and wander through Chinatown while in the throes of labor. She calls Lincoln from a pay phone, and he and Henry manage to find her across town before the kidnappers who were within walking distance. She gives birth in a store while Lincoln confesses his love, and miraculously she and the baby both survive.
It turns out that the accelerated pregnancy managed to let her give birth before VPE could replicate quickly enough to take effect, meaning the kidnappers were really helping her the whole time. Putting that together with the fact that they had the clearance to get past the tracker, and it’s pretty clear that Walter was behind it. He had to make sure his grandson survived at any cost. I’m not sure what he’s planning yet, but I bet it’s going to big. Also, the Observer makes a cryptic phone call.This episode had a few flaws. The plotting is fairly contrived to get to the whole Olivia-giving-birth-in-Lincoln’s arms thing, and I’m not quite sure why I should care about that development. It’s not really clear what the plan was if she didn’t escape – would she and the baby and have been returned safe, or were they planning to keep it? It doesn’t seem likely when Walter can pretty much do as he pleases and seemed content to let Olivia keep him at the hospital. Still, the episode itself was well directed and tense, with some classic Fringe creepiness. I also still enjoy the alternate universe stuff, even if some of the differences feel formulaic at this point. Hey, Taxi Driver was directed by Coppola instead of Scorsese over here, and it isn’t very famous! Wow! Just four episodes left in the season, though luckily it was confirmed this week that the show was renewed for another year. I don’t expect it will survive past that point given the slowly but steadily dwindling audience, but it gives them a chance to do something really special with the time they’ll get.