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The first half of the two-part season finale made us worry about its victims (or those likely to become victims), and it made us feel for the series’ regular characters in a story that paid much more attention to its pace than to its consistency, but it worked beautifully.
The episode starts with shots of a man stopping by a coffee stand for a cup of his regular beverage. After collecting it, he takes an escalator on his way out of the building. As he steps out, he collapses, apparently victim of an internal spontaneous combustion. For the next few seconds, others around him also fall until a woman realizes they are all dying because they are moving and she shouts “Don’t Move!” With that opening scene, the episode had the audience caught up in its story and kept unraveling it with the same sense of wonder until the very end. Called on the scene, Walter concludes the victims have been infected by microscopic robots (nanites) that have infested their cells, causing the whole body to heat up when excited by movement. A surveillance video shows David Robert Jones installing the nanite spreading device and the team realizes closing the bridge to the other universe might not have completely put away the threat Jones represents.
We then meet Jessica Holt, a young single mother who courageously volunteers to be used by Walter as guinea pig in the search for an antidote. Walter is two minutes away from synthesizing the antidote when Jessica heats up and is about to go through internal combustion when Olivia, holding her hand, somehow stops it. The scene and the intensity of Olivia’s feelings are such that there is no doubt she is the reason why Jessica cells cooled off. It would appear that with her recent cortexiphan treatment, she might have developed a new ability: telekinesis at a molecular level. The scene worked because Olivia obviously didn’t know what she was doing, but also because the episode quickly established an emotional connection between the two women.
After finding the cure, Walter takes the time to examine the nanites and becomes convinced they have been designed by William Bell, and this is where things become even more interesting. In this timeline, William Bell purportedly died in a car accident. Walter’s discovery leads to a confrontation with Nina Sharp who identified her lover’s body after the accident seven years earlier and, understandably, doesn’t believe he’s still alive. Walter conducts an investigation that leads him back to St Claire and ultimately to William Bell, but the return of Bell in Walter’s life is somewhat overshadowed by what immediately precedes it: Astrid’s fighting, Astrid shooting a gun and Astrid being wounded.
Throughout the episode, we were reminded of Astrid’s special bond with Walter. Over the course of the past four years, she’s grown used to “mother-hen” him and to enjoy it to a certain extent. A very competent linguistic major and computer science minor, Astrid also became (by virtue of her work with Walter) an effective lab assistant, but we never saw her using her law enforcement training before “Brave New World (1).” She was really impressive in her action scene, from her surprise martial-art moves to her handling of a gun while dragging Walter along. It’s even more impressive because the young woman has a very subdued personality and easily fades in the background whenever it is needed. Something the show has been channeling through Walter still failing, after four years, to get her name right (“No one is asking you to join me Alex!”). The scene at the harbor was an emotional peak because of all that, and because just before William Bell appeared, Astrid was severely wounded.
The founder of Massive Dynamic was first seen earlier in the episode in a scene with David Robert Jones who ran to him after the cure was synthesized. I liked how Bell went on about the difference between a winning move and a winning protracted game, how he spoke about the need of sacrificing the most important piece on the chessboard, and above all how the piece on the actual chess game in his office was a bishop. Jones understood William’s order to mean he needed to get rid of Peter Bishop and set off an elaborate scheme to do it. His plan made us worry for Olivia and Peter until Olivia’s newfound ability came in handy, but the whole storyline was grabbing for a reason that had nothing to do with her power.
It took the season twenty one episodes to show us the first glimpse into Olivia’s and Peter’s happiness. Sure, by episode fifteen (“A Short Story About Love”) they were together, but since then, so much has happened that there’s been hardly any time to focus on the relationship. At the beginning of this first half of the two-part finale, we had the couple trying to pick a house. The two leads were very effective in turning the scene into a funny moment, and then later into a touching one when the nursery came up. To fully understand this, you have to realize that Olivia suggesting a nursery represents an evolution from a future in a different timeline. In the previous season finale, Peter found himself in a future where Olivia didn’t want to bring a child into this troubled world, so beyond being pleased that she is considering having his children, there is the fact that he (and us with him) know how far she’s come. That’s how impressive character development in Fringe across timelines is.
Later in the episode, there was even more heartfelt scene (the personal-guarantee scene) between the two that prepared us for the rooftops moments. Just like Walter and Astrid had their own embedded storyline into the episode, Peter and Olivia — being more close than they usually are — changed our perception of their scenes together, making them more intense. And that ultimately overshadowed David Robert Jones realization that he was the sacrificial lamb. The appearance of William Bell silenced a part of me who had been complaining all along. Because of how effective the showrunners have been during the season in their cross-timeline references, it’s always been difficult for me to picture Jones as the person pulling the strings at such a scale. Now, with Bell in the picture, we have an antagonist worthy of the team and who doesn’t seem like a letdown after Walternate in the previous season.
The only quibble I have with the episode is that Jones seems to have taken the most twisted way to get rid of Peter. With all the technology and “people” at his disposal, there was certainly a simpler way to kill Peter Bishop than shooting a beam of sunlight through a building to lead Peter to a rooftop, all this after a painstaking triangulation of a signal that could have been missed by the team! Ultimately, “Brave New World (1)” was much better than many of the recent episodes of Fringe. It effectively used the relationships between its main characters as a glue that allowed us to move from one emotional peak to the next, making them resonate better.