Fringe, “Amber 31422”

Fringe has been gone too long. It’s been less than a month, but when the best drama series on network television goes away, I miss it. What can I say? Tonight, the series makes its return to the alternate universe where we get some new information about the quarantines, as well dipped further into Olivia’s psyche as Peter tries to pull her back into her own brain so to speak.

Although “Amber 31422” isn’t up to the same quality as the first four episodes of the season, it feels like something of a transitional or mini-premiere for this string of episodes that suggests a whole lot of cool stuff coming in the future. For the most part, this episode doesn’t succeed in the ways that past episodes have because the case isn’t on the level of an episode like “The Plateau.” There are elements that work and I’m always happy to see the Ashmore brothers get a good gig, but it’s fairly traditional in the way it plays out.

The set-up is intriguing: A notorious bank robber who did some awful stuff to complete said crimes found himself trapped in the quarantined amber some four years ago, but at the beginning of the episode is apparently broken out (and as we see, it’s by his twin brother). The team is called in to investigate because absolutely no one has ever broken out of the amber or survived being stuck in it, and so Olivia, Charlie and Lincoln assume this bank robber has figured out some crazy tactics. Mid-way through the episode it’s revealed that the bank robber twin was actually posing as the “good” twin, who had gotten trapped in amber way back when because he was trying to stop his brother from robbing another banking and hurting people. And in the end, the bad twin sacrifices himself because he feels guilty for all the awful things he’s done.

Like I said, it’s not a bad story and probably ranks somewhere right above the middle in terms of Fringe cases, but it’s a simple step down from what we’ve seen thus far in season three. They’re not all going to be home runs, this one feels more like a nice stand-up double. The Ashmores do good work and it’s fun to see them play off one another, but they aren’t given a whole lot to do other than look sad and lie to the team.

There’s one interesting note about the amber: Walternate doesn’t want the media or really anyone to find out that someone survived the amber because apparently, everyone who is trapped in there is still alive and experiencing their last thought forever. Of course that opens up the situation for all sorts of questioning: Do these people age? Is there a real reason to trap things in amber at all in the first place or is it mostly a way for Walternate to, let me borrow a phrase from Stephen Colbert here, keep the fear alive? This presumption definitely adds another layer of menace to Walternate and suggests some interesting things moving forward.

One other thing before I get to Olivia’s journey in “Amber”: The Earth-2 episodes have done a really great job of making the team great people to be around. These episodes are already missing the Walter and Astrid we really like (Broyles is basically the same dude) and until this episode, is also missing Peter for the most part, so it’s nice that Lincoln and Charlie are pretty cool guys that seem legitimately interested in making sure that Olivia is safe. It would have easy to make them malicious or at least suspicious characters, but they’re just doing their jobs and they care for their Olivia, even if they don’t know this isn’t her (well, Charlie is figuring it out).

As for Olivia, this episode really succeeds when the focus turns to her inner battle with “Peter,” which is of course just her subconscious telling her that she’s in the wrong place. It’s a well-used approach, but both Anna Torv and Joshua Jackson, who gets to play a much more playful and direct Peter than his real self, are doing a fine job selling this inner dialogue that Olivia is having with herself.

She is slowly starting to remember that she’s not in the right place and the last five minutes of the episode are the best because she finally takes control of a situation in which she’s unknowingly lacked power. Walternate is putting her in the tank — nice callback — and pumping her full of drugs to get her to transport back to Earth-1, but now she’s aware of her position and can use that to her advantage. Because her experience is completely her own, she can easily lie to Walternate and tell him that she didn’t actually travel anywhere, which I presume is how she’ll contact Peter in future episodes. And interestingly, Walternate seems to have no clue about the Cortexiphan that’s basically ingrained in Olivia’s brain, I’m sure that will come into play later as well.

Not a very successful effort, but like I said, as a makeshift reintroduction after nearly a month off, I’m good with “Amber 31422” and particularly excited for what the beats here could mean in the future.

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