The Wife:

I’m not sure if Fringe was trying to reference The Matrix, The Butterfly Effect or I Know Who Killed Me this week with its storyline about Olivia’s visions of alternate paths on the timeline of one’s choices (see episode title!) and twins who didn’t know they were twins who were made into weapons by ZFT when they were trained to become firestarters in childhood. (They kind of ended up referencing all three.)The only problem with this is that, like Olivia and apparently all other children experimented on by ZFT, these people are unaware until recently (their “activation”) that they possess these powers, which leads one of the twins, Susan, to burn up from the inside and spontaneously combust. As Olivia tracks down Susan and tries to discover why she may have blown up (as Peter so tactfully likes to put it), she keeps having visions of things being slightly different than they actually are. Where one charred body lies, she sees two. Where Broyle’s desk once was, it is not. In fact, she has glimpses of entire conversations with people before/differently than they actually occurred. This déjà vu, Walter supposes, is an ability given to Olivia by ZFT as a child, an ability to look into an alternate reality. I don’t feel like this side effect of the Cortexafam really adds much to Olivia or to her struggle, but it seemed to be marginally helpful to her here, once the confusion stopped, of course. By peering into the alternate reality, she was able to discern that Susan had a sister who might meet the same fate without some intervention.

Yup. That's a real live dead alien.

Yup. That's a real live dead alien.

In their search for Susan’s twin, Peter and Olivia pay a visit to conspiracy theorist Clint Howard, who proceeds to tell them about an American graduate student in Budapest that spontaneously combusted and blames it all on William Bell and Massive Dynamic, the latter of which he purports is merely a cover organization for all of Bell’s wholly unethical activities. He suggests Bell is activating his ZFT soldiers for an upcoming war, which is why, we’re supposed to infer, the events of The Pattern are occurring. And whom will this war be fought against? Why, only the Romulans! Because this show is produced by J.J. Abrams! And Star Trek is coming out this Friday! So, naturally, crazy Trekker conspiracy theorist believes the Trekverse is real and that he is, in fact, Spock. But he cannot be, you see, for Leonard Nimoy is William Bell! My exclamations of these facts are meant to mock the completely unwarranted, unnecessary and wholly unsubtle tie-ins to Abrams’ next project. Look, ya’ll, I will be seeing Star Trek this weekend because I grew up on that shit and I’ve been squeeing at the trailer every time I see it. I’m even okay with turning the Lost titlecard into the Enterprise beaming itself into a commercial (because that’s kind of a neat transition), but this was a moment that, while amusing because it’s Clint Howard, totally drew me out of the show. There were other ways to show us that Clint Howard wasn’t entirely right in the head without beating us over the head with Trek. Bad Robot, we’re watching Fringe. We’re excited for Nimoy. Chances are, we’ll be seeing Trek this weekend and giving you all of our hard earned geek dollars. You didn’t need to be so obtuse about this.

Anyway, while I was busy rolling my eyes but smirking at the Trek monologue, Harris is back and rubbing Olivia the wrong way by asking her to do things like take psych evaluations. She refuses, particularly because, in an alternate reality, Olivia is able to track down Susan’s missing twin who is still alive, but unfortunately, an Isaac Winters gets to her first in reality reality. At her apartment, there are signs of a struggle, and Peter notices that the glass has been melted on one of her windows, indicating her firestarting abilities. He pops out a nice little disc of glass and reveals his plan to use the new machine he’s been making out of Walter’s old machines to read the sound imprinted on the glass like a record. (Abrams is fond of comparing things to records, no?) This is a gift to his father, so he can copy all of his jacked up old albums, which truly pleases Walter. After adjusting the white noise and a bunch of other sound-related tinkering, they’re able to play the glass record and hear Susan’s twin Nancy being abducted. They also hear a phone being dialed, so Olivia asks Peter to clarify the sound so she can use her tone-dialing app to connect her to whomever the kidnapper called . . . and it’s Harris. That scene was really cool, and filled with the kind of super-fringey fringe science we were promised. This is probably my favorite use of weird science on the show, right alongside using homing pigeons as a GPS.

Olivia and Francis track Nancy to the warehouse where Harris has taken her and while they search for the girl, Olivia finds a board with pictures of various former ZFT experiment participants, including the twins and herself. Harris manages to surprise her and locks her in the conflagration room with Nancy, who, agitated, starts heating up. Olivia tries to calm her down and tries to get Nancy to direct her energy elsewhere, so that she doesn’t blow up. Nancy fares better than her twin sister and is able to light Harris on fire, killing him while saving her own life. Remember that light box Olivia had to know how to turn off with her mind? That was attached to Nancy, and I wonder why Olivia didn’t have to turn it off in order to remove Nancy from the machines she was hooked to in the conflagration room. It seems odd just to have it appear there and not be used.

Afterward, Olivia interrogates Walter about his involvement in ZFT and why there are so damned many kids from Jacksonville who are either dead or super fucked-up. Walter, who earlier finally showed Astrid and Peter his wonky y-ed typewriter and has spent the episode searching for a missing chapter of the ZFT manifesto which would prove the organization had some honorable intentions, insists to her that they were trying to prepare the kids in their experiments for something terrible coming. When pressed, Walter can’t remember what and breaks down, from a combination of Olivia’s bullying and his own terrible guilt. Later, in his lab, he finds the missing chapter, which proves that ZFT’s intentions were to better prepare humanity to survive the coming war (against persons from another dimension, we have been told), by producing stronger, better-equipped children who, when the time comes, will be the humanity’s hope. But Walter is given no chance to present these findings to his colleagues, as The Observer has come for him, simply stating, “Walter, it’s time to go.” Without questioning him, Walter goes to get his coat.

Nina Sharp drops by Broyles’ house to deliver a packet of photographs of The Observer, stating that something ominous happened the last time he appeared with such frequency. When she returns to her office, she is shot when she steps off the elevator. Which kind of sucks, because I think every Fringe viewer loved Nina Sharp and (maybe, secretly) hoped she would be revealed as Peter’s mother. I’m assuming Bell had Nina killed because, with the war coming, he no longer needs Massive Dynamic as a front, and, clearly, she’d caught on to some badness and needed to be put asunder. As for The Observer, I believe he’s taken Walter to meet with his former partner, at long last bringing ZFT back together.

So what do we make of this? On the whole, this episode was middling at best, plugging the mytharc forward by following a largely uninteresting Freak-of-the-Week story and giving Olivia a serviceable (though I presume not entirely always this helpful) power to see the other side of a timeline. It certainly wasn’t as strong as “Bad Dreams,” but was less engaging than “Midnight.” The revelation that ZFT was experimenting on children to make soldiers for good wasn’t all that telling for me, as that’s the vibe I’ve been getting from the kiddie experiments all along. The Observer taking Walter and Nina’s death were both good, surprising and eerie moments, and are probably the most memorable bits of this episode. I did, however, think John Noble was brilliant as Walter this week, digging right into the sadness of a man who knows he has done questionable things but is looking for something, anything that can exonerate him. More than anything, he needs to believe that his involvement in ZFT was for a good, if mad scientist-y, reason. And when he finds that missing chapter, he is assured of his own belief, after having it doubt casts upon it only hours earlier by Olivia, doubts so haunting it reduced him to tears.

I told you I'd be Drew Barrymore for Halloween! I told you!

I told you I'd be Drew Barrymore for Halloween! I told you!

On another note, how happy do you think Stephen King is to hear his name and invention of the word “pyrokenetic” used on the show? I fully expect him to write about it in EW, because he loves, loves, loves pop culture and being a part of the zeitgeist.

The Husband:

While all the Trek stuff was, indeed, eye-rolling, I was satisfied enough in my head to know that Clint Howard, brother of Ron, also happened to be in one of the first episodes of the original Star Trek series, “The Corbomite Maneuver,” one of my favorites from season 1 of TOS, excluding, of course, the Athens-looking planet episode with the stationary gigantic ghost finger in the sky, as well as the Khan-focused season finale.

In it, the crew is toyed with by a silly, fake-looking alien on their monitor (or whatever it is you nerds call it), commander of a vessel intent on destroying the Enterprise, but by episode’s end, the Enterprise crew finds that they’ve been had – the alien was just a puppet, and the enemy ship is piloted only by a smart, tiny child who was testing the merits of the crew. Silly Clint Howard. The image of the puppet would be used frequently in the end credits of the show, and would be a super-inside joke during the credits of the Futurama episode “Where No Fan Has Gone Before.”

The Wife:

I guess I’d better make this a good Fringe post, considering I won’t be writing about it again until April. I was completely unprepared for that announcement at the end of the show, as I thought Fox was all about giving Fringe the post-Idol ratings boost. But nope! It’s not going to get that boost for the whole Idol journey. It’s just going to pick up that boost in April. Over 6 weeks from now.

Maybe that scheduling explains why the four episodes they’ve aired since the holiday break have been so scattershot compared to the dense string of story-heavy episodes we saw leading up to the holiday break. They’re just tiding us over until the really good shit returns. But even so, “Ability,” I think, will end up being a key episode in this series as it finally explains why Olivia would be drawn into this kind of work and what makes her so special. As it happens, she was dosed as a child with a drug called Cortexafam, which unhinges the mind’s self-limiting possibilities, making her able to perform feats of extreme psychic ability. Jones knew this about her, and that’s why he chose her to be his interlocutor and, as he calls it, his warrior.

The “freak-meet” in the cold open seemingly had little to do with the rest of this episode, although it was definitely a really cool one: a man with no reflection (vampire?) buys a paper and pays with a $2 bill, after which the paper seller’s orifices start to seal shut. Like, his eyes and mouth sew themselves shut. This appears only once more in the episode when Francis and Dunham investigate Jones’ lab (with his hyperbaric anti-time travel chamber) and an FBI agent they’re with touches an errant $2. Olivia tries to stop the man’s imminent demise by giving him an emergency tracheotomy, but, lo! his skin seals over the trach tube, which was totally freaky and totally awesome.

At this point, Jones has placed himself in Olivia’s custody and after she watches her agent die, Jones tells her that he plans to kill about 700 people in this manner. He will tell her how to stop it, but first “there’s the matter of the key.” She must take the key he had on him when he entered the Boston Federal Building and go pick up a box of children’s games which amount to a series of 10 tests. Once she passes the first test, he will tell her how to stop his next attack.

Meanwhile, Olivia has had Peter use some of his special contacts to track down a manuscript with the initials ZFT, thinking perhaps that ZFT was never an organization but, perhaps, the bible of sorts for Jones and his comrades. He manages to track down a single copy of the unpublished manuscript and starts reading it. The text expresses fears the apocalypse will be brought about by technology and is a call to arms, of sorts, for “unwilling recruits” who will be brought into this battle as “warriors.” Walter becomes oddly fascinated with the text itself, enmeshed in the quality of the ideas contained within.

When Olivia goes over the instructions for her series of tests, she recognizes that the language is similar on the instruction cards and in the ZFT manuscript and realize that she’s about to go through Jones’ recruitment procedure. Her first test asks her to turn off a light board with only her mind, a task Olivia doesn’t believe she can do. But with time running out before the next attack, she asks Peter to try to rewire the board so that she can fake it before Jones and move on to stop the attack.

By this time, Jones is suffering from some major time-travel sickness thanks to the machine Walter created (no nosebleeds, though, just a lot of coughing and other respiratory issues) and has been brought into Walter’s care in the lab. He tells Olivia that he knows she can do the test because she was treated with Cortexafam as a child, and anyone treated with that should be able to do the test. Olivia, of course, has no idea what he’s talking about, even though he claims that he was the one who kidnapped her and tested her to be sure with the spinal tap she was given in “Bound.”

She finds out that Cortexafam is manufactured at Massive Dynamic and heads up to ask Nina Sharp some questions about it. Nina tells her that it was part of a clinical trial done by William Bell in 1981 intended to expand one’s mental abilities. The trials were conducted on children until 1983 in Wooster, OH. Having gown up in Jacksonville, Florida during that time, Olivia is sure that she hasn’t been treated with the drug and that Jones has no idea what he’s talking about. Still, she returns to the lab to attempt the test, which Peter has been able to successfully rewire.

I should have known I would be tested on this . . .

I should have known I would be tested on this . . .

Once she passes, Jones gives her the address where the next attack will take place: 923 Church St., 47th floor. When she arrives there with Peter, she finds a bomb attached to the window . . . that can only be stopped by disabling the same light board she supposedly just disabled with her mind. She calls Jones and he gives her a pep talk, discussing his faith in Olivia despite the fact that he knew she faked the first test. At her wits end, Olivia decides to try to disable the light board and, after an intense minute, manages to successfully do so with on her mind and 2 seconds left on the clock.

She is in complete disbelief about how she achieved this, until Nina Sharp calls and tells her that Bell conducted a second set of clinical trials in Jacksonville at a military base, the same one at which Olivia’s father was stationed. She goes to talk to Jones, presumably about why she has been chosen for this task, and arrives in his room at Boston General to find that he has hulked out in some way and has left a larger than man-sized hole in the wall of his very much not on the ground floor room. This, just as Astrid compliments Walter on the invention of a teleportation device, which is cool except for the fact that it kills you. According to Walter, “it does something unthinkable, but it doesn’t kill you.” I suppose we’ll have to wait to see exactly how unthinkable whatever happened to Jones was . . .

Finally, after some long contemplation about the ZFT manuscript, Walter notices that the typewriter upon which it was written has a wonky y key that places the Ys above where they should be. He pulls out his old typewriter, and discovers that the manuscript is his own work.

From this, I glean that Walter and Jones are and always have been on the side of “good” (whatever that means) in this battle, and any ZFT followers are actually intended to fight against the bioterror attacks that make up The Pattern. Although I don’t quite know the full text of the manuscript and its implications, it seems as through ZFT followers are generally fearful about the destruction of mankind at the hands of technology, and their chief means of fighting that seems to be, for lack of a better term, building a better man. I could be entirely wrong about this, but it starts to explain why Walter knows so much about all the weird shit they’re seeing. But who knows – maybe Loeb’s warning from “Bound” is right, and Olivia has no idea what side she’s on.

The Husband:

Yeah, Idol semifinals and the first few weeks of the Top 12 are always two-hour episodes, so it’s definitely hard to have that Tuesday at 9 p.m. spot on Fox, even if it does mean a boost later on. (House has been the biggest receiver of the Idol bump.) But hey, there are only so many episodes of Fringe, and I don’t really care when I get them so long as I get them.

As far this episode is concerned, I have so many more questions than answers that I may even rewatch this on Hulu, but I am very elated that Olivia has finally become part of the big picture and not just hanging out on the outside of everything, only occasionally using her telepathic-esque connection to John Scott to come up with answers. I’m glad that this is one of the few shows where I can say that the main female character is actually the muscle of the group, but revealing that she was part of the Cortexafam trial is just great.

And for once, I actually loved the fact that Walter was so directly involved in the central mystery because of his past work, because this time it wasn’t just an excuse to cover a few plot holes but in fact a true item of forward momentum to the show’s mytharc. The moment Walter hits the “Y” key may be the best scene this show has ever had, and it involved zero special effects and zero craziness.