FRINGE 4.21 ‘Brave New World, Part 1’

Olivia's full abilities begin to emerge as the Fringe team faces its true enemy for the first time.

Blair Marnellby Blair Marnell

Episode Title: "Brave New World, Part 1"

Writers: J. H. Wyman, Jeff Pinkner & Akiva Goldsman

Director: Joe Chappelle

Previously on "Fringe":

Episode 4.20: "Worlds Apart"

Story:

On an otherwise normal day at a train station, several commuters begin to spontaneously combust from the inside. One of the infected women tells the other people around her that they will die if they move, so they stay deathly still as the victims around them burn. Elsewhere, Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) lounges in bed with Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) as they seriously contemplate starting a family together. But they are soon called into the train station, alongside Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole) and Peter's father, Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble). While examining the victims, Walter meets a particularly brave woman named Jessica Holt (Rebecca Mader), who leads Walter to examine the escalator. 

Sure enough, Walter finds a strange machine attached to the escalator which somehow infected its victims with nanites that are activated by movements in the host bodies. With the nanites becoming more and more sensitive to movement before combusting, Jessica volunteers to be brought back to Walter's lab at Harvard after being assured that her family will be taken care of if she dies.Once at Harvard, Peter and Walter make progress on a cure while Jessica becomes frustrated after calling her ex-husband to pick up their daughter. Jessica's heightened emotional state begins to trigger the nanites in her body, but somehow Olivia is able to use her Cortexiphan induced powers to save Jessica long enough for Walter to administer the cure.

While examining the nanites more closely, Walter seems to recognize something familiar in their design. Meanwhile, Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick) informs the team that the nanites were planted by David Robert Jones (Jared Harris) himself; causing them to question whether his plan to collapse the universes is still in play despite the shut down of the Bridge. Walter also insists that Jones could not have created the nanites and he seems to indicate that they are the work of his former partner, William Bell (Leonard Nimoy). Walter's suspicion is confirmed when Jones reports his failure to a very much alive Bell.

Bell seems amused by the latest setback and he suggests that a sacrifice will be necessary for their endgame. Jones infers that Bell wants Peter Bishop eliminated and he quickly agrees to take care of it. At Massive Dynamic, Walter tells Nina Sharp (Blair Brown) that Bell is alive and the power behind Jones' plans, but Nina refuses to believe that the man she cared for would threaten to destroy both universes. She insists that Bell died in a car accident on Christmas, 2005. But Walter remembers seeing Bell on New Year's Eve at St. Claire's sanitarium only a few days later. Accompanied by Olivia and Peter, Walter meets the new administrator of St. Claire's and goes over the visitors' logbook.  

Although Bell's name is not in the book, Walter bizarrely licks a page before asking to borrow the book. Hours later, Olivia tells Peter that she's having second thoughts about starting a family after seeing Jessica's daughter nearly lose her mother. As he reassures her, they see a blinding light from the city. Within the city itself, Broyles and several others sees a column of pure sunlight cut through a building like butter. Walter quickly theorizes that Jones is reflecting sunlight off of a satellite and that they have only a short time before it ignites an oil reserve beneath the surface. Fortunately, Walter is able to track the frequencies used by Jones to control the satellite and he sends Peter and Olivia to disable them.

Soon enough, Peter and Olivia find two satellites on adjacent buildings and they split up to disable them. Unknown to them, Jones is watching from a nearby car before he follows Peter into his building. Back at Harvard, Astrid watches as Walter performs a Cortexiphan experiment with a page from the St. Claire's logbook that recreates an oil stain and fingerprints on the paper. Walter suggests that the oil came from Chilean almonds, which Bell was notoriously obsessed with. Convinced that he knows where to find Bell, Walter drags Astrid out with him. Meanwhile, Peter and Olivia begin simultaneously powering down the satellite signals when Jones attacks Peter.

Jones quickly gets the upper hand on Peter as Olivia's efforts to help are temporarily thwarted by two security guards who demand that she toss down her weapon. When the guards also toss their weapons, Olivia realizes that her powers have manifested again. She telekinetically takes control of Peter's body and knocks Jones into the antenna. Jones begins burning from the inside and he realizes that Bell intended to use him as the sacrifice all along before dies. At Boston Harbor, Walter and Astrid enter the A1 imports building while looking for a lead on Bell. The armed employee there tells them that A1 went under years ago.

Unwilling to let it go, Walter begins snooping around before he and Astrid hear animal noises. Several armed guards confront them, but Astrid is briefly able to lead Walter away until one of the  guards shoots her in the chest. As Walter holds a dying Astrid, Bell emerges and he cheerfully greets Walter as his old friend.

Breakdown:

First off, I have to give the producers of "Fringe" credit for bringing back Leonard Nimoy as William Bell without hyping it in the press. They even hinted at it two weeks ago during the flashforward episode, "Letters of Transit." But unless this story was broken on a spoiler site somewhere, I don't think anyone expected to see Nimoy back on the show so quickly… or at all after his self-proclaimed retirement from on-camera acting two years ago.

In retrospect, it makes complete sense that William Bell is still alive in this timeline. Without Peter around, Jones must have crossed over to the other universe and made contact with Bell as he planned to in the first season. But somehow, instead of killing Bell, Jones ended up as his acolyte in this mad scheme to recreate the universe in their image. Likewise, the events of the second season finale must not have played out as we remember them, otherwise Bell would still be dead.

The downside of seeing the future in "Letters of Transit" is that we know that Astrid survived; which robbed the cliffhanger in this episode of its punch. If Astrid died now, it would rewrite the story the writers set up just two weeks ago. Also, this was the first season that seemed to put any effort into fleshing Astrid out through her relationship with her alternate self and her father. We've finally gotten to know Astrid and it would be a shame to lose her when there's at least one last season's worth of stories on the show.

On the other hand, "Letters of Transit" also suggested that Bell played a hand in Olivia's demise or that he did something equally terrible to her that future Walter considered unforgivable. That might be the leeway that the show uses to get out of Olivia actually dying as predicted by September the Observer. And even if Olivia does die in the next episode, there's no way that death will stick in the final season. "Fringe" is ultimately the story of Olivia, Peter and Walter. Removing any of those three for good is out of the question at this point.

Jared Harris has been terrific as David Robert Jones this season, but his demise in this episode felt a little anti-climactic after his status as the proverbial "big bad" of "Fringe." There's nothing wrong with Jones giving way to Bell as the new main villain. But Jones could have definitely used a better send off. On the plus side, Jones' demise seemed to echo his first death from season one in which he was cut in half by the shutdown of a portal to the other universe.

The Peter and Olivia scenes in this episode got to explore territory rarely seen in shows like this. Peter and Olivia are in a committed relationship and it makes sense that they're looking ahead and considering their lives years from now… and all that it may entail. Again, we know that they will have a daughter in the future… or a future. That's the biggest clue that Olivia will survive next week's finale despite the previously mentioned prediction of her death.

There were also some very clever displays of Olivia's telekinetic powers in this episode, particularly when she took over control of Peter's body in the fight against Jones. But it was also a great moment when Olivia saved Jessica's life in Walter's lab; which subtly suggested that the excess heat went to Olivia herself. In both instances, Olivia's abilities were suggested through the performances as opposed to special effects.

For a season finale, "Brave New World, Part 1" is off to a great start. Even with the final season looming, there's still a lot of mileage left in "Fringe."