Fringe Review: The Plateau

M: Last week I spoke of how I was glad to have the show back into its familiar episode structure, with the fringe team investigating a bizarre case, but that it was still driven by the over arching story line.  Looking back on the episode, The Box was more of a continuation of the overarching story, but done in the guise of a case.  This week’s offering, The Plateau, was different.  We had little touches of the overall story, of course, but this week was driven entirely by a fringe division case.  It centered around an abnormal occurrence, followed Olivia and her team investigating it and solving it.  It took turns, led us down a path we didn’t fully expect, and greatly entertained along the way.  In other words, they went back to basics.  Except there was a twist.  The case was in the alternate universe.  The fringe team we followed had no Walter, no Peter.  It had Charlie, oh, how we’ve missed Charlie.  It had Lincoln Lee, a little less covered in burns this time, but still pretty nasty looking.  And it had Astrid…  in a beret.  It felt kind of like Spock with the beard, in a good way.

The episode opened with a fabulously crafted scene.  We enter to a bustling street in Hoboken, and to a man twitching his fingers in a very autistic manner.  We follow his gaze and see he is tracking a blond woman as she walks through the street, where she give some money to a homeless man.  His sign tells us he’s a veteran of the “Aruba War”, letting us know which universe we’re in (before we get the red version of the credits, which indicates the alternate universe, in case you hadn’t picked that up).  The scene alternates between the twitch man and quick shots of various things around the street:  the woman smelling flowers, then entering shop to buy them, a stop light, a bus, a professorial gentleman at an outdoor table, a van slowling hitting a pothole, a rattling mailbox, a bike messenger.  Several of them come in and out of slow motion, but through the shots we gradually see that the man is autistic, but calculating.  He’s taking in every detail, but to what end we don’t know.  Then he crosses the street and balances a Bic pen upright on the rickety mail box, gives it a strange look, and starts to walk away.  As the rest of the scene slowly unfolds we try to figure out what his purpose is.  We see the bike messenger speed down the sidewalk toward the mailbox.  We see the woman walk just past it to a cross walk.  A cab rolls closely by, jostling the mailbox, knocking the pen off, and into the view of the professor.  As he moves into the path of the bike, and the maybe-not-autistic man walks past the woman, we start to think he set this up to prevent her from being put in harms way.  The bike messenger swerves to avoid the professor, crashing into a fruit stand, seemingly confirming our suspicion.  Except the ensuing scramble over the fruit distracts the driver of the bus right as the light turns red and the woman starts to cross the street.  Finally we see the not-autistic man walking toward the camera, and over his shoulder the bus slams violently into the woman, scattering her newly purchased flowers, and our thought that he was trying to prevent her from harm.

Seriously, just a brilliant scene, and approached becoming my first “I love this show” moment of the season, though it’s hard for a woman getting hit by a bus to be an “I love this” moment.  The rest of the episode lives up to the opening scene, though for your benefit I will not recreate in painstaking detail the rest of the scenes.  The episode mixes a bunch of different things in.  We learn some more about the alternate universe, we learn about Olivia’s team on this side, and we learn about Walternate’s motives for implanting Olivia with Fauxlivia’s memories.

We find that in the altiverse small pox is still a viable disease that has to be dealt with, but that technology in almost every way is more advanced than ours.  The ball point pen is a relic, which becomes a big clue in the case, as there are two more bus “accidents”, and Bic pens show up at the others, too.  They also lead back to a hospital doing research on “intelligence drugs”, given to people with low IQ’s in an effort to allow them to become more self sufficient.  The problem is in one case, out not-autistic man, Milo, the first dose made him super smart.  Because that was clearly not good enough, they gave him four more doses.  Um, because that would happen.  Anyway, more on Milo in a minute, let’s move on to  the team.

We first discover that it is Olivia’s first day back at work after her “breakdown”.  As she settles back in at work we find that the Charlie Francis of the alternate universe is as intuitive, smart and endearing as our Charlie, who died last season.  Over the course of the episode we find that he has his doubts that this is “their” Olivia.  I couldn’t help thinking “Attaboy Charlie, even if your side is the wrong side”.  We also find that Olivia’s team, in this universe, isn’t Olivia’s team, it’s Lincoln’s.  He is clearly the leader, even when he can only go eight hours a time outside of a hyperbaric chamber.  Mostly we find that, like on our side, Olivia’s team is good at what they do.  The follow the trail, both of the pens, and of connections between the victims.  The process every detail of the crime scenes.  And of course, Olivia is the one to pick up on the subterfuge in the third “accident”.

See, the “accident” in our opening scene was actually the second “accident”, as a man had been killed the day before under very similar circumstances.  The team joked about being able to set off a chain reaction with a ball point pen, but it wasn’t until they saw the third scene still happening, with Olivia first sensing something was wrong, then noticing the pen, that they found Milo.  Olivia spotted him calculating and twitching on a footbridge as a jogger near the pen got hit by the speeding ambulance.  As she ran up to confront him he tossed another pedestrian’s bike over the edge of the bridge and into the street below.  As Olivia stared him down at gunpoint, we saw a truck come down the street, swerve to avoid the bicycle in the road, at which point Milo winked at Olivia and without looking ran to the edge of the bridge and jumped onto the truck’s roof.

Ok, so this was a strike against the alternate fringe team.  Not only did no one catch that Olivia went racing up the footbridge, but no one was apparently able to get a car and follow the big newspaper truck with a guy on the roof.  Something tells me Peter would have been ready, and Walter might have even have been in the car waiting.  Ok, maybe not Walter.

Milo turned out to be mentally advancing to the point where he can see every eventuality, trace actions out decision after decision after decision, then rewind them to get the exact moments he needs to achieve his desired results.  As Olivia and Charlie track him down, the debate over the strategy of following a clue he has intentionally left them, of doing what he expects, or not acting because he expects it.  As beret-Astrid explains the conundrum of it we realize that Olivia has clearly never gone in against a Sicilian WHEN DEATH IS ON THE LINE!  Um, sorry, little carried away.  Moving on, as Olivia and Charlie act on his clue and close in on him, we see him projecting out every detail of the possible outcomes, and comes up with one that leads to Olivia being crushed by cinder blocks.  The problem in his execution is that he was expecting Fauxlivia, the one who knew to pull out her portable oxygen tank and breathe into it when a “the air quality suckes here” sign is flashing.  Our Olivia, in the adrenaline-filled moment of changing Milo, lost her connection to Faulivia’s memories, proving how tenuous the connection is.  Because she didn’t stop for oxygen she was able to avoid the cinder blocks, baffling Milo, who had stopped, thinking the blocks were the end of the chase.

During the investigation, there were a couple moments where Olivia caught glimpses in her mind’s eye of Peter and Walter, but after Milo was captured she had a vision of Peter, who called her out on not being from the altiverse, making sure she knew that was why she survived, why she was able to escape the scenarios set out by the formerly mentally delayed man whose drug-enhanced brain now can only communicate with computers.  Memory-induced Peter gives Olivia a kiss and prods her to remember who she is, and we can tell from he look that she’s working on it.

The last bit we learned, though, was Walternate’s plan.  He confided to Broyles, who is worried about having our Olivia on his team, that the important thing about Olivia is that she can cross between universes without being harmed, implying that the other ways to cross, the way Walter did originally, the way Walternate did to bring Peter back, all have side effects and consequences.  We don’t know what those are, but that Olivia can go without consequences is important, as Broyles put it, so they can fight back.  To this end, Walternate wants to experiment on her, but as he discovered during her “breakdown”, he needs her willing cooperation, not the fight she put up before.

We had an interesting and worthy villain, who turned out to not really be villainous, as the people he killed were trying to take him off the medicine and return his mental capacity back to its original state, and he just didn’t want to be slow any more.  You can hardly blame him there.  All in all, in my opinion, this was a great episode.  Welcome back.

One comment on “Fringe Review: The Plateau

  1. E says:

    While I totally agree that this was a great episode – reminiscent of the X-Files at their prime – I can’t agree with your conclusion. Milo might justifiably not want to return to “slow,” but he showed a sociopaths lack of human connection in murdering the scientists rather than just, say, running away. And in the end, it was all in vain – the treatments can’t be reversed, so there would have been nothing the murder victims could have done to Milo after all. Which maybe he should have know.
    In fact, I think the only justification for THAT (letting him stay smart) is for the Walternate to use him as a weapon. I fully expect to see him later.

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