M: Now for the second part of the Fringe review double feature. Keeping to this season’s pattern of, well, alternating universes, Amber 31422 is an alternate universe episode. Like the previous alternate universe episode, The Plateau, we are presented with a Fringe Division case, with the overarching plot line interwoven through the investigation. Like last season’s White Tulip, we get a powerfully understated and emotional guest performance, or, well, performances. Also like White Tulip, it is a sad performance, and all is not well, as it does not end well. Well, sort of. Let me sum up.
You see, the guest performance is from the Ashmore twins, X Men‘s Shawn (Iceman) and Veronica Mars‘ Aaron (Troy Vandergraff). Ok, maybe Aaron’s more well known for playing Jimmy Olsen on Smallville, but again, I thought that show ended eight years ago, and for the Quibbling Siblings, anyone who’s been on Veronica Mars, especially the first season, will forever be from that show. Sorry, I digressed, I’ll get back to the episode now.
Despite the episode’s focus on the case at hand, it started with Walternate letting Olivia in on his little plan. Well, he let her in on part of the plan, at least. He let he know that the Olivia from the other universe can jump between worlds, that he thinks she can too, and that he wants to do some tests to see if she can, and to figure out how. Considering he has been to the other world, has numerous operatives there, and has far greater technology , I’m still wondering why he needs to, but hey, it’s what’s going to eventually allow Olivia to get back, so I’m allowing myself to put that aside. Mostly.
While taking this in, Olivia gets her first of several visits from the Harvey version of Peter. For those of you not up on either you’re black and white classics, or muppet-infested sci fi for that matter, Harvey was an 6 foot giant bunny that appeared only to Jimmy Stewart in the 1950 classic Harvey, and the name that Crichton gave the version of Scorpius living in his head in one season of Farscape. The second is more appropriate, as HP, as I’ve just decided to call him, is a manifestation inside Olivia’s head. It’s her subconscious that is trying to keep her consciousness tied to her real memories, her universe, and her life.
As we move on to the episode’s main plot, we find two men using laser blow torches to slice into one of the amber tombs that Walternate created to plug the wormholes and save his universe. As they cut in it becomes clear that they are trying to cut a person out. Further, as they get closer we’re able to catch glimpses of the person they’re trying to extract, and it looks remarkably like the one who is clearly the leader of the two. When they are able to cut him free, and as sirens begin to sound alerting the world, and the police, to their crime, they try to revive the man that was formerly encased in amber. In the nick of time, they are able to revive him, but the assistant criminal (redshirt alert!) gets encased, as the amber repairs the breech they made in it.
Fringe team swoops in after the men who at this point we’ve figured out are twins have escaped. The team begins to investigate, and I have to say, I like the team. I’ve mentioned before that I have been from the start a big Charlie Francis fan, and Lee continues to grow on me, especially now that his burns are mostly gone. Like the team in our universe, they are good at what they do, and they have a very good rapport, constantly joking and ragging on each other. It works well. They quickly figure out that the redshirt guy is a new resident, and that someone’s been carved out.
After that, Walternate meets up with Broyles, shares with him the memory of when he first created the amber (amber 31422, hence the episode title). This story, and his memory of the exact date, how he felt, and the exact number of people it trapped, along with him flipping through a scrapbook of newspaper clippings from Peter’s disappearance, made Walternate seem like a sympathetic figure for the first time. Don’t worry, it didn’t last. He let Broyles know that the people in the amber, who have all been declared legally dead (as the “Previously on Fringe” scenes made a point to remind us) are actually alive. He is afraid of the backlash that would be caused if the loved ones of the people trapped in amber knew that, so he wants the case wrapped up quickly so no one will ever know. It’s clear that this is only partly to keep the amber plugging the wormholes, and that the other part if to insulate him from the backlash.
Meanwhile, back at the lab, the fringe folks use the amber to reconstruct the face of the man pulled out, and find it was Joshua Rose, a bank robber who got caught in the stuff pulling a heist four years earlier. They head out to investigate his apartment, and see pictures of him with his twin brother, and find that the brother was very helpful with the investigation four years before. While there, HP shows up again, pushing her on the similarity between the man trapped in amber and her trapped in the wrong universe. He disappears when Charlie finds a hidden room that has been recently used. The second they walked into the room you could hear a gas-leaking sound, but none of them noticed it until they had finished identifying all the stuff in the room and what it was used for (really badass scientifically robbing banks). Once Olivia noticed, they ran out just in time to have the building blow up as they got out the door. Bombs on TV and in the movies tend to be very considerate that way, either blowing up immediately and not making the person who discovered it (usually the partner, redshirt or bad guy minion) waste the effort of running, or they let the person run to “near safety” and then blow up giving them cool but non-debilitating injuries.
After treating their non-debilitating wounds, Lincoln and Olivia head out to talk to the brother, Matthew, who has a wife and two boys. Matthew goes off on them a bit about how hard it was after his brother was encased, and that just because you share the same DNA doesn’t mean you’re alike. As Lincoln and Olivia leave, with her heading to the lab to start Walternate’s tests, Matthew heads back in to where his brother is recuperating. That’s when we get the first good twist of the episode, and find that the recovering brother who we think is the bank robber Joshua is actually Matthew, who went to the last bank to try to stop his brother, but got encased in amber in his place. Ouch! So for the last four years Joshua has been living his brother’s life, while Matthew (as we later find out) has been conscious inside the amber wondering what happened to his family. Joshua explains what happened with genuine regret, and Matthew is reunited with his wife in a scene that was really well done and restrained.
We shifted off to Olivia at the lab, and being put Walternate’s version of the tank. Walter’s tank is a big, nasty looking metal beast, while Walternate’s looks more like something out of a David Copperfield show (the magician, not the Dickens story). In the tank, and after a true moment of coldhearted Walternate rationalization where he convinces the alternate version of the geeky Massive Dynamic scientist guy to really up the psychotropic drug levels, Olivia is able to somehow be in both the tank and in our universe at the same time. I found it very puzzling when they had her appear in a New York gift shop and get some poor little kid in trouble by breaking a snow globe then disappearing when his mom showed up. That’s not how Olivia (or anyone else) travelled between the universes before. Previously, the rule was one person, one body. Well, somehow they have decided to allow Olivia to be in both at the same time, as she snapped back and they pulled her out of the tank.
I’m going to jump a bit ahead here, to wrap up this part of the story line, even though it was the ending of the episode, as I found the ending of the case more compelling, since it was an actual end, not a mid-point revelation. Anyway, jumping ahead, Olivia had another conversation with HP in which he really pressed her to remember her real memories, and rattled off a bunch of things from her universe that she couldn’t know without being there, like the twin towers falling, and her niece’s birthday. Looking to confirm this train of though, she went back into the tank, and again hopped over to the gift shop. She broke the same snow globe, which again made it feel not real, which is one of the few mistakes the show has made. Anyway, she found a “We will never forget 9-11” postcard, and looked out at the New York skyline without the towers. She then picked up the phone, remembered Rachel’s number, and got a big “Hi Auntie Liv, I knew you’d remember my birthday” from Ella, confirming everything HP had said. She snapped back to her real body in the tank, but lied to Walternate saying she only saw black. Now the game is really afoot!
Back to the case, and to wrap up. With the help of a tip from HP, Olivia figures out the switcheroo, but no one believes her. After her mom tells Broyles he thinks she’s too stressed, and back at work too soon after the breakdown, he pulls her from the case. Still she, not Lincoln and Charlie, is able to track down Joshua as he’s planning another heist… or so we’re led to believe. He’s cracked the bank wall with some negative matter science, and Olivia gets tased when she finds the spot. We find that it was Matthew, once again following his brother to the heist to try to stop him, who tased her, as Joshua was already in near the vault. The fringe division shows up and gets ready to case the place in amber (the way Joshua opens up the wall using negative matter creates “unstable” spots like the wormholes), but Lincoln and Charlie run into the tunnel, find Olivia, and escape with her. As the brothers face off in the bank, we find that Joshua isn’t there to rob the bank at all. He’s there to get himself caught, and encased in amber like he feels he should have been four years earlier. Joshua tells his brother that they’d figure out who was really in the amber if he turns himself in, and that the only way Matthew can get his life back and not be prodded and pried at for the rest of his life will be if Joshua is in amber. He triggers the alarm, the gates close between them, and after a teary goodbye, Matthew escapes to safety, and to a life with his family.
This was a really good episode, with twists, emotional performances, and a couple of good “I LOVE THIS SHOW” moments. If the can manager to properly explain the two universes at once thing in the future, it will be even better upon re-watching.