"What were we even doing, anyway? We'd sit around and wait for someone to die of some grisly, macabre death or for the entire fabric of the universe to come shredding apart." Those words were spoken by Peter Bishop (a.k.a. Pacey Whitter, a.k.a. Joshua Jackson) during last night's second season premiere of Fringe, and they adequately sum up some of the problems we had with the first half of the show's first season. Early on, the showrunners were clearly struggling in trying to find the balance between properly developing their characters and establishing the show's underlying, conspiracy-theory-laden mythology, and the result was a muddled mess that stuck too closely to the boringly repetitive procedural format. However, as the season progressed, the show made great strides in the quest to find its creative footing, and viewers who stuck with the show long past the time we stopped recapping it were rewarded with a humdinger of a season finale, in which Special Agent Olivia Dunham finally met up with the mysterious founder of Massive Dynamic, one William Bell. Oh, and did we mention that said meeting took place in a parallel reality? On top of a (still-standing) World Trade Center? And that the "real" Peter is actually dead?
The Evil: A face-scrunching (and, at times, -crunching) shape-shifter from a parallel reality who takes his orders from a Selectric 251 typewriter wants to off Special Agent Olivia Dunham (who, not so coincidentally, just returned from a parallel reality herself) once and for all.
The Determination: The shape-shifters were first discovered, not surprisingly, during clinical trials that Walter held at Harvard in the sixties. (Walter was attempting to augment the fifth, sixth, and seventh chakras.) While under the influence of a wild cocktail of drugs, a mix that even has Timothy Leary saying, "You're kidding me," a comely coed talks about a man with a machine who was "from another universe, man." The machine contains three nails and bears a striking resemblance to jumper cables, only the hookup occurs through the soft upper palate of the mouth.
Intel on Massive Dynamic: Nina Sharp, the mysterious organization's CEO, plants a wet one on the lips of FBI Special Agent Philip Broyles (a.k.a. Colonel Broyles) right on the steps of the Capitol. The tender nature of the kiss suggests that the two were once involved in a romantic relationship.
Wacky Factor: There's a running thread about Walter's desire to make a birthday custard for his son, Peter. It begins in the aisles of a Whole Foods, where Walter reveals that he used to work as a sous-chef (of sorts) at the Bakersfield Food Lab, where he was on a team of people — led by Seymour Brodien* — who invented Ho-Hos. We learned that Walter adores custard, despises flan, and eats Twizzlers while conducting autopsies. And oh, yes, there was this doozy of a line: "Feel his anus, it's soaking wet."
Paranoia Level: Medium to Medium-High. The episode introduces a character who looks as if she'll have a recurring role on the program: the nosy junior agent Amy Jessup. We also see the surprise return of Agent Charlie Francis, who sent a message to his Facebook friends back in May that he had been fired from the show. But seeing as how he has been taken over by one of the nefarious shape-shifters, we have a feeling he probably doesn't have a long-term future with the show. All in all, the show is a fairly strong return for the program that just got better and better as last season progressed, but it did have its limitations. Specifically, we're hopeful that Agent Dunham will actually manage to get out of her hospital bed next week! But bonus points for putting the blink-and-you'll-miss-it clip from The X-Files in the episode ...
*We checked it out, we couldn't find any info confirming that Brodien really did invent Ho-Hos.