The first season of Fringe ended with Dunham’s shocking discovery that she had crossed over to the alternate universe, where the Twin Towers still stood. This year’s season-ending surprise was gripping in its own way, even if last night’s episode had to endure some bumps on the road to its lump-in-the-throat payoff.
The Evil: After retrieving Walter from the hospital, Dunham and William Bell must team up to figure out a way back to our world — as well as lure back Peter, who’s innocently working away on Walternate’s machine that will destroy our universe.
The Determination: After subduing Auburn Dunham and assuming her identity and hair color, Dunham went undercover to find Peter, to whom she finally admitted her feelings, resulting in their first kiss. But in the midst of their grand escape — assisted by Bell, who selflessly sacrificed himself so that they could have enough power to return to our world — the alternate-universe Fringe team switched Dunham and Auburn Dunham, allowing evil Auburn Dunham to return with our heroes undetected. Meanwhile, poor Dunham is trapped in a small cell under the watchful eye of Walternate.
Wacky Factor: Walter has demonstrated his wide-eyed lunacy in many outward ways, but there was something about seeing him hiding out in an alternate-universe Kentucky Fried Kitchen in a too-big-for-his-head ball cap that was particularly hilarious and demented. Speaking of KFC — which, like the Ford Taurus, has gotten a nice product-placement plug during Fringe — Walter revealed that he once cracked the Colonel’s secret recipe of eleven herbs and spices.
Paranoia Level: Meh-to-High. With a show like Fringe, you expect a season finale that will tie up certain plot strands while leaving new ones dangling. And the conclusion of “Over There” did just that, although the execution sometimes left a little to be desired. When you look at the episode objectively, there was a lot that happened: Walter and Bell finally had their big confrontation (and reconciliation); Dunham and Peter finally kissed; Peter and Walter buried the hatchet (somewhat); Auburn Dunham learned she has a double in our world; and Dunham is now Walternate’s prisoner while Auburn Dunham has crossed over to spy on the Fringe team. So while no one could complain that Fringe didn’t end with a bang, the episode felt more hurried than breathlessly paced, with plot points flying here and there.
In particular, we were bummed that the hoped-for showdown between Bell and Walter lacked the fireworks that two seasons of episodes had been building toward. As a result, Bell’s decision to die so that the Fringe team could escape didn’t have the pathos it probably should have had. Part of this, of course, stems from expectations: William Bell has been established as a super-intelligent, vaguely nefarious mastermind who helped bring about Walter’s mental collapse. And yet his death felt minor, especially considering that it might very well be Leonard Nimoy’s final acting role if he indeed is retiring from the business.
Which brings us to the long-awaited first kiss between Peter and Dunham. We’ve long stated our worry about their eventual coupling, but when the big moment finally happened, we had to acknowledge that we thought it played out nicely, albeit a bit rushed. In fact, because the kiss happened so suddenly, it immediately made us suspect what the season-ending twist might be. If we’ve learned anything from Fringe, it’s that when the characters receive a little bit of happiness, it will inevitably be stolen from them just as quickly. So when the two Dunhams got mixed up temporarily during the concluding firefight, it was a pretty easy bet that there had been a switcheroo. (By the way, we’re not saying this to brag about how smart we are; we never correctly predict this show’s twists, which makes us wonder if we’re finally picking up on its rhythms or if this one just wasn’t that well handled.)
Still, even if the big surprise was anticlimactic, it was impossible not to feel incredibly tense once it was revealed where Dunham is being held in the alternate universe. Trapped in something that resembles a cross between a padded room and a broom closet, her holding pen is a claustrophobe’s worst-case scenario, and the terrified look in her eyes made us think back to the horror of her experience during the Jacksonville experiments of her childhood. Truly, there was something primal about the final scene that felt like something out of a nightmare. Except it’s now Dunham’s reality — and ours until Fringe returns in the fall. And while we can quibble with moments here and there from last night’s episode, we’re betting that Dunham’s frightened screams will stay with us much longer than those complaints.
The AV Club’s Noel Murray goes into excellent detail about the episode’s strengths and wonders what next season will be like with Auburn Dunham “helping” the Fringe team.
Apparently we weren’t the only ones who saw the twist coming a mile away: TV Squad’s Jane Boursaw figured it out, too, but that didn’t keep her from loving the episode thoroughly.