Fringe: On Fungi and Fatherhood

Last week, Fringe proved once again that it's possible for a series to contain both heavily serialized AND procedural elements; the show's unique blend of the two has become its trademark, and has been responsible for Fringe's resurgence, particularly during Season 3.

Episodes that lean toward the procedural side of things are called "mythalones," a term Fringe's producers coined for installments that, while technically self-contained, somehow enrich the show's season-long arcs. The good guys get the bad guys (well, most of the time) while also unwittingly exploring metaphors for Fringe's numerous themes. It's an incredibly difficult task to keep making them all season long, but it appears the writers are committed to the device, for better or worse.

"Alone in the World" showed us what happens when most—but not all—of the mythalone components click. The episode featured a wonderful, fully formed metaphor about loneliness and fatherhood that managed to carry the hour despite a weaker case-of-the-week. But you know what? Given the choice, I'd rather see Fringe sacrifice its cases in favor of spending more time on its themes. Themes are for the hardcore audience; the cases are there to ensnare the random viewer who happens to be home on a Friday night.

The writing credit for "Alone in the World" goes to Fringe newcomer David Fury, formerly of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lost (he's credited as the writer of "Walkabout," one of my favorite hours of television ever) and very recently formerly of Terra Nova (he left due to creative differences; smart choice). Fury was thrown right into the fire and tasked with penning the first Walter-centric episode of Season 4, a sad tale of a father stripped of his son(s) and on the verge of mental collapse.

Walter has lost two Peters: his natural son Peter to illness and his alternative-universe son Peter to drowning. Those tragedies chewed up and spat out a less stable Walter than the one we've come to know, and lately, the voice and image of a strange man (our Peter) shimmering through existence have been shaking him up even more. John Noble turned in a brilliant performance this week as yet another Walter, one who's fragile without the support of his son. He's lonely, reclusive, and less empathetic. This is a Walter we never wanted to see, and he serves as a reminder of how much the character grew over Fringe's first three seasons. I think I wrote almost exactly the same thing about Olivia last week; this is no mistake, as it shows just how important Peter is to both of them.

Walter formed a bond with Aaron, a bullied boy who was also lonely... and psychically connected to some mold (more on that later). There was some real sweet stuff went down in the lab, most notably Walter and Aaron slurping down milkshakes while wearing tinfoil hats, and glimpses of a more familiar Walter started to bubble up. It was almost as if Walter's paternal instinct kicked in; maybe destiny and fate were teaming up to open Walter's eyes so he'll recognize what's going on. Peter is somewhere, and he needs his father's help.

But Walter responded like most of us would have: "I've got a one-way ticket to Looney Town aboard the Crazy Train Express, with stops in Depressionville and Lonelyburg." He saw a strange man and heard a strange voice, he's already been committed once, and he was pumped full of some shrink's meds. And it was in that final scene where we saw Walter driving a railroad spike INTO HIS EYE that things became clear: While the universes may be in better condition without Peter, our friends Walter and Olivia are not. The writers wanted us to want Peter back soon, but first we had to see how bad things could get without him. It was some beautiful stuff.

The case, however, was gross. I don't know how many of you share my crippling fear of spores, but ICK! The Fringe team set out to investigate a case of two dead bullies with an unusual cause of death: fungal explosion! A tip led them to Aaron, who'd formed a psychic connection with a gigantic mass of fungus named Gus (har har, Fringe). I hear Gus is a fun guy. (Swish!) It turned out Aaron and Gus had bonded over being lonely, much like Walter and Aaron did. Except Walter didn't go around killing anything that threatened Aaron.

My problem with the case was that Fury didn't put enough effort into explaining the science behind the man/fungi connection, which was a tough concept to accept in the first place. It's almost as if he decided that the idea of a gigantic mushroom and a boy sharing emotions and brainwaves was ridiculous enough, and that we'd either take his word for it or not. Then the mass just disconnected its brain waves with the kid, and the reason we found out was that Astrid told us. It all just seemed a little cross-your-fingers-and-hope-they-buy-it.

But ultimately it didn't really matter if we bought it, because the point of the episode was to spend some time with Walter. And since the series-long stories are more important than the single-episode ones, I'd call "Alone in the World" an imperfect success.

Notes from the other side:

– There were questions about why Fringe Division didn't wear hazmat suits all the time. I think, but I'm not sure, it was because of THE SPORES! And the spores only pop out of decomposing corpses, not the fungal mass itself. Mmmm, fungal mass.

– After Olivia told Aaron there's nothing scary about Walter, the boffo scientist showed up in a blood-spattered apron and said, "Alright young man, let's get started—take off your shirt and hop on the table." Very funny stuff!

– Is it just me or was Olivia flirting with Lincoln? I like the idea; what if Olivia gets with Lincoln but Peter comes back and Olivia realizes he's her guy? Drama, that's what.

– The old black-veins-in-the-face thing is really popular right now. Supernatural, Fringe, and Alphas have all used it in the last month or so.

– David Fury could have used the following information to make the fungus' abilities more believable. Be warned: If you don't currently have sporephobia, you will after watching this video.



Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

Comments (55)
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I am NOT on board with Olivia and Lincoln. I had always hoped that Lincoln and Astrid would get together. Seriously, when does Astrid get a little romantic attention?? It's been over 3 years. Just saying...
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David Fury always makes for entertainment! With Buffy, 24, and Lost on his resume (He was the Mustard Man in musical episode of Buffy!)I was excited to notice his name as a producer this year. That milkshake scene was genius, also was the bit about Toy Story (since former coworker Joss Whedon wrote the screenplay) and just the tone of the whole episode in general. Very Well done.
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Gus Fringe!!
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i shed a few tears in the scene where walter was asking aaron to let go and that he matters to him. oh my... And there were also few funny moments like you said about "there's nothing scary about walter", another one was "I am a very busy man".. then milkshake scene. Love the Olivia/Lincoln Lee moment. And YAY! Olivia is also affected by Peter's disappearance.. i.e. she's been seeing him in her dreams and memories.. Good stuff :) I can't wait for the next episode (as per usual)
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It shows what a joke the Emmy's are that John Noble has never even been nominated for one. Please give this man some recognition for the master class in acting he gives every week.
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the 3rd picture looks scary, i don't remember it being that scary when i was watching the episode :0'\
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Actually, they did explain the "spores" and how they work...They aren't spores at all actually, the entire being was a huge network of basically a huge brain. It looks and acts similarly to a fungus but it's really a big living database, and it emits a frequency like our brains (I guess?). It developed ways to respond to stimuli such as growing towards water, or finding sustenance in human bodies, etc. and the bigger it became the smarter it was and the more it realized it was "alone in the world" like the kid. I thought it was fairly well explained...
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I concur
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Am confused too why bring back Peter if he willingly sacrificed himself to save the world. Kind of makes his sacrifice mute. I liked the idea of the selfless Peter...a lot.



And Walter and Olivia mooning for Peter...am really finding tiresome. The writers need to lighten up on that they been laying it on too thick.
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well, he didn't really sacrificed himself, he just figured out how the machines in season 3 REALLY worked and thus brought two universe together by creating a bridge but somehow that move made him erased from the timeline....so not sacrifice lol
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yep i agree.. there was no indication that he knew what the consequence of that act would be..
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Please don't kill me but I like the universe without Peter, I think Olivia fits with agent Lee, plus at least in the other universe its in love with her.



I know Walter needs Peter and also our Olivia but if he comes back baby will come back and the feeling of betrayal, I am not ready for that drama.



Loved the episode
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There is no baby because both Peters died when they were children. If anything Peter will have to deal with the Observers erasing his son.
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It wasn't bad. An odd MOTW episode, but filled with highlights of John Noble. Who didn't get emotional when Olivia confronted Walter doing the lobotomy?
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I am looking forward to the day when Peter return but only to be surprised when NO one in this yellow universe know who he is.....
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Agreed, weak case, but it was great to finally have a Walter-centric episode. I think this is one of the first times I've ever seen a lobotomy (attempted) on TV.
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Another great episode. I was worried for Walter so much, especially at the end when he attempted to lobotomize himself. If this episode doesn't win John Noble an Emmy, I don't know what will. Best show on tv!
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Deadly spores don't really get my heart beating, especially in comparison to the shape-shifters doing parkour between buildings in the season premiere! That being said, "Alone in the World" was still a good episode and that last scene was what we've all been waiting for. FRINGE is my CRACK.
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Of course I had to watch the video. Of course I am as creeped out as I've ever been.
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To those who say that this season is "too slow" or "too procedural", I agree with Tim. The procedural elements have always been there. And Patience is essential with a show like this. Remember it took us 3 seasons to get to the jaw-dropping awesome we currently have. But it wouldn't have been jaw-dropping awesome if we had just jumped there from the beginning. Tim routinely talks about character development, especially with Walter and Olivia, and the only reason we have that is because we spent time on these characters in episodes like this.



I have been a big fan of David Fury ever since "Buffy The Vampire Slayer", and I think his reasoning was this: When it comes to shows of the like of "Fringe", there's a certain amount of science fiction that the audience is expected to know and "understand". The concepts of multiple universes, psychokinesis, teleportation and such. While it is generally, understood that there are flora fictions that exist as well, the average viewer's "knowledge" base is more in physics, then chemistry, with biology very much in the rear. I think his reasoning to leave it simple was based on that. Or I don't know what I'm talking about and he had a completely different reason.
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Again my favourite show lets me down. Again it does not have me questioning what will happen next week. I will stop viewing the episodes and get them at the end of the season, that way I can fast skip these filler episodes.



This was my favourite show for the last three years and I have no idea what they are doing now but it is boring as hell.
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Forewarning: This is a very long comment (Almost annoyingly so)



Where is Peter? How are Olivia and Walter going to bring him back? What will happen when he inevitably returns? These are the questions swirling beneath my cranium after watching this episode. I've always been fascinated by the variation of color in the opening sequence. In the first two seasons the color was almost exclusively blue, and we began to accept the intro at face value. Images of the glyph symbols alongside words representing fringe science topics were fascinating, but we thought nothing more of it. This lulled acceptance continued up until the first episode of the two part season 2 finale titled: Over There, Part 1. This was our first glimpse of something different. Something Red. The new opening sequence continued into season 3, using alternate fringe science concepts like "hypnosis" and "neuroscience". During this season (One of the best in the Sci-fi genre in recent times) the color of the intro alternated between Blue and Red every other episode. When an episode was set in the primary universe, there was a blue intro, and when set in the alternate universe, a red one. So we dubbed each universe by their respective color. Until season 4 there were only three deviations to this two color scheme. One was in a flashback episode where they used retro graphics akin to 1980s technology. Another was an episode taken place equally in both universes, when the titles used a mix of both the blue and red-tinted versions. While for the dystopian future third season finale "The Day We Died", a black-toned theme, with dire phrases like "hope" and "water" introduced amongst the fringe science topics. When Peter formed the bridge between the two universes and was blipped out of existence, we knew we were in store for a whole new world. Of course, "Fringe" can't drastically change the show without also drastically changing the opening credits. Instead of the Blue, Red or Retro we've had in the past, we get the Amber/Yellow/Orange credits. Complete with titillating new words such as "Psychometry," "Philosopher's Stone," "Gravitons," "Biocation" and "Existence." The exact color of this sequence has been something of a controversy. Some say Amber, simply because there is more symbolism from the show's mythology with it being Amber. Others say Yellow, because along with Blue and Red, it is a primary color. The only other color prediction I've heard is Orange. The speculation surrounding this is the fact that Blue and Red make Purple, and Orange is on the opposite side of the color wheel. I'm not sure what the significance of that is, but there you have it. Whatever the color may be, it undoubtedly represents a new universe, or at the very least, a new timeline. The question now becomes, will there ever be another color added to the spectrum? I think everyone can agree that is almost a certainty. But, will we ever see one of the old familiar colors again? That determination is much more dubious. The answers to these questions are of course linked to the reappearance of Peter. What exactly will happen when he comes back? Will he be a stranger to Walter and Olivia, with them having no memory of the previous timeline? Will they remember both timelines simultaneously, one with adult Peter, one without? Or, crazier still, will his renewed existence eventually erase this new timeline altogether? So many questions. So many possibilities. There's only one thing I know for sure. Friday can't come soon enough.



If anybody actually read this entire comment, I commend you for your Herculean perseverance.
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Brilliantly constructed comment. I'm curious. Has TV.com offered you a job yet.
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Yeah, that's what I was just thinking.
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What a great, well thought out summary of the intro sequences. I would never have thought about tying it all together in that way. Very helpful, thanks for sharing.



Add kudos to the member's replies - it is awesome to see positivity rather then negativity in a forum. Truly encourages the start of interesting conversations.
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Real nice and detailed :) comment

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Cool. Loving the show and ur thoughts!
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How could a post be annoying if the content itself is top-notch? I've seen posts one sentence long that have been annoying becuase of the high level of nonsense. The old wisdom "quality over quantity" applies here. And you had them both.
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Loved the detailed description of the various opening sequences. Definitely the longest comment I have ever read, but WORTH IT.
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Another Zelda fan? Or does your Link stand for something else?
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When both Olivias were in love with Peter, Faux-livia's Lincoln seemed a good substitute (cause only OUR Olivia gets to shack up with Peter), but now that OUR Olivia is developing a report with her very own Lincoln, I can't help but feel that we need to find someone for him to safely crush on as well.

Unless they plan to kill him off, which I sincerely hope they DON'T.

And I can't wait to see more of Peter again - I heart him so much, and Walter and Olivia NEEEEED him SO MUCH!
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Olivia WAS totally flirting (or trying to, anyways) with Lincoln! Hilarious.

This episode brought back memories of both: The Flood from Halo and an X-Files episode with spores "Firewalker".

I'm thinking we'll finally see more of Peter next week. I hope I hope I hope.
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Awesome episode. Well, you;re right it was tough to buy all that Aaron/fungus bonding, but it still worked in a long run to give us a better insight how Peter-less universe impacts both Olive and Walter. Can't wait for Peter to come back and see how it works out then.

And, yeah, I also do think that there were some flirting wibes in the air between Olive and Lincoln.
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it was a good ep. , but i insist...THIS SHOW NEEDS PETER TO COME BACK ASAP!
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I love that David Fury has joined the writing staff of Fringe - but this was not one of his better eps. I'd love to see him turned loose on a big story arc though. 7/10.
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can't wait until Peter comes back. but knowing Fringe it'll be in like 5 seasons, and it'll be Peter version 17.2a, whoever that happens to be.
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"'Walkabout,' one of my favorite hours of television ever" - True that!
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Besides Doctor Who, Fringe is my favorite sci-fi show ever and then Firefly. I was so glad when Walter knew the first body was going to explode because when I saw it coming I got quite squirmy. Thank goodness that tank thing was right there!
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12 years ago X-Files kinda did this story: http://x-files.wikia.com/wiki/Field_Trip



I wish they'd refer back to the old "X division" as Broyles called it once.
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Thats exactly what I though when I saw the fungus, that X-files episode is one of my favorites.
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What can I say? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I still have repeat what I say every week after Fringe has aired: It baffles me completely why so few people watch this show! I mean, what the h*ll?! Audiences ask for a great sci-fi mystery show. And Fringe delivers this to 100%. Why people don't watch the show is one of the great mysteries of the universe for me. I bet not even Walter Bishop could solve this conundrum. (Aw-yeah. See what I did there? A Fringe reference. This is how us fans do those comments.)
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Fully half of the problem is with the network. The major networks have some unspoken rule about relegating sci-fi to Friday nights. Think about it - if Fox were truly invested in the success of this show then Fringe would follow one of their ratings hogs on a better night. Instead, it follows Kitchen Nightmares on Friday at 9PM.



Secondarily, this show is hurt by the way ratings are calculated: currently ratings only account for live viewings and recently, DVR programming, but do not track internet views from major websites like Fox.com or Hulu in even a 1 week period following an episode airing. In fact, many franchises/networks are choosing to delay the online posting of episodes by 8 days or more, which might make advertisers happier but hurts a show's ability to draw and keep more mobile audiences (as the telecom industry pushes more 4G devices why should we be tethered to a tele at the time the network chooses to air an episode when we can watch anytime, anywhere on a mobile phone or tablet PC?).



The main demographic for this show typically doesn't spend Friday night at home, watching tele. They are young, tech savvy, and comfortable catching the show through streaming media - but this does not mean that they are any less committed to the show than the Friday night viewers. If the ratings groups learned to quantify internet traffic (including torrents) then this show would not appear to be doing so poorly in the ratings. The TV world needs to work harder to catch up to technology and changing times, and Fox needs to invest in this brilliant franchise with a better time slot.
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The reason ratings don't include Internet viewings is because Internet showings have different ads, and ratings around all about how many eyeballs were delivered to the advertisers.



As for including torrents, they don't have any ads in them. Why would people watching the show without ads be of any interest to advertisers (you know, the people who actually pay for the show to be made?)
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The ratings are about how many people tune in to view the content, the price of the advertising is based on ratings or expected ratings, not the reverse. See the Superbowl - the single most competitive, expensive dog fight for advertising space in the US, bar none. The ads are costly because it is known that more people, across more area and more demographics are tuning in, regardless of who is playing, how good they are or if there may be wardrobe malfunctions at half-time.



Advertising is the vast majority but not the entirety of the network's cash pool for programming, and the networks have not been proactive about exploring diversification of revenue streams in keeping with evolving tech. That ratings agencies do not count streaming for shows from the network's own site (despite the fact that there are commercials on that streaming content), and that networks are paying attention to this short-shrift data as if it were a valid stat is anachronistic and short-sighted. Yes, torrents eradicate the advertisers but they are a key indicator of a large demographic that might be willing to consider alternatives to traditional format, such as pay-for-content schemes, similar to iTunes or Amazon episodes, if the networks were prompt to make these available.



I guess it is too much to expect Hollywood to strive to become an early-adopter/trendsetter rather than maintain the status quo, even for the small screen. Thankfully Fringe has a strong core fan-base that is proactive about getting the word out and trying to be counted and heard by the network. I hope it is enough.
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Maybe they can do an ep about exactly that, the psychology of people who don't watch an series as awesome as this.
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Yeah. Maybe they'll find out that Walter and Bell started a research program in the 70's, in which they created a method for people to telepathically change channels of their TVs (using a mind-altering cocktail of drugs, of course). And now a disgruntled ex-employee from Fox has hijacked the research. He uses it to make people change the channel at exactly 9 pm every Friday.



BTW, nice to see a Finn (or someone with Finnish roots) on this forum. Unless I'm wrong and you are of some other nationality, like a Filipino or South African, and have cleverly chosen a Finnish name as a disguise.
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One thing that bugs me though...Its not just Fringe but they did it in this episode. Lincoln getting stuck in mold and survives it....The extras die in a second. How many shows hasn't done stuff like that!? Why oh why!? It's so stupid.
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Tim, I agree with your assessment of the writer's using this time to reflect the effects of the absence of Peter on the universe, especially Olivia and Walter. While this Olivia is actually somewhat more personable and outgoing than the previous Olivia (see seasons 1 & 2, she was aloof, standoffish and struggled with basic communication and interaction most of the time), we see Walter has made little progress reintegrating with the world since leaving St Claire's, to the point he does not leave the lab. IMO, his continued relationship with the doc who managed his care in the facility is a major contributing factor in his lack of progress and his continued anxiety about returning to the place; the FBI should have found him a new doc after he was released - if his old doc had been doing him any good he wouldn't have remained there for 17 years. If you look back you will find that early on Peter resolutely cut all of Walter's ties with St Claire's, which was what he needed. Walter has no such advocate now, and the monthly check-ups are amping up his anxiety, to the point the poor man was intent upon lobotomizing himself in an effort to avoid returning there. It was heartbreaking to watch him reduced to this level, to see him deny his own innate wisdom (he had the breakthrough on the subject earlier in the episode and yet could not overcome his fear of this issue), and further to watch as he nearly permanently crippled himself. This was extreme, radical to a level even the old Walter would never have considered, and the desperate relief we felt when Olivia stopped him early in the procedure and confirmed she shares the visions of the unknown man was profound but temporary. We remain on tenterhooks as Peter remains lost in time, and this now joint effort is merely a step toward identifying him and bringing him back. Even when he returns life will be unutterably different as he has three years of history shared with the team that will not have occurred for them.



I am not excited by the rising chemistry between Lincoln and Olivia but it is not a surprise. Linc in the Altverse has always carried a torch for Fauxlivia but could never edge out Frank and then Peter in her affections. If anything does spark off between Lincoln and Olivia, it is ultimately doomed, because as Olivia said to Astrid in "One Night in October" she hasn't found the perfect person yet, and Peter is ultimately her perfect person, even if he does not, as Astrid said, exist. Peter does to some extent exist, and he will be returned somehow, and any budding relationship between the agents will not last, though how the show will address this is sure to be compelling.
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I think Lincoln and Olivia getting closer is completely understandable from a writing point of view, while I'm not excited about it either. Firstly, Olivia is single, and Peter has never existed. But more than that, when Peter comes back there is a chance for a love triangle to form, maybe we'll even see a little bit of fighting over her.
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I agree, the dynamic between Lincoln and Olivia does make sense from a writing POV, and certainly the love triangle would be dramatic. The Lincoln character in both universes seems like a stand-up guy, loyal, smart, resourceful, and personally I find crapping on the "nice guy" distasteful. Not to sound like a 'shipper, but I feel the show has repeatedly made clear the "meant to be" storyline of Peter and Olivia, so "using" Lincoln to create drama feels cheap and beneath a show that is cutting edge in so many other ways. It is just too cliche.
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A few years back they found a fungal body (I believe in the woods in Michigan) that spread over miles, so at least I'll buy that part.



What wasn't clear to me was why, if "Gus" was so large, it freaked out so bad over a relatively small portion in the tunnel getting burned.
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I loved the episode, best so far in season 4. It breaks my heart seeing Walter like this, lonely and afraid. I'm glad though that he still has Olivia and Astrid taking care of him.

The scariest part for me was seeing Walter trying to lobotomize himself in desperation.

The funniest was when O and W realized that they both see the same man and W says "I'm not crazy" and we see his bleeding eye. The butcher look was also very funny, run Aron, ruuuun!

The Sweetest was seeing W and Aron together, W was made to have a son.

Best of all, O and W talking in the end and decides to find the mystery man. Bring him back fast! But I'm pretty sure that he wont come back until Olivia and Lincoln are together...Classic one.
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The moment where Walter mistakenly called Aaron "Peter" as he was dying was heart-wrenching.
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I liked the epi very much! John Noble was absolutely fantastic!

Yes, the epi was short in scientific explanations. It felt a bit like 50's sci fi but much much better than a B movie.

Yes, I also felt the flirtation current between Olivia & glasses Lincoln. Interesting possibility to explore...



BTW: What a relief to hear that Mr. Fury left Terra Nova and is now with Fringe, I couldn't believe he was 1/2 responsible for last episode. He's so good! Of course I think this is really bad news for Terra Nova and hope they get some good writers... because if it is all left to Mr. Braga... nouff said!
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The case of the week was so good, I mean like some sort of fungi that is also some sort of a brain, that's so unique, so Fringe. But the final scene of the episode made the 40 minutes of veins and strawberry milkshakes a master piece of modern television.
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