Fringe got all Twilight Zone on us tonight with "Welcome to Westfield," which started out genuinely creepy. Like, peek-through-my-hands scary. But by the time the whole thing was over, we'd seen many signs that Season 4 is about to get 10 kinds of crazy, and I really like where this is headed.
Our Universe A Timeline B Fringe Division trio of Walter, Olivia, and Peter examined a hot spot of unusual electro-magnetic activity, which had been brought to their attention by a plane that fell out of the sky like a hailstone after its instruments went wacky. A hankering for rhubarb pie sent them to the town of Westfield, Vermont, a quaint spot with less than a thousand residents. But all was not right in Westfield; and one could even say it was all wrong. The server at the diner greeted Walter with small-town charm, took his order, then quickly came back and started the entire process all over again, this time pulling a knife and trying to poke Walter with the pointy end. Peter, who was in the can, found a man named Cliff in the back of the restaurant who'd been beaten to near death, then returned just in time to save Walter's life. Then Olivia, who'd been outside trying to find a working phone because her cell wasn't getting any signal, shot the knife-wielding small-town nutjob to death. And did I mention that the guy's eyes were totally weird? As in, he had two irises. I'm no ophthalmologist, but that ain't right.
But wait, it gets even freakier. While driving to get Cliff some medical attention, our team exited Westfield. Then re-entered Westfield. Then exited Westfield. Then re-entered Westfield, all while driving in the same direction. Team Fringe was stuck in Westfield with no way to communicate with the outside world and a town full of people slowly going insane. It was like a mediocre horror movie!
Cliff eventually took the group to his safe house, a high school where a dozen other survivors were holed up, and that's when Walter figured out what was going on: The two universes were being smashed together, and the overlap was happening in Westfield. As a result, people in Westfield were merging with their counterparts in the alternate universe version of Westfield, physically and mentally. That meant recounting memories that weren't theirs and, in some cases, growing an extra set of various body parts. I'm not too sure about the science of it all, but it was gross.
Peter and Walter used great teamwork to deduce that the safest place to be was in the epicenter of the universes' smush room (to quote Snooki) because "the sum of equal and opposite vectors is zero." At that point, "Welcome to Westfield" moved from freaky horror movie to pretty standard disaster action movie as the team fought their way to safety. Case of the week: SOLVED! It was a pretty easy way to wrap up that story, but the case wasn't what made this episode so good.
What was REALLY interesting about "Welcome to Westfield" was how it began to turn the tables on Peter's appearance in this universe. In recent episodes we've seen Walter and Peter really start to connect like they did in the good old days. But the change in Walter hasn't just been limited to how he acts around Peter; Walter has become a changed man around everyone, his passion for life renewed, his appetite for unusual sweets bigger, his interest in getting out of the lab greater. And best of all, he's no longer hammering railroad spikes into his own eye in an attempt to lobotomize himself. This Walter, as Peter noted, is a lot like the old Walter.
The same thing has slowly been happening with Olivia. It started several episodes ago, when she asked Peter about her counterpart being incredibly important to him; she's continued to grow since then. Granted, Olivia's case is different from Walter's. While Walter is merely feeling like he's reconnecting with his son, Olivia is having steamy sex dreams about Peter, possibly due to crossover from the Other Side. I'm going to assume that Walter isn't having similar dreams, though I'm sure some slash-fiction writers want to see it happen. But as Peter spends more time with Olivia, and possibly because of all the universe intermingling in tonight's episode or Nina's experiments, Olivia from the old timeline is bleeding through. Which allowed "Welcome to Westfield" to culminate in that final kiss and take-out Italian dinner she had prepared. ZOMG. So great to see old Olivia but also so weird, and Peter's face agrees.
What I love about this is that it really rewards the viewers who didn't complain about this Olivia and this Walter not being the same Olivia and Walter we knew from the other timeline, therefore demolishing the relationships those characters had built. I think those who did complain about that development may have missed the point of the series. Fringe is still very much about those relationships, and though it's examining them in a very unusual way, it's much more powerful and unique as a result. The idea was to show what kind of impact Peter has had on these people, no matter what part of time and space he's in. It was to show us that we'll always remain true to our true selves. It was to show us that Peter is either a really great guy who's destined to be with Olivia and Walter from the other timeline, or that he's some cosmic force that's meant to correct whatever universe he's in. Remember, Olivia and Walter didn't really care for Peter that much in the beginning of the series. It was over time that their relationships with him grew, and that's exactly what's happening again in Season 4. Clearly, Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman have known what they were doing all along, because Season 4 is heading into some fascinating science-fiction and philosophical territory.
With these relationships moving closer toward what we were familiar with in Season 3, it raises the question of whether or not Peter might be able to stick around with this Olivia—who for all intents and purposes is identical to the old Olivia—and be happy. That same question arose when Fauxlivia was pretending to be Olivia in Season 2, but this time the stakes are a bit higher. This time it isn't someone fooling Peter, it's someone who actually believes she's the woman Peter loves (has anyone seen Solaris?). And with Walter extra keen on Peter now, will there be new resistance to him leaving? Will this Walter and Olivia push him to stay? How about instead of a fight between universes and Olivia vs. Fauxlivia, a fight between Olivias from different timelines? Yikes!
"Welcome to Westfield" raised a lot of questions, but they were the right kind of questions that extend beyond just what's happening on the screen.
Notes from the Other Side:
– Did you know that rhubarb is a vegetable? I always think of it as a fruit, mostly because of its pie-ability. But here's where it gets weird. In the United States rhubarb is classified as a fruit because we use it as a fruit. Isn't that totally ridiculous? Stop being such a snob, United States!
– Olivia's apartment number: 2A! As in Timeline 2 Universe A! Maybe?
– Plane crash. Whole town leveled. I'd like to see how the FBI covers this one up. And if it all happened over here, what happened in the other universe?
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom