A nifty bait-and-switch, an ultimate secret revealed in an incredible six-minute scene, fortunes told by looking through a frickin' holodeck, and a heart-crushing finish catapulted tonight's episode of Fringe, the ominously titled "The End of All Things," into the list of the series' must-watch episodes. Though we're still miles away from understanding everything that's going on, "The End of All Things" lived up to its promise of answering questions when it said it was going to. Not gonna lie, it wasn't a perfect episode, but as far as an engaging hour of television goes for a fantastic series, I wish I could smash my thumb with a hammer so it would swell up for a well-deserved uber-thumbs up.
We'll start with where we left off last week, with Olivia and Nina face-to-face in a dingy storeroom as prisoners of—as we suspected—Mr. David Robert Jones. Smarter people than me (read: you) may have thought otherwise, but my simple mind had this Nina pegged as the real Nina Sharp, with the Nina that Walter and Lincoln were suspicious of back at Massive Dynamics a shapeshifter. And this is why I'm not in the business of predicting television shows like Fringe (I'll stick with predicting The Bachelor: Courtney, duh!).
The truth was pretty far from that, in fact. Nina back at MD was telling the truth despite all the evidence against her. Nina in the storeroom with Olivia was a deceitful, lying doppelganger, but not one of DRJ's shapeshifting kids (at least, probably not). No, this Nina was Nina from the alternate universe in this timeline (at least, probably), the same Nina we saw instant-messaging with DRJ in "Forced Perspective" (we think). By the time Nina doubled over in pain and it was obvious she wasn't who she said she was, it was too late. I unknowingly took the bait four episodes ago, just as the show planned.
So Mean-a (the official name for alternate-universe Nina, as coined by actress Blair Brown herself) had been walking around as an imposter of REAL Nina, opening biometric security doors and stealing Cortexaphan to inject into Olivia while real Nina was oblivious to it all. How the two never crossed paths or how Mean-a kept track of Nina's comings and goings as well as her everyday interactions so as to maintain a false sense of continuity in the eyes of the public are the kinds of questions you're better off not asking yourself with Fringe (I've listed more of these types of questions in the "Notes From the Other Side" section at the bottom of this piece).
The dupe got the information DRJ needed, that Peter was essential for Olivia to tap into her Human Clapper power of being able to turn on lights without switches. And after Olivia sent the facility's electricity bills through the roof WITH HER MIND, DRJ and Mean-a portaled on over to the Other Side (or was it somewhere else? Another timeline? Another universe? Now I can't trust anything, especially myself). As a parting gift, Olivia sent a bullet through DRJ's throat, which did little more than give him the voice of someone who eats ashtrays. As if DRJ wasn't spooky enough before—now he can rebuild himself and also he talks like a phlegm monster?
But the big moment of the episode came about two-thirds of the way through, when Peter jumped into the mind of Observer September. Though the series has featured plenty of hooey science that I've had no problem buying into, I'm not a big fan of Fringe melding minds. But did the end justify the means? Yep and a half!
In the scene that was every bit important to the show's mythology as any that came before it, Peter hung out with unconscious September in a fancy time-traveling penthouse and learned the truth about the Observers: There's no Rogaine in the future and time-travel causes taste buds to dull! But more importantly, the Observers are scientists from the future—or to be exact, from one of "countless" possible futures. They have the technology to bounce back and forth across time and have made a hobby of watching significant events, like the Big Bang, weird happenings surrounding our Fringe team, and the Grateful Dead at the Capitol Theater in 1970. It was a scene that's sure to wear out the pause and rewind buttons of Fringe fans everywhere.
One thing that was a little hard to swallow was the idea that September basically screwed up the entire universe(s) because he wanted to watch Walternate play with some beakers to save his son's life. September's presence distracted Walternate from finding the cure for Peter's sickness, setting off a chain of events that we've witnessed throughout the first three seasons, including Walter tearing a hole between universes to save Peter, thus setting off a war between universes. On the list of the ten worst mistakes ever, that's somewhere between Mr. and Mrs. Hitler deciding to have a kid and ABC greenlighting Work It.
With September trying to fix things only to make more horrible things happen (I like to imagine it unfurling like a sitcom, with September playing the role of Lucy and the timeline acting like a conveyor belt of chocolates), Peter eventually had a kid with Fauxlivia—Henry, who was never supposed to be born. See, the original Olivia and Peter were supposed to be parents, for a reason we don't know quite yet. Let's hope Baby Henry turns out to be more important than Baby Aaron from Lost, because I'm still peeved about that. Anyway, September told Peter exactly what I was trying to tell him last week: Your Olivia is in the other timeline, bro! This new-old Olivia isn't the old Olivia!
That set up the final scene of the episode, which once again turned the Olivia-Peter love story on its head (how many heads does this thing have?). Even with the information about the Observers and Mean-a's double cross, this, to me, was the most important part of the episode. Call me a softy or a girly-man, but for me the heart of Fringe is the love story between Peter and Olivia, and the latest wrinkle saw Peter doing a 180 on his love for this Olivia and telling her so in the final moments before walking off and vowing to stay away from her, out of fear that he'd cause more harm. Of course, this Olivia thinks she's THAT Olivia, so the heartbreak on her part was devastatingly real. And yes, it started raining because all outdoor break-ups should happen in the rain. Brutal, but if you ask me, it was the right call on Peter's part.
Fringe now goes on hiatus for a month and will return in late March, leaving us to spend the next four weeks wondering what's ahead for Peter. He's more determined than ever to go home to his timeline, back to the arms of his Olivia, back to where he belongs. This is good stuff, guys.
Notes from the Other Side:
– One question about Mean-a and Olivia's heartfelt conversation: If Olivia figured out that the person she was talking to wasn't Nina in the middle of the conversation (when the whole "Ms. Sharp" thing was revealed), why would she tell her about Peter being the only one to get her Cortexa-skills going? And how Did Mean-a know most of the story of this Olivia's childhood if she was from the other universe? On my first watch, I thought this was a fantastic scene, but knowing what we know now, it kind of takes away that emotional oomph.
– I'm assuming that September can't just go back in time to try and fix his mistake by hiding behind a box or a cow and watching Walternate make the cure, otherwise he would have done it already, right? I guess his presence and disturbance of Walternate created a splinter in time that can't be undone? But with all possible futures, isn't there a future in which everything went according to plan? I might need to sign up for an online Masters Degree in String Theory from Education Connection so I can figure this out! And why wouldn't Walternate just try to make the cure again? As a scientist, he must know that the distraction could have sent things amiss and that he could always repeat his steps.
– Just as Mean-a had to sell herself to Olivia, actress Blair Brown had to sell her to us. Brown was incredible in this episode, finally really getting in on the game that several other cast members have enjoyed playing for the last two seasons.
– My name dyslexia (it's serious condition according to me) got the best of me last week and I referred to David Robert Jones as Robert David Jones. That faulty portion of my brain has been removed and I have been publicly shamed. You don't know how embarrassing this, is so I'm hoping we can all pretend it never happened.
– Which Observer is your favorite? December FTW!
– Mean-a? Ni-not? Ni-naught? What do you want to call alternate-universe Nina?
– Earlier today, I spoke to Blair Brown about tonight's episode. Read the full Q&A; here.
– Fringe Q&A;: Blair Brown on This Week's Incredible Episode
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom