It may only be the second episode of the season, but I'm saying this week's episode of Fringe might be the best of the year already. Even down a series regular (for story reasons of course; long live Peter!) the show has never been better. This cross-universe story angle is no gimmick, but TV writing at its finest.
When a unique serial killer case in the alternate universe stalls, the alternate Fringe Division asks their new cross-universe allies for help. An extremely reluctant Olivia agrees to help with the case, marking it as the first ever dual-reality case-related partnership. Even though the alternate Fringe team identified their suspect John McClennan (played by John Pyper-Ferguson) as the killer in 23 deaths, their trail on him has gone cold. Fringe Division protocol gets re-written as the John McClennan from the main universe is brought over to the other side to help find his serial killer alternate before he claims another victim.
Fringe on the surface is a series that plays with multiples of different material things, people, and places but does so much more in many layers of the show. This week's episode, "One Night in October", starts off as just a cool way of chasing down a serial killer from another world. That's just in the first five minutes. After the episode's fringe event of the week is established, the show subtly adds deeper levels to its characters and their relationships with one another. All the while, during the investigation, the episode's theme and guest stars somehow manage to mirror everything going on between all the regular cast. The script of "One Night in October" is an emotional and entertaining rubric of writing genius. Within the episode's mere 42-minute length there is more complex, well-constructed, and intricate story-telling than in most 2-hour dramatic films. Granted, a lot of what makes these great parallels work for the episode is having the wealth of material with 3 full seasons of backstory to draw from, but that doesn't cheapen the fact that "One Night in October" is still a sublime stand-alone episode.
Before even going into Anna Torv's Multiplicity moments, this episode's guest star, Pyper-Ferguson, deserves some credit. Pyper-Ferguson too plays 2 versions of himself, with one being the alternate reality serial killer and the other being a forensic profiler that specializes in serial killers. After the John McClennan on the main side is introduced properly, the story flushes out that it isn't just a coincidence he is in the field he is in. Like Walter explained in the second season, one choice or event could alter a person's path in life, hence the differences between the two realities. Pyper-Ferguson plays both sides of the coin beautifully as if there were two different actors playing the same character. His hope and struggle to reason with the evil version of himself is what helps both Olivias to see each other in a different light.
As fantastic as Pyper-Ferguson's performance was, I did spot the TV magic cheat that made his scenes together feel as authentic as they did. During a couple of shoots where the camera switches back and forth between the two Johns, one of them had a skin-coloured microphone piece in his right ear, no doubt to time his lines acting against himself. I actually don't care about the ear piece, because the end result is a great scene, but I thought I'd point it out for the other Fringe fans.
I'm showing a lot of love for this episode's guest star, but there is a reason Fringe has the main star they do. Anna Torv finally gets to have a full-on Michael Keaton (Multiplicity reference) episode as she has most of her scenes with herself. It's obvious the two Olivias don't like each other, but with the two of them working the same case, and having the alternate's Lincoln Lee as their chaperone, they began to understand each other and form a mutual respect for the other -- even if that respect may for now be unspoken. And that's what makes Torv so amazing: she is able to show the audience these character shifts rather than tell everyone in long-winded speeches or unnecessary dialogue. By the time Torv finally gets recognized for her work here on Fringe on a level like the Emmys or Golden Globes (if it ever happens at all), I fear it will be too late for any Academy to fully appreciate her work on this series.
A couple of minor things to point out from the episode to look forward to: one being in this new time line Broyles from the alternate universe is back as if he never died. I love Lance Reddick's Agent Broyles, and now that there are two of him again, I'm a happy fanboy. Also, there was a quick little mention on the alternate side between Lincoln and Olivia about Charlie being on his honeymoon with the bug girl from last season. I can't see them bringing back the regular side's Charlie, but it doesn't sound like Kirk Acevedo is gone for good -- so again, I'm happy. Lastly, Walter is being contacted -- and more aggressively -- by Peter at the end of the episode, so look for Joshua Jackson's return soon.
This fourth season of Fringe has been smart in terms of its writing and its pacing. Yes, it has only been two episodes, but though not too much has been given away yet, a lot has still happened. We still have yet to see Walternate during this post-cross universe bridge, and only the Olivias have had on-screen face-to-face moments. If this is Fringe's way of cutting down costs in this tough economy, by casting that same actors twice, then thrifty is the best trend going right now.
Andrew Burns loves film and comics, and can be found writing about when those worlds converge. You can follow him on Twitter at @myAndrewBurns.