Welcome to the FB review of the Fringe season 2 episode 14 – “Jacksonville“. In this review I present my honest opinions on both the good and bad aspects of the episode. I also take a look at the answers and unresolved mysteries, before sharing my thoughts on other aspects which may have been overlooked.
- Big points for getting back to the overarching story and main mythology. It was reintroduced well with an opening scene – from the alternate reality, no less – which has to be one of the most freaky that Fringe has mustered to date. I enjoyed learning more about the Blight and finding out about the ‘balancing act’ – plus it’s good to know that Newton and his gang haven’t fallen off the face of the earth whilst our team have been busy wasting time in Edina and the like.
- Riding the emotions with Olivia as she delved back into her past was a great experience. The episode managed to make the journey fun even though it was riddled with pain and resentment. I also appreciated the character development, and the explanation for her lack of super powers – I can accept that they’ve been held back through her increasing desensitization of the world around her.
- Broyles’ office! I neglected to mention it in my previous review, so I was glad to see it make another return following its 12 week hiatus. I think Broyles was also happy to get off those park benches and into an office with a roof (it’s cold in Bost..Vancouver). I am a bit disappointed that the office doesn’t even remotely resemble the one he had back in season 1, but hey, maybe it got sucked into the alternate reality and replaced with this one. Oddly, that’s not so crazy now.
- Fringe throws up some great ethical and moral conflicts. None has been more interesting to me over the past 35 or so episodes than Olivia’s journey and how it conflicts with what Walter and William Bell did to her. It was really pleasing to see more of her back-story addressed in the episode. It brings me back to “Grey Matters” and makes me wonder – if she had the chance again to let Newton go over saving Walter..would she? Man, I love the Fringe carousel!
- The episode was beautifully filmed and skillfully directed. I don’t think there has been a more delicious-looking episode all season. The forest dreamscape was particularly eye-catching, with its day turning to night, wind howling and freaky-eyed Olive providing an excellent metaphor for Olivia’s past and present issues. Much like “What Lies Below“, some of the directorial choices were brilliant, adding to the sense of unease, anger and displacement running throughout the episode.
- Olivia seeing Peter ‘glimmer’ was somewhat predictable. I wouldn’t say this was ‘bad’, but I wish it wasn’t so telegraphed. About 10 minutes into the episode I felt it was obvious that the episode would end with Olivia seeing that Peter was from the alternate reality. Although storytelling relies on big cliffhangers, as good as it was, I feel that the episode was perhaps constructed too tightly around the singular end-reveal, making some of the scenes that led up to it a little less powerful than they could have been.
- Catching up casual viewers dumbs the show down for loyal watchers. This is a tough one because obviously there has to be a balance between making the show accessible whilst keeping the characters believable. But I have to say, it felt really odd hearing Olivia reiterate Newton’s objective and details of her meeting with Bell. Shouldn’t Peter and Walter already know that? Why did she have to tell them as if it was the first time? It makes the characters less authentic when they recap known information in the episode – isn’t that what the “previously on..” is for?
- Character Motivations. I found Olivia’s desperation to find the soon-to-be-merged building not in-keeping with her lack of interest in The Door for the previous 3 episodes. It’s a consequence of the current standalone/serial ratio that character motivations are coming across somewhat wishy-washy. Look at how determined Olivia was in this episode – that’s the Olivia I know, someone who would turn the world upside down in order to find answers – and what questions are more tantalizing than those from her past and the alternate universe saga? Which is why it’s difficult to believe that she wouldn’t even mention the alternate universe or Newton in the standalone episodes. The irony comes from the fact that nothing made that more apparent than “Jacksonville” – a mythology-return to overarching storyline episode. I don’t think the powers that be can have it both ways – certainly not if they want to fulfill the show’s potential in the long run. The characters on this show are amongst the best on TV, but the lack of consistency thrown up by too many stand-alone episodes is creating a disconnect between the main storyline and character motivations. I believe that changing the format to one or two standalone episodes every 5 or 6 serial episodes would soon solve that problem.
- The Journey back to Jacksonville could have delivered more. It was good – great in places – don’t get me wrong, but I would have liked to have seen more considering this is the birthplace of so much of the Fringe mythology. Aside from the dreamscape we only saw one location, and Olivia’s journey ‘home’ wasn’t made to feel as epic as it should have. Not a major complaint though, I suspect we’ll revisit Jacksonville at some point.
- The ‘will they, wont they’ moment between Olivia and Peter was cliched. I thought it was really unnecessary and I’m genuinely surprised that the powers that be would go down this route at this time and in this manner. Let’s get this straight – Olivia and Peter had way more romantic chemistry last season than has been shown this season. Sure, looking back at the previous episode, the writers injected slight foreshadowing when Walter tried to play match-maker, and at the beginning of this episode when Olivia and Peter were unusually playful with one another on the phone. But is this really enough development to bring them to the point where they would have kissed? Would they have really taken time-out from trying to save the people in the building to (almost) play tongue hockey? I just don’t buy it on a story level. It cheapened the episode somewhat because I felt like the writers had abandoned the careful character development they had laid down in previous episodes. I do get why they did it – it’s the “winter finale” and I imagine that someone in the ‘relationship control department’ demanded it. They also needed a way to illustrate present day Olivia‘s one and only fear – falling in love again after being burned by John Scott, whilst building up Olivia’s investment in “Petah” to charge the final scene. So I get it. Really I do. But was it organic? Nope. Did it feel right? Nope. Did I like it? Nope.
- It was a shame we didn’t actually see the building disappear but I guess that’s the budget restriction for you.
- How does William Bell’s method of transporting Olivia to the alternate universe in the season 1 finale reconcile with the ‘universe balancing act’? We can infer that Bell used a different system, since an alter-Olivia didn’t come colliding back through the windscreen..our Olivia did. Perhaps that’s why Bell needed to send Olivia back within a strict time-period – maybe the universe would have sought balance had he not sent her back when he did? Then there’s Bell himself..and Peter – both in their unnatural worlds – did the universe balance them out, or was a loophole found?
- “5-20-10” why does Walter always use same combination for his Cortexiphan secrets, and what is the significance? Could it be a date, perhaps? Maybe it will come into play during the season finale, which is on May 20th, 2010?
- Will Olivia be the one to tell Peter that he’s from the alternate universe?
- We already knew that the alternate universe is suffering from something called “The Blight” – adverse effects (seemingly environmental) caused by Walter opening the door between worlds when he went over to get Peter. We further learned that real coffee is in short supply (in “Grey Matters”, Newton told us that the trees/plants have long died on his side) and that micro-quakes in unusual areas (such as New York) are also an offset.
- We already knew from the season 1 finale (newspaper on Bell’s desk) that the White House was hit instead of the Twin Towers in the alternate universe’s 9/11 attacks, but we find out that like “over here”, their Pentagon was the other target. (we might have already known about the Pentagon – I’ll confirm when I have time to look back over our archives).
- Richard Nixon made it onto the dollar coin and double decker cars are all the rage in the alternate universe.
- Olivia joins Theresa and Astrid in knowing that Peter is from the alternate universe. (OK, Astrid doesn’t know for sure, but she knows Walter is hiding something about Peter).
- 25 years ago (1985) Walter and Bell sent a car to the alternate universe as part of their experiments. Consequently a car from “over there” arrived over here. Walter mentioned that this wasn’t the first time they had done this (though presumably it was just before he stole Peter from the alternate universe after his Peter died). One year before that Olivia was able to see objects from the other side during the Cortexiphan trials.
- As we’ve previously speculated, the Universe seeks balance.
- Walter and Bell experimented on 30 children with Cortexiphan. Olivia was the first to identify objects that were from the other-side.
- The first time Olivia saw the other-side she started a fire with her mind – the results of which we originally saw in episode
1.191.17 (got my episode numbers mixed up, thanks mlj in the comments for letting me know).
- My alarm bells always ring when the show makes reference to God or Mother Nature, even when it seems like a throw away line. So I found it interesting when Walter basically said that the merger between the two universes is not what he’d consider to be in God’s rulebook. This further alludes to the order of things and man playing God, which is hardly a new theme but I do enjoy the way Fringe approaches the subject.
- Walter closing the eyes the Ted Pratchet’s seemed very poignant somehow – a semblance of humanity afforded to something so unnatural.
“Walter I don’t think I can do this..I’ve seen some pretty disturbing things in my time working with you, but this? I can’t do”
- Bless Astrid, there are limits even to her willingness to help out. Anything but Moths and stomach-faces and she’s good.
- The weekly allusion to Peter being from the other reality:
Astrid: “So as far as his wife will ever know, he just disappeared? That is so sad”
Walter: “Yes it is”
- The guilt on Walter’s face said it all. I wonder whether alter-Walter has any idea that is counterpart was behind his son’s disappearance? Before this episode I would have thought he did, but who knows.
- Walter finding his old spectacles was interesting. It was like he had recaptured a piece of his lost youth. Most of his memories have been painful ones, but putting on his old specs seemed like a mostly pleasant experience. I think this tells us something about Walter – as guilty has he feels for what he’s done in the past, a part of him misses his old self.
- I found this convo note-worthy:
Olivia: “There’s just nothing that’s familiar”
Peter: “Maybe that’s a good thing”
- Interesting that Peter should say that. It works on a few levels, but I wonder if it will play into Peter’s eventual forgiveness of Walter for taking him from the alternate reality? (should such a thing happen). Maybe he will discover that coming over to an unfamiliar world was the best thing for him – although it doesn’t excuse Walter’s actions, or his continued lies – which is seeming more and more like self preservation rather than for Peter’s own good. Seriously dude, tell the boy the truth!
- I absolutely LOVED Olivia’s reaction upon waking from her dreamscape-thingy:
Olivia: “What the hell is wrong with you!? ..you did this to little children”
Walter: “..We should get to work”
- Wow Walter, you don’t even want to address the issue? As I touched on above, there’s definitely been a visible shift in him over the past few episodes. I wouldn’t say his guilt is lessening, but I sense he’s more at peace with his past actions than he used to be. Compare his above response to the crippled mess he was when Olivia tore him to ribbons at the end of “Road Not Taken”. Not to mention the previous episode when we saw him intentionally murder a man (albeit a Nazi), and the week before that when he chose to bury the truth about Peter instead of opening up to Astrid, despite how influential she was in saving Boy Wonder. Bit by bit, Walter seems to be reforming into the man he used to be – it’s as if Newton reconnecting his old brain pieces in 2.10 created a spark.
- I get the sense that one of the objects Olivia was supposed to identify as being from the other-side was the scary as hell doll (seriously, that thing was freeeeaky!) – perhaps we’ll see it again in a flashback?
Olivia: “Nothing. Now what? Shall we find some more kids to scare?” *snark* *snark*
- I find it poignant that the thing Olivia is so angry about is the very thing that allowed her to save the people in the building. As I’ve mentioned previously, Cortexiphan has shaped her as a person and allows her to perform well in her job. How Olivia reconciles that conflict will play an important role in the future of the show.
- NINA!!!! That is all.
- Walter tells Olivia that he was trying to help her become more than she was. Olivia questions whether that was what he was really doing, and suggests that he was looking for answers he had no business searching for. Gosh, can Olivia be any more awesome?
- Peter sure was quiet throughout this episode, especially during the Jacksonville scenes. I feel this was intentional on the part of the writing. Perhaps to keep the focus on Olivia, but also because he’s somewhat conflicted – he clearly has issues with what his father did, but he also wants to protect him. Silence was probably the best option he had without looking like he was taking sides.
- The score during the dreamscape and burned-out room scenes was fabulous – the violins adding to the sad, searching and sombre journey that Olivia found herself on. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that the composer might just have a future in this business..(wink, wink)
- I liked this exchange between Olivia and Broyles:
Olivia: “The conspiracy nuts are going to have a field day”
Broyles: “Be surprised what you can make the general public believe.
- I might be going out on a limb again, but I think the writers are conspiracy theorists. It comes across as one of those lines where the writers are not so much speaking at the audience, but to them. It works well because it explains that there was a cover story, and because I can actually buy into the idea that people would believe such a story (although what they told the hotel manager is anyone’s guess!)
- This episode got me thinking – effectively Olivia played a part in Walter being able to get Peter from the alternate universe. Whichever way we look at it, she was involved – albeit unintentionally – as her ability to see through to the other-side must surely have helped Walter succeed in his task. (Olive first identified objects from the alternate universe in 1984, Peter1 died in 1985).
- I’m going to be really pedantic and ask – shouldn’t the arm of alter-Jones have arrived on our side, what with the ‘universe seeking balance’ and all? Then there’s half of the truck that Jones allowed over, and the limbs of various others that got severed in the season 1 finale. Just saying..
I’ve always loved the symmetrical nature of this show and the way in which cause and effect is used as an ironic yet pivotal story element. The biggest example of which probably came last season when Olivia’s ability – given to her by William Bell, was the very thing which enabled her to cross over to the alternate reality and fulfil her ambition to meet with him. We saw another epic example in this episode when Olivia uses her Bish-Bell given ability to see the glimmer and save countless lives. It’s not only an inspirational story device but allows Walter (and Bell, to a lesser extent) to remain somewhat sympathetic characters (even though their morals are badly skewed).
Olivia’s contempt for Walter is completely founded, and I’m so proud of the way she reacted to him – to be honest, it’s long overdue. But how culpable are Walter and Bell for doing what they did? My knee jerk reaction is that they deserve everything they get for experimenting on children. But the context is so layered that we can’t afford to view things in black and white. If Walter is to be believed, he felt that our world needed protecting from destruction – the signs of which we see playing out in this episode. He further believed that only the minds of children were capable of sustaining our natural ability – something that was given to us by God or by chance, but something given to us nonetheless. So in some ways their motivations can be defended – it may even have been more irresponsible not to have taken action. But what I would say is where were the parents in all of this? We know that Olivia had a mother, step-father and an uncle, so surely they would have had to have agreed to any Cortexiphan trials? They also have to share some of the blame for Olivia’s scars, but I wonder if she sees it like that?
I guess my point is, that whatever decision Walter and Bell made it would have been a bad one. This is brilliantly summed up by the excellent Broyles:
“There are times when the only choices you have left are bad ones”
I love Broyles for saying that – not because it excuses immoral acts, but because it gives those immoral acts context, and explains why the villain of our show (Walter) is also the hero of our show.
So, whilst I will continue to question why our world deserves to survive over the alternate universe, and why 30 children were given abilities they never asked for, and why Peter was abducted when he was not the one to lose a father – I am at least grateful that we have a show that is prepared to pose extremely difficult questions, give them context, and offer hope and meaning for our heroes.
8 weeks you say? Are we there yet?..
Best Moment: Olivia walking in on Walter watching the old video of Olive during the Cortexiphan trials, and the conversation that followed.
Best Performer: Anna Torv
If you enjoyed Jacksonville, you’ll like: Ability, Bad Dreams, The Road Not Taken, ..More Than One of Everything, ..New Day in the Old Town, Momentum Deferred.
Episode Rating: 9/10