In a TV season that already gave us Jessica Lange's unique approach to motherhood on American Horror Story, it's hard to imagine that any other maternal figure could even compete. But last night on Fringe, in just two scenes, Blair Brown gave Lange a run for her money in the creepiness department.
By far the best thing about the episode was the all-too-brief interactions between Olivia Dunham and her surrogate mom, Nina Sharp (played by Brown). In this new timeline, the one in which Peter Bishop died as a child, Olivia was raised by Nina, and they have a super-close relationship. Which apparently hasn't stopped Nina from drugging Olivia and doing bizarre experiments on her, as part of Nina's partnership with the evil David Robert Jones.
And in last night's "Forced Perspective," we discover that Sharp's company, Massive Dynamic, is still interested in experimenting on little kids despite Nina's past claims to the contrary. The episode's "freak of the week," who's basically a clairvoyant Wednesday Addams, is being stalked and harassed by Massive Dynamic, who want to study her brain. (Although some of the stalking is just in her father's over-active imagination, since an unmarked black van turns out to be just a random scary dry-cleaning vehicle.)
In the clip above, Olivia confronts Nina about it, and it's really good to see Olivia verbalize what we've known for a while — Nina saw first-hand the horrible after-effects of Olivia's abusive experimentation, for many years, so she knows how terrible it is to experiment on kids. As Nina admits to Olivia later, she's had to forgive a lot, and get past a lot, to be the person she is. (And to work with Walter, the man who did most of the experimentation on her. Ironically, Walter is now considered the best person to examine unusual children, as seen in this episode as well as "All Alone In The World.")
And then in the end of the episode, Nina and Olivia meet up again, and Nina starts to apologize — only to have Olivia say that it's okay, and that Olivia loves Nina because she's the closest thing Olivia has to a mom. The extra-creepy knife twist comes when Olivia mentions about the migraines which Nina's latest secret experiments on her have caused. And Nina's all like, "Let me make you some soup. And hey, I'll get you an untested experimental drug to help with the after-effects of the dangerous experiments I've been doing on you without your knowledge." She's seriously in the running for Mother of the Year.
(Although I do love the Nina-Olivia stuff, it must be noted that we've been told about their mother-daughter relationship a lot more than we've been shown it, at least thus far. It's a credit to the brilliant acting of both Anna Torv and Blair Brown that we buy this relationship, without needing to see a whole lot of evidence.)
The other huge Olivia-related strand this week was Olivia dealing with September's prophecy, a couple episodes ago, that she would have to die. Olivia talks to Broyles about it, and processes about it a fair bit, but refuses a security detail. She also refuses to play it safe or avoid going into dangerous situations, since she still needs to do her job. (And presumably September wouldn't have bothered to warn her if she was just going to die in a random work-related mishap. Her death is important in some cosmic fashion. And just as the Observers went to great lengths to prepare Walter to lose Peter in last year's "Firefly," September may have told Olivia about her fate so she could prepare herself, or accept it.)
We don't really see much forward motion on the "Olivia is going to die" subplot, except that Olivia grapples with it, and this new-timeline Fringe team is still playing catch-up in terms of learning about the Observers. (And yet, the episode uses the threat that Olivia might die to try and ramp up tension during the "courthouse car bomb" sequence, with limited success.)
Sadly, this week's "freak of the week" plot was pretty forgettable — when Wednesday Addams randomly died of a stroke towards the end of the episode, I just sort of shrugged. Hey, it was her time.
And the practice of having a "freak of the week" that is thematically linked to something the regular characters are going through is pretty played out. You know it's getting to be an overused device when the characters themselves comment on it — as they do in this episode. Olivia actually turns to the camera and says, "Hey, it's sort of funny that I just received a prediction of my own death, and now we're investigating a case in which someone else predicts people's deaths. What a coincidence, hey?"
This comes on the heels of a number of other episodes in the past couple seasons where the Fringe Division just happened to investigate a case that had thematic significance to whatever personal issue or over-arching plot they were grappling with at the time. I know this is a common scriptwriting tactic on television in general, but it's reached the limits of its usefulness on Fringe. Like I said, when the characters themselves start commenting on how implausible something is, it's time to let it go.
The "Wednesday Addams draws the future" storyline, of course, is a twofer — not only does it relate back to Olivia's predicted death, but also to the ongoing Massive Dynamic commitment to good, solid, child-tested science. Because sometimes you can't make an omelette without breaking a few kids. At least that part of the storyline is worthwhile, because of the vital ethical issues it brings up — and on the plus side, the episode did leave us dying to know what happens next in the utterly twisted Nina-Olivia relationship.
Plus after watching that last scene, we're not going to be eating soup for a few days.