In the twenty-first episode of the third season of Fringe, the mysterious Sam Weiss comes to Olivia’s side to help her determine what to do with the newly-activated device as their universe begins to experience dramatically more frightening effects. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Fringe.
HOLY GOD THIS EPISODE. THIS EPISODE. I mean, there’s so much that happened, so much we learned, and yet, all I want to talk about is the final sixty seconds. I know that’s what all of you want to do, too. HOLD ON, MY FELLOW WATCHES, WE WILL GET THERE. Can’t spoil all the fun, right?
I’ve liked where season three of this show has gone quite a bit. It’s easily better than the previous two, so I want to state that before I delve into a bit of an explanation of why this episode felt like a triumphant bit of storytelling. The first eight episodes of season three were electrifying in their energy, urgency, and unique story they were telling. I remember binging through those episodes in just a day or two. I actually sacrificed getting ahead of myself in terms of reviewing just so I could catch up to real-time before the season started back up again. The show had taken the concept of parallel universes and made them easy to understand for most of the audience, and complicated enough so that we couldn’t figure out the details. I felt so immensely satisfied with how rich and believable the alternate world was, and I loved to see Olivia, Astrid, Walter, and Brandon play such disparately distinct characters with ease. (Think how exciting that has to be for an actor or actress.)
The show mixed character growth and emotional storytelling with a MIND-NUMBING serial mythology that the writers also didn’t stray from updating continually. We got answers so regularly that the show felt as if it was barreling towards a huge emotional crux, and in “Entrada,” we got that moment. I still think “Entrada” is the best episode of the entire series, and now, “The Last Sam Weiss” has managed to give it a good run.
The best thing this show ever did was drop the one-off episodes and become a serial drama. It’s made watching Fringe exciting and rewarding, and that’s what I want from a serious drama. I’ve really enjoyed the journey since “Entrada,” so, again, this is not me stating that I dislike season three. But that sense of urgency and OH MY GOD never got quite as strong and present until now. However, that is entirely ok! We have gotten to spend time developing these wonderful characters even further (except Astrid COME ON WRITERS, MORE ASTRID), the pieces have been set into place for this final battle, and there have surely been some fantastically brain-melting twists throughout.
But damn…shit is so goddamn real right now. And I love, love, love when shows and stories do that. I’ve talked about how this show feels rewarding, and this is what I mean: I feel like Fringe has said to me, “Thank you for sticking around. Here’s what we’ll give you in return.”
UGH. I LOVE IT SO MUCH, Y’ALL.
So, I’ve whined about Astrid a lot, and I must say that this episode and “6:03 AM EST” have given us huge doses of her, much more than usual, and she and Walter give “The Last Sam Weiss” a poignant and emotional cold open. Walter is heartbroken that after he was willing to give up his son to save this universe, Peter instead was wounded badly and appears to be in a coma. Bless Astrid, by the way, who is the butt of a lot of Walter’s rage in this episode, and she knows exactly what to do to calm him down. Their relationship has grown so much since the beginning of the show, and I appreciate that the writers are willing to show us this. What else best represents true love besides tapioca pudding and Astrid Farnsworth? Well, ok, Broyles and LSD does, but beyond that. NOTHING, that is right.
We’d only seen small, singular moments of chaos as our universe begins to fall apart, but what “The Last Sam Weiss” does well is give us the true scope of the effects of the device being turned on. Not only does the scene in Holyoke, Massachusetts serve to demonstrate the severely serious situation that the team is up against, but many times in this episode, we are given these grandiose glimpses of the world falling to pieces. How do you show people that the world is ending in just forty-five minutes? This episode shows you how. By the time Peter steps into that machine in the end, you honestly get the sense that shit is real and everything is going to end right now if he doesn’t. That is such a difficult thing to pull off, and “The Last Sam Weiss” does it nearly flawlessly. (I say “nearly” because there’s nothing to kill the vibe of a story more than what basically amounts to a Ford Focus car commercial being dropped into our laps. God, I hope season four doesn’t have these.)
But let’s talk about the titular character, who we’ve all been dying to learn more about for a long, long time. I’m actually completely fine with the fact that we got only part of his story and not the whole bunch jammed into this story. It would have felt too rushed, too much like the writers were telling us HEY, HERE’S EVERYTHING, YOU DON’T HAVE TO WORK FOR ANY OF IT. When you have a show based on a mythology like this, you can’t just spill forth the answers all willy-nilly. They have to feel real, to have a purpose for being revealed in the way in which they are.
Olivia asks a lot of questions. Some of them get direct confirmations or information. Some of them get a question in return. I love that Sam Weiss knows most of the story, but by the end of the episode, he’s almost as much in the dark as the characters and we are. Personally, I think if he’d been an all-knowing figure, it would have been a tad irritating. What he does know, though, is fascinating.
So Sam Weiss is one in a line of a number of Sam Weiss’s. How many are there? And if the first Sam Weiss was the one to discover the manuscript, then who wrote it? How’d he become a contact of Nina Sharp in the first place? How is he even a part of this all?
Ok, seriously, I have a quarter of a million questions about Sam Weiss and the First People and this device, and it’ll be ridiculously pedantic to spend time talking about them. I don’t think we’re done with Sam Weiss yet, despite that I thought the name of this episode implied that Sam was going to die. I’m glad he didn’t, and perhaps next week’s finale will shed light on why he’s played such a large part in all of this.
Which brings me to my next point: WHY DO OLIVIA AND PETER HAVE SO MUCH TO DO WITH ALL OF THIS? I didn’t understand why Peter was destined to be the one to turn on the machine. We’ve never had any light shed on that throughout the show’s history. But when Sam unrolled the “crowbar” located in the box and Olivia’s face appeared among the DNA strands and brainwaves, I realized it was quickly becoming imperative that I figure out why these two people were going to play such a huge part in the end of a universe. (Or the saving. Or something!)
Sam Weiss spoke of the fact that the “timeline” was wrong, which makes me instantly think of The Observers, who are still largely unexplained in the series as well. Beyond wondering why Sam knows that the timeline is wrong (and what that timeline is, too), I can’t help but think The Observers are playing a much larger part in all of this. Who else would know that Olivia would come to gain the powers necessary to be the “crowbar” in the force field around the machine?
I’m glad that Olivia’s powers, which have largely been ignored for most of season three (aside from her ability to pass between universes, obviously), are finally coming back into play. Even better, the writers didn’t avoid the uncomfortable fact that Olivia hasn’t used them in so long. I’m glad that she resisted the idea and I’m glad that they wrote the scenes with the typewriter to show that it’s not a convenient set of powers to have. It would have been far too easy to the story, and it would have stripped us of the metaphorical power of her finally being able to use them, but only in the presence of Peter.
Peter’s story was REALLY frightening and strange for a large chunk of “The Last Sam Weiss,” as I’m sure each of you nearly had an aneurysm when you saw Peter’s note that said, “I’m Going Home.” Of course, my mind ended up on a horrible conclusion: Peter would find a way to go to the alternate universe while in this state. I actually believed this was going to happen even more when Walter told Olivia she’d have to interact with the machine on the other side. I don’t know if I could have handled that, honestly, so I’m glad that was just an extraneous, illogical plot twist that existed only in my brain.
The thing that was so striking about Peter’s REALLY EXPENSIVE trip to New York was that there was this prescient sadness to the way he moved about, as if he knew he was heading to a destiny that was not at all pleasant. Of course, part of this can be explained by his disorientation, but I’m wondering if this phase is actually a sign of something more, maybe a clue to where Peter goes at the end of the episode. Either way, Joshua Jackson played the part extremely well.
John Noble also has another scene in “The Last Sam Weiss” that is not only just as well-acted as Joshua’s part in the episode, but is a fantastic sign of just how much Walter adores and loves Olivia, and how much he’s come to love himself. Walter and Olivia, in a way, have shared some fairly damaging runs of low self-esteem. We’ve seen that manifested in Walter’s sadness about having to rely on Peter during season one, or Olivia’s reluctance to open up to Peter for a large part of season three. Both of them have been hurt in immeasurable ways, and the monologue that Walter gives is about personal healing for him, and shows the hope he feels that Olivia can feel the same way about herself:
“I know what it’s like to feel unequal to the task required of you…to feel incapable. I’ll never be the man I was, but I’ve come to embrace those parts of my mind that are…peculiar and broken. I understand now that’s what makes my mind special. I wish you could see yourself the way I see you. You have no idea how extraordinary you are. If you would embrace that, there’s no end to what you can do.”
ALL MY CREYS. God, what a fantastic message for this show to impart on it’s main character.
But honestly, it’s what we all want to talk about. The machine. The incredibly tense and gorgeous scene inside Liberty Island. The message on the typewriter. Did Peter type that or is it meant for him? WHY SKIP OVER THAT DETAIL oh right the writers are teasing us.
I sat on the edge of my couch (literally!) as the two of them stood in front of that device, the hair raising on my skin as the machine began to whir and hum while Olivia used her powers to shut down the force field. Again, it was a great metaphor for Olivia letting down the walls around her own heart, allowing Peter inside. (I didn’t miss that, writers!!!) I never thought we’d see Peter try to enter the machine TWICE on this show, and yet the second time is infinitely more tense and suspenseful than the first time around. Was the episode going to cut out once Peter stepped inside? It felt like everything was moving in slow motion as Walter and Peter looked up that man in that impossible machine, expressions of horror and terror wiped across their faces.
I honestly expected a cut to black. I did. Instead, Peter wakes up and he looks different. He’s wearing different clothes. There’s a patch that says BISHOP on the lapel. Fire bursts around him as gunshots spread throughout the vicinity of where he’s landed.
Where is he? Peter turns up to face a memorial to September 11th.
DEDICATED IN FUCKING 2021.
And as the solider with a Fringe Division patch identifies him as “Agent Bishop,” Peter realizes he’s been shot and ABSOLUTELY NOTHING MAKES SENSE. NONE OF THIS MAKES SENSE. Has Peter literally traveled to the future? Or just his consciousness? Which universe is he in? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON????
“The Last Sam Weiss” felt so much like a season finale that I now know we are all completely and utterly unprepared for next week’s finale. WHAT IS GOING ON.
I love you, Fringe.