Fringe, Ep. 4.12, “Welcome to Westfield”: Terrific bottle episode lets cast shine

Fringe Review, Season 4, Episode 12: “Welcome to Westfield”
Written by J. R. Orci and Graham Roland
Directed by David Straiton
Airs Fridays at 9pm (ET) on Fox

This week, on Fringe: Olivia dreams, Peter progresses on The Machine, and Walter just has to have his rhubarb pie

As T.S. Eliot wrote, “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal… [and] make it into something better”. In its early episodes, many compared Fringe to The X-Files. It’s easy to see why- both share a mismatched duo with some will they/won’t they chemistry who investigate paranormal events. Eventually the series grew past this initial similarity, improving on its more X-Filesy elements and making them its own.This week, the show draws from a different landmark sci-fi series: The Twilight Zone. The premise is a simple one that could easily have been used for an episode of the classic series**- a group of people enter a town and are unable to leave. This is interesting, but what makes the episode stand out is how it makes the premise “something better”.

**Author’s Note: It’s very possible there is a Twilight Zone episode with this plotline. I thought I remembered seeing one like this, but the closest I found is “Five Characters In Search of an Exit”.

This is achieved in several ways. Firstly, and perhaps most significantly, the performances are excellent. Anna Torv layers confusion and anxiety beneath compartmentalization to show Olivia’s state of mind in Westfield and differentiates, to those willing to look, between the Olivia who begins the episode and the Olivia who ends the episode. Joshua Jackson as ever brings easy charm to Peter, but also hits the mark with Peter’s wistful, but no longer raw, longing for his world and his Olivia. This week, however, John Noble gets the lion’s share to do, bringing Walter to his early season 1 persona, tentative in the world, but happy to explore it (also seen this season during his Day Out with Olivia in “Subject 9”). His confusion at the diner is well played and a reminder of how far Walter’s come and by the time we’re at the high school, he’s in his element, testing and experimenting away.

Another strength is the cinematography. From the opening dream sequence (or perhaps memory?), flooded in blue light, to the post-attack darkness in the diner, almost all of the episode is visually interesting. The effects are successful as well and simple touches like the dual irises and double teeth do wonders to up the sense of dread. Of course, the dual face late in the episode takes care of any lingering doubts of the situation’s seriousness and either the makeup team or visual effects team that made that work (or perhaps both) deserves a lot of credit.

Though the underuse of Seth Gable and Lincoln in the last several episodes has been a regular complaint, not to mention the, until last week, utter wasting of Jasika Nicole and Astrid, “Westfield” benefits from their absence, keeping the episode focused and tight. There is just enough story for these three characters- adding in more regulars would dilute rather than strengthen it. As it is, the episode is well paced with enough time spent building to the reveal of Westfield’s problem such that the remainder of the episode surges forward, full of energy.

Finally, there is an intelligent balance between the serial and the standalone. The central conflict is, one presumes, a standalone, but it has strong ties to David Robert Jones, and also, presumably, functions as a precursor to Olivia’s end of episode discovery. The devastating effect of two Universes being physically forced together can only prompt concern for Olivia. If this is what happens when Universes overlap, what happens when Timelines do so? Fringe has been solid, but in need of forward momentum. Hopefully this will be what provides it, pushing the storyline ahead and setting the series up for an exciting second half of the season.

What did you think of tonight’s episode? What do you think of Olivia’s newly-returned (revealed? stolen?) memories? Anyone else feel a little bad for Lincoln, always pining away for an Olivia who likes someone else? Post your thoughts in the comments below!

Kate Kulzick

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