Recap | <i>Fringe</i>: 'Amber 31422'

"Nature doesn't recognize good and evil," claims US Secretary of Defense Walter "Walternate" Bishop. "It only recognizes balance and imbalance. I intend to restore balance to our world -- whatever it takes."

Walternate is not the only one looking for balance. In "Amber 31422," the fifth and most recent episode of Fringe, Olivia Dunham participated in two different investigations that hinged entirely on the concept of imbalance. Fringe Division gets the call when a quarantine site is breached, leading to the discovery that a man has been rescued from amber. What they don't know at the time is that the man -- Joshua Rose, declared legally dead from the ambering -- was never trapped in the amber at all; it was his twin brother, Matthew, who was unwittingly frozen in his place. But Joshua sets things right when he resuscitates Matthew, disproving the commonly held belief that ambering is lethal.

Olivia is wise enough to put the pieces together, puzzling out that Joshua and Matthew have swapped roles, and when Joshua later freezes himself in an effort to protect his brother and atone for his sins, she drops the case, empathizing with Matthew's need to reclaim his life. It's not a move that the real Olivia Dunham from Over There would make -- this is a woman who shot a deaf man in the back of the head just to preserve her cover and simplify her mission, after all -- and the realization is not lost on Olivia. Even without the constant pestering of the phantom Peter Bishop, Olivia finally recognizes that the hunch in the pit of her gut -- that she truly is the Olivia Dunham of Over Here -- might hold some legitimate weight.

After participating in two separate Walternate-led experiments that saw her travel back to her home universe, Olivia finally knows the score. With her true identity firmly in mind, it's time for Olivia to focus on where she goes from here -- the answer, naturally, is home.

Five episodes into the season and the streak remains alive: by all accounts, Fringe's third year is shaping up to be its best. The mysterious world of Over There remains a compelling place to visit every other week, thanks in large to the subtle differences between the two realities and, most of all, the alternate reality cast. John Noble's Walternate is the standout, a charismatic leader capable of making the cold choice that serves the greater good of his people; once upon a time, our Walter might have been able to make similar calls, but his diseased brain fortunately comes with genuine affection for his fellow human beings -- he's now less capable of damning the many for the overall cause, certainly not the people he holds closest. As arguably the show's most beloved character, Walter's dark side continues to be a fascinating and disturbing place to explore, thanks to expert writing and an even sharper performance from Noble.

He shouldn't get all of the credit, of course. Kirk Acevedo and Seth Gabel deserve plenty of praise for their turns as Charlie Francis and Lincoln Lee, Olivia's alternate universe partners at Fringe Division. Acevedo's Francis already boasts a high degree of familiarity thanks to his series regular status on Fringe's first season, but Gabel's Lee comes at us without any real shred of history. It's a testament to his acting that the decreasingly scarred agent is as compelling as he is, given the fact that there are already countless other characters to keep track of and worry about. Lee is a welcome addition to the Fringe cast, and I hope to see him (and Acevedo) stick around for a while.

But Charlie and Lincoln might not be long for this world -- or, more accurately, we might not be long for their world. With Olivia back in the driver's seat, it's just a matter of time before our hero pushes the right buttons and finds her way home -- and when she does, you better believe that there will be hell to pay on all sides. After all, this is Olivia Dunham we're talking about: when she sets her mind to something, there is absolutely nothing she can't do.

The next episode of Fringe, titled "6955 kHz," airs on November 11 at 9/8 PM central on the Fox network.

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