The previous episode was fairly stand-alone in nature, so the beginning of this episode made me wonder if we were in for the same kind of story. And for a couple of acts, there was little reason to suspect any different. And then the story took an unexpected and chilling turn, and nothing was the same.
I'm speaking, of course, of the scene in the hotel room, when Olivia realizes that there is a connection between herself and Nick Lane. As Walter and Olivia began to put the pieces together, based on her exposure to cortexiphan during her childhood in Jacksonville, with Peter shouting in confusion and fear in the background, I went from vaguely interested to riveted. A lot of people have criticized Anna Torv as Olivia, but in that scene (and many that followed), she brought it.
The fun didn't stop there. The rooftop confrontation between Nick and Olivia was exceptional for two reasons. First, I didn't expect anyone to step off that ledge, so when it happened, it was startling. (Walter's subsequent comment was, however, priceless.) But more importantly, that death wasn't the primary source of the tension in the scene. Instead, it was the palpable dread as Nick continued to talk about his young relationship with "Olive".
It was quickly matched by Walter's intensity as he unearthed a videotape of an old experimental session, co-run with William Bell (as voiced, quite recognizably, by Leonard Nimoy), with "Olive" as the subject. Perhaps worse, the scene in the video was incredibly disturbing, with young Olivia in isolation and terrified. That there was talk of an "accident" and that the room seemed to be charred to a crisp around Olivia was even more evocative. It was easy to guess that William Bell was involved in the experiments in Jacksonville, given the Massive Dynamic connection, but the thought that Walter could have been involved had slipped my mind (and, apparently, his).
Throughout, there were several callbacks to the ZFT Manifesto, as apparently written by Walter, and the reminder that those following the manifesto consider themselves preparing for a war with invaders from a parallel universe. To me, it's fairly straightforward. What makes things complicated is Walter's inability to remember the past with any certainty, forcing everyone else to discover the truth little by little and piece by piece.
And of course, relying on some bizarre manifesto as a source of reliable information is questionable at best, so there are likely to be many twists and turns. The presence of the Observer and the child supports the notion of beings from another reality, but the cause of the conflict (if there is, in fact, a conflict taking place) has yet to be explored.
This definitely feels like preparation for the finale, which is a good thing. So far, the first season of "Fringe" feels like more cohesive update to "The X-Files", with elements of "Lost" and "Alias" thrown into the mix for good measure. But that's something that JJ Abrams has shown a talent for: taking existing conventions and favorites within the genre and mixing them together into something fresh and exciting. "Fringe" is living up to that potential.