Every time I think I’ve pegged The Vampire Diaries as my favorite currently running sci-fi show, Fringe comes along and fires back with an even more compelling episode.  This week the preview looked like a traditional episodic X-files-ish monster ep, so I wasn’t really expecting much.  But as has often been the case with Fringe this year, the writers have effectively blended a monster-of-the-week storyline seamlessly with the meta-plot arcs.  This has made the show much more compelling all-around IMHO, as you are constantly rewarded with little tidbits of information that may (or may not) be relevant to the “main” plotline.  For those of us drawn by the Pacey-Olivia-Fauxlivia love triangle, this week hits a major milestone that will forever change the way we watch the rest of the show.  Yes, I will be bold and call it a game changer.

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself here.  The story begins with some scientist celebrating and then getting a creepy doll gift which shoots some gas on him.  The gas ends up melting his bones and he’s left in a disgusting crushed up state.  Turns out Walter is somehow related to this type of stuff (of course, is there anything he hasn’t worked on in the past?) yada yada yada.  More importantly when they get to a later paralyzed victim of the same “villain,” Walter decides to enlist one of his old X-Men, I’m sorry, I mean one of his old test subjects who conveniently has the power to read minds.  We’ll call him Jean Grey because I don’t remember his name.  Jean is living in a desolate area on his own because he can’t quelch the voices he hears, effectively it’s driven him kind of crazy when he’s around too many people because he can’t drown out the voices.  Apparently he has not had the benefit of his mother training him to focus and relax while sitting on the top of a ferris wheel (see No Ordinary Family for details).  It’s actually dealt with more realistically than many standard telepath plotlines, as the writers try to address the conesequences of really being unable to turn off such an ability.

Conveniently, though, he can’t read Olivia, because she is special.  OK, fine, I’ll buy that.  She can walk between alternate universes so of course a telepath can’t read her!  This makes for some nice bonding between the two, since he can refreshingly let his guard down around her without knowing what she is really thinking, and to him it’s a major relief.  Now normally this should lead into a romance (see Twilight) but we don’t have time for this on Fringe.  We already have to deal with the greatest love triangle ever devised, so no time for extraneous mind-readers, unless they serve to advance the plot.  And advance it he does!  Eventually he helps stop the bad guys from releasing more chemical vengeance, but honestly no one really cared about that storyline.

Let’s step back a moment now, and reflect on the Epic Love Triangle, since this is my first Fringe episode review here.  The writers have devised the ultimate triangle, between a man, his love interest, and the alternate universe version of his love interest.  How do you compete with someone who is essentially you, but without all the baggage of being tested like a lab rat for most of your life?  The details of how they “engage” with each other are even more tantalizing.  Just as our hero, Pacey, has revealed his true feelings for Olivia, and she tells him she feels the same, they are pulled apart as he decides to head back to the reality he came from.  She brings him back to our reality (from his rightful one) with the implied promise that they are going to start a relationship together. 

But wait!  The alternate Fauxlivia takes her place and the relationship begins with her, with him believing it’s the “real” Olivia; he sees differences that he likes (like she’s finally willing to do him and she smiles more), but he attributes this (as most ego-centric men would) to her being with him.  Of course she’s a happier, more fun person now that she’s with me (Pacey)!  Later after he realizes he’s been duped and the real Olivia is back, who’s to blame for the mess?  To further complicate matters, it’s established that Fauxlivia is/was really falling for Pacey as well.  So both versions have feelings for him, and in spite of what he tells the real one (that his intentions were always devoted only toward her), the fact is he only developed a “complete” relationship with the alternate one.  They were practically living together before it all fell apart.  Complicated much?

This just makes everything that much more juicy and heart-wrenching.  Real Olivia feels violated, jealous and generally weirded out that someone else was living her life.  She can’t help but wonder why someone who loves her didn’t recognize it wasn’t really her.  Pacey feels duped and confused but still wants to reconcile (or does he?).  She forgives him, kind of, but still has lingering doubts, and little reminders creep into their relationship – such as Pacey getting her a slightly different mod on her coffee (good job doofus).  Everyone knows a sensitive dude like Pacey would never f up his lady’s coffee order.  Freudian slip much?

So back to the show.  Olivia tries to encourage Jean to live his life more “normally” – essentially to put himself out there with a girl he likes.  He tries to explain that being able to read minds is not the same as her dimension hopping power, it actually has immediate, painful consequences.  Like finding out what people are really, honestly thinking about you.  It hurts because generally, people suck.  Even the best of them.  Finally to shut her up he reminds her that he *can* read Pacey’s mind, and he gives her an un-opened letter.  The reveal?  Shock of all shocks, he *does* still have feelings for Fauxlivia.  Dun dun dun!  I’m sorry to say that the dude hasn’t been laid in the 3 years the show has been on, so it’s not too big a surprise he still has fond feelings for the version of the chick that actually puts out.  OK, that sounded a bit crass, but seriously, time to step it up, Real Olivia.  Get in the game and get yourself some Pacey.  He’s never been better than he is now as Dark Pacey.

Now here’s the kicker.  For those of us obsessing over the soap opera plotline, we don’t have to feel like tools anymore.  Apparently the soap opera plotline IS the real plotline.  BAM!  In the final scene,  creepy Massive Dynamics lady goes to talk to the mysterious bowling dude guy from season one (I think), who proceeds to tell her that the fate of which universe survives is dependent on which of the Olivias Pacey chooses!  WTF?!!?  This is simultaneously the most inane and most awesome plot development ever.  It makes no sense whatsoever but who the heck cares, because THE FATE OF THE UNIVERSE lies in one man’s pants.  Go Pacey Go.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I say it’s time for Olivia to get a make-over, hit Victoria’s Secret for a nice teddy, and get her game on.  This ain’t just for love anymore, now it’s about survival.

Absolutely fantastic.  And next week’s episode is billed as the one you “can’t miss.”  I can’t wait.