Fringe season 2 episode 20 review

It's Fringe the musical! Or is it, wonders Billy...

2.20 Brown Betty

Whatever you think about Fringe, you can hardly accuse it of turning out the same thing every week. As if to make that as unambiguous as possible, the show runners created Brown Betty as both a means to do something totally different, but also to make more interesting Walter’s emotional state regarding Peter leaving.

The premise is simple: Walter takes a cannabis derivative he called ‘Brown Betty’ just before he and Astrid get asked by Olivia to keep an eye on her precocious niece. By way of entertaining the young Ella, Walter tells her a story which the episode then follows.

In Walter’s mind he creates a Mickey Spillane-like detective story, where Olivia is the gumshoe on the trail of a stolen heart, taken by Peter from Walter. It’s set in a curiously hybrid version of the 1930s, where the clothing and decor is right but people have computers and mobile phones.

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All the main Fringe characters appear as the story unfolds, including Olivia’s sister Rachel, Astrid, Phillip Broyles and Nina Sharp. Except they’ve got period occupations and are in modified locations.

But what I was really looking forward to was that Walter’s story is a musical, so we’re ‘entertained’ with some short musical interludes from many of them.

And this is where I was slightly disappointed with Brown Betty, because the musical parts are far too short, even if some of the cast can sing very nicely. Jasika Nicole (Astrid) has a lovely voice, and Anna Torv (Olivia) is also vocally quite impressive. In fact, unless I somehow missed it, the only person who doesn’t sing is Joshua Jackson (Peter). I was really hoping for something as impressive as the famous Buffy episode Once More With Feeling, but this production never hits those heights, sadly.

What we’re left with becomes more a filler between Peter leaving and, presumably in the next episode, returning. That’s not to say it’s not fun, and as usual John Noble empowers Walter with some true pathos, but with the exception of one important appearance by the Watcher right at the end, it doesn’t contribute anything to the greater story arc.

I’ve been looking at the reaction to the episode in various web locations and people seem equally divided between those who liked the idea and those that hated every moment of it. I enjoyed what it did bring, but felt that, if you’re going to go period musical, you need to entirely let the brakes off. The trouble is that once you’ve done this, it’s not like something you can have another stab at, so the chance is blown.

For those who didn’t like this they can sleep soundly in the knowledge that next week sounds like an entirely more conventional story, where Peter teams up with a local female sheriff to find the link between a series of murders and the Machiavellian Mr. Newton.

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Read our review of episode 19 here.