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'Fringe' returns with a tour-de-force performance

FRINGE: Walter (John Noble) flashes back to 1985

FRINGE: Walter (John Noble) flashes back to 1985 in the FRINGE episode " Peter "; airing Thursday, April 1 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Liane Hentscher/FOX ltc Photo Credit: Fox

THE SHOW "Fringe," Fox / 5, Thursday at 9

REASON TO WATCH The return of one of TV's best - and that's no April Fools' joke.

CATCHING UP Walter Bishop (John Noble) and his partner, William Bell (Leonard Nimoy), have opened a crack, or wormhole, into an alternate universe (like our own, but with certain differences, some of them quirky). By breaching these universes, Walter has set in motion a series of "patterns" - bizarre occurrences. A war looms between the universes; the evil hybrids, a gnarly group of baddies, are already here as sort of a fifth column.

IN THE LAST EPISODE FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) can see when an object or person in our universe is preparing to blast back to the alternate universe whence it came to achieve the balance that nature covets; it shimmers! She sees - gulp - Peter (Joshua Jackson) shimmer, and realizes he has come from the other side, and must return.

TONIGHT Twenty-five years ago, a shag-haired scientist named Walter Bishop is scrambling to find a cure for his dying son, Peter. He fails. The good news, or at least the news that will keep a major Fox franchise in business, is that Walter's doppelgänger in the alternate universe nearly succeeds. Nearly: Walter and his partner Bell have created a window to this other world that lets Walter watch while his twin Walter screws up the cure. He take matters into his own hands, to save his "son."

BOTTOM LINE While titled "Peter," in an alternate universe this episode might well be called "Walter." It's really about one man, and one star - a formidable one at that. Here the brilliant Australian actor John Noble evokes - perhaps on purpose or by simple osmosis - his stunning performance as Denethor in "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." Denethor was the seething, embittered old king who popped grapes into his mouth while his city, Minas Tirith, was about to fall to the forces of Mordor. Crazed with grief, the father who had lost one son was prepared to sacrifice the other. Not so Walter: In his eyes, you can see the despair, then triumph, and finally despair all over again. It's a tour de force.

GRADE A

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