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Good and Evil in Fringe’s “The Box”

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The concept of evil has been a recurrent theme in Fringe. With the introduction of Walternate’s extreme focus on revenge, at the price of the life of his own son, it feels like this theme is going to come at the forefront of many a review and fan discussion forum this season.

One of the great parts of Fringe’s storytelling is that nothing is black or white – everything is delightfully gray, just like it is in real life. One reflection gleaned from this is that evil is often relative – and just might not exist at all.

Let’s give it a go; name me any character that has appeared in Fringe since the pilot you think is purely evil, and I try to point out why that character is not evil, just poignantly human and flawed. (Of course sometimes, in the context of Fringe, the character is not human at all, but that’s another conversation all together.)

But, there is an important question that needs to be asked: how could it be, that there is no evil, when there are so many terrible things happening around us? Just checking the news seems to have become all about evil-mongering.

When I think too much about this and start wondering about the existence of evil, I reread the following quote:

“Beings are of two kinds: material and spiritual, those perceptible to the senses and those intellectual. (…) Intellectual realities, such as all the qualities and admirable perfections of man, are purely good, and exist. Evil is simply their nonexistence. So ignorance is the want of knowledge; error is the want of guidance; forgetfulness is the want of memory; stupidity is the want of good sense. All these things have no real existence. In the same way, the sensible realities are absolutely good, and evil is due to their nonexistence — that is to say, blindness is the want of sight, deafness is the want of hearing, poverty is the want of wealth, illness is the want of health, death is the want of life, and weakness is the want of strength.” 

It makes sense – darkness isn’t a “thing,” but rather the absence of light. And depending on when and where darkness is, it can be considered as evil – relative to the need to have light: “Scorpions and serpents are poisonous. Are they good or evil, for they are existing beings? Yes, a scorpion is evil in relation to man; a serpent is evil in relation to man; but in relation to themselves they are not evil, for their poison is their weapon, and by their sting they defend themselves. But as the elements of their poison do not agree with our elements, that is to say, as there is antagonism between these different elements, therefore, this antagonism is evil; but in reality as regards themselves they are good.”

So what does this imply about Walternate? I’m wondering if his need for revenge is more based on an over inflated ego rather than the lack of any conscience or morality. Walter took his son away; as a father, it was Walternate’s job to protect Peter 2.0 and he didn’t. Maybe Walternate’s ego is so over-inflated that he has transferred some of that anger on his son as well – hence his feeling comfortable with using him in the weapon.

Again, Newton comes across here as Walternate’s almost blindly dedicated servant. Despite being in our universe for around 15 years and having had the chance to investigate the truth of its reality for himself, he still believe that although our universe is alluring, anyone from the alternate universe needs to be careful not to be taken in since we started the war. Either it means that we still don’t know everything and that, in reality, someone from our side (Bell, perhaps, because of the wording used in the ZFT document that he seemed to have written?) started a war. Either it means that Newton is so blinded by Walternate’s expert manipulations that he can’t see the truth when it is, quite literally, before him.

His influence on Altivia thus might become the counter to her pragmatism as she comes to realize the reality of our universe (perhaps she’ll even discover coffee!) and that of Walter’s role in the great scheme of things. Maybe Peter’s relationship with Altivia (whom he thinks is Olivia) will be conducive to turning Altivia to our side, as he will probably confide in her the full story behind his abduction, i.e. that Walter only did it out of misguided love, because he couldn’t bear the thought, after losing Peter 1.0, to lose Peter 2.0 as well.

Once again, it becomes evident that the concept of good and evil isn’t black and white at all. Perception of events, emotions and people, combined with veils that keep us from the truth (or from understanding the truth) are paramount in this discussion.

In her rather unusual situation, Altivia is forced to literally put herself in someone else’s shoes (something we are often encouraged to do in real life) and it offers a great opportunity to explore the concept. This reality is going to be all the more interesting since Altivia is being told one thing by Walternate and Newton, and is going to see something quite different at the grassroots. I’m wondering if at first, Altivia is going to feel forced to take on Olivia’s opinions about our universe (for example when she tells Peter, regarding what Walter did: “he couldn’t have known how hard it would be”) only to come to realize that they make sense, despite what Walternate and Newton tell her.

Of course one can’t mention Altivia without mentioning the little physical differences between her and Olivia. The Fringe production did an amazing job, and so does Anna Torv. Has anyone noticed how Altivia is wearing Olivia’s clothes, but that she looks far less sharp in them? Has anyone also noticed how Altivia’s hair isn’t the perfect curtain of glossy blond hair Olivia’s is? These little differences emphasize the differing points of view and situations of Altivia and Olivia.

Of course, despite her amazing capabilities as a Fringe Division agent and the level of preparation Newton is providing, Altivia is only human and is bound to make mistakes. There are two noticeable moment in “The Box.” The first one occurs in the bar, when Altivia comments that she loves the song playing. Of course, according to Peter, she has never previously expressed even an interest in music. Her second mistake was, of course, when she doesen’t call Peter before checking out Blake’s house. However, she covers both her mistakes quite well, proving that Altivia is just as formidable an opponent as Olivia is.

This is why I believe that the mistakes Altivia makes that will blow her cover are not related to procedures or personal things, but rather related to the differences between her personality and Olivia’s. At the forefront is the fact that Olivia is tough but kind, whereas Altivia has a mean streak a mile wide. Just think of the way she speaks to Newton, years her senior both in age and in experience. While Altivia does need to make sure her position as head of this operation is respected, the way she does it is quite disconcerting to long term fans, who associate Anna Torv’s face with a kind type of toughness.

Unless, of course, associating with our universe starts having an effect on her. Why, for instance, does she save Peter in the subway?If it is only a mission for her, to save the most important item of the machine-bound to save her universe, then why does her face reflect concern on a more personal level?

Only time can tell; stay tuned for the review for Season 3’s third episode, “The Plateau.”

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About Sahar

  • Elliot

    You’re kidding, right, about evil not existing? No matter how fashionable the gray-area argument is, some things really are evil, even with a sad backstory. Ted Bundy probably had a sad childhood. . .

    Walternate trying to destroy a universe, AND murder his son in the process, are just flatly evil. His motivations don’t matter as much as his intentions and actions. Walter, in taking Peter and keeping him, was trying to save Peter’s life, and then, unable to tear his son away from his mother. But he wasn’t trying to kill anyone.

    Walternate tried to have Olivia killed twice at least before she got trapped over there, he has become judge, jury and executioner.
    Newton……. hard to say about his motivations because he is a human-machine hybrid, and the writers have yet to make clear how much the machine part informs his behavior.

    Good point about Altlivia looking less sharp than Olivia, she does appear rumpled and a bit dowdy. And the excess of kohl makes her look less svelte too.

  • http://notesfromnancy.blogspot.com NancyGail

    What about John Scott? Perhaps evil is too strong a word, but it’s reasonable to assume this was a very dark character – willing to kill Olivia in the pilot to keep his secret. With two of everything in FringeLand, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Agent Scott return.

  • http://mariefromromania.blogspot.com/ Kate

    I am woefully behind in Fringe but wanted to say congrats on the top spot today!

  • http://saharsreviews.wordpress.com Sahar

    Elliott: Nope, I’m not kidding! But I appreciate all comments to the contrary, it makes for great discussion :)

    NancyGail: I don’t think John Scott was evil, even if evil existed. He was good intentioned by sadly misled. And it would be awesome to see an alternate John Scott!!!!

    Kate: Thank you!!!

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