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TV Review: Fringe – “An Origin Story”

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And voilà: Fringe seems to have bounced back. I hate to admit it, but Etta’s death last episode did seem to bring a je ne sais quoi back to the show that had been a little lacking in the last couple of episodes. My friend Monica is completely right in saying that with Etta’s death, we can look forward to a whole new gamut of emotions the writers of the show worked very well in this, the fifth episode of Fringe’s fifth and final season.

In the aftermath of this death, we find the Fringe team dealing with their emotions in very different ways. This comes as no surprise, since death has different effects on people: Walter became the shrink, Olivia’s façade cracked, Peter’s common sense was obliterated, and Astrid is still not getting nearly enough screen time for us to know how she felt about Etta or her death.

Whatever you might believe about life after death, the passing of a loved one in such circumstances has to be hard. But what to say of the pain of a mother who lost her child twice in what felt to her like a very short time? No one but a mother can understand it happening once, let alone twice, and Olivia, however strong she might be, is struggling with this pain: “Why would we get her back just to lose her again?” Just like she did after the apparent betrayal and death of John Scott all the way back in Season 1, she had been concealing the pain pretty well behind the wall she put up so many years ago, the wall that seemed to be, for a short time, coming down. Perhaps this is why, when Olivia finally gave in and watched the cassette of Etta’s birthday party, she touched her own image on the screen. Maybe she was trying remember what it felt like to live without the wall; it could be that she just wants to be that Olivia again.

Walter’s pain is sharp, but a little more removed; Etta’s grandfather has the wisdom of years and the experience of first losing two versions of his son and, subsequently, his wife. His listening in on Peter and Olivia’s conversation might have been accidental – although knowing him, it most probably was not – but it enables him to figure out with crystal clear clarity that Olivia’s worry is not about Peter, but rather, about them as a couple. Possibly it is because she knows that, without him, she will never be able to be the Olivia without the walls again.

Knowing how precious this second chance is, and realizing that they might need a bit of a push, Walter digs out a video cassette of one of Etta’s birthdays for her parents to watch. In one of the most touching exchanges between Walter and Olivia to date, he tells her: “You must face this pain together. The pain is her legacy to you both. It’s proof that she was here. And I have experience with this, this sort of pain, and you can’t escape it by building walls around your heart, or by breaking the universe, or by vengeance. You lost each other once. But you have another chance.” He might be a mad scientist, but he makes a pretty good psychologist, doesn’t he?

Unfortunately, what neither Walter nor Olivia yet know is that she has, in a way, already lost him to the deep anger roiling underneath the still calm front. It was pretty clear from the beginning, when Peter grabs Walter’s idea of turning the wormhole the Observers use for their transport into a black hole, despite how dangerous it might be; he is too attached to the idea of a tangible victory, something real he can hang onto. Most probably Peter’s action were not only motivated by anger at Etta’s death, but also at his anger at Olivia not getting the chance of once again breaking down her walls. However understandable that may be, revenge is dangerous business; as Anil puts it, “before you go on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” And when he loses that tangible victory he so desperately was looking for, Peter seems to have lost all hope, and the darkness of despair takes over. In a way, he sold his soul, choosing to use the Observers’ tech to beat them, even if the price is to become emotionless like them. The question then becomes, how could Peter have channeled his anger into actions that were healthier, albeit not with as immediate results?

The Observers are of human origin, and yet they are nothing like us, for they sold their humanity for the sake of technological advancement. Their view of one aspect of their humanity, that is, their emotions, is quite telling: “Emotions get in the way of judgment.” Without this, their higher, emotional/spiritual nature, the scientific advancement they achieved was seriously perverted, as we can see through their actions. Anil’s jeer of “That’s the cold stare that I know and love” left me particularly cold blooded after Peter’s choice at the end of the episode. Too bad the Observers did not retain their human side; imagine what kind of work they could have created had they balanced the technological advancement they achieved with an even basic code of morality.  

However flawed the basis of the argument is to create a society of “numbed” humans in the name of technological and scientific advancement, we are more than aware of the dangers of emotions running amok on our ability to make well thought out decisions. And I have to agree with the Oberserver captured by the Resistance that emotions do get in the way of judgment, and create a shaky foundation upon which decision are made: “You ascribed meaning to something that was not there. You saw what you wanted to see. You believed what you wanted to believe, because that is what your emotions do. They ascribe meaning to something that’s not there. They fool your perception as to what is real.” However, rest assured: I do not think that creating or accepting to use tech such as that developed by the Observers is the solution.

Hopefully Olivia’s wall will come in handy, and will help her balance out both logic with emotions in the Resistance’s fight against the Observers. The glyphs spelled out F-I-G-H-T, which is quite à propos, seeing as how previous episodes showcased the different ways of dealing with the enemy, from collaboration to passive resistance to active resistance. And now, we have been introduced to another way of fighting, that is, by becoming like the enemy. The “Resist” posters with Etta’s face on them becomes all the more poignant as we realize her parents, whom, as mentioned by Olivia, spent so much time and energy finding them, might die, even if it is not in the physical way.

The episode did not feature particularly humorous moments, but did feature a very poignant, bittersweet moment, when Peter found Etta’s secret stash of weapons: “That’s my girl.” One particularly striking visual was Olivia’s bathroom scene in the opening portion of the episode, when the camera caught her both in the mirror and outside of it. Astrid’s brilliance is once again displayed but unfortunately, she is again relegated as the Fringe team’s underappreciated caretaker. And however much I hate that Olivia and Peter and even Walter are suffering, I do hope that finally, Astrid will be able to shine.

It is quite understandable that Olivia is very scared of losing Peter. Not only it happened before, but he has quite an effect on her: he made her abilities express themselves, he made her remember him from a whole other timeline, and he made her walls come down voluntarily. But in a way, it feels like she has already lost him, which the writers underlined by the irony of Olivia calling him right after he injects himself with the Oberver tech. However, it might be that this is what will make Olivia’s abilities return, despite all the Cortexiphan being supposedly burnt off at the end of the previous season. As discussed with Monica (seriously, follow her on Twitter and talk to her about Fringe, you’ll love it), while it might be true that the Cortexiphan is all gone, we have been told numerous times in the last couple of seasons that it has altered Olivia. Perhaps this, the shock of losing Peter to the tech, after the double loss of her daughter and the trauma of waking up in a completely different world, is what will make Olivia tap into her real powers. Perhaps the Observer’s warning, “You don’t even know what you don’t know,” is also a warning from the writers to us, the fans. And we only have eight episodes to find out what they have in store for us.

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