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TV Review: Fringe – “Concentrate and Ask Again” Part 2

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As Leonard Nimoy once said, William Bell might be dead, but his presence will continue to be felt for quite a long time. Going back to the very beginning of the episode, we follow Nina as she steps into Bell’s office. She looks obviously emotional as she steps in to what seems to be a shrine to him. We notice that there are two university diplomas, one from Princeton (where Bell earned a degree in psychology) and the other from Yale. There are also numerous books. Being a book aficionado, I couldn’t help but go a little nuts on the pausing and, of course, looking each book up. There is also the fact that not only do I love books, but looking at some of the titles in the book collection the man kept in his office is bound to give us yet another glimpse into his character.

I’ll start with the most hilarious one, a nod to Leonard Nimoy’s Spock, Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Infant Care. I don’t think it means anything else than touching on the famous Star Trek character, unless Bell had a secret child. Which, you have to admit, would be a little too soap opera-ish for Fringe, and something Nina would have known.

Bell having the book Cell and Molecular Biology in his office comes as no surprise, of course. Neither is the book A Separate Reality: Further Conversations with Don Juan for that matter. His owning The Second Ring of Power sounds rather ominous in the context of the show, but would probably be something any executive in his position would be interested in reading, seeing themselves as a warrior of sorts. By the same token, In the Wake of Chaos also seems a little ominous; hopefully the chaos Bell seemed to be getting ready for will be averted… Gödel, Escher, Bach was an interesting addition to the list, as was The Tao Of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism, and suit the discourse Bell held in the Season 2 finale.

In the safe, Bell held a small, red toy car, immediately bringing to mind the experiment Walter and Peter held in “The Man From the Other Side” (Season 2, Episode 19). He also had saved hand drawn sketches of the Massive Dynamic logo, a picture of him and Walter as well as a picture of him and Nina. And, of course, we come to find another copy of “The First People” book, i.e. “Die Ersten Menschen”, the same book in German.

It doesn’t come as much of a surprise that Bell of all people would have known about “The First People”, what with his relationship to Walternate and the latter’s attempt to construct either a replica of the machine or it’s alternate version.

What it does make me wonder is the relationship between Sam Weiss and Bell, of which we know nothing of. One can assume that the original contact between Nina and Sam, after the loss of her arm, was set up by Bell, which bodes the question: how did Bell know him in the first place?

By the same token, if, as some Fringies have speculated, Sam Weiss lives only in Olivia’s head, this episode clearly indicates that, at the very least, he also lives in Nina’s head. It would also mean that somehow, he made contact with Bell. Or could it be that Sam is a source tapped into by Bell to help Nina? Perhaps he’s a creature for another realm that Bell figured out how to communicate with?

The mystery around who is Sam Weiss thickens. The author of the German copy of “The First People” is M. Weiselauss which, of course, ends up being yet another anagram for Samuel Weiss. Anagrams seem to be intimately related to Sam’s identity; all “The First People” books seem to be authored by an anagram of his name, and in the episode “Over There, Pt II” (Season 2 Finale), the chalkboard had the message “A Demon’s Twist Rusts” written on it, which is an anagram for “Don’t trust Sam Weiss”. Then there is the “treatment” Sam Weiss gives Olivia in the episode “Dream Logic” which helps her grieve over the death of Charlie.

Could it be that somehow, Sam Weiss is intimately connected to the concept of perception, as the solving of anagrams requires that one steps away from one’s current perception of the letters to the perception of another message hidden in them?

Being the king of mystery, Sam doesn’t answer much when confronted by Nina. He does, however, contribute to clarifying another mystery (if, of course, Sam is to be trusted). In his own words:

Sam Weiss: What I can tell you is this: that device can either be used as a tool of creation or as a weapon of destruction. It depends on your point of view. And Peter Bishop is uniquely tuned to operate it. Whatever frequency Peter’s vibrating at will determine how the machine reacts. It depends on his state of mind, which, in turn, will depend on who he ends up with: Olivia from here or Olivia from over there. Whichever one he chooses, it’ll be her universe that survives.

Nina expresses her confidence in Peter’s choice, i.e. Olivia from here, but Sam ominously warns her that she can’t be too sure about that.

Nina can’t be blamed for her confidence in the outcome of Peter’s love life; she’d gotten a rare glimpse into the psyche of Olivia, and because she probably knows and understands Olivia very well, she feels comfortable in Olivia’s choice, just like many a Fringe fans are. Speaking of which, I loved the too-brief excursion into the relationship between Nina and Olivia, as well as into the relationship between Nina and Bell; I hope such excursions will happen again and will last a little bit longer next time.

Nina’s bold yet calm and dignified way of approaching thorny questions is something that gets her far more questions that anyone would anticipate. The exchange she has with Olivia after the latter admits to reading Altivia’s journals, to which the former expresses surprise, is worth transcribing for a multiplicity of reasons:

Nina: I imagine it must have been awkward, reading about her time with Peter.
: It did seem that somewhere along the line, she did seem to develop genuine feelings for him.
: I see. And did that surprise you?
Olivia: No. I mean, I understand how that could happen.
: But what?
: It just makes me wonder if maybe he feels the same way. And I would understand if he did. I was her for awhile, and she’s like me, but better.

Nina: Oh, Olivia…
: No, I mean, she still has her mother, she wasn’t experimented on as a child… She can laugh, she has real friends, she even can wear a dress every once in awhile.
: Yes, but even so, you don’t know what Peter’s thinking. William and I… We also had a complicated relationship. If there is one thing I regret, it’s that we never honestly acknowledged how we felt about each other. Don’t make the same mistake that I did. If you want to know how Peter feels, ask him.

This exchange is very rich in information. First off, we clearly see how much Nina cares for Olivia, taking the time to talk to her about what is bothering her, as well as sharing some very personal information about her own life. Then there is the interesting mix of pragmatism clouded by emotions being demonstrated by Olivia. She understands how Altivia would of course have developed feelings for Peter and yet can’t wrap her head around the fact that Peter had fallen in love with her despite all the differences between her character and Altivia’s. What she forgot is that everyone can be better, and everyone should try to become better. A relationship is after all, the basis for a marriage, and a household is, in turn, the fundamental building block of society. If one is to believe that life is about developing both oneself and advancing humanity, then where better to start than within one’s marriage? The objective then wouldn’t be to find someone perfect, but rather, to find someone who is dealing with one’s issues and constantly and whole-heartedly striving. Whatever issues she might have, Olivia definitely is a striver.

One last point: of course Peter still has feelings for Altivia; he was in love with her, thinking she was Olivia. It’s very difficult to separate the two, because not only they are alternate versions of each other, but Altivia was playing Olivia. And I’m sure that if Peter were to date the real Altivia, not the one pretending to be Olivia, it wouldn’t be the same.

Despite his good intention, Peter ends up blowing it in a major way when he brings Olivia coffee with milk. It’s Altivia that takes her coffee so; Olivia takes it black.

Then again, while this would be upsetting to just about anyone, Olivia seems to be looking for reason after another to not have a relationship with Peter. In this episode specifically, she tries to draw similarities between herself and Simon:

Olivia: The Cortexiphan trials ruined his life. I mean, he’s broken.
: Olivia. I know what you’re thinking. You and him are nothing alike.

Fact of the matter is, as long as Olivia keeps having such a negative attitude, nothing is going to happen between her and Peter. A relationship is a lot of work, and for it to be a healthy and beautiful one, both involved have to fully invested. By the same token, it is this very insecurity that is creating the biggest barrier between the two of them; Olivia feels like her past ‘broke’ her, which is why, in her mind, Peter should be with the unbroken version, i.e. Altivia. Of course what we all know is that sometimes, you fall in love with a person because they are imperfect and dealing with it in a perfect way.

The curveball Simon throws at Olivia at the end of the episode certainly was unexpected. My first thought is that Simon was being deliberately cruel. Then I figured that perhaps he wasn’t; perhaps he wanted to spare Olivia what he thought was a betrayal on the part of Peter.

Regarding the note, it comes as no surprise to me that Peter still has feelings for Altivia. In fact, I am quite confident in saying that Peter has feelings for the idea of Altivia – the idea that he was able to her the person he thought was Olivia become carefree and happy like the person Altivia actually is. It also helped that Peter believed she was Olivia and that he already loved before. And a note to desperate fans: remember that Peter came back for Olivia, and when he dated Altivia, like he tells Olivia, that he thought he was dating her. He was already in love with the woman he was dating, the woman he thought was Olivia.

I have to admit that Simon’s note did make me wonder how much Peter is in touch with his own feelings, and perhaps even how much he is lying to Olivia. While I loved the fact that Olivia randomly starts asking Peter questions at a crime scene, I also was a little put off when I watched the episode a second time:

Olivia: Do you still think about her?
: Excuse me?
: Well you’ve bought me a hundred cups of coffee. You know that I take it black with one sugar, but this morning, you brought me one with milk, and I’m assuming that’s the way the other Olivia likes hers.
: Yes. I think about her all the time. I think about how she used my feelings for you to manipulate me, how she lied to me and everyone else…
: Before you knew she wasn’t me… She was fun, right? She had an easier smile… I mean, that’s what you said.
: Olivia… I said that because I wanted you to know that I noticed the differences. But I thought it was because of me. Because of us. I thought I was bringing out a different side in you. But it was never because I wanted to be with her more. Because I don’t. I’m sorry about the coffee.

Another recurrent theme addressed here, a theme I find utterly fascinating, is how emotions can taint the most pragmatic of people. Take Olivia for example; she is letting her insecurities overrule her pragmatism. I wonder why it’s so hard on her. Perhaps it’s because of her constant role as a protector; maybe she is so used to take care of others because no one else is able to do it, that she can’t accept that someone just might want to and be able to take care of her.

I have to admit that the one good thing about this turn of events is that I am really starting to feel sorry for Peter, and willing to forgive him for being utterly blinded by Altivia. Then again, it will depend on how constant he remains in his efforts to woo Olivia. Until then, he remains on probation.

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