I just. I can’t even. It’s like…
This is the first time in quite some time that an episode of Fringe has left me speechless. I stared at the screen for a good ten minutes before reaching over and hitting the replay button. Then I did it again – at the end of my second watch, I stayed rooted in my seat, once again speechless.
For one, the momentum gained in the last couple of episodes culminating in Olivia’s return to our universe and Altivia’s to hers left my head spinning. Then there is the fact that finally, oh finally, Peter figured it out (thanks to an Ellis Island cleaning lady). Of course, there is the related heartbreak that goes with that revelation, and the further shades of grey that are revealed through Altivia’s admission of her feelings for Peter. Or the confusion she created by planting the seed of doubt in Peter’s mind regarding their relationship.
Oh, the sheer heart pounding drama of this episode has left us all quite breathless, has it not? And yet despite that, the Fringe team didn’t abandon any of its old tricks. For one, there were, as always, many references to past episodes as well as past concepts and themes.
The most obvious and important reference to a past episode came with the greek sentence Peter testes Altivia with, the first reference to was made in Season 2’s first episode, “A New Day in the Old Town”. Other obvious references were the pictures from cases files Fringe Division worked on in the past that Peter found on Altivia’s laptop, including from the cases investigated in the episodes “Snakehead”, “In which We Meet Mr. Jones” and “Bound”.
In Season 3’s first episode, “Olivia”, Alt!Broyles mentioned that if anyone was to survive on the other side, it would be Altivia, just like Broyles mentions in this episode that if anyone would survive in the other universe, it would be Olivia.
Harmonic transfer was first introduced by Walter in Season 2’s nineteenth episode, “The Man From the Other Side”. However, it’s presentation in this episode, as miniature rods injected subcutaneously in three spots in Altivia’s body, is much more sophisticated.
The sensory deprivation tank, present from the very beginning of the show, made yet another appearance. However, it was the same old, copper tank that both Walter and Walternate have in their Harvard labs, rather than the sophisticated contraption we have seen Alt!Brandon working with. And Walter’s self-medication, which has also been present in one form or another from the very beginning of the show, also reminded us of its presence in “Entrada”.
Once again, Olivia was stabbed in the heart with adrenaline in “Momentum Deferred” (did I just hear a collective “ouch”?)
An indirect reference was made to this season’s episode “Do Shapeshifters dream of Electric Sheep” when the shapeshifter sent to implant miniature harmonic rods and Altivia had the following exchange:
Shapeshifter: Sadly, for my kind, coming here is a one way ticket.
Altivia: I thought your kind didn’t care.
Shapeshifter (with a smile): Eight identities in the last five years. But this has been my favourite. I seem to be a big hit with the ladies.
Something tells me that this blatant disrespect for the nature of shapeshifters, seen merely as soldiers to be used at Walternate’s whim, will come to haunt him in future episodes.
Of course we are still wondering what the infamous machine is used for but also, what the piece Altivia stole is meant to do.
Fringe is rich in moments and details that give each episode a unique flavour. Visually, one moment in this episode that particularly hit me is when the Crippled Shop Keeper (did we ever even get a name for him?) opens the door to his shop and jumps, startled, when he sees Altivia, whose rather ominous reflection we see in the door’s glass panel. With regards to the script, a line in particular that I particularly appreciated in this episode was the shapeshifter ‘injecting’ Altivia when he admits that “some things are going to be hard to leave behind”, like the coffee she is drinking. And the one performance that I got to appreciate once again is that of John Noble, whose transitions from Walter to Walternate are goosebump worthy.
The opening sequence, alternating between red and blue, was absolutely amazing. I didn’t take the time to go through all of the mentioned scientific advances yet – stay tuned for a post on The Fringe Report on all of Season 3’s opening sequence scientific references – but the fact that they did the opening sequence as such was an obvious yet brilliant choice. I wonder: if and when the two universes collide, will they have a purple opening sequence?
This is also a moment where one can appreciate at a deeper level, the patience with which the Fringe production team has built up its plot to this very moment. I loved the switch between universes, all the more that it’s a seamless and easy to follow switch because of this patient building of the plot over the last two and a half years.
The Observer can be seen outside of Penn station, as Altivia arrives to meet with the shapeshifter to be injected with the harmonic rods to cross back over. The Glyphs spell “CROSS”, which could be the verb “to cross over”, or maybe even a cross of sorts to bear, for Peter – who, in a weird way, cheated on Olivia with Altivia – for Walter – all of this being the result of his initial crossing over – or even for Broyles, seeing an identical copy of himself in the gory state that it was.
Olivia’s character development continues to baffle me. There is the fact that, once again, she was on the floor of her cell when Alt!Broyles came in to see her, and the chilling scream she let out.
It makes me wonder at the psychology of being in jail – could it really have changed our strong Olivia this much? Why isn’t she drawing on her strength more? Or is it crossing over repeatedly from one side to the other conducive to this breakdown of sorts? Or could it be that Olivia isn’t really any less strong than she used to be, but rather that, because she now let’s out these negative feelings and emotions, she can potentiall be even stronger:
Broyles: If I had anyone I had to bet on surviving there, it would be her (Olivia).
Thankfully one thing that has yet to change is Olivia’s natural tendency to care for others, particularly the weak, her first question to Alt!Broyles being about Chris.
There is another Olivia-centric question that is particularly interesting to ponder, which is how she crossed over from one side to the other, and if she is going to break free of yet another dependency, i.e. that of the sensory deprivation tank:
Alt!Broyles: That will help you cross over?
Olivia: Yeah. Something to do with the lack of sensory input
Perhaps her dependency on alcohol, a sensory-numbing product, will somehow be related to this in the future.
Another character that has many asking questions and staring at the screen in rapt admiration is the one and only Astrid who, once again, provides a very important piece of the puzzle: she links the box in which Altivia brought Walter pastries and to the pastry shop in the Bronx beside which is the infamous typewriter shop the Other Side uses for its nefarious purposes.
And, speaking of Olivia and Astrid, there is of course what has to be one of my favourite moments in the episode: when Astrid, alone in the lab, is startled by the sound of Olivia stepping out of the tank. This is a classic moment bound to be fondly remembered by Fringe fans long after the show is over.
Other fond memory will include Walterisms such as the ones in this episode, the best one being: “He fell right into her vagenda.” I laughed for a good ten minutes at that one, and it still provides me with a lot of laughter even after many a rewatch.
Then there is Walter’s offer to help with the scouting of the neighbourhood in the Bronx: “I’ll take the pastry shop.” And of course the following exchange:
Broyles, handing a gun to Peter: Don’t shoot yourself.
Walter: No gun for me.
Broyles: Good idea.
There are always many hints and indications handed to us regarding The Other Side. One very interesting one was the way Altivia was getting what she wanted from the Crippled Shop Keeper:
Altivia: You want new legs? There is one more thing I need you to do for me.
The retention of such an important ally as The Crippled Shop Keeper with the promise of functioning legs tells a lot about The Other Side regards to empathy; after all, there is a specific type of person who would hold back the cure to crippled legs as a way to get their way, instead of, say, giving the cure to the person and asking their help in return. The Other Side uses fear and intimidation even more liberally that previously believed, while our side seems to use more loyalty and love. While the latter might seem to yield more results in the short term, the latter certainly delivers more in the long term, with added benefits to boot. An interesting comparison is that of a child who obeys its parents out a fear, who will be very different than a child who obeys its parents out of love.
But as always things are not black and white. Just like how in our universe, people would hold back a cure to get their way, on The Other Side there are heroes, and the real kind. A review of this episode wouldn’t be complete without a mention of Alt!Broyles’ choice with regards to Olivia. He, in short, sacrificed everything in the name of justice. After all, he saw who Olivia really was, before Altivia’s memories were imposed on her, before she remembered who she was and after as well. He managed to be a real hero, first seeing the truth as it was rather than as it was told to him by Walternate, and second, by acting upon this knowledge. He fully deserves this accolade he received:
Barkeeper: Your money is no good here. Times are tough – it’s nice to know we have heroes.”
A hero isn’t as much one because of what he does as much as why he does it. The fact that Alt!Broyles had the courage to see and to go beyond his comfort zone is what makes him, in my opinion, a hero, even had he not be obliged to die. After all, there are many small gestures that individuals can make to make themselves feel more comfortable with a situation they know isn’t just:
AltBroyles: Is there anything I can do to help make you more comfortable?
Olivia: That’s not why you are here. You are here to make yourself more comfortable.
In real life, this seems to be the underlying reason for many of the good intentioned yet relatively empty gestures made every day in the name of the betterment of society, but which won’t amount to much without action. One common example is the act of changing your Facebook profile picture to raise awareness on a specific issue. While raising awareness is definitely important, it should not be an end, but rather be the catalyst to a systematic approach to discoverining and eliminating the root cause of a problem. Giving a bit of change to charity isn’t as powerful a measure as ceasing to contribute to a system which creates and sustains poverty, for example. Alt!Broyles’ example is all the more important to be inspired from – though he be a fictional character – that the real changes that our world today need are relatively simply but take real courage to make, the kind that heroes demonstrate, a courage that is sustained by hope:
Alt!Broyles: I’ve seen war, but if what you are saying is true… In the end, I have to believe in hope. Please make this worth it.”
Fringe continues to be, first and foremost, a human story. After the father-son tension from last season and the beginning of this season – a storyline that has yet to be fully completed – some that of the love triangle as formed by Olivia, Peter and Altivia.
For Peter to have bonded so completely with Altivia, who, in a way, is the ‘better’ version of Olivia (in that she led a normal life versus Olivia’s arduous childhood) doesn’t come as much of a surprise. He might love Olivia despite all the facets in her character, formed by said arduous childhood, but imagine an Olivia without those extra challenges, an Olivia unburdened who could fully share his life with him – that’s what he had in Altivia.
Of course, Altivia does have a whole side of her which isn’t as endearing, i.e. the side of her that, despite being in a relationship with Frank, a man she supposedly loves, she slept with Peter and probably fell in love with him. Newton’s ‘doing what it takes’ was only ,in my opinion, an excuse – Altivia was liking Peter from before she slept with him, and was hiding behind the necessities of her mission to do something she knew was wrong on so many levels.
Which makes me wonder if, to a certain extent, Peter allowed himself to be blinded as well – blinded to the fact that this almost magically healed Olivia couldn’t possibly be his own, that perhaps she isn’t the one that he was in love with. Hopefully we are going to have a Peter-Olivia talk sooner rather than later – I certainly hope we are going to have one before the hiatus, if not, I know many a Fringe fan who isn’t going to be sleeping anytime soon!
It’s going to be interesting, as a fan and a reviewer, for me to try to remain as objective about this as possible. Of course the fact that Peter clearly feels the weight of what has happened – he looks just as bad as he did in Season 1, when he wasn’t sleeping and living again with his father was driving him up the wall. The Altivia-Peter showdown was quite something, too. It starts with this exchange:
Altivia: Listen whatever happens to me, I want you to know, that this started out as an assignment but…
Peter: It became something more. (cups her face) That would be so much easier to believe if you weren’t in handcuffs right now.
Then things take a turn when, in her backpack, Peter finds a set of four pictures he and Altivia took in a photo booth.
I know I just might attract the ire of many a Fringe fan here, but just like with everything else in this show, it’s not black and white – and I do believe that Altivia isn’t evil, and that she did mean what she told Peter. And as mentioned previously, I can see how Peter could have let himself be lured into the fantasy that she was his Olivia. To all of you who are with someone, think about their burdens; wouldn’t it be easier if your loved one didn’t have such heavy baggage?
But then again, a burden such as the one Olivia carries is sometimes what makes a relationship work. It depends, of course, on how you define a relationship – if it’s one that is meant to bring you both a space in which you can not only love and share, but also grow, then such burdens are actually the best thing, as working on them together can bring a couple closer together. And in a way, that’s what happened with Olivia and Peter; he was intrigued by the mixture of strength and vulnerability.
I know that Wyman and Pinkner said that we are not going to be returning to the format of our universe one week and the alternate universe the other week, and I hope that some of the ‘visits’ we make to the alternate universe give us a glimpse of what Altivia is going through. I would not be surprised if, in true Fringe fashion, the team decides to mess with our heads by making Altivia sympathetic by having her pine over Peter, to the point of breaking up with Frank. It remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: this,
Lee: It’s like nothing ever happened.
Altivia: Like nothing ever happened.
Is all a lie.
It seems that to a certain extent, Peter is going to be the major player in determining the fate of this love triangle. He should not let his guilt over what he did blind him or make him seek relief in denial. He needs to face what he did and perhaps even have ‘the talk’ with Olivia – and the sooner, the better. Again, I hope that the writers don’t extend that for too long, like they did Peter’s finding out about his origins.
One thing that might tip the balance back into Olivia’s favour is the fact that to a certain extent, Peter and Olivia need each other, both to find balance in their lives; Peter, to be able to finally settle down and feel part of a family, however odd this one might be, and Olivia, to have the strength to deal with the cards life is dealing her.
Whatever the case, this exchange was yet another heart breaking moment, probably for both the audience and Peter:
Peter: I’m sorry, Olivia.
Olivia: Don’t apologize – you are the only thing that got me through. If it wasn,t for you, I would never have made it back. You saved my life.
If only she knew what he is sorry for.
In other depressing Fringe news, the state of Alt!Broyles body when it appeared in lieu of Altivia, in the back of the police truck, left me not only sad but curious as to how and why it was so mutilated.
There are a couple of ideas that come to mind.
On the one hand, perhaps it simply has to do with the fact that Alt!Broyles wasn’t ‘prepared’ like Altivia was to cross over, and so, wasn’t protected from the effects of crossing over. By the same token, his body mass being bigger than that of Altivia’s, a couple of pieces were left behind, such as his leg and arm.
But somehow this is disturbingly too simple an explanation that just doesn’t fit in a show as complex as Fringe.
Another theory then could be that Alt!Broyles, having been shot (we hear the distinct sound of a gunshot outside the tank of Walternate’s Harvard lab), had in his leg some sort of advanced bullet, which had to quickly be removed to ensure that our universe wouldn’t be able to copy it. Of course that sounds a little too out there (ironically enough). I do think that perhaps Alt!Broyles’ missing left arm could have to do with the tracking device he showed Olivia he had there; perhaps the leg was, again, just the consequence of a mass balancing.
Whatever the case, I wonder what kind of psychological trauma it is for someone like Broyles to see their identical copy in the state that Alt!Broyles was in. On the one hand, Broyles knows that it isn’t him in any way that’s there; but images are powerful things, and seeing an identical copy of himself in that state, all the more with the very real possibility of a war with the alternate universe looming, must have been quite the wake up call. Was Broyles thinking of himself, and the fact that this might happen to him? Was he thinking of what his children might feel were he to die? Was his thinking of Alt!Broyles’ family, a mirror image of his own, and worrying about what the alternate version of his children would do without a father? One can (thankfully) only imagine.
The biggest cliff-hangers of this episode include the consequences of Altivia’s actions on Peter and Olivia’s relationship, as well as the repercussions of Walternate now having both that elusive piece of the machine but also, he knows about Cortexiphan. The race will probably continue in upcoming episodes for each side to arm itself, be it with actual arms to defend itself, or with allies to create a peace treaty of sorts. I am quite looking forward to further character development in both universes and to following the increases in the level of consciousness of two sets of people, one here and one on The Other Side, who will hopefully be able to start seeing through the lies, pretences and various veils to see that they are not enemies, but rather common protagonists in an effort to survive. This theme is of course one that touches many of us in our day to day lives as we struggle to contribute to creating a better world – and who knows, maybe a sci-fi show about a potential war between two universes will be able to contribute to the ending of war in our world.