The 19th episode of the Fringe‘s third season is, as the name implies, quite a trip. Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) is a powerful hallucinogenic semi-synthetic drug that induces psychotic symptoms similar to schizophrenic episodes. It is no coincidence that this drug is the choice for Walter and Bell’s experiments. The drug is a perfect cast memeber in a show devoted to exploring the concept of perception; LSD interferes with information processing in the nervous system, causing causes perceptual distortion.
The acting chops of the cast have been demonstrated numerous times in the last couple of seasons. However, this episode features some of the best acting in the entire series. Anna Torv does a brilliant job of channelling Leonard Nimoy’s William Bell. From the omnipresent, slightly pursed lips to the movement of her jaw and facial muscles while talking, Anna makes the plotline of Bell-in-Olivia very real, especially with the movements of her body that manage belay the years of hardship borne by William Bell.
The gravity of the situation is enhanced by Joshua Jackson’s portrayal of a man desperate to do what is needed to save the life of the woman he loves, and underlined by Jasika Nicole’s portrayal of Astrid’s gentle, constant concern. The poignancy of the glimpse we are getting into Olivia’s mind is furthered by Lance Reddick’s portrayal of Broyles, whose rigid exterior is cracked open to reveal a dark, almost sinister inside. Then of course is John Noble’s portrayal of a man torn between what he knows is right, i.e. saving Olivia, and what he wants to do, i.e. save his partner whose presence he deems vital to winning the war against the alternate universe.
Despite the seriousness of it all, there are thankfully some hilarious moments. The one I preferred above all is when the LSD starts acting on Peter, who is suddenly fascinated by Broyles’ bald head:
Peter, shocked: You’re bald… (whispering loudly to Astrid) I think he’s an Observer.
Astrid: It’s OK Peter. Walter, we’re ready.
There is also Astrid point-blank answer to Walters’ continued mispronounciation of her name:
Walter: Astro, are we ready?
Astrid: Just about, Wally.
A destabilizing factor adding to the experience of entering someone else’s reality was the inclusion of an animated sequence lasting for an important portion of the episode. The use of animation also neatly ties up the problem of Leonard Nimoy’s retirement from acting.
Regular readers of my Fringe reviews know that I have a love-hate relationship with Walter; although I admire his intelligence as well as the distance he has come since we first met him, he still has terribly egotistical tendencies that make me wish he was a real person just so I could call him up and ask him what in the world is going on. I had one of those moments while watching this episode.
More specifically, I had it right at the beginning of the episode when Walter’s focus on Bell made him seem completely unconcerned with Olivia’s well-being. It was further spurred on by the fact that Bell himself seemed so egotistical, to the point of making even Peter paranoid. And it was topped by yet another demonstration of the deeply unhealthy dependency that Walter has on Bell.
Yet another reason why the unfortunately-fictional Peter and I would get along quite well is that the following conversation he has with Astrid is a lot like many a conversation I have had in the last couple of months with fellow Fringe fans:
Peter: I’m just saying. We know he has a healthy ego. You don’t start a company like Massive Dynamic without an ego.
Astrid: But do you really think that he would let Olivia die just so that….
Peter: He could go on living? I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. But on the list of accomplishments for William Bell, cheating death would certainly rank number one.
Just like Peter, my mistrust of Bell goes a long way, so much so that I even doubt him after the episode’s big reveal. While it might seem that, in the end, he sacrifices himself so that Olivia might live, I believe he only does it for selfish reasons. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bell’s reasoning touches upon the fact that while our universe would be better off if both he and Olivia were alive, it has no chance of surviving if they were both dead. I posit that this so-called sacrifice is a calculated move to ensure that our universe wins the war. What else can I think of the man who tells the emergency room doctor “You will kill me – and the young woman I’m living inside of”? Even then he puts himself first!
It really makes me wonder at the ethical dilemma that such a technology, if it existed, would cause in our world today (and thank God that it doesn’t, because we sure are not ready to deal with it). William Bell takes advantage of Olivia by feeding her, without her knowing, the soul magnets; this alone is completely unethical.
But even if Olivia had willingly agreed to absorb them, becoming a body for Bell’s consciousness come his demise, what are the lines drawn? Until what point should they work to save both, and if only one can be saved, who should it be?