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TV Review: Fringe – “Olivia”

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Welcome to a whole new year of reviews! For those of you who are new, welcome. Those of you who have been reading me for the last year, thank you for coming back – it’s always a pleasure to read your comments and emails.

This year’s first couple of reviews are going to be a bit of an experiment, as I am trying to go from the uber-detailed, fifteen pages of yore to more concise, easy to read and thought-provoking reviews. For one, this means that there is not going to be any more scene by scene descriptions. And two, it means limiting the amount of theorizing, as I could go on and on about every single topic (which is, of course, part of the fun).

Instead, I am going to keep the reviews down to the more obvious and important theories (in my opinion) as well as to the various concepts and themes of each episode. As the executive producers, Jeff Pinkner and JH Wyman, often mention, Fringe is much more than sci-fi; it’s a family drama of sorts that delves deeps into a couple of important topics that affect each one of us. As always, I’d love to hear from you, be it about your opinion on the episode or on my reviews – or, hopefully, about both.

Onto the good stuff!

Season 3 opens up exactly where Season 2 leaves off, albeit a couple of days, if not weeks, later. Olivia (Olivia Dunham) had been caught by Walternate (John Noble), in isolation and, we now discover, being tested on to imprint Altivia’s memories on her own. This seems to reinforce the fact yet again that the alternate-universe is a military state, and that Walternate is a despot of sorts. Altivia has come over here, where she has taken on Olivia’s identity, thus becoming the perfect mole for Walternate.

The season starts strong in my opinion. Staying true to its original self, we are back to some excellent storytelling, which will lay a solid foundation for the rest of the season. I was very happy that there was relatively little action in the season opener. It allows us to learn a little bit more about the interactions between the characters in the alternate universe before we delve into the politics and motives behind their choices. After all, viewers have to break free of an entire framework, slowly built during the last two seasons, which is associated with faces that now represent two realities. I also loved the fact that they made the transition between one universe and the other so blatantly obvious, while making it seamless with the story.

The theme of perception makes a solid comeback with the episode’s opening scene; our strong Olivia Dunham, whose mental status seemed so strong in the fact of everything she had been through, is now a being seen as a fragile mental patient, a delusional character whose story of alternate universes make sense to (almost) no one. The contrast between what Olivia was saying (i.e. the truth) and the psychologist’s perception of what Olivia was saying (i.e. delusions) is incredibly powerful: is this the fate that awaits Olivia, be it in the alternate universe or in this universe?

It’s all the more interesting when one wonders how many psychiatry patients could actually just be patients with a heightened awareness. When one considers the relationship of this world to the next (where we go to after we pass on) to be a reflection of the relationship between this world and the one we were in before (our mothers’ womb) it could make sense. What if these so-called psychiatry patients are only seeing things that we can’t, things that make them sound totally crazy when they tell us about them?

Walternate’s opening monologue to Brandonate (Ryan McDonald) reminded me a lot of The X-Files. Fox Mulder used to berate the government for hiding things from the public. Although the government was doing it partly for the security of said public, Mulder insisted that the public had a right to know, and that the government wasn’t allowed to be that manipulative about the information it controlled.

It’s an interesting concept: the government protecting the public. If we consider the past, not many decades ago, the state of the world was such that only a limited few could be educated. And thus, they were the few leaders of the masses of humanity, who were at best spectators to the establishment of great civilizations, and, at worse, its soldiers and slaves. But people like Walternate have to up the ante now, as nowhere before in history have so many individuals at the grassroots, people who are not part of the ‘elite’, have had this much power in becoming active protagonists of their own destiny.

But while Walternate will inevitably fail – and not just because it’s television – ­it won’t be before he causes a lot of destruction. He will manage to do so because Walternate have a superpower: he is able to distort perception, making people do wrong while believing it is right. This ability has also severely distorted his own, which makes me wonder at what lengths he is ready to go to achieve his objectives, whatever they may be.

One thought that crossed my mind concerns the level of anger within the Alter-Fringe team, whose reality has been sorely distorted by Walternate to believe amongst others, that Walter is to blame for Altivia’s breakdown. Lincoln Lee (Seth Gabel) and Scarlie (Kirk Acevedo) are extremely capable soldiers whose anger you do not want directed at yourself. The implications for future episodes and introspections are huge.

It needs to be pointed out that Walternate is only dangerous in the context that there are people who listen to him blindly. If individuals practiced the concept of independent investigation of the truth, there would be many loopholes in his story that would one pause and reflect on its veracity. Unfortunately, there are people that believe him blindly. And so, I’d say that, after Walternate, the most dangerous person right now is Lincoln Lee, who is armed, capable, and who seems to believe almost blindly in what he has been told: “The treatment can be worse than the disease, but we just want you to get better”.

Even in a military state like the alter-universe, it is possible for people to know that there are things wrong. The demonstrations being held in front of The Orpheum are  a sign that despite the potential dangers, there are always some people willing to stand up for what they believe in. This also happens in real life, as demonstrations and resistance movements in many military dictatorships show. In this particular case, people were protesting for the release of those who have been ambered. It gives a gruesome twist to a practice we had seen up to now as only being a protective one, as asking for a ‘release’ implies that those caught are still alive.

Olivia’s escape was the episode’s first action sequence – and what an interesting one it was. Did anyone else notice that she used her preferred method of pretending vulnerability as in the Season 1 episode “Bound” (episode 11)? And did anyone notice the similarity of her running through the woods outside the facility with her running through the woods in her vision in Season 2’s “Jacksonville” (episode 15)? It also had a bit of a Count of Monte-Cristo feel: anything for freedom.

One person whose opinion on that matter has already starting changing and is bound to change even more throughout the season – if the writers are, of course, planning to keep him around – is Henry (Andre Royo). When he first meets Olivia, it is obvious he deems her insane; but after listening to her and, more importantly, watching her trying to work her way through what was happening to her, he comes to realize that she isn’t as insane as she might have initially seemed. Henry has, in my opinion, the potential of becoming one of the seasons’ most interesting characters, one that will bring forth a slew of interesting and thought-provoking questions.

Why is Henry helping Olivia? What makes him change his mind from cautious cab driver afraid of the lunatic in a hospital gown to her getaway driver?

Combined with the abovementioned protests, can we infer that people in the alternate universe don’t quite agree with the type of society they are living in, and that they are starting to take their destiny in their own hands? What does that imply for both Walternate and Walter?

Of course what takes the cake in this episode is Olivia’s gradual transformation into Altivia, the glimpse of which we see when she takes two incredible shots, through a gas pump and a car, straight into two Alter-Fringe Division agents who had come for her (while not breaking her stride!). As the very deep Henry puts it: “You’re a hell of a shot!” To which, of course, Olivia answers: “No, actually, I’m not.”

I have to admit that at first, I thought perhaps Olivia was coming into her full abilities, that, just like she always had it in her to cross universes, she has also always had it in her to be an awesome shot. But as the episode went by, I came to realize that it is Altivia’s memories coming through, imposed on her by the treatment Brandonate gave her, a treatment based on B-Leucocytes and accelerated by the adrenaline of her escape.

Remembering what has happened in the last two years of Fringe as well as the direction taken by season three, Henry’s monologue about his trials and tribulations take on a whole new meaning: “You know, a few years ago, I was in a bad way. Couldn’t pull myself out. But inside, I know I was somebody else. There’s only one person who believed that. Jasmine. She saw the man I knew I was. She was the only one. I mean… Sometimes you have to believe in what you can’t see.”

Could this be basically predicting season three with regards to Olivia’s recovery? Olivia is going to be “in a bad way”, what with her consciousness taking a back seat to that of Altivia’s. Wait, where did this happen before? Oh yes, in season one! Could it be that, just like with John Scott (Mark Valley), Olivia is going to have to first identify Altivia’s thoughts, separate from her own, then use them to give our Fringe Division the upper edge? Is Peter (Joshua Jackson) going to be the only person to believe she will to pull herself out, and see herself as she is? And is he also going to be the only person able to help Olivia, like he did in season one’s “Bad Dreams”?

Olivia’s meticulous deconstruction by Walternate is both brilliant and devious. While Alter-Brandon speculates that it might have been the adrenaline of her escape that allowed the B-leucocytes to cross the blood-brain barrier, I wouldn’t be surprised if it also has to do with her relative emotional fragility. The crying in the bathroom stall might have been a sign of her becoming more like Altivia, in that the latter is more in tune with her emotions that the former. Whatever the case, the fact remains: the person who managed to plant the strongest seed of doubt in Olivia’s mind is her alternate mother. The road to hell is really paved with good intentions, is it not?

So it comes to be that there are three people in both universes who know about Olivia and Altivia being switched: Walternate, whose idea it was, Alter-Brandon, whose help was needed, and Colonel Broyles (Lance Reddick). It remains to be seen who is going to be the first person in our universe to realize that Altivia is not theirs. All bets are on!

The attention to detail brought life to the alternate universe like nothing else could. By the same token, that life remained eerily real, making the possibility of such a universe all the more palatable. It also creates the lingering thought: what if, because of some mysterious circumstances, our world became just as paranoid and controlling as that of the alternate-universe?

This Week’s Observer. . . walks behind Olivia as she looks around the park where, in our universe, the headquarters to Massive Dynamic would be.

Glyphs: Amber, which of course made me think of Amber alert – Olivia’s stolen childhood versus the fact that she was kidnapped as an adult.

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About Sahar

  • http://notesfromnancy.blogspot.com NancyGail

    You do realize there has been another episode which aired in “here” with Fauxlivia? I thought that one was even better.

  • http://saharsreviews.wordpress.com Sahar

    Hey Nancy! Which one are you referring to, “The Box”? If so, the review has been submitted to the BC editors and should pop up anytime soon! And it was a pretty amazing episode, you’re right. I finally got my hands on 3×03 which I am about to watch – can’t wait to see what’s going to happen!

  • Flo

    Hi, okay, sorry for being so late to comment.

    I quite liked the episode. I found it very interesting. The family and the origin of things are really two major themes of the show therefore it was logical to see that Olivia’s last step in her transformation to “Atlivia” taking place with her “Altmother”.

    I like the exploration of the altuniverse. I also agree that, as military dictatorial as it is, the revolution is clearly brewing. The people demonstrating and Henry showed that they don’t like to be taken for dumbasses and in the Fringe Division also there are some dissension (?).
    It is interesting to see that not everyone agrees with Walternate method. His way of dealing with issues and treating people is not unanimous.
    This could be an interesting parallel to the infiltration that the Fringe division of our universe is currently subjected to.

    I like Henry and I agree that he could become a great character and a great counterpoint (and at the same time ally) to Olivia.

    The only thing I didn’t like and don’t in general, is the Olivia/Peter thing. It’s too easy and seriously came totally out of the blue (I don’t mean in that epi). I don’t buy it. I find it uninteresting.

    All in all, good episode. Good review as well, thank you for that.

  • http://saharsreviews.wordpress.com Sahar

    Flo! Always nice to read your comments :) Are you happy with the newer Fringe episodes? And it seems that Henry might be returning sooner rather than later, yay!