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TV Review: Fringe – “Reciprocity” Part 2

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However amusing and thankfully harmless Walter sniffing monkey DNA turned out, it underlines how impatience, anxiety and related, high-strung emotions are highly dangerous, becoming veils obscuring logic and objectivity. I find it highly ironic that in his quest for mental acuity, Walter is demonstrating even less mental acuity than he is currently capable of, what with the veil of his anxiety obscuring him.

Even more interesting is the fact that, although Walter claims that Peter is “what this is all about”, it’s become all about him and his mental acuity. In his quest to save his son, Walter has become wrapped in his self. It makes you wonder just how many people, in their day to day lives, while having the best of intentions, do the most grievous harm because they are wrapped in themselves.

Another veil obscuring Walter is the belief that his mental acuity is the only thing needed to save Peter from a terrible fate. Not only does that underline the underlying arrogance of the man, but it also undermines the power and potency of the consultative process, all the more that Walter has at his disposition Massive Dynamic. While intelligence is most certainly an asset, perhaps it would be more strategic for Walter to pour his energies into consulting with other in order to make up for his decreased mental acuity. After all, consultation is a form of intelligence. For example, instead of getting all up and in it when he meets extremely smart people like Dr. Falcon, to use them through consultation. Then would Walter become smarter in the sense that consultation brings out the spark of truth.

In a terrible attempt at smoothly changing the topic at hand, one person who certainly was not telling the truth in this episode was Peter. While it was obvious from the very beginning that Peter was hiding something, I really didn’t see the twist coming until near the two thirds of the episode. I didn’t link the first death to Peter in any way. The only thing that set me on edge was Peter’s “Do you actually want to catch this mole, Nina?” First indication that something wasn’t quite right with Peter, but I chalked it to being under a lot of pressure, what with the impending threat of the machine and his relationship with Olivia.

Actually, who am I kidding? Until I saw everyone but Peter marching down the hall to intercept Brandon, which came mere seconds before the big reveal, I had no clue. Kudos, Fringe production team: you got me.

Peter, in Walter’s words, has been weaponised – he has become a soldier. Perhaps it was something inherent to Peter, or something inherent to the machine. Then again, perhaps its Peter’s increasing helplessness, both in the face of his impending doom as well as in the face of his relationship with Olivia, that made him susceptible to the machine’s effect.

By the same token, remember how Peter was a loner when the show first started? Remember how he admitted, a little over a year later, how he felt he had a family of sorts in Fringe Division? Isn’t it interesting how the “weaponization” of Peter includes him telling Walter at the beginning of the episode that there is nothing he can do? Walter is part owner of Massive Dynamic – of course he can do something!

It seems that this vulnerability, which made him so endearing when he admitted to Olivia that he didn’t want her to read about how foolish he must have seemed to Altivia, also made him open up to the possibility of being weaponised, and could be making him more and more susceptible as time goes. Perhaps if taken to the extreme, this vulnerability will make him willingly step into the machine.

Seeing as how, up to now, the Fringe production team has relished the telling of each story, be it a major one or a minor one, it hardly comes as a surprise that they are doing the same with one of the subplots dear to many a Fringe fan: Peter and Olivia’s relationship.

First of all, I’d like to reiterate that, alternate universes notwithstanding, the relationships in the show are impressively realistic, all the more that they really stick to the character development meticulously done over the last three years.

Second of all, when it comes specifically to Olivia and Peter’s relationship, I find it quite refreshing that, as opposed to the irrational drama that often marks television relationships, this one is rooted in maturity and growth.

For your consideration: the feelings Olivia and Peter have for each other, developed throughout the last couple of years in situations fraught with emotions, are too real and deep to be tossed away, even despite an unintentional betrayal. It would make no sense for Olivia to not, slowly but surely, understand and appreciate Peter’s position.

It starts, in this episode, with their short but very sweet banter in the MRI room (near the quarter way mark). Some Fringe fans tweeted their disbelief that, after what happened, Peter and Olivia could go back to something remotely resembling normalcy. But as the majority of the fandom underlined, that is what rational adults do; they put aside their egos and are able to see the situation for what it is. Based on the development of both characters, this makes me firmly believe that Olivia and Peter’s relationship is going to work out in a realistic, mature way, although maybe after many more tests, obstacles, trials and tribulations.

In a rare moment of raw emotion and complete vulnerability, Peter admits to not liking being on the side opposite to the one he’s used to being on: “I’ve conned people. And I know what I would have written about them. She must have thought that I was a fool. And I don’t want you to see me like that.” However hard that admission must have been, it definitely helped, giving Olivia an extra boost in her effort to understand what he was going through: “I owe you an apology. (…) The last few weeks have been really hard for me. I’ve been so focused on what the other Olivia did to me that I just haven’t thought about what she did to you. (…) And I want you to know that I’m sorry, and that I get it now. The good news is that she’s gone… I know it doesn’t feel like that at the moment, but she is gone. And we can get past it.”

Another key ingredient, typical to the Olivia we have come to know and love, is her single-minded focus on getting the job done. While morbid curiosity might have been a minor factor, the need for another set of eyes to go over Altivia’s files in the hopes of solving the case is really what allowed for Olivia to gather together the strength needed to deal with the case as a true investigator of her caliber would: “I understand why nobody wants me to read these files. But what’s written here is in the past, and is important is the future. (…) I’m not just another set of eyes. We’re the same, the other Olivia and me. I should be able to think the same way. So maybe I’m going to be able to find a pattern.”

I don’t think it should be understated, how admirable it is that Olivia is putting this much effort into detaching herself from what happened and being so objective about it. I guess it’s going to be a lot of three steps forward, two steps back, but that at the end, a difficult inch at a time, Olivia will make it. And the life lesson in this is quite interesting: you should know what’s right and where you should be, you should be honest about where you are, and slowly go from where you are to where you should be one small step at a time.

Who would have thought that a Fox Sci-Fi show would teach us this life lesson, huh?

Being able to go above her own feelings and emotions gave Olivia an unexpected gift: she came to realise just how alike she and Altivia are: “‘It’s strange, but at moments when I’m with PB, I find myself forgetting what I’m here for. PB’s different than I expected him to be. A sincerity behind his eyes; a deep-seated goodness. It’s hard not to get caught up in it. Not to get caught up in him….”’ Olivia musings, which she shares part of with Astrid, further serve to demonstrate just how alike she and Altivia are: “You know, this may have started out as a mission, but it turned into something else” –  words that assiduous fans immediately recalled as having been spoken by Altivia in the episode “Entrada” (Season 3, episode 8).

Why is this a gift? The more Olivia comes to understand why and how Peter fell for Altivia, thinking that she was her, the more she will be able to believe it when he tells her that she is, in fact, the one he wants to be with.

If any fan had doubts as to Olivia’s feelings for Peter, these were swept aside when Olivia told Astrid, about Altivia, that: “she was starting to have real feelings for him. (…)We’re the same. She would see what I see. We speak the same. We use the same phrases. I’m reading this and I’m thinking this is how I make sense of things, make sense of feelings, of Peter.” This reflection was solidified with this final repartee of Olivia to Peter: “Peter, I read her file. And you should know that you have nothing to be embarrassed about.”

Another interesting fact of this weaponisation of Peter is the subsequent shift in the relationship between Walter and Peter. Ever since Season 1, but especially since Season 2, Peter has been more and more of a father figure of sorts to Walter. It looked like, despite Peter finding out about Walter’s betrayal, the relationship was pretty set – that is, until the machine “rebooted” it, in a way. What with Walter’s recent quest to increase his mental acuity for the sake of his son, it makes me wonder if this is going to be the mental kick Walter needs to get back on track.

What a shock it must have been for Walter to see Peter as a killing machine. Surely Peter, what with his shadowy past, had been in similar situations before; but parents sometimes tend to deny what is standing before them until it hits them so hard they can no longer deny it.

Which brings me to the scariest thing about Peter being weaponised, which isn’t, in my opinion, that he might end up in that machine just like the now infamous drawing showed. Rather, it’s that Peter is going to become a mere instument, a weapon in his singleminded focus to get what it is after, whatever the cost.

In this episode, Peter was after information, and he paid the cost, seemingly without much of a guilty conscience. Granted that its still questionable, if a shapeshifter has a soul; but even were they machines with no trace whatsoever of a soul, to destroy something just to get something out of it isn’t quite that dignifid a thing to do. And from the looks of it, shapeshifters seem to have souls, what with their ability to feel – or maybe they don’t initially have souls but have the potential to develop one (I’m still think about the cop in Season 3’s “Do Shapeshifters Dream of Electric Sheep?”).

An interesting parallel that we can draw between Peter and situations that seem typical nowadays is the helplessness that seems to have been the main fuel of the current situation Peter is in: “I have to know what they know, Walter. I’m tired of being reactive. (…) They are soldiers, Walter. They are here to kill us. Besides, they aren’t even human, and I’m not doing anything wrong.” I found this all the more intriguing that it reflects the attitude many people people have in the current climate of fear that has permeated so much of the world.

How many times have I heard, on many levels, that “we are defending ourselves”, that “the others” are the evil ones and thefore “we” are doing no harm? While Peter does have a point, that passivity is not something to aim for, he does forget that taking action needs to remain with an ethical framework that ensures we remain, in all our actions, as noble human beings.

As Walter puts it, simply yet eloquently, one of the powerful ways we have of judging if what we are doing is for the right reasons, is by seeing how comfortable we are with sharing it with others: ‘Then why didn’t you tell us? If you weren’t doing anything wrong, then why didn’t you tell us?” To which Peter has no answer. Of course the people we should be comfortable sharing these things with should be of the ethical sort!

Which seems all the more ironic that it is Walter, who, despite his recent increases in his sense of morality, has more than once shirked ethics in the name of science, calls Peter out: “I don’t know what happened – but this is not you.” And yet, father protects son by covering for him when Olivia visits them after discovering the last dead shapeshifter.

How will Olivia react when she finds out Peter lied to her, all the more that she was so severely berating herself for always being one step behind? And is Walter simply being overprotective or paranoid, or does he have every reason to be worried?

Does the reciprocity of the relationship, such as described by Walter below, imply that the machine has been somewhat humanised? Are it and Peter going to become one, in a way? And is this helplessness of the father also going to be expressed by the same attitude the son exhibited in this episode?

Walter: I think I know what’s happening to you. Every relationship is reciproqual Peter. When you touch something, it touches you. You’re changin son. When you touched the machine, it changed you. It weaponised you.
Peter
: So what do we do now, Walter?
Walter
: I don’t know.

As Fringe continues to gain momentum, I can’t help but wonder if, on the one hand, what the production team has in store for us for the season finale. On the other hand, it makes me shake my head at rumours of cancellation: surely FOX wouldn’t do something as foolish as cancelling a show that it becoming more and more fascinating with every passing episode?

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About Sahar

  • http://wellwellwelles.livejournal.com/ Flo

    I personally think that the machine just “woke up” parts of Peter he already had. The good hearted, witty, nice boy is maybe more a facade than we think. I’m not saying he isn’t like this, but perhaps we see that he also has other layers to his characters and not good ones.

    The machine reacted to him and he reacted to the machine. it was a reaction to me not a posession of some sort. I really believe it just triggered a weakening of a deep nature of Peter. Let’s not forget he is the son of Walternate who is not the most pacifist man in the world.

    Olivia is the queen of compartmentalizing. That episode reminded us why she is so good at her job.

  • Justine

    Thank you.

    I’m waiting for your every review, you have a real gift.