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TV Review: Fringe – “Subject 9″

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Season 4 of Fringe is, at the same time, a fascinating study of the personality of characters we have come to care about, and a frustrating game of trying to figure out what happened to Peter Bishop. Thankfully, the wait is over – at least with regards to where Peter is. How he got there and how (or even if) things will go back to the previous timeline are still questions we do not know much, if anything, about.

The abovementioned fascinating study has been mostly focused on Walter’s strengths. While the last episode felt like delving into Walter’s reality and seeing how, in his own way, he is strong, this one seems to be taking a step back and analyzing Walter within the context of his surroundings, further bringing out his strengths but clearly delineating its limits. Last episode, we saw to what lengths he was willing to go so as not to return to Ste-Claire’s; this time, we saw his determination at conquering his fears of the unknown.

In a different way than in the previous episode, we saw how Walter’s fear of going back to Ste-Claire is a sort of veil between him and his genius. His fear taints his ability to better analyze the nature of the blue energy field. It felt like instead of taking time to figure it out, Walter was focused from the beginning on destroying it.

This was completely understandable, as the blue forcefield seemed like a potential threat to Olivia, Walter’s one of two protectors (the other being Astrid). For let us remember that in this timeline, Walter has no family; the only ones he could remotely associate with as such (if even) are the two women that take care of him. And as Walter himself mentions, that relationship is not one born out of duty, but rather one born out of usefulness. If that is gone, there is not much left.

Walter’s usefulness is also related to a negative perception of his self-worth, further strengthened by the label of being mentally unfit to take care of himself. Because of his weaknesses, Walter demands more attention and special treatment than others, increasing his feeling of self-loathing. It is interesting to note that the self-loathing he displays in this timeline is related to different reasons than the self-loathing he displayed in the previous timeline. That self-loathing was mostly created by his guilt at having torn the fabric between the two universes; I feel that this timeline’s self loathing is created by Walter’s inability to save either Peters.

If we push this thinking further, in the previous timeline, Walter could justify the tearing the fabric between the two universes because he had managed to save Peter 2.0. Whatever happened, he could take refuge in the thought in that. But in this timeline, the tear in the fabric between the two universes is all negative, with no associated good outcome. But in this timeline, Walter paid a terrible price and got nothing in return.

The theme of Walter’s usefulness to Fringe Division, as well as his efforts to be normal (namely, by pretending he does not hear the voice or see flashes of Peter, and by leaving the lab) once again brings us to the concept of sanity, or lack thereof. What is being normal, and how can decide where the line between normal and abnormal is? Does it really matter, that Walter has not left his for three years? After all, he is an active contributor to society.

Why does he have to do so in socially acceptable ways and not have the right to be a little different? Perhaps it’s because normal is not as much a state of being as much as it is a matter of perception (ah, yes, perception again!). Individuals who are different from the majority are not abnormal, they are just unique. Most people do not smoke, and yet smokers are not considered abnormal. For that matter, most of the world’s population is female, and yet males are not considered abnormal (well…).

Which brings forth this mind bending thought: what if we were to consider different people not as insane, but as having the ability of seeing things in ways that the majority cannot (just like Milo in last season’s third episode “The Plateau”)? One real life example of this is the research being conducted by a University of Montreal professor who is currently looking into autism as a strength rather than a weakness, and his results are absolutely fascinating.

Relationships are at the heart of the show and were definitely at the heart of this episode. Particularly intriguing was the relationship between Nina and Walter, and Nina and Olivia.  Walter and Nina clearly have no love one for the other, what with him calling her a viper, likening her voice to that of razors, and never thanking her.  One cannot help but wonder how their relationship would have soured so much. If we assume that everything before the death of Peter 2.0 in this timeline, as described in the last episode, happened in the exact same way depicted in “Peter” (Season 2, Episode 16), we can posit that Walter blamed Nina for this death. After all, not only did Nina not help Walter to cross over, she tried to stop him, and in doing so, made Walter trip and fall, breaking the vial of the cure Walter had prepared.

Walter initially did not have the intention of bringing Peter 2.0 over to our side, but rather, wanted to administer the cure on the Other Side and return. It was the vial breaking that made him bring Peter 2.0 back, causing his death in the icy cold waters of Reiden Lake. And so, while the death of one son might have brought them together, the death of two might have been too much for the friendship to bear. On a related sidenote, Peter 2.0’s death is probably also related to Walter’s phobia of bacteria and virus’ that he cannot see, but that can cause so much harm.

Nina and Olivia’s relationship made for the best part of this episode. Seeing them giggle like young girls in the hallway of Massive Dynamic was a small, mind-blowing moment that took quite some brain computing power. Not only was the giggling interesting, but the intimate nature of the conversation, reflected in the body language of the two women (leaning towards each other with their shoulders hunched towards one another) took me by surprise. The way Nina likened Olivia’s current fear to that she witnessed when asked to the prom was akin to a mother’s knowledge of her offspring.

The story of Mark Little could have been very interesting, but I felt its delivery a little forced. Despite that, it remained interesting enough and did bring to light the very interesting fact that Olivia ran away from the trials in Jacksonville, yet another difference between this timeline and the previous one. It also, of course, brought Peter back to us and with him, an abundance of new questions. One of the main questions I have, is how?

Now that Peter is back, it seems inevitable that the differences between this timeline and the previous one are going to seem even sharper than they have been in the previous episodes. Maybe this will what Peter needs to realize that, although he has felt out of place his entire life, he did make the lives of many people a whole lot better.

Massive Dynamic finally made an appearance in this timeline, and with quite a bang! The question of the private sector in technological development was brought forth with a nerve rattling intensity. I found by far the following statement of Nina one of the most disturbing thing that has happened on the show in awhile: “Because of the far ranging claims that have been made about potential applications of nanotechnology, a number of serious concerns have been raised, about how this will affect our society if realized and what actions, if any, are deemed appropriate. Might we need to mitigate these risks?

This is not Massive Dynamic’s concern. We create technology. How is it used is not our concern. We just own the patents.” The distance between the company and the technology it creates is not acceptable in my opinion. While any technology can be used for either good or bad, and, consequently, no corporation can possibly be held responsible for the use of their products or creations, we all have a moral responsibility to create an environment in which technology is used positively more than negatively. While we cannot hope to control every single individual, we can promote a lifestyle that encourages moral empowerment, and with it, responsible use for, well, just about anything.

And fact is, the way a corporation treats people has a more profound effect than we realized. Walter only rememeberd Mark Little as Subject 9; what does that say abou the way he felt abou the little boy? No one could just look at a child and willingly subject it to painful experimentation. Calling the little boy “Subject 9” is a way for Walter to take a step back from the reality of that little boy as a noble human beng that deserves more than this.

Disturbingly enough, we all have been, at one time or another, been treated as simple numbers or cases that needed to be dealt with by a corporation (I myself had a recent bad experience with ASOS). When a corporation treats people like sources of revenue, with the ultimate purpose of making more money, it makes them do morally questionable thing. Just imagine if we lived in a society in which corporations were motivated by the desire to increase not only the financial benefits of their stockholders, but mainly by the desire to make the inner nobility of all men shine forth.

This timeline is becoming all the more fascinating when we see clear discrepancies between the way things were in the previous timeline and how they are now. I am hoping for an episode which will somehow recap the last three years for us. Then again, what with Peter being back, the producers of the show are provided with a great opportunity to contrast both timelines through Peter’s memories of the previous one shared to an audience living in the current one. I am comfortable waiting for the answers, as the Fringe production team has consistently been delivering as many answers as they have been dizzying our heads with questions.

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