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TV Review: Fringe – “The Abducted”

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Wyman and Pinkner, the executive producers of Fringe, always say that at the heart of their show is a human drama. And it’s episodes like this one that put the emphasis on the importance of the human factor of the show.

For Olivia (Anna Torv) to have a way out of the alternate universe, she is going to need an ally strong enough to stand up against Walternate (John Noble), an ally brave enough to do so and an ally determined enough to come through with such an act.

Up to now, I wasn’t certain about Alt!Broyles (Lance Reddick); I knew that he wasn’t, just like any other character in Fringe, either a bad person or a good one, but his choices made me quite uncomfortable, as was his apparent blind obedience to Walternate. I decided to give him a chance for two reasons. The first, because of the nature of the show, I knew I didn’t know nearly enough about the character to decide. The second, because I could see how he, just like his version in our universe, was starting to go beyond the context of the moment to appreciate Olivia for her inherent qualities.

“The Abducted” takes us back to the alternate universe, where a man wearing a silver mask kidnaps a young boy, Max, straight out of his bedroom. Fringe Division is soon involved as, after Peter’s disappearance (Joshua Jackson), Walternate has been putting the division on every kidnapping case. But these kidnappings are not your ordinary kidnappings; someone is taking these children and sucking their life, in a way, out of them, returning them aged and tired, with only a couple of years left to live.

One of these victims is Alt!Broyles’ son, Chris, who, despite his youthful age and appearance, moves like an old man and blinded by what seem to be thick cataracts. Being one of the very few victims who had been able to give some form of description of the kidnapper, Olivia approaches a defensive Alt!Broyles for permission to interrogate him. At first extremely reticent, to say the least, Alt!Broyles gives in at the behest of his wife. Olivia bonds with the child and gets an important clue from him, which leads to the identification and arrest of the kidnapper. But a great twist at the end of the episode shows that he wasn’t the main kidnapper; he is arrested in grand fashion at Alt!Broyles’ residence, as he is about the kidnap Chris again.

The episode ends with Olivia attempting to get back into the tank to come home. She comes back, but only for a moment – having triggered an alarm, Walternate has her removed from the tank and thus, pulled back from this universe. However, she had the time to give a message to Peter through a janitor who was on Ellis Island at the time she ‘popped in’: that a woman named Olivia disappeared in front of her eyes, and that she said to tell him that she’s trapped in the other universe.

There were a couple of references to past episodes, both direct and indirect. Olivia refers to season ones’s second episode, “The Same Old Story”, when talking about a past case she investigated before joining Fringe Division. The storyline reminded me a little bit of James Heath’s way of sucking out the life energy of fellow CortexiKids in season two’s seventeenth episode, “Olivia. In the Lab. With the Revolver.” And the fact that the kidnapper was called “The Candyman” was a reminder of how Walter, in “Brown Betty” (Season 2, Episode 20), wanted to be known as such. Interestingly enough, both characters thought they were acting for the greater good while causing great harm.

The Observer comes in very early in the episode; while Olivia and Henry are talking, waiting for their breakfast to be served, he can be seen through the window, standing across the street. It’s interesting again to note that Observers are in both universes; the question that remains for me is does September observe only matters pertaining to the Bishops and thus is observing Olivia because of her link with them (she was, after all, made important by Walter), or if Olivia had always been observed because, Bishops or not, she would have been important. Can someone get me some of Olivia’s childhood pictures, please?

The glyphs spell out “ESCAPE” which, seeing as how Olivia escaped the mental prison she had been put under, is quite the apt word. Now the question is, does it also indicate that her escape from the alternate universe is imminent?

Although the plot of the episode was quite brilliant in itself, it seemed rather obvious, as soon as we found out that Alt!Broyles’ son was also kidnapped, that it was yet another way for the viewers to gain more insight into some of the main characters as a way to prepare the ground for future episodes. I loved the way it was done; the episode didn’t force these insights on its audience, but weaved them into the plot.

We now know that Alt!Broyles’ relationship to Walternate is, at least in the last four years, more than one of a soldier obeying the orders of someone who is hierarchically higher; rather, it’s the shared shame of not having protected one’s son that is binding Alt!Broyles to Walternate.

Alt!Chris Broyles’ story is quite heartbreaking; that this adorable child has been robbed of his childhood is cause for anger, and does encourage the kind of overprotectiveness that Alt!Broyles expresses.

However, as his wife tells him: “He’s a strong boy, Philip. Strong enough to talk about it – even if you’re not.” We do tend, as a society, to underestimate children, to translate their innocence and lack of experience as a reason to suffocate them in our sometimes clumsy attempts to protect them. And while this might just be a TV show, there are numerous accounts in my personal life – just like I’m certain there are in your life – in which, time and again, children have proven to be stronger even than adults.

And unfortunately, ignoring this fact makes us miss on opportunities to include children in processes that both improve our lives and that of society. In this case, just like his wife points out, Alt!Broyles didn’t hear what his son was really saying because he was so close to the case. Once again, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Another interesting twist to the story, now that we know what happened to Alt!Chris, is that his bonding with Walternate over a kidnapped son is quite a veil that would taint the view of the investigator. It’s going to be quite a challenge for Alt!Broyles to see Walter’s actions with regards to 1985 as anything else than what happened to his own son, especially since when Chris came back, he wasn’t a little boy anymore – another point in common with Peter’s return.

Hopefully, having known Olivia will help Alt!Broyles give Walter a chance to explain what really happened than Walternate’s distorted vision of it. And who knows; perhaps Alt!Broyles might become the ally our Fringe Division needs to find a way to allow for both universes to survive. This can happen only if Alt!Broyles one of the many parents who despite the pain of having a child they weren’t able to protect from such suffering, will be able to remain level headed and subjective.

Thanks to Scarlie, we find out that, since Peter’s disappearance in 1985, Walternate has been treating every kidnapping since Peter’s disappearance like a Fringe event. It would be interesting to figure out why this is so. Is it because the pain of Walternate the father is one that makes him empathic to any other parent who might be going through the same thing? Somehow, I don’t think so; Walternate might still not be over having lost his son, but those emotions seem to be focused on redemption. Seeing Walternate’s expression, at the end of the episode, when soldiers pull pull Olivia out of the tank, I would lean towards the explanation that Walternate’s ego doesn’t allow any rest until he has crushed the person who dared make a mockery of him, first by taking his son, and then by slowly destroying his universe, albeit unconsciously.

The parallel between the case with both Walter and Walternate is very interesting. In short, Reverend Marcus is fooling himself into believing he was doing the right thing for the greater good. In his mind, the children were giving themselves to help so many others, which excused his forcing them into doing it. Walter’s Cortexiphan experiment were also done in the same mindset; that his experiments on Olivia and the other Jacksonville children was excusable since there was a war coming and this might be the only way our universe could fight. The children’s innocence was but a tiny price to pay for the greater good. It’s the same logic Walternate used in the episode “Amber”; he is in fact forcing those stuck in amber to stay in an indefinite suspended state for the greater good.

I think everyone can agree with the fact that although sacrifice is a good thing, it only is so when it comes freely and joyfully from the individual. No one will say anything of the person who is giving blood to help someone else, even if the person feels dizzy and tired afterwards. But can it even be called sacrifice when it’s forced on us?

Interestingly enough, in some ways, Olivia’s sacrifice of her personal life to make the world a safer place is one that is acceptable and even commendable.

Speaking of Olivia, one can’t help but keep one’s fingers crossed in the hopes that she can fool the alternate universe that she is Altivia as well as Altivia has been able to fool those from our universe. One thing that just might give Olivia an edge is that she seems to have kept Altivia’s memories, since she is able to talk quite easily about The Candymans’ previous kidnappings.

Of course what gives Olivia the edge while investigating this case isn’t the fact that she still has retained Altivia’s memories, but rather that she remembers who she is. This particularly helped her when talking to Alt!Chris about what he went through: “But it’s hard to forget, isn’t it? You know, I can imagine what it must have been like for you, how scared you must have been, how much you– you would have wanted to get back to your family and to your friends.”

One can only imagine how alone Olivia must feel, all the more that she is going to need allies stronger than Henry to get her out of the alternate universe. However, this ally does need to be like and to have people like Henry around him, in that although scared of water, he is willing to do what is needed to help.

The mirror imagery used in filming Olivia’s escape was reminiscent of Season 1’s mirrored exit and entry of Walter in St-Claire’s. The sequence used in the Pilot, during which Walter was taken out of the asylum, was mirrored in Season 1’s eighth episode, “The Equation”. In this episode, Olivia returns to the island in the same way that she left it – i.e. by swimming. The filming wasn’t as exact in its symmetry, but close enough to warrant a heads up.

One thing I can’t wrap my head around is how Olivia was able to be in two universes at the same time. Basically, she was in the tank and suddenly appeared in our universe – and then she was being pulled back into the alternate universe. How was she brought back? Was her body actually still there, too? Or did Walternate play with the tank’s settings to pull her back?

Or maybe it’s that Olivia is actually in the alternate universe, but that her perception is in our universe, so much so that she can even affect the environment. If this is the case, it implies that Olivia has to learn to let go of yet another layer of awareness to be able to fully pass from one universe to another.

Just as with any episode that takes place in the alternate universe, there were little things sprinkled throughout the episode. The one I really loved was Lee’s reference to Red Vines as something that just came out. I have to admit that I had the very amusing thought of the austere and serious Walternate with a Red Vine dangling from his mouth. I do hope that we get to see a jar of the stuff on his desk in upcoming episodes.

The other thing that made me sit up ramrod straight (and perhaps get some spaghetti on my pants) was Reverend Marcus’ story about his wife contracting Avian influenza. Of course it made me immediately think of Peter contracting Hepia, a rare form of Avian influenza. I can’t think of any fact-based theories here, and can’t help but wonder if the two are connected. Did anyone happen to catch any information regarding when the Reverend’s wife died, and/or when the church was established?

It needs to be pointed out that, despite the lack of screen time she gets, Ella played a very important role in the plot of the last couple of episodes. It was, in a way, with Ella’s help that Olivia remembered who she was; Olivia’s love for her niece helped her real memories take over. Ella’s presence was made known again in this episode, as Olivia spies in Max’ bedroom a copy of the book “Burlap Bear Goes To the Woods”, which is the same book she was reading to her nice in Season 1’s sixteenth episode “Unleashed”. It makes me wonder at if she is going to play a more important role in the future.

I need to take a second here to say that I agree with Walternate, which is something I never thought I would say. But he’s right – there is no crime more heinous than one perpetrated against someone defenceless, especially a child.

Now to finish off this review in style, I shall gripe a little about Peter, and his absolute lack of perception when it comes to recognising Altivia for who she really is. Kind of ironic, that he is blinded by his love for Olivia and so happy to have what he wants to look at the details and really analyse the situation for what it is. Perhaps this situation will help him mend his relationship with his father, since Walter’s perception was also blinded by his love for his son.

Whatever the case, I am getting seriously annoyed with Peter, which is saying a lot since I usually love this character. Altivia’s question about Ronald Reagan should have been a sign – everyone knows that he was considered for the movie, but he wasn’t cast! And everyone knows that the ending of Casablanca is sad – I have never seen it either (no worries, I’m from this universe) and I know that it ends with her leaving and him saying: “Here’s looking at you, kid”!

On a more serious side, the following exchange has got me tied up in knots:

Altivia: “Isn’t this a love story?”
Peter: “Well aren’t the greatest love stories tragic?”

I hope this isn’t portent to what is going to now happen between Peter and Olivia…

There is not much more that can be done now but to constantly worry about the fate of our alternate-universe-separated lovers. But now that Alt!Broyles knows about Olivia’s memories having taken over and hasn’t spilled the beans, it seems hopeful that Olivia is one big step closer to coming back home. I just hope that the writers don’t choose to drag the story on like they did with Peter finding out the truth about his origins at the end of season two.

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