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TV Review: Fringe – “The Plateau”

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The third episode of Fringe’s third season continues to intrigue. Back in The Other Side, a mad genius bent on revenge set off meticulously planned chains of events that end in the death of those he perceives as doing him harm.

The series continues to enjoy using recurring images and situations (see my review of “The Box“) I love the reference to the sensory deprivation tank. Walternate (John Noble) and Alter-Brandon (Ryan McDonald) speaking about it implies that, even if for now, it’s only going to be used on test subjects, Olivia (Anna Torv) is one day going to return to that tank. It’s probably a technique that will backfire, as Olivia’s memories are bound to break through in such familiar an environment.

I have to mention straight out that I did not like the kiss shared between Olivia and Hallucination!Peter (Joshua Jackson). It felt rather forced, instead of natural. It worries me that Fringe is might place too much emphasis on the Olivia-Peter romance, rather than their connection, which allows Peter to help Olivia in the episode “Bad Dreams” (Season 1, Episode 17). I’m going to indulge in a bit of script writing here: Halluciation!Peter should have said what he had to say, then just smile at her. In a cliché moment, Frank would have walked into the room at that moment, calling her name. Olivia looks from Hallucination!Peter back at Frank. By the time she looks back towards Hallucination!Peter, he’s gone. Again, this is quite the cliché moment, but I find it much better than the awkward kiss.

The Observer (Michael Cerveris) is spotted on the bridge, as Milo (Michael Eklund) throws the bike off it; the glyphs spell out the word: “Breach”. Is it in connection with the two fabrics between the universes, with Olivia’s imposed Altivia-memories, or rather with the integrity of both Fringe Divisions being affected?

One of the episode’s main themes relates to that interconnectedness. Milo has become a genius able to calculate probabilities even with hundreds of variables, something any statistics student will tell you is already really hard enough with one two or three variables. Using this talent, Milo is able to create a perfect set of events, triggered by a specific, small act that triggers an intricate chain of events.

Interconnectedness is also at the heart of the series. Up to now, we have seen the two universes as being parallel; the breach made in 1985 by Walter has affected the integrity of the boundary between the two universes; that boundary is now slowly disintegrating. Walternate has been telling those serving on Alter-Fringe Division that to survive, they have to destroy our universe.

But what if the two universes were too interconnected for this option? Is it possible that, were one universe to be destroyed, the other couldn’t survive? Were Walternate’s weapon to destroy our universe, isn’t it possible that this might set off a chain of events that could ultimately lead to the destruction of the alternate universe?

Milo is a fascinating character who adds further complexity to last week’s discussion about the non-existence of evil. After all, it could be argued that scientists gave Milo a very potent tool, i.e. intelligence, without giving him what he needed to use it well: maturity and a moral framework. For with great power comes great responsibility, and one’s training must needs include the capacity to do the right thing with that power.

One of the best things his newfound intelligence gives Milo is the capacity to see the end at the beginning. To be future-oriented means to understand the implications of everything we do now on our future, which implies we can map out a path of life that can lead us to pretty much anywhere we’d like to go. Of course in this case, it lead to murders – hence the importance of having a moral framework within which we can make our decisions.

Milo is also an intriguing character in that his intelligence puts him in a place where no one can understand him. As Olivia explains it to his sister, Madeline: “Your brother, he no longer thinks in terms that you or I would be able to comprehend”.

This reminds me of Episode 1 of Season 3, “Olivia”, in which others perceive Olivia as insane because the framework within which she talks is one the psychiatrist couldn’t understand. By the same token, Milo’s framework is way beyond ours, which is why, by the end of the episode, no one can understand him anymore. Milo’s ‘insanity’ is thus related yet again to the concept of perception.

It doesn’t help that Milo doesn’t receive the training necessary to express himself, another oversight by the scientists who are supposedly trying to help him. For man’s reality is his thought, and man’s thought is limited by his power of expression. Milo wasn’t given the power of expression to go with the increased intelligence, making it even harder for him to express the complex concepts that are now within his grasp.

By the same token, it’s interesting to note that Milo’s seemingly infallible calculations run amok because of Olivia’s origin, i.e. our universe. While Milo doesn’t realize the reason behind this mistake, it is possible that Olivia will eventually make enough mistakes that someone – for example, a Looker – would realize that there is something not quite right.

This means that, yet again, Olivia’s memories are peeking through Altivias’ imposed ones. I’m still hoping that Olivia’s regains her memory back in such a slow way that she is able to retain her memories of Altivia, and pretend that she is still the latter while being back to her former self. While totally predictable, I think it would give the opportunity to Anna Torv to fully display her acting skills and to mess, at least for awhile, with the heads of viewers.

The best thing about the way in which the Fringe production team has set up season 2 is that we get to see more and more about the alternate universe. It allows us, amongst other things, to appreciate the attention to detail that has come to define Fringe. I’m looking forward to going back to these episodes during the upcoming month-long hellatus and freeze framing shots that pan through crowd and scenery just to see what else the production team has planted.

Amongst the more interesting things we discover about the alternate universe in this episode is a little fact that makes it even less palatable than before. Apparently, not only is coffee rare in the alternate universe, but so are avocadoes. To point out the obvious, it’s probably related to the Blight, and makes me curious as to its nature. I also wonder if the production team chose coffee and avocadoes on purpose; are these two specific produces a hint in themselves?

In coffee-related news, it’s interesting that every alternate universe individual we have seen drinking coffee, for example the architect in Jacksonville (Season 2, Episode 15) and, in this episode, Scarlie and Lee, take it black and drink it in glass mugs. Now while the glass mugs are probably more of production value than anything else, I like the added detail of all characters taking their coffee dark to enjoy its taste more thoroughly.

And of course, I loved the fact that Papermate pens are so rare in the alternate universe that finding one lying around is rare. I also loved the man in his early twenties who didn’t know what a pen is. It’s also an interesting reflection on the type of society the alternate universe is; as a military state, it needs to be able to control and monitor information. What is written on a piece of paper in the privacy of one’s home can’t be controlled, however inflammatory it might be; hence the omnipresent computers.

By the same token, it is intriguing that smallpox is still present in the alternate universe, when our universe managed to get rid of it in the late 1970s. After all, our own universe explored the possibility of population control in the 1920s and the 1930s with the eugenics movement, and strategic, controlled viral outbreaks was one of the methods considered. Is the outbreak in North Texas in fact an attempt by the government to control the size of the population? And if so, what does that imply with regards to Frank’s work and Frank himself?

It might seem a little extreme, to think that the government in the alternate universe might be willing to go that far to control the size of its population, but there is the fact that people react quite strongly when the Fringe team arrives somewhere; keep your eyes on the receptionist at the psychiatric hospital next time you rewatch the episode. It’s definitely fear you see in her eyes.

I had a couple of questions while watching this episode and would love to hear from anyone who might have either an answer, or even a thought to share on said topics. For example, has anyone ever looked into the formula that is included in the opening sequence? And if so, is this formula the same in the blue opening sequence and in the red opening sequence?

Olivia’s hallucinations, combined with Walternate explaining to Alter-Broyles the concept of a plateau and the episode’s title, seem rather ominous, as it might imply Olivia’s life being in danger because she has reached said plateau. Her connection with both Bishops is quite strong, as demonstrated by the fact that she saw both Peter and Walter. It’s obviously Olivia’s memories peeking through the imposed Altivia memories. But the question is: what were they trigger by? Is it just because of time, that she finally reached said plateau? Or is there something else I missed?

When Milo jumps over the bridge onto the oncoming truck’s roof (an amazing and bold move that had my mouth agape for a good couple of minutes, by the way), why doesn’t Olivia just shoot him, aiming for an arm? As proven in the season premiere, Olivia has acquired Altivia’s marksmanship, which is absolutely amazing, so she could probably have made the shot. Then, Milo would have had to go to a hospital, and since everything is computerized, they would have found him within minutes of him checking into an ER. This would have paralleled the season 2 finale, “Over There, Part 2” (episode 23), when Walter is almost immediately identified when admitted to the ER.

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About Sahar

  • Flo

    Thanks for the review.

    First of all: “I have to mention straight out that I did not like the kiss shared between Olivia and Hallucination!Peter (Joshua Jackson). It felt rather forced, instead of natural. It worries me that Fringe is might place too much emphasis on the Olivia-Peter romance, rather than their connection, which allows Peter to help Olivia in the episode “Bad Dreams” (Season 1, Episode 17).”
    Spot on!!! I didn’t like it either. I still don’t see where the Peter/Olivia romantic thing comes from.
    Their relationship wasn’t written like that in the first season. It was more of a friendship/sibbling relationship. Then, completely out of the blue, Olivia’s sister says to Peter in the season 2 Premiere: “She liked you, you know?” I ask again: where the hell does this come from?????? Olivia’s sister seemed to be the one who liked Peter and they flirted a bit.
    The truth is, there wasn’t any building up to this new kind of relationship. It is based on nothing. Even Josh Jackson said once that Olivia & Peter look more like brother and sister so it would be weird to get them closer, I mean, common!
    Now, because of the lack of real build up it is totally not believable. It is not credible at all. It came too much out of the blue. Too bad we’re stuck with this bad storyline now cos I think it would have been more interesting to see how Altivia would have had to comprehend Peter & Olivia’s frienship and how she would have tried to win Peter over, little by little. Instead we have this dreadful “love story” where Altivia just have to kiss and put Peter in her bed to make him trust her. Blurp!
    I totally agree with you that the writers should have stick with their friendship with their intellectual and spiritual connection.
    Okay rant over.

    Second of all, I like this episode. I really like the “Over There” world and what it brings in tension and dramatisation. Your theory about the destruction of one world leading to the destruction of the other is interesting. I thought about a Yin/Yang kind of connexion. Maybe one world can’t live without the other and maybe they can’t live together either which would means that the destruction is inevitable no matter what or they can live together but only in certain circomstancies which have yet to be found and reached.
    Maybe it’s all a question of timing. The way both worlds need to “juxtapose” (for lack of a better word) with each other is really complex and the lack of juxtaposition can somewhat explain the differencies like the small pox. Perhaps if the two world were “juxtaposed” properly they would be more the same and the small pox would have been eradicated in “Over There” too.
    I don’t know if I’m making myself clear here.
    Anyway, it’s very interesting.

    Last, you asked some really good questions in the end of your review. I have no idea if it’s the same equation for the two opening credit, I’ll have to see more carefully.
    I wondered the same thing about Olivia and Milo in the Bus jumping scene. Why didn’t she shoot him? Really weird.

    Anyway, interesting episode and development of theme.

  • http://saharsreviews.wordpress.com Sahar

    FLO! WB!!!! It’s nice to have comments from you again! TOTALLY agree with your rant – Olivia and Peter’s story wasn’t very well written. It feels like a guy and a girl wrote it together and conflicting story arcs hence emerged 😉

    You are also raising a really interesting point re the possibility of a yin-yang type of relationship between the two universes. It certainly would be quite the slap in Walternate’s face were it to be proven right….

    I can’t wait to see what happens next, especially with regards to the machine and Walternate’s plans!