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Newton and Altivia butt heads again as they work on disposing of a smoking gun.

TV Review: Fringe – “Do Shapeshifters Dream of Electric Sheep?”

Fringe writers are at it again. Close calls happened throughout the episode; did Peter know? Or didn’t he? Until the very last second of the episode, we didn’t quite know; but methinks Peter doesn’t know, or, at the very least, what doubts he had were blown to bits by Altivia’s, erm, ‘intervention’.

Quick recap: Senator James Van Horne, who, numerous times in the past helped Broyles with regard to Fringe Division, is involved in a car accident. The first clue we get that something is not right is that he is breathing despite not having a pulse. As the emergency room team work to save his life, in comes Newton, who steals the body and goes on a shooting spree. When he is surrounded and can’t get away, he shoots the senator and flees. To everyone surprise, James Van Horne is bleeding mercury.

The subsequent investigation leads Fringe Division to Newton. He finds himself in a situation where he can’t escape Peter and Altivia; having recuperated the memory disk of the shapeshifter, he needs to make sure it lands in safe hands. And so, he flips his car over, controlling the conditions within which he’s arrested, enabling him to pass said chip to Altivia.

In the episode’s closing minutes, Altivia visits Newton in jail. He yet again rubs her inferiority in her face, before taking a ‘black pill’ Altivia hands over to him. And while Newton commits suicide, doing what it takes in the name of the mission, Altivia also does what it takes by inviting Peter over to her place and seducing him.

The Observer was spotted walking towards the exit of Massive Dynamic’s ground floor right after Altivia, Peter and Broyles walk in and meet up with Walter, who just exited the elevator (look at the bottom left of the screen).

The glyphs spell out ‘shift’; the obvious connotation is the shifting of characters such as Ray and James Van Horne into similar yet different version of themselves. It could also be a more general theme: Altivia’s perception of our world has started shifting; Peter’s perception of her has also started shifting. There is also the fact that the audience’s perception of shapeshifters has also shifted, summed up by these words from Ray: “Sometimes, monsters are not all that bad. Sometimes, when you get to spend some time with them, they can be very surprising. They can be incredibly sweet, pure and capable of great, great love.”

Another great quote from this episode came very early on, when Peter, during yet another date with Altivia, tells her: “We all draw our moral lines in the sand. And unless you can put yourself in another man’s shoes, I don’t think you can really judge the situation.”

This comment is interesting on many levels. First of all, it’s interesting because Peter is telling this to Altivia. She quite literally is in someone else’s shoes. She has always judged the situation in our universe, but now that she is walking in Olivia’s shoes, she might discover that the moral line she drew might not be quite the right one.

Then there is the fact that Peter himself is struggling with this very thing when it comes to his father. Slowly but surely, Peter has been trying to understand what it was like for his father to be declared insane and put in a mental institution. His initial anger has faded, particularly in intense moments, such as in this episode, when Peter is worried about his father; it’s interesting how even from the beginning, the veil of hi anger was so readily torn aside by fear for Walter’s life.

By the same token, to a certain extent, he does understand why Walter did what he did; after all, why would he still be cordial and kind to him is he didn’t? Certainly, bringing Walter liquorice while he worked doesn’t fall in the scope of the I’m-so-angry-I-will-never-talk-to-you-again category!

And so, Peter’s moral line with regards to Walter has changed many times in the last two years, and there is no doubt it’s going to continue changing. However, I don’t think Peter has yet fully forgiven Walter, and I’m certain that other emotionally-laden situations are bound to ignite said anger, despite how Peter might really feel about Walter.

One situation which will is already putting stress on Walter, to the point that he self-medicates, is, of course, his inheriting Massive Dynamic. It feels like this could be the next step in helping Walter become something of his former self, but perhaps in a much better way.

Regarding self-medication, I find the parallel between Olivia and Walter’s self-medication quite interesting. They are both extremely strong individuals (or at least, Walter was before Ste-Claire’s) who are experts in their respective fields and who tend to see outside the box in ways their colleagues don’t. It sometimes feels like having this gift of seeing beyond preset boundaries is part of the reason why Olivia and Walter both self-medicate; it’s as if sometimes, they see too much and need to somewhat blur their sight.

I also wonder if, as Walter regains more and more of his former self, this need to self-medicate will eventually disappear. After all, Walter did something totally un-Walterish in this episode (this about his attempt to defend himself against Ray versus how he reacted when he got lost in the episode ‘Snakehead’). And the fact that he has already clued in on how “ownership has its privileges” makes me think that where he shall always remain lacking because of the removal of some of his brain tissue, he will be able to create a supporting network, what with all the resources now at his disposal thanks to Massive Dynamic.

It is of course also going to be quite interesting to see Walter and Nina working together again. However, there is also a very obvious downside to Walter’s owning Massive Dynamic: the acquisition of knowledge is now even more available to him what with the company’s massive (pun oh so intended) resources. And Walter’s statement, that “There are no limits, except for the ones we impose on ourselves,” makes me think that, having such resources at his disposal, he might turn into his former self at times and push the boundaries of science when they are not meant to be pushed.

Remember the Carla versus Walter showdown about religion and science in the episode “Peter” (Season 2, Episode 16)? Morality seems to be, according to some, a limit that we impose on ourselves, one that is keeping us from advancing as far as our intellectual capacities are able to bring us. However, it could also easily be that morality is a way to keep up from self-destructing by imposing the respect of certain inviolable realities that where created in the first place to sustain life. When we violate such verities, we create an imbalance that is extremely hard to regain. And so, now that Walter has such resources at his disposal, will be able to remain in touch with his hard-regained morality, glimpses of which we got in episodes such as “White Tulip” (Season 2, Episode 18)?

Whatever the case be, one thing is certain: the terrain is now evened between Walter and Walternate. Let the showdown begin.

Another showdown in the making is, of course, that of Altivia and Olivia, with, as its prize, Peter. This is also a situation that could either bring Peter closer to Walter, or rather be an extra emotional strain that will tear them further apart.

First off, I do have to mention yet again how different Altivia is from Olivia, and wonder how Peter hasn’t noticed the makeup, the open collar, the flirtatiousness, and the look in Altivia’s eyes, oh so different from that in Olivia’s eyes. It seems so obvious to me, to the point that I feel comfortable saying that, had we not been told that Altivia took Olivia’s place, I would have bet on the exchange having been made midway through this episode.

And so, like so many other fans, I found Peter’s conversation with Altivia regarding Patricia Van Horne not knowing her husband had been replaced by a shapeshifter, quite frustrating. Based on what we know about shapeshifters, perhaps Senator Van Horne’s switch wasn’t as obvious as Altivia’s. However, it does make one think about how humans tend to justify things to themselves, to explain them away, ignoring hints, clues and sometimes even, facts, just to be able to remain in denial and not have to deal with the consequences of knowing the truth.

Hopefully, Peter will be as strong as Patricia was, able to do what it takes to find out what happened to her husband. The parallel between their stories makes me wonder if, one day, Peter will be looking at Olivia and telling her: “I’m sorry I didn’t know you were gone. I don’t know how I didn’t know. You would have known.”

 At least one showdown ended with this episode, that of Altivia versus Newton. The latter’s death ended the squabble between the two high achieving, hard headed and equally talented alternate universe spies.

It’s rather understandable why Newton didn’t like Altivia. Let alone her attitude and, at times, downright arrogance, she represented competition for Walternate’s attention. If the latter was a father figure for him and Newton has been in charge of operations in our universe for the last 15 to 20 years, it’s only normal that he’d resent Altivia coming along.

I do have to admit that I am getting rather annoyed at the short lifespan of Fringe’s baddies. Why has the production team gotten rid of so many of its rather epic cast of evildoers? I thought that perhaps for now, Newton was safe, but, well – we all know what happened.

At least his comeuppance made for great television, all the more that it was paralleled with another scene at the very end of the episode that is going to be one of the turning points in Fringe’s plot.

The first obvious parallel between these two scenes is of course the fact that these two soldiers are doing what it takes to successfully accomplish the mission they were given: Newton made an accident happen then took his own life while Altivia seduced Peter. This makes me wonder just how far Newton was willing to go with other things he accomplished in the past, which we are going to become privy to as Season 3 unravels, and how far Altivia is going to go, perhaps even against her own judgement.

These scenes also provided for a striking contrast, with two very different manifestations of the same determination being shown. Both Altivia and Newton gave something very important away in the name of the mission: the former gave herself, promised to Frank, to Peter, and Newton gave his life, which, seeing as he is a machine and might not have a soul, quite literally would mean he ceased to exist. I wonder if it’s Newton’s sacrifice and subsequent taunting that gave Altivia the push she needed to do what it took and seduce Peter. And if so it would make of Newton a machine that used Altivia’s humanity as a weakness because of what makes it so great: emotions.

And he does have a point; emotions can easily become veils that keep us from doing the right thing. And this is where morality can help guide us, especially during trying times during which our emotions could make us do things we’d otherwise never even consider.

Emotions definitely got in the way of one shapeshifter’s mission, as Ray attempt to keep his current identity ended up costing him his life. Ray last saw Newton five years ago, which makes me wonder what mission he was on that made him ‘acquire’ the identity of a cop – yet another thing we’ll probably never know.

Ray and Senator Van Horne’s ability to feel emotions, to the point that they became a liability, each in their own way, to their mission, makes me wonder if these so-called machines also have the ability to somehow acquire a soul. By the same token, Newton’s puzzled reaction to Ray’s attachment to his adoptive family reminds me of Season 2’s episode “August” (Episode 8), when the Observers are trying to understand August’s actions with regards to Christine Hollis. It makes Ray’s comment to his young son all the more poignant: “Sometimes, monsters are not all that bad. Sometimes, when you get to spend some time with them, they can be very surprising. They can be incredibly sweet, pure and capable of great, great love.”

Could it be that, just with everything else, both the Observers and the shapeshifters are going to come in delightful shades of grey? And could it be that, just like the Doctor and Seven-of-Nine in Star Trek: Voyager, we are going to have a great exploration of the meaning of being human?

Of course the most interesting plot twist in this episode remains the fact that Senator James Van Horne is a shapeshifter. We don’t know exactly since when; after all, him having data dating back two years doesn’t mean anything, as just about anyone could have been collecting it. But however long the shapeshifter’s ‘tenure’ as Senator Van Horne may be, the reason why seems pretty clear, and provides for a delightful sprinkle of paranoia: who else isn’t who they seem to be? And who else might the shapeshifters one day replace with one of their own?

And now we just need to wait out the hiatus to find out what happens. Until then, let the theorising – and the paranoia! – continue!

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