The final episode of Fringe before the Christmas hiatus left us hanging, just like such an episode always does. And, true to form, it leaves us hanging both with purely sci-fi related questions as well as questions regarding the human drama at the heart of the show.
On her first case back on the right side of life, Olivia and the Fringe team investigate a series of organ extraction cases. Various individuals have different organs removed by an extremely polite, well-dressed man who leaves behind a job very well done (speaking of which, what’s with the concept of well-behaved baddies in Fringe?). The victims don’t seem to have anything much in common at first, until it comes to light that they have all been the recipient of organs from the same donor: a young lady by the name of Amanda Walsh, who died of an overdose. As the Fringe team finally uncovers, Roland Barrett, who was in the same therapy group as Amanda, and who formed a strong bond with her, was trying to bring her back to life. But although he managed to bring her body back, he couldn’t place her soul into it – and Amanda Walsh’s body soon perished again.
Parallel to the case, is the story of Olivia’s anguish as the life she was looking forward to returning to has imperceptibly but permanently shifted. Altivia may have physically left our universe, but her presence is still quite present, especially between Peter and Olivia. The former decided to tell the latter about what happened, and for that, he earned the respect of thousands of fans. Olivia at first seemed fine. However by the end of the episode, she throws this in Peter’s face: “I understand the facts. I know that she had reams of information about me and about my life and about the people that were close to me. And I understand that if she slipped up that she would have a completely reasonable explanation for it. And I guess to expect you to have seen past that is perhaps asking a little bit too much. But when I was over there, I thought about you. And you were just a figment of my imagination. But I held onto you, and it wasn’t reasonable, and it wasn’t logical, but I did it, so… why didn’t you? She wasn’t me. How could you not see that? Now she’s everywhere. She’s in my house, my job, my bed, and I don’t want to wear my clothes anymore, and I don’t want to live in my apartment, and I don’t want to be with you. She’s taken everything.” She thus manages to break both the hearts of abovementioned fans and Peters’, too.
And, as if to make sure their fans don’t sleep during the hiatus to follow, the episode finishes with Peter and Walter arriving at Peggy’s Malt Shop under the keen eye of The Observer, who makes a call and says “He is still alive.”
There were, as always, Easter eggs strewn throughout the episodes, namely, the “Firefly Railway” sign at the very beginning of the episode hinting at next episode’s title. The glyphs spell out ADAPT, which bodes the question: who should adapt to what? Olivia to her new situation? Or on a more macro level, the universes, to each other?
Two major references were made to two great classics.
The first was the reference to The Wizard of Oz, a reference that, as Bastian can tell you, returns again and again, this time in the form of Walter’s referring to the heartless cadaver of the opening scene’s victim as the Tin Man.
The second was, of course, the overarching plot’s reference to Frankenstein.This reference that is all the more fascinating in the context of the show, what with trying to determine who is bad and who is good in the war between the universes. More specifically, I’m thinking of the debate surrounding shapeshifters. In the case of Amanda Walsh, she didn’t have her soul anymore, but what about said shapeshifters? Are they gifted with a soul? While some (namely, Newton) seem ruthless to the point of not having a soul, there are others, like the Security Man in Season 3’s fourth episode, “Do Shapeshifters dream of Electric Sheep?”.
On a related note, one of the great metaphors of the plot in this episode was that of being alive without having a soul, which could be taken in so many meanings. For example, it could be thought that while Olivia is back home, “home” doesn’t quite have the same soul anymore. This implies that home is so much more than a simple location (which of course brings about the very well known saying, “Home is where the heart is”).
It could also be thought that the soul is related to something bigger, and that if that something is denied, it takes away from the location one is in. I am namely reminded of the prayer “Blessed is the house where mention of God hath been made”; one thing is certain, Altivia did anything but mention God (or any form of kind deity) in Olivia’s apartment. Altivia could have thus greatly maimed or perhaps even killed the “soul” of Olivia’s apartment.
There is also Walter, who used to feel alive because of his experiments, but soon lost both his soul and sanity to them. Is an obsession with science a balanced way to deal with one’s inherent curiosity, with one’s desire (and sometimes, necessity) to control nature? Or does it always make you lose yourself, as Walter lost himself?
As always, there were many recurring themes, such as that of the well-intentioned lie going awry. Walter, well versed in this theme, advises Peter to tell Olivia as soon as he can: “You understand better than most the pain a lie can inflict.” I love how this theme and a couple of other central ones are weaved naturally into the story, coming back again and again, similar yet completely different, reflecting that in real life, one has to face the same tests again and again until one fully masters a certain set of positive character traits.
A second recurring theme is that of Olivia’s strength and its limits. This is reflected most clearly through the abovementioned tirade: “I understand the facts. I know that she had reams of information about me and about my life and about the people that were close to me. (…) But when I was over there, I thought about you. And you were just a figment of my imagination. But I held onto you, and it wasn’t reasonable, and it wasn’t logical, but I did it, so… why didn’t you? She wasn’t me. How could you not see that?”
Of course it comes as no surprise that what is testing Olivia’s strength is Peter, the one person she grow incredibly close to, enough to let her barriers down. And so, it was only to be expected that the first episode after Olivia and Peter’s reunion after his unintentional betrayal was to be an emotionally charged one. Watching Olivia tear apart her apartment and the stuff Altivia lived in was rather satisfying; it was as if watching her come back to life, finally admitting that what happened isn’t just something that’ll pass, but something that has and will continue to deeply affect her and her life. It also feels like it is part of the systematic breakdown of Olivia’s barriers that are keeping her from tapping into the full strength of her Cortexiphan-enhanced powers, which should not be underestimated. I admire the character of Olivia for being so rational and relatively detached; how many Fringe fans would have, in the same situation, torn apart Peter, pounding in the guilt until he, too, lost control and tore something apart?
Can their relationship be salvaged? Of course it can; after all, Peter didn’t know he was cheating on Olivia. And perhaps this very act, Peter’s unintentional betrayal, is going to be the very thing that will get them back together, as it has cut him surely as deeply as it cut her. And somehow, I have the impression that this is going to be a great way for Peter and Walter to become closer, since Walter’s actions, whatever terrible the consequences, were born out of a deep love for his son.
But that’s not even, in my opinion, the most interesting discussion that can be had based on this episode. The distinction of most interesting discussions to be had goes to that of the nature of life. As Morpheus in The Matrix told Neo, if life is what we see, hear, touch, smell and taste, then life is reduced to a series of chemical reactions. And if that’s what life is, then an experiment like that performed in this episode would surely have worked – well, eventually, with the right technology. And yet it didn’t, which means that, in the world of Fringe, life is more than that.
What about in the real world? Well, the fact that so many people find such an experiment deeply abhorrent, whatever their cultural and religious background might be, is quite telling in itself. It’s as if people instinctively know that life is much more than jus chemical reactions in a body. What other reason would we have for such a powerful feeling of disgust and horror at the thought of going Frankenstein on the ones we love? Wouldn’t we want to have the chance of bringing them back and spending more time with them? And yet, while we love them with all our hearts, but most people that I asked this question to wouldn’t even dream of going where the protagonist in this episode went.
There is something then to be said about the importance of soul, be it in an individual, in a relationship or in a location, when it comes to Fringe. Seeing how central to the plot not only each of them on their own is, but the relationship between Peter and Olivia is (be it only on a platonic level), it’s obvious that they are going to, at the very least, learn to work together. However, as we all know, emotions and feelings, especially ones as strong as those felt by Olivia (who in short made it back to this universe clinging to the thought of Peter), cannot simply be turned off at will, however we might wish it were so. And so, Fringe’s human dramas continue tantalizing us as do the overarching sci-fi themes. And I, for one, enjoy every moment of it.