Monday , February 26 2024
Consider the past, as it will help you figure out the future in this week's Fringe episode

TV Review: Fringe – “Subject 13” Part I

Considering the past helps us trace the path to the future before us a lot better – or so it is hoped.  By going back to the 1980s to explore the consequences of what happened after Walter brought Peter to our side from the alternate universe, we can also understand better Walter’s recent reactions to, say, discovering the thinning of  the fabric in Mrs. Merchant’s apartment in the episode “6B”.

We also discover how Peter and Olivia are more closely linked than we previously thought; although we had seen on the list of children tested on in Jacksonville on the Foutrust website (which, by the way, seems to be on sale by the owner now…) that both Peter and Olivia had been tested on around the same time, and fans had previously speculated at how the two children might have crossed paths, we had no clues as to when and how the would have done so.

Until now.

I have also come to realise that one of the main concepts in Fringe might be about underestimating children. Walter seems to have had faith in their capability, after experimentation, of crossing, unaided, into the other universe; however, even Walter’s belief was dependent on the presence of Cortexifan.

In “Subject 13”, we are taken to about six months after the events in Season 2’s “Peter” (episode 16) to see that things began to unravel for the Bishops pretty much straight after Peter 2.0 was brought to this side. Young Peter remembers enough from the other side not to be taken in by his alternate parents’ explanation that the severity of his illness confused him to the point of mixing things up.

One of the best things about going back to 1985 (or beginning of 1986?) is that we are treated once again to the 1980s-style opening credits. I’m glad the Fringe production team was able to use it again and I can’t help but wonder if the storyline is going to take us to the 1990s and if so, they have to create a 1990s style opening credits. And now, I can’t help but wonder what “fringe” sciences would go into it. Probably the Internet… Hopefully, we’ll have enough seasons of Fringe to reuse the 1980s style retro credits as well as create a new 1990s style retro credits.

Our faithful Observer can be seen inside the Bishop Dynamic lab (in Florida, interestingly enough). Speaking of Bishop Dynamic, does its existence in a universe with no William Bell imply that he held Walter back in this universe? This would certainly tie-in quite well with the resentment Walter displayed in last season’s finale.

The glyphs spell SWITCH. Straight off last week’s glyph with a yellow heart instead of a dot comes a distortion of a glyph, as the image for the third glyph (the daisy) appears first normally, then distorts in from what looks like electromagnetic interference, probably from Olivia in the scene that just ended.

Recurring features include a drawing of two seahorses can be seen on the Bishops’ fridge door, an adorable mini Nick Lane with quite the devilish streak, and white tulips (Season 2’s episode titled, well, “White Tulip”). We also found out a couple of interesting details about the alternate universe when Peter points out that in the alternate universe, the Dodgers play in Brooklyn and not in Los Angeles, and that Green Lantern is, interestingly enough, Red Lantern. One non-recurring feature is Anna Torv; if I am not mistaken, this is the first episode ever in which she doesn’t appear at all.

The one thing that really bothered me is the casting of both young Olivia and young Peter. On the one hand, the two young actors who played young Olivia (Karley Collins) and young Peter (Chandler Canterbury) did a phenomenal job of playing both the part of normal children (Olivia playing with Walter, Peter playing with the toy plane) and children exposed to things even adults shouldn’t have to deal with (Olivia’s abuse at the hands of her stepfather, Peter’s trauma at being in the wrong universe).

However, it must be mentioned that both actors look far older than the characters they portray, for, 6 months after the events in Season 2’s “Peter” (episode 16), Olivia can’t be more than 6 and Peter can’t be more than 7. Although traumatic events do tend to mature children much faster, the fact that young Olivia looks like she is 10 or 11 years old, and that young Peter looks like he is 9 or 10 years old was rather odd.

Although initially, it seemed odd that Olivia’s age in this episode is so much older than her age in the video Walter is caught watching in “Bad Dreams” (Season 1, Episode 7), there is a simple explanation to that. Olivia seems to have been a lot younger when she first displayed pyrokinetic abilities, but that’s not the only reason why that video seems to have been filmed before the episode in “Subject 13”, or even in Season 2’s “Peter”, since in it, we distinctly hear William Bell’s voice. Ergo the video Walter was watching in “Bad Dreams” was filmed at least 2 to 4 years before the happenings in this episode, when Bell was still around, before both Peters got sick, and that although Olivia first displayed her pyrokinetic abilities all the way back then, either Bell and Bishop didn’t quite understand what had happened or they did but couldn’t elicit these abilities again from her.

A heartbreaking moment I grew to appreciate even more was young Olivia’s moment of peace spent reading shattered by her abusive stepfather. As a book lover, I deeply appreciated the first image in that scene, of being curled into a book and immersed in the magic of its pages, rudely and brutally interrupted.

Then I looked up the book she was reading. Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale, a best-seller published in 1983, described by a fan online as an escapist tale of love, magic and wonder. I feel comfortable positing that the Fringe production team chose this book for three particular reasons. First off, it’s an impossible love story. Second, it’s a tale that unites the believable and the unbelievable in such a way that it makes you want to suspend your disbelief. And third, it’s also known as a book that takes you in and away, something young Olivia probably needs.

Although Olivia’s abuse at the hands of her stepfather had been hinted at more than once during the last three seasons of Fringe, the stepfather’s reaction at finding her reading a book instead of being in bed, as well as the bruises on Olivia’s face the next day shocked me. Child abuse, even fictional, hits me in the gut every single time; the storytelling in Fringe made this fictional case of abuse all the harder to take that as a regular viewer and fan of the show, I developed a typical fan-to-show relationship with its main character.

Which is why it galled me to my very bones when Walter, talking to Elizabeth, admitted that he was so driven to protect our universe from colliding into the alternate one that he was willing to sacrifice Olivia by leaving her in a home where she was abused, compromising her safety in the name of the potential safety of millions of others. As I stated so many times in previous Fringe reviews, I find that unacceptable; even if, as an adult, one might willingly accept to have had one’s younger self tested on to be able to save the world as an adult, and even if some children might display the maturity to willingly accept such testing, the fact that Walter was willing to manipulate the situation – or rather, in this case, to let it be – is, in my mind, unacceptable. It came as a shocking reminder that the adorable mad scientist Walter I have come to really like is not as innocent as he pretends to be.

The fact that, however mature they might be, children will be children was underlined in two places in this episode; one, when Olivia gazed with childish wonder at Walter telling her stories, and the second, when she is caught drawing. The drawing of the stepfather as a big, scary face was as heart-wrenching at the field of white tulips.

Olivia’s drawings is also linked to other absolutely gorgeous moment in this episode, a parallel of sorts between her and Peter. I loved how Olivia, from our universe, is caught drawing a flying object from the Other Side (the zeppelin) while Peter chooses, amidst all the toys in the story, a plane. Another gut churning moment in this episode is when Peter innocently links this plane to his own universe while playing, saying: “Approaching the building, requesting clearance to dock”, which reflects the dialog one overhears in the episode “Immortality” (Season 3, Episode 13), while Altivia is waiting for Frank’s zeppelin to dock.

This episode also provides insight as to Peter’s attitude all the way back in Season 1. Remember his surly attitude, the one that makes many a fan still cringe? While I am no psychology major, I can see how the trauma that young Peter went through as portrayed in this episode would have moulded the adult he was in Season 1. While, by the end of this episode, Peter does call Elizabeth ‘Mom’, it probably was more a sign of Peter wanting to believe the lie. The subsequent way he grew up to be, feeling isolated and ungrounded, reflected the fact that deep inside, Peter always ‘knew’ he didn’t belong.

I can also see how the sense of belonging developed through close association with the members of Fringe division might have made such an adult’s defensive walls come crashing down. Kudos must again be given to the production team for playing up the various clues throughout the last couple of seasons quite well. Who can forget the toy soldier with the scar on the wrong side of the face?

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