Home Featured TV Shows All TV Shows Movie Reviews Book Reviews Articles Frequently Asked Questions About Us

Fringe: The Road Not Taken

“The potential for destruction in each of us is infinite.”

In 1935, Austrian physicist Erwin Schrodinger hypothesized a now-infamous cat experiment. Imagine if you put a cat in a sealed box with a vial of chemicals that has even odds of breaking or not breaking within 24 hours. The next day, before you open the box, the cat is both dead and alive. Both possible realities exist until empirical evidence points you toward the one you are inhabiting.

I’m oversimplifying radically, and cutting out info on many a major theory and theorists, but take the cat who is both alive and dead. Now multiply little Puss by the butterfly effect, which notes that even the smallest changes can cause subsequently massive deviations from expected results. What we’re left with is an almost infinite series of possible realities, as Walter tried to show with his branching blackboard. According to Walter, déjà vu is a consciousness-jump from one reality to another. Like in The Matrix.

You can think about it in terms of the Robert Frost poem that the title references, too. In the poem, Frost is really talking about opting out of conventional society (a bit odd for a future Poet Laureate, but whatever). But the idea of branching paths, and the fact that in Frost’s theory we’re stuck with the one we choose, even though we’re aware of other possible lives our alternate selves are leading. (And if you’re a Lost fan…well, speculate in the comments.)

Olivia: “Was she just born different, or was something done to her?”
Walter: “That’s the real question, isn’t it?”

We know the answer, of course: something was done to her. But our Theme of the Week was possibilities, the numerous possible paths that we may take, and the ability to (sometimes) negotiate between the path that seems fated for us and the path we choose. Peter chose to have fun with science. Olivia got the second pyrokinetic woman to get rid of that misogynist bastard Harris and not harm herself or Olivia. Walter Bishop and William Bell represent to sets of paths taken: the question remains, though, of where and when they diverged.

Walter’s memory loss seems an awfully convenient way to imply trauma. Just because he can’t remember doesn’t mean that Olivia can’t be angry at him, but it makes her anger seem petty. And while his atonement and grief seem genuine, can you really repent for something you don’t remember? It’s worth noting, though that I was mistaken in my review of "Ability" (1.14): Walter didn’t write the manifesto—he was upset because he’d found evidence that William Bell did. (Right?) Now I’m forced to reconsider the past few episodes. Was I just really wrong, or was Ability, and Walter’s subsequent fixation on redemption, pointing us towards blaming him? Or is this a re-write, a jump into an alternate universe?

Walter’s willingness to go with the Observer was interesting, and reminded me of their diner chat oh so many episodes ago. I wish that Walter had said goodbye to the cow, but maybe Bessie had another gig somewhere.

Broyles: “Destruction by the advancement of technology, which in short boils down to the following: attempting to provoke and prepare for a war.”
Agent: “War, with whom?”
Broyles: “That’s the question, isn’t it.”

I haven’t watched the previews for next week, the season finale. But I think that we’ll get lots of answers to Broyles’s questions, and lots more questions to set us up for season two. As it stands, these are the things we don’t know: Where is Walter going? Is Ms. Massive Dynamics dead or just unconscious? What’s up with the war? What has Walter forgotten? What the hell is going on?

The Good:

• Walter: “Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho! My son finally agrees with me!”

• Walter: “I was prone to hide things because I was afraid that someone would unlock all my secrets. I didn’t realize that someone would be me.”

• Bell’s goal, according to Grayson, was to create supersoldiers to help fight the Romulans. What a great mix of X-Files and Star Trek. What a great nod to Leonard Nimoy. What a great reaction from Peter. Good job, writers!

The Bad:

• Francis: “She’s definitely a table for one…Do you think something’s wrong with her? A woman in the prime of her life, no evidence of a boyfriend…” That’s a bit harsh, isn’t it?

• Agent Harris: “Right now, you are acting emotionally.” All powerful, successful women just shuddered.

C’mon, That’s Ridiculous:

• Walter: “Pyrokinesis.”
Peter: “Stop. There’s no time for jokes, Walter... It’s not even a real word. It was coined by Stephen King.” (And pyrokinesis hasn’t made it into the OED yet.)

• The playing back the glass thing. I just don’t think that’s possible, especially because glass is a liquid and doesn’t necessarily continue to bear the marks of what it has undergone, sonically speaking.

There's a lot I haven't said. A lot happened, scientifically and emotionally. Pretty much all of it was good. So:

Four out of four Keanu Reeves.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

7 comments:

  1. I'm not so sure that Walter didn't write the manifesto. When Olivia found out about the experiments on her and the other children, Walter claimed that he was never involved with them that it was only William Bell, but the VHS tape shows that Walter WAS involved with Olive's experimentation to some extent. I think Walter finds it convenient to blame William Bell solely for things that he would be ashamed of. William Bell may well have been responsible for the manifesto, but why would Walter hide Bell's manifesto?

    As to Olivia seeming petty for being angry at Walter, I think she has every right to be angry. If Walter can't remember that is sad, BUT he was involved in experimentation upon children. He was not obviously mentally ill at the time, and should be held responsible for his action.

    I love Walter as a character, but his attitude is that only his science matters, the people who are affected by his experiments. He has little concern of people, even his own son. He admitted that he experimented on Peter earlier in the season. Walter did not behave in an ethical manner in much of his scientific life, so I think blaming him for his actions, even if he does not remember them is understandable.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I've been lurking and reading reviews here for a while, and I just had to comment on this episode. Now, I don't wish a violent painful death on anyone, but I have to say that I am a bit pleased that nasty Agent Harris is no longer around to be pissed off at Olivia. I wanted to throw sharp heavy objects at him every time he got in her face. So, not so sad to see him go.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Percysowner: yes, that's my problem with the memory loss thing. I think Olivia's anger is justified, but it feels like the show is trying to force us to sympathize with Walter's memory loss instead of being angry with him for running experiments on children. Does that make sense? 'Cuz I'm confused by it myself.

    And N: I cheered out loud when Harris died. He had it coming (in the TV-watching world where my morals are a bit, um, gray).

    ReplyDelete
  4. Sad thing is, I found the review better then the episode.

    A lot less predictable.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I also cheered when Harris went poof. What a perfect way to take out a bad guy.

    This episode was really wonderful. It's what I was hoping for when I started watching this show.

    And just a little geek bit of fun: the guy who played the Star Trek nerd was Clint Howard, Ron Howard's brother, who actually played an alien in an outstanding episode of original Trek when he was little, The Corbomite Maneuver.

    ReplyDelete
  6. You can think about it in terms of the Robert Frost poem that the title references, too. In the poem, Frost is really talking about opting out of conventional society (a bit odd for a future Poet Laureate, but whatever). But the idea of branching paths, and the fact that in Frost’s theory we’re stuck with the one we choose, even though we’re aware of other possible lives our alternate selves are leading.

    Josie -- I have to (slightly) disagree with you here. I think Walter's branches and Frost's branches are different. Walter is talking about the myriad of small choices we make every day, many unconsciously. To go to work or to stay home is the example that Walter uses. Few of us consciously make the decision every morning to go to work -- we just go. Yet, Walter's point is that the choice to go to work then leads on to others -- which suit to wear as opposed to which pair of sweatpants; a quick bowl of cereal as opposed to a lazy meal with the paper, etc.

    Frost's branches, I believe, are the big choices we make. Which job to take; which person to marry; as you say in your review, whether or not to be part of conventional society. As we stand on the brink of a big decision or a big choice, the road of our life does branch. I think what Frost is saying is that once the choice is made, we are not stuck. Yes, we cannot go back, but we can fix the mistakes the make. And, more often than not, the choices we make "ma[k]e all the difference."

    Can you tell that I love this poem?

    Agent Harris: “Right now, you are acting emotionally.” All powerful, successful women just shuddered.

    Amen, sister.

    ReplyDelete
  7. >>"Francis: “She’s definitely a table for one…Do you think something’s wrong with her? A woman in the prime of her life, no evidence of a boyfriend…” That’s a bit harsh, isn’t it?"
    Yes it is, lol. Jeez. And I like Francis..
    "She didn't use social media at all?! By god, we're dealing with a real ghost here"

    ReplyDelete

We love comments! We actively monitor, and feed mean, nasty comments to our cats. It’s never too late to comment on an old show, but please don’t spoil future episodes for newbies.