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Fringe: There’s More Than One of Everything

“Do you recognize this?”

In the philosophy of this show, déjà vu (as we discussed last week) is a window into another world—it’s the experience we have when our alterna-selves have already undergone what we’re undergoing. But I’m not actually sure this makes sense. If we have alterna-worlds and alterna-selves, why does our consciousness remain consistent across the boundaries between the worlds? That would imply that our identity remains constant despite the circumstances that it has experienced, and which would probably transform it. So these alterna-verses into which some of us can glimpse, and others can travel, must be ones that are closer to our present world than, say, Upside-Down Land—because how could I, Josie, exist in Upside-Down Land, when my identity and physical body required Newtonian gravity?

Nina Sharp says that “Nothing comes out of nowhere.” Matter can be neither created nor destroyed. It’s the first law of thermodynamics. But you can find a loophole in these natural laws by pulling matter (or your son Peter) from one alterna-verse into ours. This explains how Walter, whose memory is notoriously piebald, can remember events from Peter’s pre-death childhood, but Peter doesn’t. It’s not that Peter has forgotten, it’s that he didn’t experience them. The Peter we know is not the son of our Walter; he’s the son of an alterna-Walter. Peter’s name on the gravestone gave new resonance to the glowy thing and the fight Peter had with the Observer—life, death, burial, rebirth, and duality are all concepts that we can now associate with Joshua Jackson.

Olivia slipped from one dimension to another via an elevator in a hotel that lacked a thirteenth floor. That’s nifty symbolism for the way that alternate realities and dimensions beyond the usual four can exist in our world—in the gaps we don’t see, and don’t even know are there, but right next to us. Invisible. The dimension that she slipped to was one in which September 11th never happened, and possibly one in which John Kennedy never died, according to some Internet buzz and a screencap of the newspaper in Bell’s office.

But this gets back to my question about Upside-Down Josie: if JFK hadn’t been shot, how many things would have been different? Is this world one without conspiracy theorists (yes, I know that JFK is not the first conspiracy to be theorized, but it’s certainly provided the grist for many a conspiracy mill). Did we still travel to the moon? What about Bobby? How are American race relations? Martin Luther King? Woodstock and Altamont? Stephen Hawking? Metallica? How can a universe without the tragedy of JFK bear similarities to our own, when there’s been over forty years of possibly divergent elements? (September 11th never having happened is easier for me to understand, as I remember what the world was like on September 10th, 2001.) And how do you locate the worlds that are similar enough to be habitable but different enough to be significant?

Onto easier stuff: the mysterious Mr. Jones has some crazy daddy issues with William Bell. He was willing to risk death (and being bifurcated between two realities) to show his former boss that he’s good enough? Maybe I lack a work ethic. Or maybe William Bell has near-messianic qualities and some mad Jim Jones charisma skills. That could explain the “orders” that Broyles received to stop investigating him—Bell has devotees in high places. Jones’s relationship to his father-proxy contrasts with Peter’s relationship to Walter. The contrast and duplication of these characters illustrates our Theme of the Week: Lots o’Stuff. (Making the Theme look Irish is also a Kennedy joke.)

Many years ago, Stephen King and Peter Straub co-wrote The Talisman. In that book, there are at least two worlds, and some people can “flip” between them (some people have a counterpart in the other world, some don’t). Travel to this otherworld also gives the traveler greater likelihood of success back here in our home world, like a bit of the goodness rubs off. I wonder if Bell’s success is due to his travel between worlds, or if he’s stealing technology from the Kennedy Is Not Dead world. Is that where the idea for Twitter came from? Because I’ve never been able to reconcile that with my own understanding of the universe.

I like that Fringe has taken this radical left-turn towards real science fiction, not just gross-outs and urban legends. I can’t wait to see what happens next season. I mean, seriously, alternate universes? On network television? That’s awesome.

The Good:

• “The Assault in the Pastry Shop”

• “The extent of my injuries was greatly exaggerated.” Nice Mark Twain nod.

• Walter: “In opening a hole to another reality, things from there could move over here. And that could be dangerous.” This made me think of Buffy, Glory, and that as-yet uncaptured dragon.

• Leonard Nimoy. I’m not even a Star Trek fan, but even I think this is cool.

The Bad:

• I watched the show with closed-captioning (my neighbors just got a karaoke machine), and it seems like the show-runners submit the script before the final edit: there are lots more lines that show up in the closed-captioning but aren’t actually spoken by the actors. Weird.

• Peter: “What else aren’t you telling me, Walter?”
Walter: “Lots, I’m sure. But none of it relevant.” What, Walter, what? Tell me!

• How many people has Olivia killed in the past twenty episodes?

This Is Ridiculous (in Olivia’s words), or How Is That Possible? (in Francis’s words):

• If you’re reading this and thinking that LSD might be the way to go to learn how to move between dimensions, let me reassure that it’s not a good idea. Alternate dimensions are mathematically probable, but LSD provides very little more than a consistent variety of hallucinations. Not a variety of realities. For that, you need an amped-up flux capacitor.

Four out of four sexy Irish Democrats.

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


  1. It's not nice to say, but I think this show has done a great "evil" to their actors. The basic ideas are really good, But they lack the good writing to present the deep ideas to the viewer. I find myself struggling to suspend belief.

    Personally, I think its sad that for the last four episodes I found the reviews here deeper then the episode. It presented more possibilities and gave more insight then the episode had in it.

    Also, I have to ask.
    Josie, are you a physicist?

    Excuse my bad English and criticism.

  2. Hi, WhyMe.

    Nope, I'm not a physicist. (Although I am currently beaming with pride that I could be taken for one.) I think if I were an actual scientist this show would make me absolutely crazy--like throwing things at the TV crazy.


  3. I liked the ep, although I'm with you on the questions re: dual realities. Maybe I've been watching too must "Lost", which always leaves me unsure of what's real and what's not in the world, but how, how, how?

    I actually had the SAME question regarding identity and experience when I was reading this fabulous murder-mystery book called "Origins in Death". Its by JD Robb, aka Nora Roberts, and its totally a guilty/trashy pleasure, but you might want to pick it up. Its got more depth if you have read the whole series through, but "Origins" is probably the one book that would appeal to you most - and you'll see what I mean about the identity question.

    That being said, I liked the William Bell character. Remember when I said that it was so obvious that Bell was the baddie? Well, its starting to look like maybe its not. Even if Leonard Nimoy scares the crap out of me.

  4. All this talk of alternative time lines and parallel universes and I all I could think of is that somewhere out there is a William Bell with a goatee  Couldn’t resist, I’ve got Trek on the brain.

    This was a great finale but I think it was a misstep to kill off David Robert Jones so early. One of this shows chief faults is the lack of a clear villain to boo and hiss at. Jones was a perfect adversary for Olivia and he went out like a sucker.

  5. I doubt David Robert Jones is gone. Remember, there's another one of him on the other side. Or, more precisely, another 1.5 of him, since half his body made it through the portal :-)

    If his "other" does return, I bet that showing up William Bell is not going to be his main motivation. He might be mad, but no one purposely irradiates themselves to prove a point. And hopefully, if he reappears, he won't be dripping pus, recompositing cells, or generally looking not-dinnertime-worthy.

    The "big bad" of Fringe is not going to be one person or one entity. I think the whole idea is that its a conspiracy of some sort, so no matter how hard you fight against one, there is always someone else. I personally do like that the show blurs the line between good or bad. I know it makes it hard to bond with the protagonist and/or hiss at the antagonist, but no one is good or bad. Personally, I think it adds to the intrigue, but maybe I'm just morally ambiguous.

  6. I’ve got moral ambiguity fatigue lately. After five season of Lost being coy for so long about who the real bad guy is I’m just hopeful Fringe won’t go down the same path.

    Ahhhh…for the days of evil empires and big bads.

    You’re probably right about Jones. There is more that one of everything so we’ll likely see another version of him someday. But, please, with a goatee :-)

  7. Yes, and hopefully they have better dental care on the other side :-)

  8. Josie wrote: I like that Fringe has taken this radical left-turn towards real science fiction, not just gross-outs and urban legends. Yes! Because I was spoiled, I knew this was coming, and I was really looking forward to it. It was like a reward at the end of the gross-out.

  9. Fantastic episode! And even though I already knew the shocking twist with Peter was coming, I found the reveal incredibly powerful. And I loved the way they slowly teased it out over the hour, so that when we finally saw the name on the tombstone, it didn't come out of nowhere, but fit perfectly with all we had seen.

    John Noble is so good in this role! He creeps me out and pulls my heartstrings.

  10. An interesting end to the season. During the re-watch, I was pleasantly surprised at how often the idea that Peter is not of this world is foreshadowed. Before I knew the twist, they sailed right by. But, there are a lot of clues.

    Great reviews, Josie, for a not always great season. I agree with WhyMe that, at times, your reviews are an improvement on the show!

  11. All these years later, and the WTC reveal at the end is still spine-tingling.

  12. Surprisingly slow for a finale. Great ending though, so much more interesting to me than time travel. William Bell is very cool but I hope alt Walter isn't dead because I'd love to see how he's reacting to his son being kidnapped and what he'll do. I don't think I've ever watched a show where parallel universes weren't only the focus for one/few procedural episodes but part of the main plot. Very neat. Also I hope the Titanic survived there too.


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