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Fringe: 6B

“What if this is not about physics, but about people?”

That quote? The rules of the game. How should we understand those rules? That is still up for grabs. This episode had me anguished at first, but it is nonetheless a vital clue to larger goals of the show. Are those goals in line with my expectations? Only time will tell.

I’ve written before about the Lost finale. I was uncomfortable with what I felt was a sudden shift from the mysteries of the island to the characters who peopled it. Specifically, I was resistant to being told repeatedly by the writers that it had really been a character-centric story all along. I felt like I was being ineffectively ret-conned, and wound up rather “meh” about the finale. (For me, “meh” is an emotion.)

Olivia’s quotation above seemed to me, at first, to be a similar assertion—just spoken by a character rather than a creator. Especially in light of Peter’s emotional role in the machine of destruction and Fauxlivia’s pregnancy, the events of this episode felt like a cop-out—as though the writers were systematically dismissing the scientific background that has been so compelling and wonderfully wacky for all these years. So it all comes down to the power of love? So human desire can influence physics? The fate of the world hangs on emotional connections? That’s it? I said last week that I love the character interactions on this show, but Walter’s line seemed a bridge too far. I liked character interactions against the backdrop of fringe science. Fringe science being reduced to character interactions? Not so much.

That was my first reaction. Then I started to give it some thought. Really, this is the fringiest idea Fringe has had. It’s like the bizarreness of the observer effect, but with heart. If a person watching an atom zip around can change the atom’s path, why can’t a person feeling something change the course of history? Once I started to see the connection between the emotional emphasis and the still-strange science this show was built on, I started to feel more comfortable. This isn’t really a shift from science to soap opera. It’s yet another development in the ever-increasing complexity of the forces at work in the salvation and destruction of the universe. As Walter said earlier on: “The laws of physics are being disrupted.” They’re just being disrupted by something unexpected: the human element. “Some form of emotional quantum entanglement,” indeed: the entangling of the laws of physics and the laws of the heart.

Setting up those new (or revised) rules made this episode rather uneven, though. I was not enamored of Mrs. Merchant (or Marchant?) and her situation, although Peter’s speech to her—with his emphasis on photographs and ticket stubs, the detritus of his relationship with Fauxlivia—was incredibly touching. Walter’s struggle with where to draw the line, and his possible parallels with Walternate, was wonderfully done. Rarely does a show allow a character quite that much time to think things through on-screen. And such results! He looked almost resigned to losing Peter and Olivia to the amber.

Above all, though, I was entranced by Olivia’s transformation. Once she made up her mind to forgive—or forget—Peter’s time with Fauxlivia, she started to smile more, to joke more, to hold herself in a more relaxed way. But what I can’t determine is whether she was doing it on purpose. Did she want to appeal to what she thought Peter wanted? Or did she really let go of some of that patented Olivia-angst? Either way, it looks like Olivia and Peter are finally, officially, hooking up. I hope she, at least, has some sort of birth control, since Peter’s condoms don’t seem to be very effective.

It’s Kinda Funny:

• Peter: “I’ve seen what the two of us look like together, and it’s beautiful.”

• Walter: “Perhaps I should have made a frittata.”

• Walter: “There’s no such thing as ghosts.”
Peter: “That’s where you draw the line? Ghosts?
Walter: “Belly and I used to argue about this constantly—what happens to the body after death. William theorized we should be able to capture that energy, using what he called ‘soul magnets.’”
Peter: “Catchy name.”
Walter: “He said if we were right, he’d contact me from the great beyond. I haven’t gotten the call.”

• Walter: “That nervous fellow, Brandon.”

• The Guildenstern Building feels like it should mean something, but all I’ve got is Hamlet and Stoppard. Oh—Hamlet had a hell of a time deciding on a course of action. Is that it? (Edited to add: Somehow I screwed this up. It's the Rosencrantz according to every single other person who watched the episode. But I swear my TV said Guildenstern...)

• The coin flip was a great resonant trope throughout the episode.

• It was great to see that creepy goo from so long ago pop up again.

• So, the deciding moment came for Mrs. Merchant when she found out that OtherHusband had children. Parallelism, anyone?

The past three episodes have all contained huge revelations. First, that Peter’s choice between Faux/Olivia would determine which world survived. Then, that Fauxlivia was pregnant. Now, that powerful emotions can make the physically impossible, possible. Along the way, Fringe has gotten quite a bit of flack from the fans. I’m still keeping the faith. What about you?

Three out of four frittatas.

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

14 comments:

  1. I love reviews that go "At first I thought ... but then I realized... etc", They show the reviewer has really put some thought to it, and not just expressed their reactons. Great review as always, Josie.

    I agree that the episode was uneven, but enjoyed it nontheless. Specially because of the human factor. Much as Dimitri says that what he likes about *good* horror is that it heightens the human being, I like science fiction when it acts as some sort of magnifying lenses on life. And it makes much sense that emotions will get in the way, since they do that in life as well.

    It's funny that I remembered the name of the building as "Rosenkrantz". You're right, it must be a nod to Hamlet; after all, the prince was grief-stricken when he saw his father's ghost, and his emotions altered the cousre of History (all the royal family is dead at the end. Shakespeare is awesome!)

    One more comment: What a good looking lady they cast as Mrs. Merchant!

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  2. Gustavo, I was thinking the exact same thing. Mrs Merchant looks like she could have been a model or a pageant contestant in her younger years.

    I'm surprised how many fans are feeling betrayed by the recent character focus in Fringe. After all, all the cases in the first half season were metaphors for Olivia's grief over her fiance's death and betrayal, so it's not anything new. At any rate, I'm glad you're along for the ride, Josie!

    It's worth noting that parallel world stories are always going to be about people because they're the variable. To me, alternate universes in fiction are the ultimate expression of free will: when every road can be taken simultaneously, there's no room for predestination, only for choices and the individual thoughts and feelings motivating those choices.

    In other words, you can't do parallel world doppelgangers without comparing and contrast who they are as people, so fans should brace themselves for a lot more character emphasis. I hope they enjoy it because I certainly am!

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  3. Gustavo, you're now the second person who has mentioned that the building is actually Rosencrantz and not Guildenstern. The first person (on another site) thought I was making an incredibly learned joke, so that's my defense and I'm sticking to it.

    I, too, was struck by the woman's faded beauty.

    Dimitri, have you been watching Fringe all this time?

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  4. Maybe the name of the building was Guildenstern in the other universe.

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  6. zob, it's not exactly the power of love. This one was about grief, not love. It's about how emotions affect the world, not only love, but also hate, lust, fear, etc.; and you can't say they don't.

    Mark, that was a clever comment.

    Dimitri, I like what you said about free will and parallel universes. But chance also acts here, as we could see in the coin toss case.

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  7. Josie, I don't know whether you're asking if I watched Fringe because you didn't know I'd been following the show from the beginning and reading your lovely reviews, or because my take is so different you're suggesting I might have been watching the wrong show all this time.

    I suppose I have been known to switch to channels from Over There...

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  8. Gustavo, that's a good point. Mind you, to get the full dramatic impact, you need to know the characters enough to consider their reactions to the variable stimuli as constants.

    In other words, let's say a random event drives Person X in one direction Over Here and in another Over There. For it to be dramatically relevant, we need to know that Person X reacts consistently in both universes. Otherwise, you might as well just make it two different people in the same world. As such, for the parallel world story to work, the writers need to acquaint us thorougly with the characters and their consistent reactions.

    Drama dictates that parallel world epics must always come down to individual people, which, by the way, makes the observers particularly interesting since their understanding of time ties closely to the notion of predestination. In the end, Fringe may come down to a discussion of fate versus free will.

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  9. Dimitri, the first option. For some reason I didn't think you watched Fringe. (What else aren't you telling me, eh?)

    I do hope you're wrong about fate vs. free will, though. That false dichotomy is so tired.

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  11. Gus, you say "This one was about grief, not love." However, on the title card at the end (you know what I mean, the frog, the hand, the wisp of smoke, whatever it is this week), instead of the little dot next to the picture, it was a little golden heart. This episode was a about love, but it treated it in the same weird twisted way Fringe treats everything. I love it.

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  12. I didn't have trouble with the power of love at all. Quantum entanglement is so incredibly difficult for me to understand but if it exists, and apparently, it does, why not?

    The woman who was leaving the building in the opener was going to the Shrodinger. :)

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  13. I wasn't particularly enamored of Mrs. Marchant either --- although I, too, made a mental note of how lovely she was --- or the cross-world love that was tearing two universes apart (obvious parallels aside), but I did like the focus on Walter's struggle with whether to use the amber and whether that would make him Walternate.

    I also quite liked Peter and Olivia actually talking to each other to attempt to work through their problems. A very adult way to handle some rather extreme relationship challenges. And part of what really keeps this show from being too soapy in my book, despite some soap-ish trappings.

    I'm not sure what to make of the "it all comes down to love" premise. It doesn't quite sit right at first, but when you think about it, I guess it isn't really anything new for this show. I suppose if two men's love for their sons is essentially what started this whole war, then that son's love for two women can resolve it. It works.

    However, I'm still not totally cool with two people's grief and longing trumping physics and tearing (then repairing) a hole in the universe. At least in the main story, science was still needed to tear holes in the universe.

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  14. Too bad everything was resolved so neatly. It would be nice too see some amber in our universe too. It's great they haven't forgotten the 3rd(?) episode and the ambered bus.

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