Fringe: Neither Here Nor There

“I know what it’s like to have a hole in my life. It’s been there as long as I can remember.”

I always get nervous returning to a show after a long hiatus. Especially a show like Fringe, which produces precisely the type of massive theorizing that I am so resistant to, post-Lost. Will I be pilloried if I don’t spend paragraphs meditating on the significance of the yellow/amber/orange credits? Will I miss a massive “clue,” get it all wrong, and have a bizarre idiosyncratic reaction that no one else can agree with or even understand?

My resistance to Lost-style theorizing isn’t a condemnation of the fine folks who enjoy that activity. I was deeply invested in Lost, but for me those off-hours spent diagramming missile trajectories, plotting connections, and re-reading Philip K. Dick books just didn’t pay off. I (now) maintain that the writers and producers of many TV shows put in little Easter eggs to please fans, but I don’t choose to spend time trying to find an “answer,” because that makes me lose sight of the forest for the trees. Instead, a la Pauline Kael, I ask myself: “What happened to me as I watched Fringe?”

The answer to that is simple: it made me sad. Not sad for Fringe, which is still at the top of its game (and has been for a while). Not sad for the fandom, which got numerous tasty eggs to feast on, along with some meaty plot. Rather, I’m sad at the sadness our characters are experiencing. Peter’s loss seems to have created a psychic (in the sense of a psyche, not ESP) abyss within all those who were closest to him before his disappearance. Fringe without Peter is a sad story. We can only hope that when he returns—as I assume he will, using my mighty powers of ratiocination—Fringe will once again become a story of glorious possibilities rather than defeated impossibilities.

Olivia said to Lincoln Lee, “I know what it’s like to have a hole in my life. It’s been there as long as I can remember.” In addition to the loss of her partner three years ago (did she mean FBI-partner Francis, or love-partner John Scott?), she’s haunted by a sense of loss. In the Fringe we’re used to, the sudden loss of John Scott was eventually balanced out by the family—Peter, Walter, and Astrid—that Olivia gained. But now Walter is crazy but not wackily endearing, Peter is missing, and Astrid is still an enigma. I just can’t picture Olivia and Astrid going out for cosmos after a day spent hunting translucent shapeshifters. Olivia (now) is still looking for answers that Olivia (last season) already found.

Those self-same translucent human shapeshifters (the THSSs) robbed Lincoln “Clark Kent” Lee of his ersatz family—something he never thought he’d find. The loss of his partner hits him hard, but that loss also provides him with a point of commonality with Olivia. It’s as though he has learned how to speak a new, melancholic language that allows him to communicate with Olivia in her native tongue.

They’re still learning each other’s vocabulary, though. Olivia is back to her old resistance, familiar to us from Season One. Lincoln Lee, in this world, just seems like a restrained guy: he can be open with Robert and his family, but is more reserved and shy with strangers. He can certainly hold his own, but he doesn’t open up easily. (Okay, okay. I admit it. You’ve all read my list of datable characters. Lincoln Lee is now on that list. I do have a type, don't I?)

The impossibility of communication—symbolized most obviously by the problems with cell phone reception—haunts this episode. Openness, the ability and willingness to share oneself, has always been at the heart of Fringe’s idea of happiness. That openness must exist within secrecy, of course: as Lincoln Lee’s willingness to expose the Fringe Division to public scrutiny reminded us, these world(s)-altering events are still under wraps to the general public, at least on this side.

Communication between Here and There isn’t all peachy, either. While the two Fringe teams seem to be engaged in active file-sharing (which, oddly, reminds me of the reasons Homeland Security was created), they’re still playing a game of knowledge cat-and-mouse. Ourlivia asked Fauxlivia about the THSSs, and Fauxlivia just smiled. Did she know? Does she not know, but want to avoid even revealing that? Walternate’s devious tricks know no bounds, and we know that he doesn’t favor openness with even his closest of employees.

Walter, on the other hand…Oh, Walter. Without anything or anyone to “tether him to this world,” he can’t master himself in the world—to the point that he doesn’t exist in the world, only in the lab. He said, “I don’t think there’s anything sadder than when two people are meant to be together and something intervenes.” He must have been thinking of Peter, the child he evidently lost twice. Like Olivia, his loss haunts him: he feels not just the death of his child but the loss of his adult son, even if he can’t understand why. And he doesn’t even know that the man he sees (in reflective surfaces!) is precisely what he is missing.

Very Clever

• Walter: “The thing about playing devil’s advocate…is that your client is the devil himself.”

• Walter: “I need to check her anus. Have that large lady there help you lift her.”

• Lincoln Lee: “One of these things is not like the other.” He’s said this before.

• Lincoln Lee: “Not from here? Like, China?”

• Olivia: “Sometimes answers lead to more questions.”

• TV Infomercial: “Set it, and forget it!”

• Olivia: “Long drive.” Finally! Acknowledgment that not everything is within 10 minutes of Harvard.

• I’m going with “amber” for the credits, because it seems like I might as well pick a team.

• In Jasper Fforde’s Shades of Grey, isn’t toast outlawed? Or am I having panary hallucinations?

• Olivia without Peter is also Olivia without a flat-iron.

• Blue support beams on the Over Here path to the bridge, amber lights closer to the bridge. Is it safe to assume the support beams Over There are red?

• (Yes, that screenshot is from last season. His hair looked so much better then.)

• I’m excited to learn about what’s going on Over There. Specifically: the baby. And what’s up with the THSSs. And when Peter’s coming back, especially since the Observer didn’t activate his doohicky. And everything, everything, everything.

I said above that I feel sad at the sadness our characters are experiencing. I also feel sad with them. I had a hard time “getting” Olivia in the first season, but now that I know how she can be, I empathize with her, in the understated despair. It’s not easy for a show to get us to feel so deeply with a character. It’s not easy for a show to so succinctly express a character’s point of view in the midst of a radical world-shift. And it’s not easy for a show to use such a sad character as our entry point to understanding the scientific and emotional rules of this semi-familiar world. Way to go, Fringe.

Four out of four engagement rings.

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

9 comments:

Sooze said...

Loved it. Anna Torv is just amazing. Can't wait to see all of the other superb actors playing their alt's.
Wonderful write-up, Josie.

Gus Brunetti said...

Spot-on review, Josie. I felt like there was something missing throughout the episode (the lack of music, except for right before commercials, added to the effect). There was also a lot of unfamiliarity. This would be a weak point if it weren't for the fact that the characters are experiencing exactly that; we're in for the ride, too.

They are, unknowingly, going through an identity crisis; it should show.

Form interefering in meaning and vice-versa, is what characterizes real art, according to many scholars (including myself), and Fringe has been that for some time now. Friday nights just got better again.

Billie Doux said...

Poor Walter, living in his lab with no life at all. Poor Olivia, back in her season one persona. Like you said, Josie, it's all very sad. I miss Peter.

But there's Lincoln Lee, and I'm so pleased he is now in the cast. And I absolutely love the very carefully guarded building connecting two universes. It opens the door, so to speak, to so many cool story ideas. I'm really looking forward to this season, and now that I'm caught up, I can experience it with you all as it airs.

E said...

yay! the fringe page just got more exciting now that your up to date billie :) I knew once you could get past the gore (which..theres still alot of lol) you'd love this story!

Cant wait for next week...looks like they are actually working on a case together!!!

Mark Greig said...

Poor Col. Sheppard. He was never going to make it out of this episode alive. Hell, he was dead before his name even appeared in the guest credits. If your partner is a main character and you're not, don't bother making retirement plans.

WhyMe said...

I found this episode a bit, well... predictable. It was if we were back to the old "one episode stories that doesn't affect anything" Fringe. Maybe I'm just not used to the "new" characterless and didn't believe them as much as the old ones.

Actually, I enjoined the review more then the episode. Grate job Josie.

WhyMe said...

Is there any way to register for mail without posting?

Billie Doux said...

Hi, WhyMe: There is a box on the right side of the blog that says "Subscribe to:" and boxes below that say "posts" and "comments". I'm a bit confused about what that does, though. Does anyone know? (I apologize for my ignorance.)

CrazyCris said...

I thought it was a good way to start things up again, showing how things are different while remaining the same!

I've got a bad feeling about Fauxlivia's baby... no Peter, remember? No baby. Sad!

I hope we get to see more of the other side's Lincoln Lee, he was one of my favourites last year!

And I can't wait to see how they bring Peter back into the mix. SPOILER - I knew that Observer (November?) wouldn't flip the switch!!!