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Fringe: One Night in October

“I’ve always thought there were people who leave an indelible mark on your soul. An imprint that can never be erased.”

Fringe has set itself a difficult task. To resolve the missing-Peter problem too quickly would diminish the impact of his absence. But creating a new, overarching narrative goal other than the restoration (in whatever form) of Peter would frustrate both our desires and the naturalistic progress of storytelling. Fringe must take its time to show us this Peter-less world, while still giving us something to invest in.

It’s not quite thumb-twiddling, but this episode felt a bit like wandering through a museum, enjoying the art, but searching for the masterpiece we know is lurking just one or two galleries away. Pleasant, even perfect in its own way, but not quite why we paid the price of admission.

I use the metaphor of a museum advisedly, too, as the architectural spaces of museums, libraries, bookshelves, and even beehives have been associated with memory since the days of classical rhetoric, though the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and into present-day memory competitions. The most common iteration of the locational mnemotechnique is the “memory palace,” in which each floor and each room organizes information for easy location and recollection at a later date. Want to recall if Polk came before or after Fillmore? Enter the American floor, turn left at the presidential wing, and open the door to the 19th century.

However, there’s another type of memory: not facts and dates, but the small moments that imprint our souls like wax under a seal. Proust attempted to express the nature of those memories in his thousands of pages searching for lost time (and lost pastries); Nabokov boiled them down to distinct images of the distant past that flare up again in a more recent past in Speak, Memory; and St. Augustine saw the imprimatur of these memories as so philosophically complicated that they made him question the nature of time and our experiences of it.

Astrid said that “what is in the past is in the past,” but the past is always alive in our impressionistic memories. The past shapes the present just as much—if not more so—than our present experiences shape our understanding of our memories. For McClellan I, the memories of Marjorie have shifted his life-course just enough to the side of the good that he has developed an empathetic response to those filled with darkness. The shots of Marjorie, with the hazy brightness and disconnected images, did a wonderful job of expressing the inexpressible: the sensory discontinuities that are the visual touchstones we use to locate our emotional remembrances.

McClellan I said, “I don’t think we can underestimate the role that empathy plays in the structuring of the self.” The lack of empathy, which is to say the lack of ability to occupy the position of the other, is a hallmark of sociopathy or psychopathy. Marjorie managed to awake the empathetic impulse in McClellan by showing him a world with hope and lightness. Because of her influence, McClellan moved beyond the desire to steal happiness and into the more emotionally and morally mature desire to help those who put the diminishment of their own misery before the well-being of others. For McClellan’s experience of his alter-self, empathy and memory are tied together: to understand McClellan II, he had to recall his own past and imagine its possible alterations. He had to, in other words, empathize with his own hypothetical memories.

It was Olivia’s empathy that allowed her to connect with McClellan I and understand where he was going. In an ironic twist, that empathetic connection was made easier by her own childhood experience without having met Peter: Olivia killed her stepfather in this reality. In the world we’ve come to know over the past few seasons, she had only wounded him—perhaps because her encounter with Peter in the field of white tulips diminished her rage, perhaps because in a Peter-less world Walter never told her stepfather to stop abusing her. (Her empathy has limits, though. She really doesn’t like Fauxlivia.)

McClellan I, by episode’s end, has lost his memory of Marjorie, but he has retained what he learned from her. Olivia, never having met Peter, seems not to have been affected by what she had learned in her own field-encounter. Or is she? Does the message of empathy and support she received from Peter still, somehow, linger in her mind, the way images of Peter haunt Walter in the lab?

Speaking of which: Walter chose to listen to Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor. Not quite as much fun as “Love and Happiness,” that’s for sure. But Mozart makes sense: he crafted complicated musical and mathematical puzzles within his works, yet managed to express astonishing beauty that even those of us who aren’t great at musical puzzles (like myself) can begin to empathize with. That Walter would choose to listen to a requiem, a remembrance for the dead, may even hint that he is subconsciously aware of precisely what is haunting him in reflective surfaces and screens.

We’re In the Wrong Place:

• Walter: “They are loathsome, hateful, contemptible…”
Astrid: “Contemptible? Is he doing the synonym thing again?”

• Walter: “She bought my ignorance with baked goods.”

• Olivia: “He’s not even my type.”
Astrid: “Do you ever think that your type doesn’t exist?”

• McClellan: “Things are pretty dark right now…You know what they say. That even when it’s the darkest, you can step into the light.”

• Broyles: “At the risk of sounding sentimental, I’ve always though there were people who leave an indelible mark on your soul. An imprint that can never be erased.”

• Walter called Lincoln, Kennedy. Hilarious.

• I thought it was very sad that Olivia brought her own coffee, and coffee just for her. Wasn’t coffee something she and Peter often shared?

• The entire opening scene was so hilarious I thought we were going to get a weird comedy episode.

• Alt-Broyles! Numfar, do the dance of joy!

• Want to test your own empathic abilities? Simon Baron-Cohen has a test for that.

Three out of four synonyms.

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


  1. Wow, Josie. I think this may be your densest review so far, and it's definitely among the most interesting (Brown Betty is another favorite of mine). I loved the Proustian references.

    I read somewhere these days that it's very common not to remember where exactly you've learned something. And I also believe that the things you really learn, not just memorize for a test or a palpable skill you develop, are the things that change you, and stay with you in every act and thought. It makes sense that the doctor can connect empathically even if he doesn't know how he learned it.

    About Peter, I think he'll show up in about 6 or 8 episodes, probably just in time for a cliffhanger before sweeps.

    Thanks for the very interesting read!

  2. Let me echo Gus's wow. Wow. That's an amazing review, Josie. That line about an indelible mark on your soul made me think about the people who have strongly affected me. (I didn't have the best of childhoods, either.)

    Clearly, Peter left a huge mark on Walter's soul, and Walter is feeling the lack. I was glad that McClellan One retained the results of his experiences with Marjorie, even if he didn't retain his memory of her.

    This episode kept reminded me of the Ken Follett novel, The Third Twin, in which genetically identical men were raised by different parents. The novel doesn't argue that nurture is more powerful than nature, because it isn't -- just that certain childhood experiences can nudge you a certain way enough to change the direction of your entire life.

  3. Alt-Broyles was a bit of treat, until I realized the consequences. More than anything else, his presence demonstrates that Peter's absence has created yet another alternate timeline. One that has obviously affected both universes.

    What will happen when Peter returns? Will everything revert to the way it was before? Will fauxlivia have betrayed Walter for Peter again? Will she have his child? Will Alt-Broyles be a casualty of Walternate's wrath?

    In some ways the worlds are better, but without that presence things are definitely darker. Walter alone seems like a wildly different person. The heart that he had is missing, he's now reclusive and even a touch cold. This isn't our Walter, or our Olivia. I guess I don't care what the consequences are, I want Peter back.

    Great review Josie! It was so dense and interesting, that it made me want to look up all your references.


  4. Wonderful, I apparently have Aspergers.

    I found it odd that Fauxlivia looked so uncomfortable imitating Olivia when she's already had plenty of practice.

    I kept screaming pictures when McClellan entered that room, you would think pictures would be the first thing to be removed, sloppy Fauxlivia.

    As much as I like the characters on this show, it's the dynamic between Walter and Peter that always kept me coming back. I need Peter, hurry back.

  5. Only if you take Baron-Cohen's test seriously, Felipe. He's a crap neuroscientist who does shoddy research to make a name for himself.

  6. Amazing review!

    I quite enjoyed this episode because it allowed us to understand better how our characters have been changed by Peter's non-existance (Fauxlivia's still with her bf, poor Lincoln). Oh, and loved seeing alt-Broyles again!

    And LOVED the featuring of Mozart's Requiem, one of my favourite pieces of music! ;o)

  7. Proust, Nabokov and St. Augustine, all in one paragraph. This is why I love your Fringe reviews, Josie. I always feel that little bit smarter after reading them.

  8. Good quality is always so intriguing.
    Wonderful as always Josie.


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