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Fringe: And Those We’ve Left Behind

He is a fringe event.”

The Golden Ratio, or phi, finds mathematical symmetry in nature and likely-unplanned symmetry in art. From the shells of the nautilus to Dalí paintings and rabbit reproduction, phi describes the relationship of spatial objects, mathematical figures—not quite life, the universe, and everything, but quite nearly.

The chaos of the time-jumps adhered to the naturally beautiful spiral of phi even though they had symptoms of “not appearing in nature,” as Peter said. What appeared to be random, in other words, adhered to a law beyond that understood or intended by the people who created that disorder. This isn’t semi-mystical course-correction, but rather a portrayal of the orderliness underlying what appears to be random or even entropic.

The people who created that apparent chaos didn’t know what they were doing (any more than Peter knew he was appearing in visions and dreams to Walter and Olivia). Husband Raymond jury-rigged a sort of time machine thingamabob based on his wife’s equations, but he needed the time machine in order to provide her with the opportunity to create the equations…all of which is a complicated loop, and I’ll leave it at that.

Wife Kate’s early-onset Alzheimer’s pushed Raymond into creating the time bubble. Unable to let go of the person he used to know, he refused to move past the time in which he still had her. He lived in the present only as long as he needed to in order to re-create an ever-changing past.

Stephen Root and Romy Rosemont did an incredible job portraying the couple, and I wasn’t surprised to read online that they are married in real life. I especially loved the wife’s distracted affection: her 2007-self didn’t know that moment was so important, and the off-handed reminders clearly had acquired a near-ritual status for Raymond. Kate’s decision to destroy the equations was beautiful, and both the most loving and most painful thing she could have done for Raymond.

That was all well and good, to say the least. But I am just not sure what to make of its relevance to the larger plot. A lot of my confusion is really just resistance—how much are we supposed to agree with Peter’s assessment that he has popped back into the wrong world? That these are not his people, and this is not his Olivia?

Peter and Olivia—not to mention Peter, Olivia, Lincoln Lee, and Walter—had moments of communion, but also numerous moments in which they clearly weren’t on the same page. Peter’s comment about Oppenheimer, for instance: Olivia misunderstood, Peter had to backtrack. The easy familiarity of their relationship, built over three seasons, is gone.

We know, as well, that Olivia’s and Walter’s pasts were radically altered by Peter’s death in both worlds. In that sense, these aren’t the same people. But is Peter giving up too quickly? He is dreaming of his Olivia…but this Olivia (“the other version,” in her words) is dreaming of him. The dreams are just different.

Or, are we like Raymond, living in a past that’s long gone? Raymond had to be pushed by Peter and his wife to move beyond what he had lost. Does he stand in for Peter, struggling to realize that he’s holding on to people that aren’t the same any more, and relationships that will never be what they were or what they promised to be? Or does he stand in for us, unable to accept that these people are not our people?

But, aren’t they? Our people don’t exist anymore: the paradox of the third-season finale changed them radically when it altered the past. We’ve more or less accepted that, with varying degrees of comfort—but I doubt I’m alone when I’ve assumed that this defamiliarization was temporary. Something would re-set. Peter, somehow, would re-set it. But he doesn’t know what we know: he created these new circumstances, back in the future in which he went back to the past.

Like, Groundhog Day?:

• Walter: “It’s a wonderful device, nonetheless, despite the poorly written instruction manual.” Nice to know the other side and/or Massive Dynamics still haven’t figured out how to create intelligible gadget booklets.

• Peter: “Too many variables and not enough constants.”

• Peter: “This is gonna start getting annoying.”

• Olivia: “You’re a stranger.”

• Walter: “I know what a Faraday cage is. A baboon would.”

• Walter: “I think it’s in my Spiderman fanny pack.” Because where else would the rubber cement be?

• Peter: “Now I’ve just got to figure out how to get home.”

• Peter: “Where would I run to?”

• Olivia: “I hope you get back to her.”

• Interested in the Golden Ratio, aka phi, aka “The Fibonacci Sequence” aka “Fibonacci’s Golden Spiral”? I recommend Mario Livio’s The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, The World’s Most Astonishing Number.

• It drove me a little crazy that Peter just eyeballed the map when drawing the spiral. Also, Lincoln Lee and all the other Boston commuters standing in the tunnel just to get a video to post on YouTube when they were about to drown.

• 47 minutes, the Red Sox, the Faraday cage. Did I miss any?

Usually, a show tells us what to root for (a hero, a goal, a quest object, a coupling) or against (a villain, an impending disaster). Sometimes the best shows undermine the easiness of this strategy, and guide us towards changing our affiliations—from one couple to another, for instance, or towards a realization that what looked like a goal was actually a trap.

Fringe has refused to tell us what to think this season. We know more about some things, like the future and one version of the past, than the characters do. They, on the other hand, have entire backstories that we don’t know anymore. It’s rather like metaphorical Alzheimer’s: the world we’re inhabiting is not the same one we’re used to. The people we know are not the people we think they are. It’s a frakking gigantic risk, on the part of the show’s producers and writers. But as a watcher and reviewer, I’m struggling to understand what it is that I’m supposed to want to happen.

For now, I’m just going to assume that, like phi, there’s an underlying order to the chaos.

Three and a half out of four Snails!

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


Cesar said...

Actually, Peter's comment is exactly what I've been thinking since the beginning of the season.. (not that it helps me predict what is going to happen next)

What is the difference between parallel universes that are different because of some changed details somewhen in the past and a time travel story in which the past was changed? Lots of time-travel stories use parallel universes to explain what happened.

Also, I'm not sure, but was it ever discussed how many parallel universes exist out there? For one side, every attempt to cross universes (Walter's window and portal, Olivia's ability, Walternate's devices) works between the same two universes. However, if there are two universes where things are slightly different, why couldn't there be more, with more or less similarities to Over Here? (like a world with no shrimp for instance)

Since Over Here (blue) and Over-There (red) are basically the same world, but with some different details in history that eventually propagated*, it seems to me that what we're seeing now (yellow) is basically a third universe (with a fourth one in its Over There counterpart). The yellow universe is much closer to the blue one than the red, because they only started to differ in 1985 when Peter drowned.

*Who knows, maybe there was even a single-event in the distant past that butterfly-effected to generate all the changes between the two universes. This could explain why there are (were) only two universes: someone (I'm looking at you, Walter) time-traveled and changed something a long time ago (perhaps in an attempt to hide the Doomsday device?) creating the second universe.

However, all this technicality still doesn't explain what happened to the characters from the Blue universe and/or how Peter could get back to them.

Also, it's still a mystery how/why Peter was erased. What he did in the Doomsday device prevented the apocalyptic future, but shouldn't have changed anything in the past. And if it did, how was the Doomsday device turned on in this version of the timeline? As for the why, if I recall correctly, the problem with the original timeline wasn't that Peter survived at the lake, but that Walternate got distracted with the observer and wasn't able to save him. Having him die at the lake seems equally wrong...

Jess Lynde said...

Cesar's last paragraph is pretty much what I was asking about last week. If the original problem was that Peter was supposed to live (to operate the machine) but Walternate was distracted and missed his chance to save him, then why now are we being told that Peter was supposed to die? I just don't get it.

So I'm basically in the same place as you, Josie. I don't know where things are going, or what I'm supposed to be rooting for. I love your notion that Stephen Root's character was a stand-in for us, and that we are trying to hold on to the past, when we should be letting go and just "loving" the show as it is now. But I'm a little disturbed by that notion, too. This isn't a person that has been felled by Alzheimer's. This is a television show that has purposely taken us in this strange direction, and I keep waiting for the moment where this turn of events (and the time spent in this new yellow version of Over Here) suddenly makes brilliant sense. In the meantime, I guess we wait.

P.S. Totally with you on Lincoln and those commuters. Get the hell out of there, people! Don't stand around with your cameras waiting for the "dam" to break!

Mark Greig said...

This was an okay episode. Think I would've enjoyed it more if I wasn't constantly having 'White Tulip' deja vu while watching.

Chelsea Hensley said...

I'm beginning to think that this is the third universe that people were speculating about last season: the amber universe. I don't think the versions are completely different however. If this Olivia isn't Peter's Olivia, then why would she be dreaming about him at all? And I'm also thinking that Peter might turn to Walternate for help in determining what went wrong if Walter keeps refusing.

Sam B said...

Such darkness and sadness this season. Compelling viewing, as always, and I loved Walter trying not to be proud of Peter but there was that paternal glint of prode there, I think?!!

Peter's comment about getting back to "his" world? A clever ploy by the writers so they can hot reset next season, or a lever ploy by Peter to keep them off his back while he investigates what the holy crap is going on?

Either way, it's the one show that I ractically count down the sleeps for!

TheShadowKnows said...

"What is the difference between parallel universes that are different because of some changed details somewhen in the past and a time travel story in which the past was changed? Lots of time-travel stories use parallel universes to explain what happened."

This is why it seems to me Fringe is trying to eat its cake and have it too. Changing the past either changes your original future OR it creates a parallel universe. It should be consistent. If there are parallel universes, as obviously is the case on Fringe, then attempting to change the past should just split off yet another parallel universe and leave your original future unchanged. That may be the case on Fringe, as you suggest; the blue universe may still be out there somewhere. But if not, what was so different about this particular case that caused it to ALTER one of the universes rather than just creating a NEW one like any other change?

Contrast this with how time travel was handled on LOST. In the end, ALL of the time travel turned out to be part of a closed time loop within a single timeline. There was no reason this closed loop should have created any parallel universes, and indeed it didn't (although the producers tried to fool viewers into thinking otherwise for most of season six). At the end of the day, it was consistent. Fringe seems to be playing a lot more fast and loose with the "rules" of time travel. I guess time will tell if the writers can make it coherent, or if they even care about that.

Billie Doux said...

I keep thinking -- or maybe I'm just hoping -- that the writers know what this current universe is, and they won't reveal it until sweeps. If they haven't thought it through and if it ends up not making sense, I'm going to be really disappointed.

But this was still a good episode. The couple did a lovely job, and I felt for both of them. I like stories like these much more than ones centered around medical grue.

karmaBunny Designs said...

I'll actually be quite disappointed if this is a third universe. I feel like the 3rd / alternate timeline was already done in Lost. Remember, we had the Island, and then we had life after the 6 got rescued. Originally we thought the sideways reality was a reset of what had happened when Juliet set off the bomb, but it was not.

I like the notion that Peter thinks its an alternate universe better, but its really just one of the 2. I guess we'll see when it returns and they go back to the Red Universe, since no one there recognizes him either (so it seems from the promos).

karmaBunny Designs said...

BTW, it's Serena. Forgot I was using an alternate Gmail account.


Gus Brunetti said...

I still think a Dark Tower-y thing will occur. I still love the show and have total confidence in them.

Josie Kafka said...

*waves at Serena*

Anonymous said...

No review for Wallflower yet?

Josie Kafka said...

Hi Anon,

No, not yet. I'm sorry, but my family had to take priority, and Thanksgiving is a week-long event with my people.