Fringe: Forced Perspective

“Do you believe in fate?”

Forced perspective manipulates a viewer’s perception to create a visual illusion. Fringe, however, likely isn’t referring to a tourist’s snapshot of her boyfriend holding up the leaning tower of Pisa. Rather, Fringe is referring to three specific ways of grappling with both the freak-of-the-week plot and the larger thematic issues of Season Four:

1. The Effect of Fringiness on The People Involved: Emily is forced into visions—to occupy a perspective on events she shouldn’t be able to see. Before Walter hypnotizes her, she’s been trapped in the role of, you guessed it, an observer: unable to affect reality because anything she does or says only insures that the dreaded outcome will come to pass.

2. Olivia’s Difficult News: In our attempts to make sense of the world, we often create causations out of correlations and reasons out of chance. We are, in one formulation, the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. The world we inhabit—whether we see it as benevolent, malevolent, or utterly random—is determined not be objective reality but by the pieces of reality we put together as we formulate our perspectives. Reality is the stories we tell about life, the universe, and everything.

Olivia sees “fate” in the (granted, unlikely) coincidence that, after she is told she must die, she encounters a foretold death and the foreteller. She sees it as fated, somehow: a poetic symmetry operating to make the inexplicable (how could that strange bald man have known about my death?) slightly more explicable. Emily’s story of success preventing the explosion, and failure preventing her own death, touches Olivia deeply. While some of this felt like a re-tread of similar plots and similar relationships between Olivia and the freaks-of-the-week, this might be a new connection for this Olivia, even if it is an old one for us. Which brings me to…

3. The Ol’ Question of What We Don’t Know: I am still itching to return to the world(s) I came to know in the first three seasons. I miss those characters, however similar they might be to the characters we’re watching now. I want to know how those stories end more than how this one ends. But there is so much we still don’t know, because we have no point-of-view on that old red and blue world. Are we (and Peter) making assumptions based on misperception? Have we been “forced” to forget vital data as we theorize—like Peter drinking the tea that Bell gave him as the bell tolled in “Stowaway”?

Emily could walk through her vision, noticing details she’d missed before and that had faded away. We can watch and re-watch, but we sadly can’t step into the Fringe universe to find out what’s going on off-camera, just around the corner of the screen. Our perspective has been forced into narrowness, as we are unsure if we are watching a new paired universe, a re-written one (as the future Emily saw was re-written), or something else entirely. This is the reverse of dramatic irony: we know less than the characters about their pasts, and far less than the writers about what's going on.

I would add to this my own misperception: I keep thinking we’re much further in than just 10 episodes, which may explain my anxiousness for answers. (And here’s an interview with Pinker and Wyman that addresses some of these concerns.)

While this episode raised some interesting questions (and begged a few others), it didn’t quite live up to the interest or pace of the previous few. How much you enjoyed it probably depended on how much you enjoy the thematic resonance at the cost of mythology relevance. I’ll award it:

Three out of four vibrating time ripples.

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

1 comment:

Billie Doux said...

I didn't hate it, but it was mostly forgettable. Like you, Josie, I'm waiting to get back to "my" characters. And I kept expecting the episode to end with Emily handing Olivia a picture of Olivia's upcoming death. Having Emily die in the end felt a bit like a cop-out.