Fringe: Making Angels

“Everything happens right now.”

Fringe’s best episodes always make me think of those paper chains we used to make in grade school, or to decorate a Christmas tree. Each slip of paper makes a closed circle that links to other loops, and the result is a chain that can make on larger circle. Interlocking, in other words, while still distinct.

“Making Angels” is among the best of Fringe episodes for precisely that reason. It is horribly reductive, although not incorrect, to say that the Theme of the Week is parents. Giving characters a difficult childhood, or feelings of parental rejection, has become a real go-to technique on TV recently, and I’ve started to become quite bored by it. (Can’t we ever have non-childhood trauma?) But the way the writers dealt with this thorny issue, the way they let each character deal with it individually, and the beauty of Jasika Nicole’s performance as Astrid and (as the internet has dubbed her) Austrid, took my breath away.

In other words, I cried. Did you cry?

I cried because Austrid’s difficulty with social conventions and personal connections somehow made her grief all the more poignant. It took her the entire episode to reveal the root of her grief: not just her father’s death, but the loss of opportunity to truly connect with him, to gain his approval, and to be the daughter she imagines that he wanted. She came to see Astrid for clarity about her own grief, but also to ask the most difficult of questions, however obliquely: would Austrid’s father have loved Astrid more?

I cried for Astrid, too. It seems she lied to Austrid: Astrid’s relationship with her father seems easy and strong, but I wonder if she needed reassurance that it was as strong as she’d imagined. Did Astrid’s father love her unconditionally, or only for those qualities that she has and Austrid doesn’t? Is Astrid wondering if her father would still love her if she were Austrid?

The thematic loops keep looping, though. Walter outright rejected Peter, mentioning that he preferred Lincoln (aka “the other one”) to the man who looks like a grown-up version of his dead son. For all of Walter’s scientific training, he has always led with his heart: as Austrid pointed out, anger and love are often conjoined, particularly when that anger is the rage that comes with desperate loss.

Walter and Bolivia’s relationship, while not strictly a parent-child relationship, can be considered in those terms. Walter is currently grappling with a man that is not his son; previously, he grappled with his real Olivia (with whom he has been quite close and quite paternal) being replaced by the not-Olivia “double.” Walter seemed to come to a d├ętente with Bolivia this week, admitting that he did like her. Can he do the same for his not-son Peter?

Neil’s motivation for making himself into an angel and saving others from lifetimes of future misery was, itself, motivated by feelings of parental rejection. Astrid and Austrid, Olivia and Bolivia, Peter and the dead young Peter, Neil and his twin Alex: each of the doubles looks at his or her counterpart and feels what is lacking in him or herself.

Mythologically, this episode raised a lot of questions. Neil found September’s timey-whimey device at Reiden Lake and became obsessed with the leveling of space and time, the ability to “see past, present, and future simultaneously.” But was it fate or coincidence that the device was found by a man capable of generating those equations? Is there a hand of God manipulating even an Observer’s mistakes? Is Reiden Lake more than a doorway or thin spot between universes—is it a place where the universe adjusts itself? And, on a more quotidian plane: was that Walter’s lake house, back in the old universe we used to know? I couldn’t tell.

A Genius Piece of Spy Tech:

• Those of you streaming this episode may have missed the previously on, which recapped the introduction of the word “vagenda” to the English language. It’s a little weird to over-think the recaps, though, as technically they involve other characters that we haven’t seen since Season Three. If that theory is correct. Oh, who cares? Vagenda!

• When Walter mentioned Ebola, nobody freaked out. I would have freaked out.

• The phrase deus ex machina does not mean the hand of God. Not even a little bit. I was far more disturbed by this than I should have been, because a number of people must have read the script before it reached my TV screen, and I don’t understand how not a single one of them could have noticed the mistake.

• It’s twice now, since Olivia learned of her “inevitable” death, that our team has encountered people who know the future only to watch them die.

• Astrid: “Eek!”
Olivia: “I’ve always wondered why nobody does that.”

• Walter: “Kirk out!”

• Walter: “A sinister communication device? Some kind of devious encoder?”

• Bolivia: “Turns out, I like the nice guys.” I don’t know what to make of this statement. It almost feels like Bolivia is breaking the fourth wall.

• Austrid: “Coffee. I understand that has quite an interesting flavor.”

Four out of four vagendas. Josie out!

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


Jess Lynde said...

I liked this one a lot, but I did not cry. I also interpreted Astrid's "lie" to Austrid a little differently. I don't think she was straight out lying, rather I believe she was talking about her relationship with Walter, whom she admitted to Austrid was a bit like a father to her. She saw how much Walter took to Austrid the whole episode, and as a result, she couldn't help wondering if she were more like her counterpart, would he love her more? I believe even as she was trying to put Austrid's mind at ease, she was trying to come to grips with her relationship with Walter. I thought it was a lovely moment, but I'm very glad that Astrid can at least go home and find comfort in the loving embrace of her real father.

I was definitely perplexed by the inclusion of the S3 scenes in the "previously on" segment. It certainly makes me more convinced that we are in an overwritten timeline, not a totally different reality. As does the closing comment that "Peter's back." Heck, even September losing his device. If we are dealing with "infinite Earths," how convenient that he lost it in the one we happen to be in right now. (Or perhaps that explains why Peter popped into this one.)

I just can't help thinking that if every possible outcome exists in a series of infinite Earths, then why are the Observers bothering to observe/interfere at all? Why make tweaks to anything, when all possibilities already exist? It only seems to make sense if they are tweaking/observing the timeline for a finite set of realities. At least, that's where my head is at these days.

Billie Doux said...

I loved it, too. I just wanted to hug Austrid. It's nice that when they finally gave Astrid an episode of her own, it was a really good one.

I want answers about the timelines and the universes. I hope we're gonna get them.

Celtic Marc said...

Another nice review Josie !

Another excellent episode..

And, finally, Jasika Nicole had her chance to shine. And she did. Brilliantly. Kudos.

If Fox ends Fringe with this easo0n, I'll be (relatively) contented. If they grant us the miracle of a fifth one, the mythology will be stronger...

Anonymous said...

"There are things that I know. But there are things that I do not. Various possible futures are happening simultaneously. I can tell you all of them, but I cannot tell you which one of them will come to pass."

S03E10 "The Firefly"

I guess that means their choices matter and the Universe doesn't split at every moment. Maybe just at important ones and this whole fight is to see which future (color :]) will come to pass :)