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Fringe: An Origin Story

“Why would we get her back just to lose her again?”

That, my friends, is the question. Character deaths almost always make me think of a line from the last season of Angel: “How very touching his meaningless death was.” It was creator Joss Whedon’s acknowledgement that death, especially on a show with a clear expiration date, is often a hokey emotion-generator, meant to give us the morbid frisson that tells us we’re watching quality television that is “willing to take risks.”

That is not to say that I’m against character deaths; stories need stakes, and a happy sunny reality in which no one dies would turn a genre show into a series of very special episodes of The Brady Bunch. But Olivia’s question is worth meditating on, because it has so many answers. On one level (the level on which we’re aware that we’re watching a fictional creation), the answer is the one I gave in the first paragraph of this review. On another level—that of the world as experienced by the characters in their crazy, grief-ridden, dystopian lives—the answer is a line from Primo Levi: “there is no why.” But that is no consolation.

On a third level, the answer is more complex: Etta died to create a new version of Peter. Etta’s death is the impetus for Peter’s “origin story,” the tale of how he became the human/Observer hybrid that he seems to be turning himself into.

“What do we have? Pieces we don’t know how to put together. A scroll with physics we can’t decipher. A thought unifier that doesn’t work, and a box of rocks from a mine. That’s what our daughter died for so far.” Peter wants revenge, and he wants to give meaning to the jumble of tragedy that his life has been. He wants her death to have meaning to others, even if to him it can only ever be anguish.

The Observer told Peter that he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, an echo of a famous statement by Donald Rumsfeld about “unknown unknowns”—the things that we don’t know we don’t know, and do not therefore try to discover. The attempt to shut down the wormhole shipping lane is an example of this: the plan failed because our heroes don’t know what they’re up against, or much of anything.

Now that Peter has accessed the Observer’s tech, all of that might change. Perhaps our heroes will win. But I wonder how much they will have to lose, of themselves and of their relationships with one another, in order to do so.

In the middle of all of that, Walter’s advice to Olivia was the most touching: he spoke as the Walter who lost Peter and never managed to bring him back, who knows exactly the pain the Olivia and Peter are facing, and how hard it is to see anything but that pain. Olivia is grieving, but Peter, like his father before him, wants to fix the grief. That will make it so much harder, when he realizes grief isn’t fixable.


• Anil: “Before you go on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”

• Olivia: “Yeah. It is that type of gun.”

• Walter: “You must face this pain together; the pain is her legacy to you both.”

Four out of four black holes.

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


  1. THIS is quality TV. Best 40 min since the begining of this entire season of television, not just this show.
    The execution, the acting, the music, the stakes. Incredible. I'm speechless.
    Amazing review, couldn't agree with you more.

  2. I said that last week's episode was powerful. How am I going to label this one ? Gripping ? At this rate, I'm going to be out of superlatives.

    What I find extraordinary about this show is how the World is in bad shape, and yet the main dramatic level is so...personal. Such a intimate drama within a much bigger scope.

    The teasers-trailers got me (us) wrong : I thought Peter would torture the Observer. But he knew better. And we can see that next week, with what he did to himself, that it'll put him to par with the Observers. But at what price ?

    I have suddenly the bad feeling that this time, it might be HIM who'll have to die to save the World. But this is speculation. We'll know by January the 18th....

    I'd like to point out that this is a new Cult TV series. But you already knew that.

  3. God I am loving this season so much. I am so happy Fox gave them one last season to go out with a bang! I am definitely going to buy the complete series when it comes out. The evolution the series has taken since the first season is incredible, and the risks the writers take are certainly paying off. Every season after the first has been distinct and different from the one previous to it. I love ambitious television.

    And Josie your reviews have been an excellent companion to the series. Thanks for getting me into such a great show. I may have never discovered it if it weren't for you, and that would be a damn shame.

    All I have to say about this episode is that I really hope Peter doesn't become emotionless like the observers. When Olivia called him grieving I was afraid he was going to become devoid of any emotions, including his love for her. Let's hope that is not a side-effect of the observer tech. And a question, have they ever explained why there are no females in the future? Or do they only send the males back to observe and take over the past?

  4. Allo, Josie.
    I just hope that Peter comes clean with Olivia and Walter on that thingie he did.
    Btw, the SFX with Peter planting in the device was excellent.
    I really adore Walter and his brain.
    Anna did an excellent job in this ep.
    I love her scene with Walter, her watching the video and call to Peter.
    I'm just wondering whatever happened to Olivia's sister and niece...
    God review, Josie, as always.

  5. Oh my! I too am running out of superlatives to describe the Fringe episodes, they just keep getting better and better!!!

    I have no idea where the creators are taking us, and I love it!

    I'm still mourning Etta, and worried about the effects of what Peter has just done. Poor Olivia! :o(

  6. Actually, it's my personal theory that the "origin story" that the title references, is of the Observers. Peter becomes the first Observer, and they exist because of what he did.

  7. Josie, you left off my favorite part of what Walter said to Olivia. "It's proof that she was here." Something about that final bit of dialogue, the way John Noble delivered it, and the way Anna Torv reacted to it, really hit me in the gut. I felt somewhat unmoved by Peter's pain at losing his child (surprisingly), but that moment between Walter and Olivia touched a nerve.

    While I was shocked by the early loss of Etta, I do really like the parallels it has created between Peter and Walter. And I like the idea that it wasn't she herself that would be the key to beating the Observers, but the various reactions to her death that would be key.

    Nick, I like your idea in concept --- especially since it would seem to tie back to September's original interest in Peter and the insistence that the right child being born to Peter and Olivia was important --- but am wary of potential paradoxes.

    And it doesn't really explain why the Observers would think the solution to the "problem" created by September's interference was to let Peter die or to be wiped from existence completely. If he is the origin of the species, don't they kind of need him to always fulfill that destiny if they are to exist?

  8. Ugh! Nick not another time paradox please! I certainly hope not. I'm hoping it refers to the Origin of the Victory over the Observers.

  9. Cris,

    You could always say that :

    Fringe est une série sublime qui me fait capoter; ces acteurs sont tous excellents et j'en passe tellement que c'est génial

    but then, we'd have to translate this to everyone.

  10. Marc you might have to translate "capoter" for me! C'est québécois? Jamais entendu moi! J'ai une copine à Montpellier, mais en générale on parle Anglais ou Espagnol...

    And the rest of the sentence is an understatement! Les acteurs sont plus qu'excellents! ;o)

  11. I know I'm in the vast minority in these parts, but this season (in my mind) has been pretty craptastic, building off of last year's craptasticity. I watch Fringe now only out of inertia, but this is simply not the show I fell in love with a few seasons ago.

  12. CCris

    yes, "capoter" is a Quebec idiom.

    Virevolter comes to my minde right now; much closest to international French.

  13. Virevolter definitely sounds more familiar, mais ça doit faire un bail que je ne l'ai pas entendu en usage... :p

  14. Catching up with Fringe, partly because I'd heard how much people loved this episode... I have to admit, this season isn't really doing it for me at this point. I'm enjoying it, sort of, and I'll watch it all, but it's too dark and relentlessly depressing, and I have no idea where they're going in the bad way (half of me expects the whole thing to re-set at the end).

    And I keep asking Olivia's question from the previous ep - why give them Etta back, then take her away? Much like Henry before her, I feel like there must be more to it, and will only be disappointed when, inevitably, there isn't. Basically I've never quite got over the loss of Henry!


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