“What if this is not about physics, but about people?”
That quote? The rules of the game. How should we understand those rules? That is still up for grabs. This episode had me anguished at first, but it is nonetheless a vital clue to larger goals of the show. Are those goals in line with my expectations? Only time will tell.
I’ve written before about the Lost finale. I was uncomfortable with what I felt was a sudden shift from the mysteries of the island to the characters who peopled it. Specifically, I was resistant to being told repeatedly by the writers that it had really been a character-centric story all along. I felt like I was being ineffectively ret-conned, and wound up rather “meh” about the finale. (For me, “meh” is an emotion.)
Olivia’s quotation above seemed to me, at first, to be a similar assertion—just spoken by a character rather than a creator. Especially in light of Peter’s emotional role in the machine of destruction and Fauxlivia’s pregnancy, the events of this episode felt like a cop-out—as though the writers were systematically dismissing the scientific background that has been so compelling and wonderfully wacky for all these years. So it all comes down to the power of love? So human desire can influence physics? The fate of the world hangs on emotional connections? That’s it? I said last week that I love the character interactions on this show, but Walter’s line seemed a bridge too far. I liked character interactions against the backdrop of fringe science. Fringe science being reduced to character interactions? Not so much.
That was my first reaction. Then I started to give it some thought. Really, this is the fringiest idea Fringe has had. It’s like the bizarreness of the observer effect, but with heart. If a person watching an atom zip around can change the atom’s path, why can’t a person feeling something change the course of history? Once I started to see the connection between the emotional emphasis and the still-strange science this show was built on, I started to feel more comfortable. This isn’t really a shift from science to soap opera. It’s yet another development in the ever-increasing complexity of the forces at work in the salvation and destruction of the universe. As Walter said earlier on: “The laws of physics are being disrupted.” They’re just being disrupted by something unexpected: the human element. “Some form of emotional quantum entanglement,” indeed: the entangling of the laws of physics and the laws of the heart.
Setting up those new (or revised) rules made this episode rather uneven, though. I was not enamored of Mrs. Merchant (or Marchant?) and her situation, although Peter’s speech to her—with his emphasis on photographs and ticket stubs, the detritus of his relationship with Fauxlivia—was incredibly touching. Walter’s struggle with where to draw the line, and his possible parallels with Walternate, was wonderfully done. Rarely does a show allow a character quite that much time to think things through on-screen. And such results! He looked almost resigned to losing Peter and Olivia to the amber.
Above all, though, I was entranced by Olivia’s transformation. Once she made up her mind to forgive—or forget—Peter’s time with Fauxlivia, she started to smile more, to joke more, to hold herself in a more relaxed way. But what I can’t determine is whether she was doing it on purpose. Did she want to appeal to what she thought Peter wanted? Or did she really let go of some of that patented Olivia-angst? Either way, it looks like Olivia and Peter are finally, officially, hooking up. I hope she, at least, has some sort of birth control, since Peter’s condoms don’t seem to be very effective.
It’s Kinda Funny:
• Peter: “I’ve seen what the two of us look like together, and it’s beautiful.”
• Walter: “Perhaps I should have made a frittata.”
• Walter: “There’s no such thing as ghosts.”
Peter: “That’s where you draw the line? Ghosts?
Walter: “Belly and I used to argue about this constantly—what happens to the body after death. William theorized we should be able to capture that energy, using what he called ‘soul magnets.’”
Peter: “Catchy name.”
Walter: “He said if we were right, he’d contact me from the great beyond. I haven’t gotten the call.”
• Walter: “That nervous fellow, Brandon.”
• The Guildenstern Building feels like it should mean something, but all I’ve got is Hamlet and Stoppard. Oh—Hamlet had a hell of a time deciding on a course of action. Is that it? (Edited to add: Somehow I screwed this up. It's the Rosencrantz according to every single other person who watched the episode. But I swear my TV said Guildenstern...)
• The coin flip was a great resonant trope throughout the episode.
• It was great to see that creepy goo from so long ago pop up again.
• So, the deciding moment came for Mrs. Merchant when she found out that OtherHusband had children. Parallelism, anyone?
The past three episodes have all contained huge revelations. First, that Peter’s choice between Faux/Olivia would determine which world survived. Then, that Fauxlivia was pregnant. Now, that powerful emotions can make the physically impossible, possible. Along the way, Fringe has gotten quite a bit of flack from the fans. I’m still keeping the faith. What about you?
Three out of four frittatas.