“Your imagination can take you anywhere you want to go.”
Episodes like “Subject 13” have a particular fragile beauty, like an original poem inserted into a novel. They create a sense of pause—which always makes us wonder what is coming, and how bad it is that we have to catch our breath first—and add emotional resonance even though they might not contribute too, too much to the overall plot or mythology.
But these pauses tend to come at odd times: specifically, just when I want to find out more, more, more, they give me a beautiful less, less, less. This episode will play phenomenally to all the lucky people watching a Season 3 marathon on DVD, but with a break until March 11th, I feel antsy for more of our grown-up heroes. And, when it comes down to it, this episode—while lovely—was forgettable enough that I forgot I had to write a review until I got stuck in traffic on Monday. Oops!
So much can change in six months, or in an instant. Walter and Elizabeth now want to return him—Elizabeth because she sees Peter’s pain, and Walter because he feels the weight of guilt and the fear of retribution. Peter, of course, just wants to go home. (I can’t imagine how awful it must be to look at your parents and see familiar faces hiding strange identities. There is a medical condition that can cause this delusion, which has always struck me as one of the worst possible brain misfires.)
As young Peter works through his issues with a little help from his new friend Olivia, we got a glimpse into how a young boy gets turned into a charming con-man. The final Peter/Elizabeth scene, in which he agrees to participate in the lie that he, later, comes to believe, mirrors both Peter’s facility with lying and his relationship with Fauxlivia. It also makes Fauxlivia’s betrayal especially cruel. If, that is, Peter remembers the events we saw this week.
We’ve known for years about Olivia’s abusive stepfather, and knowing that young Olivia has yet to shoot him puts many of the events in this episode in perspective. After Walter warns Olivia’s stepfather, does he pull her out of the program? By attempting to help, does Walter just make things worse? Either way, Olivia’s trust issues may be rooted not just in her difficult family life, but also that key moment in which she confesses everything to a man who isn’t there: Walternate, who then acquires the knowledge he needs to understand what is happening to his world and whom to blame. If, that is, Olivia remembers the events we saw this week.
Walter himself is a tricky guy to pin down. Our grown-up Walter is caring but sometimes doesn’t seem fully cognizant of the reality of other people’s pain. Young Walter, on the other hand, seems to ascribe to a vaguely sinister view of anyone and everything as fodder for experiments. It takes a special sort of detachment to look at a young, bruised girl and think, “I should run experiments on her!” It takes a particular sort of cruelty to have those experiments take the turn they did. All in the service of family, of course, but sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.
Much has been made within our collective consciousness—by which I mean the internet—of the weird temporal discontinuities of this episode. Olivia and Peter looked older than they should, which I understand as a casting necessity rather than an important mythological point. But the dated BSG game, the Betamax, Jaws on actual film reels, even the clothing and interior design, made this episode feel much earlier (circa 1980) than it should be. Just a mistake or miscommunication? Or something meaningful? Do we know, for sure, that the modern Fringe plot is taking place in 2011, or even 2010? Will there be a big leap forward into the “future” (that is, now) in the show’s present? Does that sentence even make sense?
The Unique Combination of Love and Terror:
• I’ll never stop loving the retro titles sequence.
• Neat Alias nod with the thingamabob Olivia was trying to build.
• The white tulip field was lovely and symbolic.
• Walter: “The beguiling Olivia Dunham beguiles.”
• Walter: “I crept over in the night, and I stole their child. If we don’t return him, they’ll figure it out. And they’ll come after him, after us. I know, because it is what I would do.”
• One last question: my DVR tells me that this episode was called “6 Months Later,” but everyone else seems to be calling it “Subject 13.” Did I miss something?
For any other show, this would easily be a four-star episode. It was visually stunning and packed an emotional wallop. For me, though, it was not as fascinating as “White Tulip” or “Peter. In fact, if it weren’t for the 405 traffic jam, I might have forgotten this review entirely. So, in honor of my Monday evening, I award this episode three out of four road rages.
(Like to hear about LA traffic conditions? Check out my reviews of Fringe and the Vampire Diaries at billiedoux.com.)