Fringe Review: Subject 13 ~ Fringe Television - Fan Site for the FOX TV Series Fringe

Fringe Review: Subject 13

      Email Post       3/01/2011 06:21:00 AM      

“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


Dennis said...

It's interesting that you didn't love it. Some of the other reviews, and our reader poll, suggest it may be one of the best episodes ever. Maybe it is your "licorice" episode.

FYI, the original title was listed as both "6 months later" and "six months later", then it was changed to "Subject 13"

Xindilini said...

I wondered about the background references too.

The old BSG game (still have mine) came out in 1978. The show was cancelled and became Galactica 1980.

The Betamax is definitely from an earlier time. By the 1980s the VHS was much popular. No one I knew at the time had machines that could play Beta cassettes, although all the cool movies at the library were on Betas.

Ron E. said...

I had a similar reaction. Not a bad episode but given where we are in the story and the possibility this is the last season, I'm not convinced we needed this episode right now.

As for the BSG and beta max, that has to be significant. I am guessing that is our first clue that Universe A is not our universe. Perhaps later we will encounter versions of the characters from our actual universe. Or maybe when Peter uses the machine he'll merge A and B into ours.

James Scoggin said...

I can't comment on the BSG game as I couldn't really tell you why it was there (except perhaps as a tribute to a classic sci-fi show?).

I think the betamax tapes can be explained simply by it being Walter. Peter commented in an earlier episode (I forget which one) that Walter, despite being a brilliant scientist, was usually behind the times technologically. Keep in mind that he probably doesn't have cassette tapes either, preferring his record collection. Heck, CD's were out three years before the episode took place and he doesn't quite remember what they are.

On topic, I did love the episode save for a complete lack of context. "Peter" was heavily tied to the main plot of the time while "Subject 13" is really cool but doesn't directly tie in with any particular event going on. It's all relevant and awesome to watch, but felt a little out of place.

Daniel Belcher said...

I think that the BSG reference may have been just an old toy in an old toy store. That actually looked like a pretty crappy toy store. If it was a military base toy store maybe that had something to do with the age of the toys in it. I'm not military so I couldn't say. Still, I remember K-mart would carry crappy old toys FOREVER until they ran out of stock. Sometimes years later.

I think the Betamax reference may be attributable to Walter's behind the times nature on media. As mentioned before, he still listems to records and reel to reel tapes. Also, someone mentioned that the library had old Betmax moview. This makes sense too. Many times libraries and other government agencies tend to use their funds for things other than updated media. Go to the library now. Many still have VHS movies and most people have been on DVD and Bluray for some time. I think Walter showing old reel films of Jaws may also be attributable to this.

Someone also mentioned that they weren't sure if the show is taking place in our current time (2009, 10, 11). I'm a car junky so this may be just me but all of the cars are current year Fords. Also the cell phones are current year Sprint phones. I know this is paid product placement, but if they're going for a different time period this is something that would have to be considered.

I think the relevance of the show comes down to Peter and Olivia (Olive) starting their new relationship. The relevance is to show their old relationship. I foresee Walter getting into a lot of trouble with the kids as repressed memories re-surface.

Anonymous said...

Like the episode "Immortality", which was made as a lead in to the big reveal of Faux's pregnancy, "Subject 13" was a truly BIG crumb tossed out to all the shippers. Since it's been established that destiny has played a part in P/O's togetherness, the producers can now mix it up by pulling the lovers apart, with destiny being the buffer to ease the pain of lovelorn fans. Before the final reward for P/O is in sight, lasting happiness isn't going to factor in at present. "Suject 13" is a precursor for the separation I see coming.

Xindilini said...

There may be another BSG connection, beside the old game.

I recognize the similarities between the First People and new BSG tagline "All this has happened before, and all this will happen again..."

LivB said...

Kay, so I finally understand 'White Tulip'. That had been bugging me for a while. But that old VHS of Olive in the corner? That is a pretty distinct image in out minds, and we have on a few occasions seen her as a MUCH younger child - but set in 1985 would suggest she is a bout 6 or 7, even though we see a girl that is at least 10. I agree it could have been an actor thing but really, it's a confusing show already, I don't know if they have that luxury. Also, as we heard Bell's voice in the tape, what I'm thinking is that maybe that was not the first time Olivia did the whole fire thing? As Walter had been observing the alternate universe for some time before he actually stole Peter, maybe the experiments with the children began earlier in Olivia's life, with Walter and Bell maybe not understanding the significance of the first fire? Jacksonville seems to be a pretty well-established operation at this point, so it's not unlikely.
And the Alias puzzle...a reminder of course of another situation of experimenting on young children - I found myself thinking; 'Well Olivia's the shiz, but she was never trained as part of project Christmas so probably wont get it...' What a geek.
So as Fringe goes, a couple of answers and a gajillion more questions. Certainly not something you watch as just fleeting entertainment.

Anonymous said...

amazing episode! I loved it.

Lou said...

The reason for the name difference is that the show was titled 'Six Months Later' in the alternative universe. In our universe it is titled 'Subject 13'. There appears to be a rift in the universe on some Television listing databases. I called Time Warner and Comcast and neither of them know about the amber goo to fix this. Verizon does! The reason that sometime it is referred to as '6 Months Later' instead of 'Six Months Later' is that 6 is the numeral way of saying six.

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