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

'Subject 13'-A Review

      Email Post       3/02/2011 11:40:00 AM      

"I think the children are the key."

When I first read the spoiler that the writers were going to give us a flashback and explore the Peter/Olivia relationship, I have to admit I was a little skeptical, but they delivered in a big way.

They also answered a few questions and made us come up with so many more, as is one of Pinkner's/Wyman's goals.

'Subject 13' is a riveting episode, and as usual, I believe there is a lot of foreshadowing in it regarding Season 4 and maybe even Season 5 (should we be so lucky).

This is an episode that gives us the history of the P/O dynamic, and informs us of what happened to both sets of Peter's parents, post-'Peter.' First, let me point out that executive producer, Jeff Pinkner, told us months ago that 'Peter' and this episode would be like bookends, giving us the information we needed regarding the before and after Walter Bishop's crazy act of abducting a child from one universe and taking him into another. It should come as no surprise to you that 'Peter' and 'Subject 13' were both written by Jeff Pinkner, Joel Wyman, and Akiva Goldsman, as one can certainly tell from the smoothness of both of these episodes.

If you've read any of my other reviews you've heard me mention before that I can almost without exception tell when Akiva Goldsman has been involved in the writing and/or producing of an episode of 'Fringe.' He can make the characters' emotions hit you where you live like no other.(Don't get me wrong, Pinkner and Wyman writing together, as in 'August,' come exceedingly close, but when Goldsman's involved, look out!) If you could get past the opening part of 'Subject 13' where Peter sees his crying alt-mother begging him to stop trying to break the ice of Reiden Lake, and if you could get through the painful scene of Peter's real mom begging Walternate to stop drinking and help put their marriage back together, without feeling a real emotional punch to your gut, you need to see a doctor, because Akiva Goldsman is just that good.

This episode is mainly to give us the background on how young Olivia Dunham and young Peter Bishop met, and also to fill us in on the aftermath of Alt-Peter in our universe.

Young Peter Bishop is no dummy. We learn that he has been questioning our Elizabeth, who caretakes him 24/7, quzzing her on everything regarding his prior years, and that she's gotten some of the answers wrong. In the Red 'Verse, the Dogers play in Brooklyn and the Green Lantern is Red, as we saw in 'Over There:Part 2' (written, by the way, by Jeff Pinkner, Joel Wyman, and Akiva Goldsman). It is interesting that even by the end of the episode he still doesn't believe our Elizabeth Bishop, but it appears he is starting to come to terms with his situation. All poor alternate Peter wants to do through the whole episode is go home. I believe this sets up the basis for his restlessness and nomadic existence, prior to our Olivia blackmailing him to come home from Iraq.

Young Olivia Dunham is no dummy. She is doing her best to please Dr. Walter in his studies at the Jacksonville Family Day Care Center, as 'Subject 13.' All she wants to do during the entire episode is not go home. For young Olivia Dunham, home is a "unique combination of love and terror," as Elizabeth reads in Dr. Walter's notes. We knew from the episode The Cure,' that Olivia had a step-father who physically abused her mother and whom she shot but did not kill, but we did not know he was physically abusing her as well, as she never mentioned this in Season 1 or 2. How sad to find that out in this episode. I believe that tarnished relationship between step-father and step-daughter is the root of her "trust issues" as Peter coined it in '6B'.

ELIZABETH BISHOP: You know tulips don't usually grow in areas like this.    YOUNG PETER: Well, then what are they doing here?    ELIZABETH BISHOP: A professor who was working here missed them, so he imagined a tulip that would grow in this climate, and he invented it. He used his brain and his imagination to turn the world into what he wanted it to be. How would you change the world if you could, Peter? What would you wish for? There is a lovely scene where our Elizabeth is driving Peter down a road in Jacksonville, Florida and off to the right is a field full of white tulips. Right away that should make you smile and think of one of my favorite episodes, 'White Tulip,' and Walter's explanation to Alister Peck, the quote of which Dennis has posted in the Easter Egg roundup for 'Subject 13'. Elizabeth tells Peter that tulips don't usually grow in this environment. He asks why they are there and she explains that a professor who was working there missed them and so he invented a tulip that could grow in that climate.

"He used his brain and his imagination to turn the world into what he wanted it to be." (Hmm. Alarm bells going off for you too? Hold that thought.) Then Elizabeth asks him "How would you change the world if you could, Peter? What would you wish for?" His final answer? "I'd go home.

One of my favorite scenes in 'Subject 13' is when Peter sees Olivia Dunham for the first time.
Olivia notices him first through the observation window at the day care. It's only a second later that Peter sees her from the other side(nice pun)and appears to be mesmerized.(I'm telling you, it's karma.) Walter tries to have a conversation with him about his new DC-3 plane, but Peter's eyes are glued to Olivia. Walter notices this, smiles, and says, "Ah ha, the beguiling Olivia Dunham beguiles. " According to dictionary.com 'beguiling' means 'to influence by trickery or mislead,' and also means 'to charm or divert'. So which way did Walter mean it? (See my comments below for a hair-raising idea.)

Olivia shows Walter a picture she drew of a zeppelin and asks her if she saw it in a dream. He gets very excited and hopeful when she says no, believing that she has succeeded in crossing Over There. He believes that she needs to be in some kind of heightened state to do that, since it seems she crossed over as a result of her step-dad hitting her, and so he designs a series of experiments to evoke different intense emotions and tapes them on his Betamax with a verbal plea for William Bell's help in finding the key to unlocking her ability.(Where is Bell? Is he already Over There? I'm assuming Walter mails the tapes to the Massive Dynamic office in New York City.) Walter explores joy, physical exertion, anger, and loneliness without finding his coveted result. (On one Fringe forum people have pointed out that the black block test Walter uses to frustrate/anger Olivia is the same test given to Sydney Bristow in Alias to test her abilities. That's a nice parallel, as you may recall Jeff Pinkner was executive producer for the fifth season of JJ Abram's show 'Alias,' and an 'Alias' writer from season 1 forward.)

It's only when Walter catches Olivia enjoying the antics of her partner, young Nick Lane, that he decides to investigate a combination of extreme emotions, in this case love and fear.

In a move reminiscent of Walternate locking our Liv in a dark cell, Walter turns the lights out on an isolated Olivia and locks the door. Seconds later the lights come on and she focuses on her experimental partner with what looks like blood on his head, lying still on the floor. Her reaction? Olivia screams and a fireball forms from behind her, which proceeds as a yellow haze.(More on that later.) Pinkner, Wyman, and Goldsman further blur the ethical dividing line between our Walter and Walternate.

They blur that line even more a few scenes later when Elizabeth reads Walter's lab notes(that I refenced above), getting the sense that he wants to keep sending her back into an abusive household in order to exploit that heightened combo of love and terror to force her to cross over, in the hopes that she could take Peter with her in the future, and return him to his home. She confronts Walter on this, and tells him there must be another way. His reply:

"Don't you see what I've done? I crept over in the night and I stole their child. And if we don't return him they'll figure it out and they'll come after him, after us. I know, because that's what I would do."

Elizabeth asks Walter if he's planning on sacrificing Olivia for Peter. Walter says that it's not just about he, Elizabeth, and Peter anymore. That he wouldn't sacrifice one for the other, "but for thousdands, maybe millions, it would have to be considered." Getting creeped out by those Walternate-like words? I hope so.

The drinking theme that we saw in Seasons 1 and 2 with Peter and Olivia continues here in both sets of Peter's parents. There is a gut-wrenching scene of Peter's real mother begging a broken Walternate to stop drinking and help save their breaking marriage. (Elizabeth says the word 'break' once in this episode, and 'breaking' twice.) On our side it's Elizabeth who's the more broken parent and begins drinking to ease the pain of continuing to lie to her alt son. Yes, they did manage to humanize Walternate more in this episode and make me pity him(but I still don't like him, sorry).

Elizabeth hears sirens heading toward's her husbands workplace and can't reach him by phone. She gathers Peter and they head back to the day care center to find fire trucks and emergency personnel there. Ashley, apparently Dr. Bishop's assistant, informs Elizabeth that Olivia Dunham is missing as Peter listens in, and that Walter and others are out looking for her. For some reason Elizabeth goes into the building with Peter and tells him to wait by the student storage area.

Young Peter with that 190 IQ sees an open locker marked 'Olivia' and looks around it, spotting a notebook lying there. He picks it up and turns to a very nasty picture of a scary male person with giant teeth. After he looks at it for a second he turns to a very attractive picture of a field of white tulips and the lightbulb goes on. You know he's made the connection, so it's no surprise later when Ashley tells Walter and Elizabeth that he's not at the student storage area any longer.

The most bittersweet scene of this episode is three-quarter through when Peter comes upon Olivia in the white tulip field. With the night lighting it is beautiful there, and Olivia has had the chance to cool off in more ways than one. Peter introduces himself after he explains how he found her. Peter moves to sit next to her and Olivia tells him to be careful. We notice the tulips near her foot are broken and smoldering, post fire-starter. He tells her he's not afraid and sits next to her noticing her eye injury. He asks her what happened. Since Olivia trusts him she tells Peter directly that her step-father did it. Peter grows uncomfortable and changes the subject slightly. Olivia tells him she messed up, "and now he's going to send me home." Peter asks "who?" And she answers "Dr. Walter." Peter asks her if she's told 'Walter' yet, about her step-father hitting her. (Note that Peter has not forgiven his alt father for his transgression of kidnapping, and calls him 'Walter' instead of 'father.' Near the end of the episode, Peter calls his alt mother 'mom,' an indication he's starting to forgive her.) Olivia tells Peter she doesn't think he'd do anything. Peter starts to say "My mom" and stops. He repeats "my mom" indicating the beginning of his acceptance of her. Peter paraphrases Elizabeth's words from earlier:

"My mom was telling me you gotta imagine how you want things to be. Then you can try to change them."

Olivia asks Peter if he trusts Walter. Peter doesn't answer her directly and instead says "You should tell him." When she just looks at him he adds,"You gotta try something, right?"

(I want to add here that I think they have the adult Peter and Olivia mannerisms pretty well here. Whoever coached these two fine young actors did a great job.) Olivia extends her hand toward Peter and says "I think I cooled off by now," talking about her fingers. They join hands and smile as the wind picks up and snow flurries fly. Peter asks Olivia if she imagined that and she just smiles in reply. During this conversation the eerily familiar 'Peter and Olivia' theme begins and leads into the next scene, the same score that we were introduced to in that beautiful kiss scene in 'Over There:Part 2.'(Believe me when I say I checked.)

Then Pinkner/Wyman/Goldsman give us one of those "oh" moments they equate with the ending of the first Planet of the Apes movies when the astronauts see the Staue Of Liberty head and realize they really are on Earth in the future. Pinkner told us in an interview long ago that they strive for that emotion, and they made it there in the scene where distraught Olivia barges into Dr. Walter's office and tells him that her step-father hits her and that's when she crossed over into the other universe. Walter's face shows a thousand emotions as she hands him her picture book and tells him that's where the zeppelin lives just like he said, that they were in the sky in the other universe. In an extemely touching moment she asks Walter if he can make her step-father stop hitting her. Then a Walter-like voice calls "Olive?" and all is revealed. We discover our Liv had crossed over and her conversation had been with Walternate instead of our Walter! Kudos to whoever of the three writers came up with that.

In an ironic scene our Walter tells Olivia's step-father at pick-up that she is very special to him and that if she is frightened or made uncomfortable in any way he will not hesitate to call social services, and that he has government friends who could make things very difficult for him. How ironic is it that this man who clandestinely gave wildly-experimental drugs to very young children under the guise of protecting them and all of our world, is threatening to call the authorities on a man who hit her? So Olivia's abuse is hopefully diminished, but so is Peter's chance to be transported back home.

Walternate phones his wife and tells her he knows where Peter's been taken as he looks at the page in Olivia's book where she and Peter are holding hands and it's labeled with their names at the bottom. You can see the emotion rolling off Walternate, the equal parts of anger, hate, and revenge coursing through him. One Walter's plans end and another's begins.

Nods To Other Episodes In This Episode:

You've heard me say before that I love it when they tie in other episodes of the series and make reference to them, and there is definitely some of that in 'Subject 13.'

"Close your eyes, and ignore everything except the sound of my voice." Walter says this to the subjects in the day care as they have their arms extended. This is a direct reference to 'Over There:Part 1.'

"I am not your son!" Young Peter says to Walter in his Jacksonville home. This is a reference to 'The Man From The Other Side,' when adult Peter says this to Walter after he figured out on his own he wasn't from this universe.

"So you would sacrifice this little girl for Peter?" In the episode 'Peter,' Elizabeth asks Walter if he would sacrifice "one little boy"(ie. Peter) for our world.

"He's my boy. I can't lose him." Walternate says this here, but our Walter has said this at least once. I remember it best in 'What Lies Below,' when Walter cryptically says to Astrid, "I can't lose him again."

"That someone's taking good care of him." The same Alt-Elizabeth asks Peter directly in 'Over There:Part 2' if his other mother took good care of him.

"This girl is very special to me..." For some reason the intensity of Walter's words and emotions regarding how much he cares for Olivia here remind me of his passionate words to Olivia in 'The Night Of Desirable Objects': "When they said you were dead..."

"I am your mother." I'm pretty sure Marilyn Dunham said this to our Olivia disguised as FauxLivia when she was Over There in the episode, 'Olivia.'

Foreshadowing (I Believe) In This Episode:

Where to start?!

Peter's note that says "I am going home." I believe you will hear this again in Season 4 or 5, as Peter finds a way to get away from either the Red or some other universe and get back to the Blue universe. This is just theory, I could be wrong, of course.

"He used his brain and his imagination to turn the world into what he wanted it to be."

"Sometimes the world we have is not the world we want, but we have our hearts and imaginations to make the best of it."

Oh boy. I think Peter Bishop in the future will be seperated from our Olivia and his home. And he will put these words into action, and very possibly be thinking about this when he uses the machine to create a world he wants. This is all just theory.

"The beguiling Olivia Dunham beguiles." Remember the definition of 'beguiling' above? To influence by trickery or mislead. The fact that Walter says this back in the 1980's could be telling. How do we know which Olivia Dunham young Peter is looking at there? We know from Season 3 that FauxLivia from the Red universe beguiled Peter. This is scary, but is this episode about young Peter meeting a different Olivia Dunham than the one we've known and vested in? If so, what would she be doing in the Blue universe?(That makes my head hurt!)Will any other Olivia Dunhams in the future beguile Peter Bishop? Don't bet against it.

"These 4 brothers grew to be great warriors. They were very special because they had the power of metamorphosis." Certainly this could be part of a future Fringe plot.

The photo Olivia drew of the scary man with the teeth. We assume it's her step-father, and he could return, as he's still out there somewhere, dropping off cards at Olivia's door on her birthdays.

"I think the children are the key." I predict that children will become increasingly important in the future of Fringe, specifically any offspring from any Peter Bishops, and any Olivia Dunhams in any combination. I'm not sure why but I have a hunch I may share in the 'Episodes' section if you ask me to.

Things I Found Interesting In This Episode:

The Bishop Dynamic logo. I couldn't find a picture of it anywhere, but doesn't Massive Dynamic have one similar to it?

On Elizabeth's refrigerator there are 3 child's drawings. One is yellow, one is blue, and one seems to be a mix of blue/red, but mostly red. Do they represent 3 different universes?

The blue 1980's style credits looked like there was some yellow mixed into them. They are not the same color blue as our usual credits.

As many people have mentioned in the forums this whole episode looks hazy. Why is that?

The reference to the book Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin. Yes, the Peter Lake character name fits in this episode. Will other aspects of the story be worked into Fringe in the future?

It really bothers me that Walternate ignored Elizabeth's request to stay home and flew back to his office, which I assume is in Florida. But, I guess if he hadn't done that he wouldn't have met up with our Liv and she wouldn't have given him her notebook and the clue to Peter's whereabouts. So his actions screwed up his marriage but set him on a course that would eventually bring him to his son.

Where was Olivia's mom in this episode? She was alive until Olivia was 14.
It was so sad that no one was really there to embrace Olivia when she returned from having been missing. And this episode reinforces that her childhood was even more 'damaged' than we thought.

The subtle theme of forgiveness symbolized by the white tulips. Let's check the scoreboard: Young Peter has started to forgive his alternate mom, but not his alternate dad. Walternate apparently has not fully forgiven Alt-Elizabeth for Peter's disappearance, although Walter and our Elizabeth seem to be working together to get through their Peter problems.

Tough to rate this one, but I give it 4.5 out of 5 white tulips.


Anonymous said...

Nice review. I missed a lot of the parallels on first viewing

I find it interesting that Peter only chooses to believe the lie his parents are telling him after he meets Olivia, as if he is willing to imagine a world with her in it.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, interesting comment - I like!:-)

fringeobsessed said...

I like that comment also. Interesting.

Anonymous said...

Please tell me!!! Who planted the White Tulips? Who's the scientist?

Matthew M said...

I don't agree with a few of your comments but over all a decent review.
QUESTION: What makes you think you are in the 'Blue' Universe? Are you sure?

fringeobsessed said...

@Matthew the Curmudgeon:I always thought we were in the Blue universe due to the blue credits at the beginning-the world I call Over Here, but I am less sure now, and I'm thinking that maybe we've been exposed to more than 2 universes already and don't realize it. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

Very good review. But just one thing: When Walternate chooses to go to work instead of staying home, that doesn't exactly screw up their marriage. In Over There Part 1, it seems Walternate and Elizabeth are still together.

Dennis said...

They may still be together, but as we saw in "Immortality", he has a mistress.

Matthew M said...

I'm thinking the same thing.
How do you know 'over here' Walter didn't have a mistress? I think he probably did, after all they think alike - mostly.

Too many fans try to make shows conform to what they want it to be like and have the perceived heroes better than we might be. I include myself in that and knowing what I know about myself in various circumstances, I wouldn't put it past them all.

Fell Beast said...

One of the drawings on the fridge contains the seahorse glyph.

Anonymous said...

Not sure how I feel about this episode -- I think it messes with the continuity of the series in general since it doesn't really fit with what we have been told in the past (why did the children not remember one another?). It also lagged at times -- I was quite bored in the Alternate Universe with just Walter and Elizabeth. I also really missed Nina and I think the series in general suffers from the absence of William Bell, but it delivered mightily in the last five minutes - that was one twist I did not see coming.

- Charity

Anonymous said...

Lots of foreshadowing here: "One life to save thousands, perhaps millions", Walter to our Elizabeth when discussing what role Olivia may come to play now that the boundary between universes has been ruptured.
Looks like a major character is going to die.

mdta said...

I have a suspicion that Alt-Olivia is Vital in all of Walternate's plans from that moment with young Olivia

Daniel Belcher said...

I thought about the fact that the episode, in many scenes, seemed a bit hazy or fuzzy. I don't think it was plot related. I honestly think they softened the focus to hide some of John Nobles age thereby making him look younger for 1985.

Kitty603 said...

Great review!

I thought it was very ironic to see that Young Peter is so sure that Elizabeth is not his real mother, but as an adult, he cannot tell that Alt-Livia is not his Olivia.

Young Peter gets extremely frustrated when talking with Elizabeth becuase he insists that she is not his mother while she insists that he is just confused. He says something to the effect of "of course I know you're not my mother," very adamant about the fact that he just knows this.. However, when Peter is with Alt-Livia, he cannot tell that she is not his Olivia, despite the fact that they are intimate. Is Peter just playing dumb for the sake of plot, or is this something more?

Anonymous said...

Is anyone else NOT liking the altered music and beginning sequence to this episode? Bring back the original!

Dennis said...

They will bring back the original music next week, they just changed the music for "Subject 13" because it was a flashback.

Anonymous said...

Great review of a surprisingly impactful episode, Peter did notice differences in faux-olivia, but he attributed them to "being in love" or lovepsychosis. Adore this intriguing program!

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