By Count Screwloose 8/17/2011 08:26:00 AM
"What if the team member fated to die doesn’t actually die but merely disappears? Perhaps after the time-deck is reshuffled, they become someone who simply was never born…"
Or so we guessed in the piece we wrote shortly before the season finale aired (“I Love An Apocalypse!”), but then we stuffed that thing with so many guesses that one of them was bound to stick to the wall. So we’re going to stop short of claiming any powers of clairvoyance. After all, looking into the future can be a dangerous business…
At any rate, you can never say that FRINGE doesn’t give you any clues as to what they’re on about. When the show namechecked “The Schrödinger Hotel” early in the proceedings of 6B, I doubt it fazed any longtime viewers. FRINGE fans have been discussing the relevance of the paradoxical thought experiment known as “Schrödinger’s Cat” since its first season. Even viewers who aren’t terribly well versed in the concepts surrounding quantum mechanics are probably familiar with it:
"A cat is placed in a box, together with a radioactive atom. If the atom decays and the geiger-counter detects an alpha particle, the hammer hits a flask of prussic acid (HCN), killing the cat. The paradox lies in the clever coupling of quantum and classical domains. Before the observer opens the box, the cat's fate is tied to the wave function of the atom, which is itself in a superposition of decayed and undecayed states. Thus, said Schrödinger, the cat must itself be in a superposition of dead and alive states before the observer opens the box, “observes” the cat, and “collapses” its wave function."
In other words, the cat is both alive and dead until the moment it has been observed.
"The most commonly held interpretation of quantum mechanics is the Copenhagen interpretation. In the Copenhagen interpretation, a system stops being a superposition of states and becomes either one or the other when an observation takes place."
Perhaps even more interesting:
"Other interpretations resolve the apparent paradoxes from experimental results in other ways. For instance, the many-worlds interpretation posits the existence of multiple universes in which an observed system displays all possible states to all possible observers. In this model, observation of a system does not change the behavior of the system—it simply answers the question of which universe the observer is located in."
The idea that observing an event changes it, that two worlds can exist at once, etc., are so much a part of FRINGE that one might say that the shadow of this particular cat has been draped over the show from Day One. The difference here is that the writers have finally made the concept of Schrödinger’s Cat a literal and physical one. In the last moments of the finale, we are left with a Schrödinger box created by Peter in which two states exist simultaneously and which is surrounded by “observers.” It’s a wonderful, wonderful joke.
It was Schrödinger, also, who conceived of the idea of “quantum entanglement” that Walter mentions and which I suspect may become even more important as the story proceeds. You might also want to do some reading up on “Bell’s Theorem” (honest!) if you really want to impress your friends!
“Oh, that’s fantastic news!” – Walter Bishop
There was another moment in that last episode, however, that struck me as intimately familiar and with the release of the “Where Is Peter Bishop?” teasers, I now have to wonder if I’m not seeing something of an intentional campaign to bring something in particular to mind.
I’m talking about the scene where Olivia reunites with Walter after he’s been released. A box of delicate equipment appears to be headed to the floor when it halts in midair, as if by magic. Olivia has used her powers of telekinesis to prevent it from being damaged and explains to Walter that she’s learned to control it.
And this thing is bugging me, as if I’ve seen it before, practically grown up with it: a young woman with long blond hair creating a force field, a scientific genius with salt and pepper hair. What was it?
Then they showed us the Four. And I remembered. Are there any sci-fi or comic book fans who don’t recognize this four?
I can’t imagine there are, especially with the film versions having come out. It’s the logo of the Fantastic Four, the flagship title for Marvel Comics and “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!” if one was to believe the banner that appeared at the top of each issue’s cover.
The FF set the tone for the revolution Marvel was about to visit upon the comic book industry, something they called “superheroes with human problems.” As the series went on and more titles appeared, the template became clear. Marvel Comics would be as much soap operas as super sagas, continuing storylines from issue to issue and loading their characters down with everyday problems just as much as cosmic ones. To readers who had grown up with DC Comics, whose stories had neat beginnings, middles, and ends and usually tied things up unambiguously in favor of the good guys, this was a huge shock to the system.
More than most, the FF were an actual dysfunctional family of sorts who had to juggle their emotional relationships inbetween tussling with villains of the month intent on their destruction. Linked together by the strange powers they returned to Earth with after a mission in outer space, they were:
Reed Richards (“Mr. Fantastic”), team leader possessed of salt and pepper hair and an almost unchartable intellect that allowed him to conduct experiments in the furthest regions of science. His ability consisted of being able to stretch his body like a rubber band.
Sue Storm (“The Invisible Girl”), now a telekinetic prodigy with the ability to project protective force fields as well as the ability to turn invisible, Sue would eventually marry Reed and become Sue Richards (as well as change her professional name to the long overdue “Invisible Woman”) and was the sister of…
Johnny Storm (“The Human Torch”), the young hotheaded member of the team who (after shouting his traditional “Flame On!”) could become, well, an actual human torch who could fly and manipulate fire and whose favorite party trick was creating a flaming “4” in the sky.
Ben Grimm (“The Thing”), whose powers of tremendous strength were offset by the fact that he was now fated to live in a body that resembled nothing so much as a cobbled together collection of orange rock. Luckily for Ben, he found himself a girlfriend who was a blind sculptress and who loved him for the person he was inside.
So not to put too fine a point on it, but Reed makes as good a Walter as Sue and Johnny Storm make an Olivia and Peter, setting aside the obviously different personal relationships. The important thing is that we are, in both cases, discussing a family dynamic. What, however, should we make of the lack of a Ben Grimm, or is that trying too hard?
“Apparently, you have the ability to turn off the force field that’s keeping Peter out…” – Walter Bishop
So do I think the FF refs are intentional? Well, consider this: there wasn’t an article about FRINGE early on that, when broaching the subject of The Observer, didn’t bring up this fellow:
As any loyal comic fan knows, this is The Watcher, fated to ever observe the machinations of humanity and the universe, but forever forbidden to meddle in our affairs (much like The Observers, too, that rule seemed to become more and more elastic as time went by). In fact, it seemed to become an accepted truth from the first few episodes that The Observer was an homage to The Watcher, so why in the world wouldn’t there be other similarities waiting to be discovered?
So what does it all mean?
Well, you take these things with a pinch of salt and use according to taste, I suppose, depending on the viewer. FRINGE is, of course, telling its own story and its occasional homages may mean nothing more than a wink to the audience. But I do think there’s a case to be made for some borrowings being more important than that and possibly becoming the warp and woof of the story under construction.
For example, the FF has two characters named Storm. Now read this line in light of that:
There is a storm coming…
Now the family relationships are obviously very different, but we’ve already determined that Peter and Olivia together are much greater than the sum of their individual selves. So what if the storm that’s coming isn’t The War Between The Universes at all? What if it’s the single force created when FRINGE’s analogues of Sue and Johnny Storm pool their powers together? What if they’re The Last Great Storm(s)?
“You’re going to need him by your side.” – William Bell
Between Sue and Johnny, we have three remarkable abilities, more or less: the ability to move things with the mind, the ability to manipulate fire, and the ability to turn invisible.
They’ve given Olivia two of these already. That leaves one.
Why can’t you see Peter Bishop?
Just how he is invisible has to do with time, I think, and how he now moves within it. I say this partly because I think the room he's created is a nod to another famous sci-fi program.
Not the one it owes the most to, but another one. More on this later.
Oh, one other thing. Remember who said this?
“Well, I didn't say I didn't get my bell rung.”
More to come.
"Wigner’s Friend is a variant on the (Schrödinger) experiment with two external observers: the first opens and inspects the box and then communicates his observations to a second observer. The issue here is, does the wave function "collapse" when the first observer opens the box, or only when the second observer is informed of the first observer's observations?"