“I’ve always though there were people who leave an indelible mark on your soul. An imprint that can never be erased.”
Fringe has set itself a difficult task. To resolve the missing-Peter problem too quickly would diminish the impact of his absence. But creating a new, overarching narrative goal other than the restoration (in whatever form) of Peter would frustrate both our desires and the naturalistic progress of storytelling. Fringe must take its time to show us this Peter-less world, while still giving us something to invest in.
It’s not quite thumb-twiddling, but this episode felt a bit like wandering through a museum, enjoying the art, but searching for the masterpiece we know is lurking just one or two galleries away. Pleasant, even perfect in its own way, but not quite why we paid the price of admission.
I use the metaphor of a museum advisedly, too, as the architectural spaces of museums, libraries, bookshelves, and even beehives have been associated with memory since the days of classical rhetoric, though the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and into present-day memory competitions. The most common iteration of the locational mnemotechnique is the “memory palace,” in which each floor and each room organizes information for easy location and recollection at a later date. Want to recall if Polk came before or after Fillmore? Enter the American floor, turn left at the presidential wing, and open the door to the 19th century.
However, there’s another type of memory: not facts and dates, but the small moments that imprint our souls like wax under a seal. Proust attempted to express the nature of those memories in his thousands of pages searching for lost time (and lost pastries); Nabokov boiled them down to distinct images of the distant past that flare up again in a more recent past in Speak, Memory; and St. Augustine saw the imprimatur of these memories as so philosophically complicated that they made him question the nature of time and our experiences of it.
Astrid said that “what is in the past is in the past,” but the past is always alive in our impressionistic memories. The past shapes the present just as much—if not more so—than our present experiences shape our understanding of our memories. For McClellan I, the memories of Marjorie have shifted his life-course just enough to the side of the good that he has developed an empathetic response to those filled with darkness. The shots of Marjorie, with the hazy brightness and disconnected images, did a wonderful job of expressing the inexpressible: the sensory discontinuities that are the visual touchstones we use to locate our emotional remembrances.
McClellan I said, “I don’t think we can underestimate the role that empathy plays in the structuring of the self.” The lack of empathy, which is to say the lack of ability to occupy the position of the other, is a hallmark of sociopathy or psychopathy. Marjorie managed to awake the empathetic impulse in McClellan by showing him a world will hope and lightness. Because of her influence, McClellan moved beyond the desire to steal happiness and into the more emotionally and morally mature desire to help those who put the diminishment of their own misery before the well-being of others. For McClellan’s experience of his alter-self, empathy and memory are tied together: to understand McClellan II, he had to recall his own past and imagine its possible alterations. He had to, in other words, empathize with his own hypothetical memories.
It was Olivia’s empathy that allowed her to connect with McClellan I and understand where he was going. In an ironic twist, that empathetic connection was made easier by her own childhood experience without having met Peter: Olivia killed her stepfather in this reality. In the world we’ve come to know over the past few seasons, she had only wounded him—perhaps because her encounter with Peter in the field of white tulips diminished her rage, perhaps because in a Peter-less world Walter never told her stepfather to stop abusing her. (Her empathy has limits, though. She really doesn’t like Fauxlivia.)
McClellan I, by episode’s end, has lost his memory of Marjorie, but he has retained what he learned from her. Olivia, never having met Peter, seems not to have been affected by what she had learned in her own field-encounter. Or is she? Does the message of empathy and support she received from Peter still, somehow, linger in her mind, the way images of Peter haunt Walter in the lab?
Speaking of which: Walter chose to listen to Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor. Not quite as much fun as “Love and Happiness,” that’s for sure. But Mozart makes sense: he crafted complicated musical and mathematical puzzles within his works, yet managed to express astonishing beauty that even those of us who aren’t great at musical puzzles (like myself) can begin to empathize with. That Walter would choose to listen to a requiem, a remembrance for the dead, may even hint that he is subconsciously aware of precisely what is haunting him in reflective surfaces and screens.
We’re In the Wrong Place:
• Walter: “They are loathsome, hateful, contemptible…”
Astrid: “Contemptible? Is he doing the synonym thing again?”
• Walter: “She bought my ignorance with baked goods.”
• Olivia: “He’s not even my type.”
Astrid: “Do you ever think that you type doesn’t exist?”
• McClellan: “Things are pretty dark right now…You know what they say. That even when it’s the darkest, you can step into the light.”
• Broyles: “At the risk of sounding sentimental, I’ve always though there were people who leave an indelible mark on your soul. An imprint that can never be erased.”
• Walter called Lincoln, Kennedy. Hilarious.
• I thought it was very sad that Olivia brought her own coffee, and coffee just for her. Wasn’t coffee something she and Peter often shared?
• The entire opening scene was so hilarious I thought we were going to get a weird comedy episode.
• Alt-Broyles! Numfar, do the dance of joy!
• Want to test your own empathic abilities? Simon Baron-Cohen has a test for that.
Three out of four traitorous baked goods.
(Josie Kafka has forgotten her real name. Maybe it's downstairs somewhere? While she searches, check out her reviews of Game of Thrones and the Vampire Diaries at billiedoux.com.)