“He is a fringe event.”
The Golden Ratio, or phi, finds mathematical symmetry in nature and likely-unplanned symmetry in art. From the shells of the nautilus to Dalí paintings and rabbit reproduction, phi describes the relationship of spatial objects, mathematical figures—not quite life, the universe, and everything, but quite nearly.
The chaos of the time-jumps adhered to the naturally beautiful spiral of phi even though they had symptoms of “not appearing in nature,” as Peter said. What appeared to be random, in other words, adhered to a law beyond that understood or intended by the people who created that disorder. This isn’t semi-mystical course-correction, but rather a portrayal of the orderliness underlying what appears to be random or even entropic.
The people who created that apparent chaos didn’t know what they were doing (anymore than Peter knew he was appearing in visions and dreams to Walter and Olivia). Husband Raymond jury-rigged a sort of time machine thingamabob based on his wife’s equations, but he needed the time machine in order to provide her with the opportunity to create the equations…all of which is a complicated loop, and I’ll leave it at that.
Wife Kate’s early-onset Alzheimer’s pushed Raymond into creating the time bubble. Unable to let go of the person he used to know, he refused to move past the time in which he still had her. He lived in the present only as long as he needed to in order to re-create an ever-changing past.
Stephen Root and Romy Rosemont did an incredible job portraying the couple, and I wasn’t surprised to read online that they are married in real life. I especially loved the wife’s distracted affection: her 2007-self didn’t know that moment was so important, and the off-handed reminders clearly had acquired a near-ritual status for Raymond. Kate’s decision to destroy the equations was beautiful, and both the most loving and most painful thing she could have done for Raymond.
That was all well and good, to say the least. But I am just not sure what to make of its relevance to the larger plot. A lot of my confusion is really just resistance—how much are we supposed to agree with Peter’s assessment that he has popped back into the wrong world? That these are not his people, and this is not his Olivia?
Peter and Olivia—not to mention Peter, Olivia, Lincoln Lee, and Walter—had moments of communion, but also numerous moments in which they clearly weren’t on the same page. Peter’s comment about Oppenheimer, for instance: Olivia misunderstood, Peter had to backtrack. The easy familiarity of their relationship, built over three seasons, is gone.
We know, as well, that Olivia’s and Walter’s pasts were radically altered by Peter’s death in both worlds. In that sense, these aren’t the same people. But is Peter giving up too quickly? He is dreaming of his Olivia…but this Olivia (“the other version,” in her words) is dreaming of him. The dreams are just different.
Or, are we like Raymond, living in a past that’s long gone? Raymond had to be pushed by Peter and his wife to move beyond what he had lost. Does he stand in for Peter, struggling to realize that he’s holding on to people that aren’t the same any more, and relationships that will never be what they were or what they promised to be? Or does he stand in for us, unable to accept that these people are not our people?
But, aren’t they? Our people don’t exist anymore: the paradox of the third-season finale changed them radically when it altered the past. We’ve more or less accepted that, with varying degrees of comfort—but I doubt I’m alone when I’ve assumed that this defamiliarization was temporary. Something would re-set. Peter, somehow, would re-set it. But he doesn’t know what we know: he created these new circumstances, back in the future in which he went back to the past.
Like, Groundhog Day?:
• Walter: “It’s a wonderful device, nonetheless, despite the poorly written instruction manual.” Nice to know the other side and/or Massive Dynamics still haven’t figured out how to create intelligible gadget booklets.
• Peter: “Too many variables and not enough constants.”
• Peter: “This is gonna start getting annoying.”
• Olivia: “You’re a stranger.”
• Walter: “I know what a Faraday cage is. A baboon would.”
• Walter: “I think it’s in my Spiderman fanny pack.” Because where else would the rubber cement be?
• Peter: “Now I’ve just got to figure out how to get home.”
• Peter: “Where would I run to?”
• Olivia: “I hope you get back to her.”
• Interested in the Golden Ratio, aka phi, aka “The Fibonacci Sequence” aka “Fibonacci’s Golden Spiral”? I recommend Mario Livio’s The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, The World’s Most Astonishing Number.
• It drove me a little crazy that Peter just eyeballed the map when drawing the spiral. Also, Lincoln Lee and all the other Boston commuters standing in the tunnel just to get a video to post on YouTube when they were about to drown.
• 47 minutes, the Red Sox, the Faraday cage. Did I miss any?
Usually, a show tells us what to root for (a hero, a goal, a quest object, a coupling) or against (a villain, an impending disaster). Sometimes the best shows undermine the easiness of this strategy, and guide us towards changing our affiliations—from one couple to another, for instance, or towards a realization that what looked like a goal was actually a trap.
Fringe has refused to tell us what to think this season. We know more about some things, like the future and one version of the past, than the characters do. They, on the other hand, have entire backstories that we don’t know anymore. It’s rather like metaphorical Alzheimer’s: the world we’re inhabiting is not the same one we’re used to. The people we know are not the people we think they are. It’s a frakking gigantic risk, on the part of the show’s producers and writers. But as a watcher and reviewer, I’m struggling to understand what it is that I’m supposed to want to happen.
For now, I’m just going to assume that, like phi, there’s an underlying order to the chaos.
Three and a half out of four Snails!
(Like a little math with your regularly scheduled TV? Check out my reviews of The Vampire Diaries and Game of Thrones at billiedoux.com.)