“You understand right now how important it is to be seen.”
In one of the most famous passages of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, geist encounters another, and the interchange between the two results in geist evolving into a more mature being through the encounter and the struggle for dominance it creates.* No man, as Donne says, is an island. We must be recognized to recognize ourselves. We must recognize others in order to understand our relation to them and to the world we inhabit.
While geist doesn’t really refer to the English ghost in Hegel’s use of it, it’s hard not to see the polysemic possibilities when we apply Hegel’s ideas to “Wallflower.” Eugene is still in the early stages of emotional development—a ghost who can watch others but cannot be seen by them. Unable to engage in a dialect struggle, he is stuck in neutral, development-wise. His attempts to become visible are attempts to fully join the world in all of its interpersonal strife.
Eugene’s story was bittersweet. He got what he wanted: a place in the world validated by other’s experience of him. It’s both an epic, universal struggle and a deeply personal journey towards that simplest of desire—to interact with a beloved, to be recognized and to have one’s desire validated through that recognition. That final elevator scene was beautifully simple, and the score was incredible.
However, “Wallflower” was not meant to be the Fringe mid-season finale, and that World Series scheduling snafu makes this episode rather difficult to assess: it is clearly setting up something, but just what, and how we’re supposed to understand it, will remain undetermined until January.
Obviously, though, we’re meant to see a variety of parallels: Eugene, as the victim of a long experiment, doesn’t fit into society, just as Olivia feels as though her reactions to the bizarre are not as pronounced as those of her colleagues. Eugene is also struggling to make himself visible, rather like Peter’s gradual re-emergence in the early part of the season. Olivia and Lincoln are bonding, which reminds me of both Olivia’s much slower flirtation with Peter in the first three seasons, as well as Fauxlivia’s and Other L.L.’s ill-fated love. Eugene’s affection for the elevator even reminded me of Olivia’s journey Over There all those years ago—he’s trying to inhabit a changed world, changed by his presence.
All of those ideas are just glimmers of possibilities. We saw Peter toying with the machine blueprints: is he going to re-set the world yet again? What part will Olivia play, especially now that we know Nina Sharp has been messing with her mind? Is Olivia doomed to never, ever have a happy relationship? I’m rather unlucky in love, but even I don’t wind up getting kidnapped/shanghaied/moved to an alternate universe after every flirtation. What does it mean that Peter supports Lincoln Lee’s flirtation? Peter fully believes that these are not his people…but I won’t go into how disorienting that is again.
I will mention that the reveal that Nina Sharp isn’t as kind-hearted as she has seemed in this re-boot wasn’t much of a shocker to me: we’ve never trusted her. Olivia did, in this new world (if that’s what it is). But while that’s an interpersonal disaster and terrible betrayal for Olivia, it’s not for us. Again, I won’t reiterate the disorientation. I’m just going to trust that all of these questions will be answered, or at least clarified, after we return in January.
Science Has No Price Tag:
• Lincoln Lee: “There are basic truths that I thought were…true.”
• Peter: “You know, I’ve been investigating fringe events for three years. I never thought I’d become one.”
• Peter: “That’s not my Olivia.”
• Walter: “Leprechauns are possible.” I knew it!
• Astrid is in therapy.
• Eugene’s tokens: a symbol of holding onto something we can’t have? Is that another message to the viewer, like last week’s story?
• My apologies for such a late review. Please blame my mother, not me: she held the massive family-reunion Thanksgiving this year, and I am her loyal servant and dedicated line cook, pastry chef, and errand-runner.)
Three and a half (?) out of four Octopi.
*I haven’t read Hegel in years, and I didn’t have the energy or time to make sure this is the most accurate explanation of that passage. (Plus, every time I do read that passage, I get Depeche Mode’s “Master and Servant” stuck in my head.) Feel free to read some German phenomenology on your own and leave corrections in the comments!