“Why would we get her back just to lose her again?”
That, my friends, is the question. Character deaths almost always make me think of a line from the last season of Angel: “How very touching his meaningless death was.” It was creator Joss Whedon’s acknowledgement that death, especially on a show with a clear expiration date, is often a hokey emotion-generator, meant to give us the morbid frisson that tells us we’re watching quality television that is “willing to take risks.”
That is not to say that I’m against character deaths; stories need stakes, and a happy sunny reality in which no one dies would turn a genre show into a series of very special episodes of The Brady Bunch. But Olivia’s question is worth meditating on, because it has so many answers. On one level (the level on which we’re aware that we’re watching a fictional creation), the answer is the one I gave in the first paragraph of this review. On another level—that of the world as experienced by the characters in their crazy, grief-ridden, dystopian lives—the answer is a line from Primo Levi: “there is no why.” But that is no consolation.
On a third level, the answer is more complex: Etta died to create a new version of Peter. Etta’s death is the impetus for Peter’s “origin story,” the tale of how he became the human/Observer hybrid that he seems to be turning himself into.
“What do we have? Pieces we don’t know how to put together. A scroll with physics we can’t decipher. A thought unifier that doesn’t work, and a box of rocks from a mine. That’s what our daughter died for so far.” Peter wants revenge, and he wants to give meaning to the jumble of tragedy that his life has been. He wants her death to have meaning to others, even if to him it can only ever be anguish.
The Observer told Peter that he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, an echo of a famous statement by Donald Rumsfeld about “unknown unknowns”—the things that we don’t know we don’t know, and do not therefore try to discover. The attempt to shut down the wormhole shipping lane is an example of this: the plan failed because our heroes don’t know what they’re up against, or much of anything.
Now that Peter has accessed the Observer’s tech, all of that might change. Perhaps our heroes will win. But I wonder how much they will have to lose, of themselves and of their relationships with one another, in order to do so.
In the middle of all of that, Walter’s advice to Olivia was the most touching: he spoke as the Walter who lost Peter and never managed to bring him back, who knows exactly the pain the Olivia and Peter are facing, and how hard it is to see anything but that pain. Olivia is grieving, but Peter, like his father before him, wants to fix the grief. That will make it so much harder, when he realizes grief isn’t fixable.
• Anil: “Before you go on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”
• Olivia: “Yeah. It is that type of gun.”
• Walter: “You must face this pain together; the pain is her legacy to you both.”
Four out of four black holes.
Josie Kafka reviews Fringe, The Vampire Diaries, and Game of Thrones for billiedoux.com.