Welcome to Part 3 of 'The 8 Most Important Episodes of Fringe.'
Every day until the next episode airs on Fringe Friday, December 7th, I will post a review of an episode I believe is most important to the series, and commentary on why I believe it is so.
Episode 1.19 The Road Not Taken(review written by Aimee Long on 08/05/11)
One of the things that I enjoy most about Fringe is how the show has always challenged the audience to think, to imagine, to ponder, and to look at situations at more than just face-value, but at a different angle.
Long before Fringe aired, I had often wondered how my own life would have been different if certain choices were made instead of others. There is one choice I made, that although seemingly harmless at the time, changed the course of my life forever.
The series progressed with this key theme in mind: “The road not taken.” The "what-ifs’" that plague every person's thoughts, as they sit and ponder their lives and the nature of existence. As the alternate universe showed quite well, small differences can mold a person’s life in many ways. The choice to shoot a step-father, the death of a sister, the absence of one person - Peter - can alter not only one person’s life, but that of many. Peter’s absence from his universe of origin changed its destiny. How will his absence in the blue universe affect its course and that of Olivia and Walter?
The penultimate episode for Fringe Season One is jam-packed as it quickly recaps the events of the season leading up to a crescendo of action and new information. This episode is special to me because this was the first episode that I watched live.
William Bell is suspected of funding ZFT. Right off the bat, Broyles makes an interesting statement about the ZFT group and their manifesto while briefing agents on the case. He says that their ultimate goal is to either start or get ready for war. An agent asks a question that all viewers should be asking after season 3:
“War with whom?”
It seemed that Susan Pratt’s pyro-ability was triggered by an extreme emotional response in the form of fear.
Walter shows Peter and Astrid the typewriter that he bought for William Bell. The ‘y’ character is slightly offset above the rest of the characters. (It is interesting that old typewriters are used to communicate with their quantum-entangled counterparts Over There, and that Walternate's operatives use a vintage typewriter shop as their safe-house.)
Peter is dumbfounded at the idea that not only may have Bell funded ZFT, but he may have also written the manifesto as well. Walter asserts that there is no way that Bell did this. Also, he points out that there is a missing Ethics chapter, referenced throughout the manuscript. Someone had removed it.
Charlie goes over the details of the crime scene with Olivia. He speaks of a woman… As they are walking, Olivia sees two charred bodies.
Olivia remarks to Walter that she’ll have the coroner prep the "bodies" to be taken back to his lab, which of course confuses Walter because he only sees one body. Olivia sees two, and then it shifts to one right before her eyes.
Nina Sharp: Just Whose Side is She On?
At FBI Boston headquarters, we see the stoic Nina Sharp trying to hold her composure as the FBI prepares to scour Massive Dynamic. Was she really afraid of what they might find? Something that had nothing to do with William Bell funding ZFT, but far scarier - the existence of another universe?
Nina tries to intimidate Broyles, but he’s not buying it. I still wonder how Nina and Broyles know each other. They have obviously worked together in the past.
Nina tells Broyles, “I’m not one of your street thugs that you can bully, Philip.” Is that how she thought of Olivia and the FBI? Or, does Broyles have connection to actual street thugs, possibly the same guys that were after Peter?
Nina declares that “William Bell is not the enemy.” For the longest time, fans have not been sure what to make of Bell’s allegiances. Even now, after the events of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, I still do not know what to make of Bell’s past with Walter and his true motivations. What he told Peter in Over There still bother me: “You’re holding up better than expected.” If Bell is not the enemy, then why did he make weapons for Walternate, why did the machine appear to be his design, why did he hide the First People books from our fringe team, and why did he use Olivia as his host, at the callous risk of her life?
Walter may have called Bell names, but he always defended him in his overall motivations.
Conservation of Energy
Walter’s statement concerning the massive amount of potential energy in an adult person comes back into play when William Bell sacrifices his body to power the doorway to return Peter, Walter and Alt-Livia to our universe.
Also, Peter remarks that “we’re just not very good at releasing it.” Could there be a possibility that at some point in a time-line, either he or Walter found a way to harness this energy? Energy can be used to create or destroy. Did this cause the existence of the other universe? Maybe I’m grasping for straws, but it’s a fun idea to contemplate.
But this we do know: Peter tells Walter that he took some parts from his electron microscope to use on a project he‘s been working on. Walter bellows “The potential for destruction in each of us is infinite!” As we know, why yes, Peter destroyed an entire universe which led to a path of infinite destruction.
A Science-Fiction Parable?
When Peter and Olivia visit Emmanuel Grayson, the man seems nuts. But his story is interesting in hindsight. Grayson claims that William Bell is having his drug trial subjects activated to prepare them for a coming war with “renegade Romulans from the future. Sent to change the time-line.”
Who are these "renegade Romulans?" In the Star Trek universe, the Vulcan species tries to distance themselves from emotional responses and feeling, depending on logic in all things. In the Fringe mythology, there is a parallel found with the Observers. They seem cold and detached, and are not supposed to get involved in matters. Romulans are cousins of the Vulcans and have emotional responses. Are these renegades actually "rogue Observers" like John Mosley? Or is the reference concerning the First People, because Walter sent the machine back in time so that Peter would make a different choice to save both universes?
I remember being so confused about Olivia’s glimpse into the other side when this episode first aired. Why was she seeing this now? We know from later episodes that she needs a trigger for her abilities. Are time-lines converging? Is it NOT the other universe but another time-line occurring simultaneously? Is Olivia experiencing déjà vu as Walter claims? This Broyles speaks of two victims, further confusing Olivia.
Sanford Harris makes it very clear that he does not want any Federal investigation into William Bell or Massive Dynamic.Why would he be protecting them?
The books that Olivia sees on the bookshelf in Susan Pratt’s apartment are of great interest for those that like to look closer.
When Charlie asks Liv if she thought that their was something wrong with Susan, because she’s a good looking woman in the prime of her life, with no boyfriend, I could just feel my heart hurt because this is the life Olivia is living. Complete with the ‘uniform.’ Pratt’s wardrobe reveals a fondness for grays…
Olivia’s confrontation with Sanford Harris makes me love her even more as a character. She just seethes at his questioning her judgment and professionalism. Her anger however seems to have fueled her perceptive capability, as she flashes to another reality long enough to see the file about the burned twins there.
At this point, I’m confused. We see Charlie with a scar, just like Charlie in the ‘red’ universe. He tells Olivia that half of Boston is in quarantine lock-down. We know that Boston had a huge Fringe event Over There that resulted in massive Amber quarantines. But I’m still not sure about what, when and where concerning Olivia’s perception.
A man named Isaac Winters cut a large check to Susan Pratt. A photo of Winters shows an older man wearing glasses. Nick Lane mentioned in Bad Dreams that someone came to him. In Olivia. In the Lab. With a Revolver James Heath mentioned that a man wearing glasses also came to visit him. Susan Pratt’s answering machine message mentioned the word “tests.” Like the tests that were in the box in Ability? Since we see the light box as Olivia tries to save the twin, I’d say so.
Walter and Peter
Peter is drinking a lot of alcohol in this episode. First, at the lab when Walter is explaining the divergence of paths due to choices, then at the FBI office when he takes some of Olivia's stash for his coffee. Is he really stressed out?
Yet he seems OK as he retrieves some cereal from the grocery store for Walter. He also makes a device to aid in digitizing Walter’s records. Then employs it in reading sound waves from melted glass in order to figure out what happened to Nancy Lewis. Astrid even cracks that he sounds just like Walter, and Peter does not get upset. Walter says something of concern when he tells a story of how Peter made him a popsicle napkin holder when he was five. We know that THIS Peter, is not the same boy. Would the Peter from this universe be mechanically inclined if he had lived?
The Cortexiphan Children
Walter mentions as he looks at a photo of Nancy, that he had seen her before. Of course, Peter remarks that it is because Walter worked with her dead twin's body. But now we know that most likely Walter knew her as a Cortexiphan trial subject.
When Olivia joins the raid on the facility entered by Harris, she comes across pictures and dossiers on the wall of an office including Pratt, Lewis, Nick Lane, David Robert Jones and - herself. One of the dossiers is for a Samantha Gilmore and shows she born in 1984. If she is a Cortexiphan subject, than the trials were still occurring later than what Nina Sharp previously stated.
Over the course of three seasons, we’ve seen Olivia confront the fates of her Cortexiphan cohorts, such as Nick Lane, James Heath and Simon Phillips, with great understanding and pity.
She encourages Nancy Lewis to harness her power, with success. But Olivia still doubted her abilities, right up to the point of deactivating the machine so that Peter could enter it in The Last Sam Weiss.
I think up until this episode, Olivia showed great reservation in dealing with Walter. But this episode became the straw the broke the camel’s back. I really think that her outburst at Walter finally knocked some sense into him. HE had done terrible things in the name of science. But in his defense, he truly felt he was preparing the children for something terrible, and he couldn’t remember exactly what.
Walter: We were trying to help. We meant no harm.
Olivia: No harm? You were drugging children. Three-year-old children, Walter. Why did you do it?
Walter: We were trying to prepare you. To make you capable. Able. Something terrible is coming.
Walter grabs Peter’s hand after Olivia leaves, and this is where it sinks home just how broken he is and how much he holds on to Peter for stability.
As Olivia sinks into her SUV with a look of utter shock, I think that this is where she begins to seriously consider the possibility that her life has been manipulated from a very young age, and that yes, she is part of The Pattern.
Why was Olivia able to see the other universe sliding into ours?
Was what she saw even another universe at all?
When Sanford Harris said, “He’s losing patience…” Who is he? Jones? Was it Bell? Or someone else?
Was Isaac Winters the ‘man in glasses” that met with Nick Lane and James Heath to activate them?
What did Nina Sharp mean about the Observer when she told Broyles that “you know what happened the last time when he appeared with that kind of frequency.”
What exactly is the ‘time’ that the Observer refers to when he comes to visit Walter?
Why Episode 1.19 is on the 8 most important episodes list:
'The Road Not Taken' is on the list because the series opens a new door in this episode.
Up to this point we were enjoying a show often with a monster-of-the-week theme, and the revelations of an unethical scientist whose former projects keep popping up. A scientist, who as Aimee points out above, participated as his partner administered experimental, perception-altering drugs to 3 year olds! (And 1 of those young experimentees is one of our main characters. Shocking!)
Walter's explanation of deja vu being a view of a different choice we made by seeing a glimpse of an alternate universe sets the stage for the Season 1 finale, and for Seasons 2 and 3, and especially, for another episode on my list.
Books are very important in Fringe. If you see a book or books close up in the series, pay attention!
Executive Producer Joel Wyman admitted this in one of the media conference calls. He told us that he has the technical team set it up so that certain books are well-seen, and there is a reason for this.
Aimee says this above:"The books that Olivia sees on the bookshelf in Susan Pratt’s apartment are of great interest for those that like to look closer." Let's expand upon that. Here's the screen cap of Susan Pratt's bookcase.
Pay attention to the small paperback book near the center, titled "Childhood's End," by Arthur C. Clarke.
The first time I saw this episode it really bothered me that this book was front and center and so I bought it and read it.
In a nutshell, one day strange, highly-intelligent creatures arrived on Earth. The people of Earth did not understand their purpose. These creatures called themselves The Overlords and observed all earthly activity for years. Then they started to take over and change things like industry, recreation, education, etc. and made a utopian society.
They took all the children away from their parents and made them all a part of 1 mind-a hive mind if you will. The Overlords' leader, Karellen, speaks to the Earthlings from his spaceship via a special typewriter, and the Earthlings communicate back to Karelllen via typewriter.
I'm not going to give you the whole story, but can you see the parallels already to parts of the Fringe series?
I tweeted Joel Wyman last year and asked him if Fringe was partly based on this book and he did not respond to my tweet, so I figure...maybe I am onto something. The most interesting thing will be to see if the TV series ends in a similar way to this book.