Hey Fringe Fans,
Well, we finally got it: the premiere for which we waited all those long summer months. And the best part? It impressed in a BIG way. It really is quite frustrating when we suffer through the summer hiatus only to be disappointed by the fall premieres, and I was ecstatic when Fringe definitely did not fall into that category.
I’ve decided to try something a little different with my reviews this season: last season I wrote a recap followed by my thoughts on the episode, but, for this review at least, I thought I’d just jump right into my thoughts on the assumption that if you’re reading this, chances are pretty good that you’ve seen the premiere. And if you haven’t, I’d highly recommend that you stop reading right now and go watch it!
Thoughts and Impressions
Ever since news on season 3 started to trickle out this summer after filming started, one of the things I’ve been really excited about was the idea of the show running two parallel storylines concurrently; that is, alternating episodes focusing on Our Side one week, and on Theirs the next. I know that some people weren’t happy about this idea given that it means that we’ll see less of “our” team, but I think that Olivia shows just how great this season could be.
I think that the best thing about the alternating episodes is that it affords the time to properly flesh out the Other Side as well as allowing us to really get to know the Alternates. Leading up to the premiere there were several pre-reviews written by various journalists and I didn’t read a single one that didn’t mention how great Andre Royo was as Henry Higgins, and I most definitely agree: the dynamic between Olivia and Henry was one of my favourite aspects of the episode.
Olivia’s desperation was certainly palpable all throughout this episode, and I think her treatment of Henry highlighted that. We’ve never seen her blatantly threaten someone who is, for all intents and purposes, an innocent; granted, she’s never really been put in such a position before. I thought it was fascinating to see him begin to trust her as the episode progressed and he realized that there was really something to her story, that she wasn’t just a crazy lady in a hospital gown with a gun.
“I’m not insane. I’m not who they say I am” – Olivia
Just days before the premiere aired, I was discussing the Fringe alter-verse with a friend and we were wondering about whether they have Star Wars Over There. I was therefore quite amused when Henry confirmed the existence of the franchise on the Other Side with his comment about Olivia’s freakishly good memory for numbers and facts. This is something that was established back in season 1, and is part of the reason that Olivia was so disconcerted by the discovery that she was a participant in the Cortexiphan trials: she has absolutely no memory of it, whereas she remembers everything else about her life.
Speaking of the Cortexiphan trials, I’m hoping that they will somehow come into play with the treatment that Walternate had AltBrandon administer. We know that the drug acted on the brain of the Cortexiphan kids, and given that Olivia has now had her mind further manipulated with the memory treatment (which I’ll come back to in a little bit), I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some sort of interaction. This is certainly not the first time we’ve seen Liv’s consciousness messed with: in season 1 we saw her struggling to figure out which were her own memories and which belonged to John Scott. In case you’ve forgotten, Liv was trying to save his life and shared consciousness with him, and in the process some of his memories were transferred to her own. As things progressed, Liv’s mind began to purge Scott’s memories because they weren’t her own, and I wonder if something similar might begin to happen with the implanted memories from AltLiv.
“Sometimes you just gotta believe in what you can’t see” – Andre Royo as Henry Arliss Higgins
Given that Henry seemed to care enough about what happened to Olivia that he stayed outside her mother’s house even after she told him it was okay to leave, I think it’s a fair bet to say that we’ll see him again (well, that and the fact that it was announced that Andre Royo will be back on Fringe). I’m hoping that he’ll be one of the people who helps Olivia remember who she really is, especially given some of his parting words to her. I think that he noticed her starting to change as the memory treatment started to take hold during their quest to get Liv home and already suspected that there was something weird going on.
Amy Madigan as Marilyn Dunham
One thing (among many) that continually impresses me about Fringe is the calibre of the guest stars. It’s one thing to have guests who are playing one-off characters, but there have been a couple times when they’ve brought in someone to portray a new character to us, but someone who has an established relationship with someone on the team. For example, Orla Brady, who was heartbreakingly believable as Elizabeth Bishop. Well, Fringe seems to be right on the money with casting mothers on the show, because Amy Madigan was absolutely perfect as Marilyn Dunham. It impressed me how genuine Anna Torv and Amy Madigan were able to make the scenes between mother and daughter.
The level of desperation on Olivia’s mother’s part is completely understandable when you remember that Rachel Dunham died in childbirth on the Other Side. For a mother who has already lost one daughter and an unborn granddaughter, the very real possibility of losing her only remaining daughter had to be especially scary.
We found out back in Over There: part 2 that on the Other Side, Olivia’s mother is still alive. We’d known for a while that Olivia lost her mother, but to my recollection this was the first time we learned that Liv was only 14 at the time. This makes me even more intrigued about her past given that at that age, she still would have been a minor, so what happened to her and Rachel after? I assume that Olivia’s father was killed when she was younger – we know that he was military – as Marilyn remarried an abusive man whom Olivia then shot when she was only 9 years old. I would like to learn more about Marilyn Dunham’s past Over There: did she remarry after Olivia’s father died?
Path of Least Resistance
I know that AltBrandon said that it was the adrenaline from her escape that triggered Olivia’s memory treatment, but I find it telling that we saw it finally take hold in her mother’s house. In an interview with Anna Torv in which she discusses her Alternate mother, she mentions that Olivia took the “path of least resistance”, and I think that this is my favourite way of looking at it so far. Olivia has had to be strong for so long, starting as far back as the Cortexiphan trials. Bell told her that she was the strongest of all the children, and from there she only went on to have to shoulder more weight, to have to always be the protector. I assume that Olivia had at least been captive Over There for several weeks, if not months (AltCharlie’s hair is significantly longer), and she seems to have been undergoing fairly regular treatment/torture sessions; I think that she was running on her last reserves, and to come face-to-face with her mother and have to face the realization that she does have unfamiliar memories in her head, she just gave in. I’m choosing to think of this as ceding the battle to fight the war.
One thing I found particularly fascinating was being able to track the differences between Olivia and Altliv throughout the episode and as the memory treatment began to take hold. At the beginning of the episode, Olivia is clearly Olivia, with all the familiar mannerisms we’ve seen Anna Torv imbue her with in the last two seasons; yet throughout the progression of the episode, as the “treatment” began to kick in, there were little things, like mannerisms, that started to feel off, or bigger things, like when Olivia said “Frank” instead of “Peter”, or when she made a shot that she thought she shouldn’t have been able to make.
This was actually something that bothered me when I first watched the episode, because we have seen our Olivia make some pretty incredible shots in the past. But in the gas station scene when Olivia is shooting every single one of her shots is dead-on, and she’s shooting with one hand only. Our Liv sometimes shoots with just one hand, but the majority of the time she shoots with both; on the other hand, AltLivia seems to prefer to just shoot with one hand. Not to mention the fact that she drops two agents with debilitating shots through an SUV, and then she manages to shoot the gauge on a gas tank while hanging out the window of a moving car. So, on second thought, it is no wonder that Olivia was disconcerted.
When Olivia is at her “safehouse”, and makes the switch to AltLiv, it continues to amaze me that the switch is so apparent, and yet the only thing that has changed is the way the characters are being portrayed. I like that this episodes builds on the differences that we saw between Olivia and AltLiv in the finale. Olivia is much more vulnerable, in a sense, as she tends to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders, but AltLiv, even though we know she’s had tragedy in her life, is much more outgoing, even appears more confident. Even though we’ll be seeing it because our Liv has been mind-wiped (for now), I’m looking forward to seeing more of AltLiv’s relationship with Lincoln and AltCharlie.
“Somehow she is equipped to move through universes. We need her to help us understand this skill” – John Noble as Secretary Bishop
Much as I loved this episode – always fun to see Olivia kicking ass and taking names – I did have a couple issues with it, though only one of them really bugged me. One thing that confused me a little bit, considering how well Lincoln and Charlie seem to think they know AltLiv, is that they would more readily believe that their Olivia had a psychotic break rather than assuming that the two Olivias hadn’t actually switched in the first place. I mean, I get that they’d not exactly have a reason to distrust Walternate and their Broyles, but I can’t help but think that if Peter and our Fringe Division were told that their Olivia had had a “psychotic break” they would fight tooth and nail to be able to see her and not believe it for a second.
I know the term “Occam’s Razor” gets thrown around a lot, but doesn’t it make infinitely more sense that rather than their Liv having a psychotic break and being convinced she wasn’t from their universe, she would actually not be from their universe? Especially when you consider that they had just encountered our team from another world?
For someone as smart as Walternate, there is, I believe, a flaw in his reasoning. He tells Brandon that they need Olivia to help them understand how she is able to move safely between worlds and to that end they have gone to great lengths to convince her that she is their Olivia. But their Olivia had had no experiences travelling between worlds and would have no recollections of having done so. It would only be as our Olivia that she could give them the information, and to tap into those memories would be acknowledging that she isn’t their Olivia in the first place, which would defeat the purpose of the whole exercise.
Speaking of the memory treatment, this is where my biggest issue with the episode lies: the explanation we are given for the treatment itself is, well, not at all plausible. Don’t get me wrong, I know that the show is called Fringe for a reason, and I’m generally pretty forgiving about some of the more nit-picky science details because you have to allow for some wiggle room, and it is science fiction. But here is the problem: it is not at all plausible to expect that transfusing someone with B lymphocytes, a component of the immune system, could in any way transfer memories. Okay, so specifying that they are “memory” B lymphocytes is clever, but it’s just twisting words.
“The adrenaline triggered our Olivia’s memory B lymphocytes. It carried them across the blood-brain barrier and successfully transferred the memories” – Ryan McDonald as AltBrandon
Memory B lymphocytes are named thusly because they are part of the immune system that is adaptive and “remember” antigens: this is rather a simplistic explanation, but once they come in contact with a certain antigen (i.e. a virus), they later “remember” that antigen and are able to quickly set in motion the production of antibodies rather than waiting for a slower initial immune response. (For anyone else who has more of a science background, yes, I do know that this is a vastly simplified version of the process).
This is the way vaccines work: they expose us to an antigen without the live virus so that our adaptive immune system is primed should we later encounter that same organism. Memory B lymphocytes are in no way at all related to the neural kind of memory. And yes, B lymphocytes can cross the blood-brain barrier, but they do so to participate in an immune response, not to rewrite memories.
I just wish that rather than an immune vehicle, the memory treatment had had some neural component instead. It would have been more plausible to me to have had the treatment involve some sort of exposure to electricity as neuronal firing in the brain is electricity, and technically the neural pathways in the brain could be rewritten that way.
Our Olivia is now a…second AltLivia
However, taking the treatment in the spirit it was intended, I am curious to see what will happen with Olivia’s memories now. Given the plasticity of the brain, it isn’t entirely implausible that you could do a mass rewrite of someone’s memories (given the right technology, of course), but the brain is very, very redundant: even if you wrote over the initial memories, I’d lay odds that you would see latencies from the original set of memories.
It’s as if you took a painting and painted over the original picture: if you carefully scrape off the new layer of paint, the old layer is still there, and if the integrity of the new layer is threatened, the original layer of paint shines through. This is sort of how I’d compare the memory treatment: our Olivia is still in there somewhere, and I think that very quickly we will be seeing her realizing that something is off.
One thing that I love about Fringe (one of the many, many things), is that it prompts the most interesting discussions. I’ve had some rather intriguing ones about the ethics of what Walternate did, exactly. Given that Walternate administered a treatment that would rewrite Olivia’s personality completely and, supposedly, completely subsume all her own original memories, he has in effect killed our Olivia. At least for the time being. Walternate really does make it difficult to like him, doesn’t he?
“Why convince her she’s our Olivia Dunham? Why is that necessary?” – Lance Reddick as Colonel Broyles
Ever since we first met the Alternates from Over There, I have liked them, despite myself: after all, they are variations on the characters that we’ve come to know and love over the last two seasons. And I really don’t think that They are evil, even if Walternate does a pretty good impression sometimes. But the thing about Walternate that is readily apparent is that he is a hard man, a soldier. He is doing what he believes he must in order to save his world from these invaders, and I don’t think that you can fault him for that. Well, maybe you can, but I think that he has simply been in the “war” mentality for so long that he has lost sight of morality.
Seems like both he and Walter could use a lesson in ethics, come to think of it. But obviously not everyone agrees with Secretary Bishop, evidenced by the protestors of Amberization, and I think that Colonel Broyles believes that what Walternate is doing is wrong. I have this hope that as the next couple episodes progress Col. Broyles will help our Olivia get back to our world. Or, at least, help her realize that she really doesn’t belong Over There and that she isn’t remembering her own memories, but AltLivia’s. Perhaps Olivia will be starting to realize that something is off and Broyles will just tip the scales.
Alternate Fringe Division
What I do know is that I don’t want Olivia’s brainwashing to last for too long: it was one thing when she was trapped on the other side and we were seeing Over There through her eyes. It is quite another if we’ll be seeing AltLivia on both teams. Much as I like her (and yes, I do like AltLivia, even if The Box gave me slight pause on that front), I’ll miss our Olivia if she remains brainwashed for too long.
Speaking of AltLivia on Our Side, I enjoyed the first real glimpse of her interactions with Walter. I was quite curious to see how she would treat him given that she knows Walternate, who is a very different man. This last scene was yet another that made me wonder about the time frame in terms of how long it has been since they crossed over to the Other Side: I can’t imagine the Senate committee would let them wait for too long to take Peter’s statement, but I assumed that it has at least been weeks for Olivia on the other side, so perhaps they are not entirely time-synched.
Walter Bishop (John Noble) and AltLivia (Anna Torv)
On a last note, even though, yes, I did nitpick a bit, I really did love this episode. Fantastic start to the season, and I couldn’t have asked for a better premiere. Not that I expected it to disappoint: I’d seen them filming a bit around the city and everything always looked epic, so I was very much looking forward to seeing the finished product.
And I think I’ll stop here, before I find something more to talk about – Fringe seems to have that effect on me. As always, you can email me at the link below if you want to chat theories, or visit me on Twitter by clicking through the image
Thanks for reading!
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