It’s been a while since I wrote about my thoughts on a Fringe episode, and there have certainly been a lot of developments since Olivia. One thing I should probably get out of the way is that I do actually like AltLivia.
A lot of people I’ve talked with about Fringe can’t stand AltLiv, and I think that part of that stems from the initial knee-jerk reaction that the Other Side is “evil”; but I also think that a large part of it is that we’re seeing a relationship unfold between AltLivia and Peter which should be between our Olivia and Peter.
AltLivia and Peter (Anna Torv and Josh Jackson)
One of the aspects of the switch that bothers me the most, beyond the obvious that our Olivia is trapped Over There, is that there have been so many scenes where I wonder what Olivia’s reaction would have been to the circumstances. Not just with Peter, but also with Walter. The relationship between father and son is still very much in flux, and as Olivia has been there for so much of their rebuilding over the last 2 years that it seems odd to not see her actually involved in their interactions. More on that later, though.
As far as the case details of this episode go, I quite enjoyed it. Part of that, I think, stems from the fact that radio signals are hardly my specialty, so I didn’t really notice any inconsistencies in the science itself. But the big payoff stems from the fact that we’re finally starting to get some concrete details (though some is still supposition by our team) as to what exactly the Machine does. Of course there are always more questions: when is the Machine from? How does it work? Why is Peter keyed directly to it? What role do the Observers play?
Of the mythology introduced in the episode, what intrigues me the most is the idea of the “First People”. You may recall that the first time we heard about them was in the opening credits of Over There (watch the words closely) and there has been a lot of speculation among the fans since then as to who exactly they are, and whether they had something to do with The Machine.
My favourite theory is that the Observers and the First People are one and the same. Or, perhaps, that the Observers are the descendants, all that remains in their bloodline, of the First People. We know that the First People were incredibly technologically advanced and that they discovered something they called “The Vacuum”, which we assume is the Machine that Walternate is attempting to assemble.
The First People, by Seamus Wiles
Note: someone pointed out to me that “SEAMUS WILES” is an anagram of “SAMUEL WEISS”. Chew on that one for a while…
One reason I like the idea of at least a link between the First People and the Observers, even if they aren’t related per se, is that the Observers have an obvious interest in Peter, which would make sense if the First People were the ones to code Peter to the Machine. I am curious as to how Peter’s specific genetic code was programmed into the Machine given that it was created so long ago.
Walter makes the point that creation and destruction go hand-in-hand, and I think it’s an intriguing notion, particularly with regards to the potential effects of the Machine. Walternate seems hell-bent on destroying Our Side, so it seems likely that Walter is right in that the Machine could destroy our world. The question is whether Peter was right when he talked with Olivia in that there is another way besides destruction, a way to save both worlds: perhaps the Machine has the capacity to heal the damage to the Worlds that Walter did when he crossed over to save Peter.
Although, I have to say, I’ll be rather disappointed if the series ends with Peter making a choice to use the Machine to heal the damage, but having to stay on the Other Side because crossing over again would cause another rift. Although, technically Olivia’s way of crossing over doesn’t involve making a hole in the fabric between the worlds, so theoretically she’d still be able to cross over without causing further damage… But I digress.
Kevin Weisman as a Shapeshifter
Before I forget, I want to mention how neat it was to see Kevin Weisman in Fringe. In case you’re not familiar with his work, in this episode he played the shapeshifter whom AltLivia throws out of the window, but many of us also know him from Alias, another of J.J. Abrams’ shows (and definitely worth checking out if you’ve not seen it).
I find it curious that apparently Joseph Feller (the man whom the Shapeshifter was impersonating) dropped off the grid in 1997, which makes me wonder how long the Shapeshifters have really been around on Our Side. We found out in A New Day in the Old Town that the last time the owner of the typewriter shop had seen Shifters was six years ago (so, 2004), and I assumed that was the first time they had been on our side, but evidently not.
While, yes, I do like AltLivia, I still don’t quite have her pinned down yet. In some ways it’s a bit deceptive because it sometimes feels as though we already know AltLiv, even though we don’t really, since she’s another version of Olivia. There have been several interviews lately wherein TPTB and Anna Torv discuss their takes on AltLivia (also known as BOlivia, Fauxlivia, and a number of other nicknames) and I think it’s become pretty clear how different Olivia and AltLivia are from each other, even though they’re genetically identical.
Obviously AltLiv was never given Cortexiphan as a child, but also, I don’t think Marilyn Dunham ever remarried; or, if she did, AltLivia’s stepfather wasn’t abusive. Or perhaps her father didn’t die when she was so young. Either way, AltLivia doesn’t seem to have been a victim of child abuse, and combine that with never having been subjected to drug trials, and she is much less haunted than our Olivia. I wouldn’t say that this makes her a better version of Olivia, but I do think that it makes her much more open.
This introduces something of a conundrum for Peter: did he really fall in love with Olivia? Or was he teetering on the edge of something and it was AltLivia who pushed him over the edge? And was it really AltLiv that he’s fallen for, given that she’s pretending to be Olivia?
This actually brings me to something that I’ve found really frustrating, and that is that no one Over Here seems to have clued into the fact that there is something off about AltLivia. In some ways I can almost forgive Peter for the oversight, given that everything has changed dramatically for him in the last couple months, and I’d assume he’s putting down the changes in Olivia to the upheaval of them beginning a relationship. That being said, he’s arguably the one who knows our Olivia the best, at least I thought he was, and for such a smart guy he’s being rather oblivious.
A couple things that really stood out for me in this episode were when Peter asked AltLivia what the numbers were and she couldn’t rattle them off without hesitation: Peter knows Livia has a photographic memory, and he’s seen her reel off older and more obscure numbers than that, so I thought that should have clued him into something. There was also AltLivia’s reaction after she went to meet with the Shifter: our Olivia would never have seemed so panicked after a confrontation with a bad guy; not to mention the fact that AltLivia had no idea who Markham was, and I would think that would be something Peter would clue into.
Nina and Walter
I did have some hope that Nina might have picked up on something, especially after she flat out told AltLivia that it was uncharacteristic of her not to confront Walter about Peter and the Machine, but nothing, at least not yet, seems to have come of her observation. I did love the conversation between Nina and Walter, especially the fact that they were sharing drugs during it. I always enjoy when we get more of a glimpse at the history between Nina and Walter, and I can’t wait until we learn more about their histories with Bell. The three of them always intrigue me, and I really do hope we learn more about their shared stories.
I actually felt that their conversation was an interesting commentary on students today in general, and on the ideals of this generation. Walter says that the students lack the courage to think against the grain, and in many cases I really do agree. Exceptional cases aside, far too many students are content to be spoon-fed information and seem to lack any drive to think for themselves.
Astrid and Walter
I enjoyed the scenes between Astrid and Walter: it feels like we haven’t had as much of their bantering lab work this season, and I don’t think I realized how much I missed that until this episode. I absolutely loved that Astrid was the one to break the code. Back in season 1, we learned that Astrid is something of a jack-of-all-trades: she specialized in languages and computers at school, and has been interested in cryptography since she was a little girl. I thought it made a fun change to see Astrid bossing Walter around, and I’m rather hoping the “Watson” nickname sticks.
Peter and Walter
I find myself of two minds about the continuing rift between Peter and Walter. On the one hand, I don’t think that it would feel at all natural or in character for Peter to forgive Walter immediately. But on the other hand, I miss that father/son dynamic that has been one of the core relationships of the show.
Someone pointed out last week, and it stuck with me, that one of the things that feels so tragic for Walter is that he has neither Peter nor Olivia for support right now. I’m not saying that Olivia has always been Walter’s biggest fan, it’s hard to tell whether she really has forgiven him yet (or if she even should) for the Cortexiphan trials, but she has always been encouraging Peter to give Walter another chance, and to see things from his perspective.
I almost expect Peter’s discovery of AltLivia’s deception to be the catalyst the pushes him and Walter back together, as they may have to find a way to bring Olivia back to Our Side, if she can’t cross over all on her own.
One last thing, before I tie this up: I’ve said before that I quite like AltLivia, and I do stand by that, even though we’ve seen her do some rather heinous things. I think one of the things that really makes people have a visceral, persistent dislike of her is that she shot that man in The Box, and I know a lot of people who really can’t let that one go, not that I blame them. It’s not so much that I can justify her actions, but that I can kind of see where she’s coming from: she’s a soldier following orders, and she’s trying to save her entire world.
I get the feeling that, at times, AltLivia tries to tell herself that the people Over Here just don’t matter, and tries to convince herself that doing things that feel wrong to her are okay because these people are just “monsters”. I’m not sure if she’s just getting tired of the constant subterfuge or if it’s a result of her spending more time on Our Side, but given her statement to the Shapeshifter, she is clearly tired of killing innocent people.
I can’t quite tell if AltLivia’s speech to Peter while they were waiting to dig up the piece of the Machine was a genuine attempt to try and justify her own actions, albeit indirectly, or if she was just trying to manipulate Peter and keep him focused on assembling the Machine.
Perhaps there was an element of both, although she looked rather smug after Peter insisted that there has to be another outcome than just outright destruction from using the Machine.
As always, you can email me at the link below if you want to chat theories, or you can visit my Twitter page by clicking through the image.
Thanks for reading!