Sunday, February 26, 2012

Fringe: "The End of Everything"

In Slaughterhouse-Five — the book every Lost fan has a responsibility to read — we met the Tralfamadorians, an alien race that can see across all points of time, present, past, and future, and who knows exactly when all of time will end. The problem? They can do absolutely nothing to prevent it. The protagonist of the novel, Billy Pilgrim, is cursed when he begins to be able to do the same thing, and can jump to various events in his own life, but, like the Tralfamadorians, is unable to do anything. He gets on a plane for the umpteenth time that he knows will crash into the side of a mountain, killing everyone but himself, but he just does it, because he's a fatalist who believes that whatever happened, happened.

Until now, the Observers on Fringe have been thought to be an alien race that were like the Tralfamadorians, with a little bit of Adjustment Bureau thrown into the mix. But what has set them apart from that alien race was the fact that they HAVE manipulated time (against Observer regulations, mind you) when September plunged his hand into the water and stopped Peter from drowning. He only did that because he believed it was his fault Peter had fallen into the lake in the first place. They are Observers, not Participants, and they were only supposed to watch people, not engage with them or do anything to actually change history.

And now, after this week's stunning episode, we know why. As always, when something is revealed in an Abrams show, it's not out of this world, and usually has that "why didn't I think of that?" feeling to it. I'm sure many of us suspected that the Observers were from somewhere in the far-off future, and now we find that they're the ultimate descendants of the human race. So, of COURSE they don't want to alter time; by doing so, they could effectively wipe themselves out of existence.

I haven't posted on Fringe for a while, and that's because I'd simply fallen behind. Over the past couple of evenings I caught up on the past four episodes, and it's amazing to watch them all together (to be honest, I felt like it was worth not watching them separately so I could watch it all unfold as one long story). All of them bring together that beautiful underlying message of Fringe: that beyond all the science and understanding of things lies something far more important: human connections and love. In "Making Angels," Alt-Astrid crosses over after the death of her father leaves her grief-stricken and looking for answers. Jasika Nicole, who plays Astrid, has long been a fan favourite, and I've really enjoyed watching her come to the fore more this season (at the end, where Astrid tells Alt-Astrid that her father is a difficult and distant man, only for us to find out she was lying to her to make her feel better, brought tears to my eyes). In this episode, the gang tries to get to the bottom of why certain people are being found dead, having bled out from the eyes. Turns out this guy, who grew up on Raiden Lake (where the cataclysmic episode with Peter being pulled out of the lake in 1985 happened), found September's glowstick and has become like an Observer himself. He uses his powers for what he sees as good -- finding people who will die slow, horrible deaths, and killing them painlessly and instantly before they begin their downward spiral. It was an interesting episode, with the euthanasia argument blending with a Minority Report premise, where this man believed he wasn't committing genocide, but giving people genesis into an afterlife and happier existence.

That episode was followed by "Westfield," the beginning of the three-part series that culminated this week, where Peter, Olivia, and Walter travel to a small town that's been wiped out by David Robert Jones, who pulled both dimensions together in this one spot, overlapping people with their other selves and causing immediate onset schizophrenic outbreaks and violence. In this episode, the cortexiphan that Olivia had been shot up with a couple of episodes earlier began having different effects, and this Olivia began having the memories of our Olivia. She suddenly believed she was her, Peter was her Peter, and she knew everything about their lives together.

In the next episode, "A Better Human Being," the gang investigated people with a hive mentality who had all been genetically modified as embryos, and all had the same biological father. As such they connected by speaking to each other telepathically. The episode tied in to what Olivia was undergoing, where she could hear the other Olivia in her head to such an extent that it wasn't just a voice, it was her entire consciousness. As she pleaded with Peter to believe her that she really WAS Olivia, and had remembered utterly everything about their life together and who she was, Peter was torn. Walter had seen the change in her and growled at Peter that he was somehow projecting his own consciousness onto her, much like he could do with the machine, and that he had to stop it, and accept that what he was doing was projecting what he wanted onto an innocent person who had been caught in the crossfire of Peter's dire need to return to the home he once knew. At the end of the episode, Olivia looks into Peter's eyes and tells him how much she loves him, and what he sees is his own Olivia looking back at him. Caught up in the moment, he kisses her, and we swoon (albeit cautiously) because it seems they're finally reunited.

Until Olivia goes into the gas station to pee and never returns.

And that brings us to "The End of All Things," where Olivia has been captured by David Robert Jones' people (along with Nina) so they can channel her abilities, and see if she can light up the little lights in the box the same way she did way back in season 1. Written by David Fury (who was responsible for much of Buffy and Lost's first season), this episode brings so many things full circle, including Olivia's abilities coming out through her empathy. Jones mistakenly believes she'll be triggered by Nina, so he tortures her in front of Olivia to make her do what he needs her to. Problem is, she now has the memories of our Olivia (or she might BE our Olivia) and that Olivia wasn't raised by Nina. She reveals that Peter is the only person who she feels strongly for, and so they capture him and bring him to her. And when she thinks they're going to hurt him, she goes all Carrie on them and nearly brings down the entire building in an amazing sequence.

But how Peter actually manages to get over to her is the key part of the episode. For September, who'd been shot a long time ago and showed himself to Olivia (did he see that coming?) has reappeared, and he's dying and collapses when he's with them. Walter connects Peter to September's unconscious mind the same way Olivia had connected to John's dead mind and where Peter had mindwalked through Olivia and Walter's cartoonlike consciousness. (I always love a good mindwalk.) In this one, we see how September can see all timelines at once, in a glorious SFX sequence where Peter sees the Big Bang, followed by the universe massively expanding and creating itself, as September stands and talks to him about what he'd actually done.

And here, we discover that these hairless men in fedoras and Don Draper suits are actually human, but what humans will ultimately become. And, as mentioned earlier, he's risked wiping out his own timeline by what he did with Peter already, and needs to right things. And *just* as we were beginning to hope maybe Peter had found his Olivia, and that all these people need is the memory of him to break through so they can become the people he once loved, September says he needs to get to his Olivia still, and only then can he create the child that will be essential to the existence of the human race. And, more importantly to September, to his race.

The key line September utters is that he exists in "one of countless possible futures for humanity." If humanity takes a different turn, then he no longer exists. No wonder the other suited bald men have been trying to stop September from effing up everything. No wonder he's been shot. But who shot him? He won't say. That's not important to him. What is important is that he fix this, and he tells Peter to go back home so Peter can find his way to Olivia. And when Peter does go back home (literally), he's captured by David Robert Jones's men, who bring him before Olivia and cause the chaos I'd mentioned earlier.

And when it's all over, Peter looks at this Olivia and tells her that he's sorry for kissing her outside the gas station, but she's not really his Olivia. Despite the heartbroken look in her eyes (and the devastating effect his speech clearly has on her), he assures her that when he was in September's head, he saw his Olivia, and there was no mistaking that was her. He needs to get back to her, and he can't be tricked again. As Peter turns to walk away, he leaves in his wake a woman who, as Walter predicted, has been caught in the cross-storm, who now carries the memories of a love that is so real it hurts — but a love that doesn't belong to her.

September has told Olivia ominously that in every timeline, in every possible future, she must die. We all must die at some point, so here's hoping that Peter's Olivia will die a natural death at a very old age. But there's a possibility that this Olivia will die much sooner, perhaps at her own hand. Who, after knowing and feeling a love at their very core that's been taken from them and will always remain unrequited, could possibly continue?

I posted a few weeks ago that the problem with this season is that they've created a new set of characters that seemed temporary, and that we couldn't actually feel close to. But I also mentioned that I had faith in the writers and hoped things would turn soon. And they did. My heart sank for this Olivia as much as if she'd been any of our Olivias. She's as human as any of them, and as real as any of them. But for Peter, there's only one Olivia in all the universes that is his. And that has got to be one of the most beautiful, romantic ideas I've ever seen on television.

There was talk this week that Fringe might actually be renewed for a fifth and final season, giving them 15 episodes to wrap up the story. Either the writers couldn't wrap it up in S4, or the new sponsorship of Nissan has helped things along immeasurably (no one could have missed the scene in "Making Angels" where Olivia obviously unplugged her new Nissan electric car and drove away quietly, making everyone in the audience want one of those — or maybe that was just me...). But where I'd originally said I'd be happy with four seasons, this crop of episodes really made me hope for a fifth, so that the answers could be given, and then the show could play out for a few more episodes as we see the repercussions of everything we've learned. Peter will find Olivia, he just has to. And the commercial break glyphs this week — which spelled UNITE — are more than hinting that we will see them together again.


Lisa (UFN) said...

I <3 heart <3 Fringe. Thank you for the post Nikki, it was great and I feel exactly as you do. In fact, you made the episodes better and easier for me to understand. Props!

Batcabbage said...

Hurray, a Fringe post! And it was a great one, Nik.

I love this show, and the main reason is manifested by the fact that I've been sitting here for half an hour before typing a word, just thinking about what I want to say. I love that!

I've had a theory for some time now that I think may have been confirmed in this latest episode. It was the scene when the other Observers met up to discuss the 'September Situation'. One of them says:

Do we know why he failed to carry out his instructions, why he did not erase the lingering traces of Peter Bishop from this timeline?

Notice how he says this timeline? I have thought for some time that the timeline we're in now, where no one remembers Peter, is exactly the same timeline that Peter came from. There's no 'home' for Peter to go back to - it doesn't exist anymore, and essentially never has. The Olivia we've been watching get 'her' memories back IS Peter's Olivia. It's just that Peter is wrong, and doesn't realise it - he's focussing on the 'home' he thinks he can get to, but just can't, because he's already there. I don't think the next eight episodes (in a row, no less!) will be about Peter 'getting home', it will be about him restoring his version of this timeline. But understand, it will be in the current timeline, he won't be going anywhere (anywhen?). And I don't think it'll be snap, now everyone remembers Peter like it was when everyone 'forgot' Peter. It will be like Olivia getting her original memories back, and those memories eventually taking over the Peter-less memories. That will have to happen for everyone, and I think Peter's story will be figuring out how to bring that about. And also figuring out how deal with everyone getting two sets of memories at once, and making them not schiz out, or have a massive embolism, or just go mad. Or something like that.

That was pretty convoluted, right? I know. But it's interesting, and confusing, and I can't believe I have to wait four weeks to see what happens!

Page48 said...

My understanding is that this IS our Olivia (and Walter and Walternate etc...) with the adult Peter removed from the equation, like the part in "A Wonderful Life" where the angel shows Jimmy Stewart what life would be like if he'd hadn't existed.

This isn't a different timeline so much as it is a different version of the timeline that Peter used to live in.

But, there has to be more to it than Peter just jump-starting everyone's memories in order to find his way 'home'. Restored memories, for instance, won't restore the unborn Henry.

I can't see how Peter will be able to get back to his old, comfy life without somehow resetting the timeline once again, which raises more than one moral dilemma (not the least of which is ridding the Alt-verse of the kinder, gentler Walternate and returning the tyrant that wanted to cut up Olivia's sexy brain-box).

I found it interesting that Alt-Nina also lost her arm. How did that happen? Certainly not the same way that our Nina lost hers.

Fred said...

@Batcabbage: I have thought for some time that the timeline we're in now, where no one remembers Peter, is exactly the same timeline that Peter came from. There's no 'home' for Peter to go back to - it doesn't exist anymore, and essentially never has. The Olivia we've been watching get 'her' memories back IS Peter's Olivia. It's just that Peter is wrong, and doesn't realise it - he's focussing on the 'home' he thinks he can get to, but just can't, because he's already there.

A very interesting idea. I've also wondered whether or not this was the same timeline, but only replayed without Peter. There is certainly a lot in the moment Olivia remembers something about John at the storage locker, and Peter tells her that wasn't a part of his knowledge. Peter says then Walter's idea he is projecting his Olivia on this Olivia can't be right.

I've gotten the feeling everyone seems like they have amnesia this season. David Jones in this season is told he died in another world, but he seems puzzled by it. In the same way, Lincoln appears to me a doomed man who doesn't quite know it yet. The whole metaphor of dopplegangers has played a major role in Fringe, but the only one without a doppleganger is Peter. This leads me to an alternate solution to the one Batcabbage suggests.

Simply put, the word "Unite" from the glyphs may be suggesting that what the Observers are after, or at least September, is the uniting of all the timelines into a single timeline. We have all these foreshadowings, the 2 towns simultaneously converging, Olivia's memories of the other Olivia converging in her mind, the idea of the parallel universes destroying each other unless the one destroys the other first. The Observers are hoping Peter and Walter will figure out how to collapse all the timelines, so there is only one possibility, one timeline.

Nikki Stafford said...

Whoa! I haven't posted a comment on here in a while and this page looks really different! When did THAT happen??

Anyway, Batty and Page48: that was exactly what I was thinking going into the episode, and I'm not 100% convinced that's wrong. I was assuming all along that this was our Olivia, and couldn't figure out why Peter kept saying he needed to go home or get away, etc. He just needs for them to remember him, and if those memories come, then everything will go back to normal.

But there was something about the end of this episode that made me think something else was going on. Peter's conviction that that wasn't his Olivia, that this wasn't the woman with the memories and personality and life that he'd fallen in love with, just seemed so sincere. The way the episode came on the heels of previous episodes, showing other instances of people connecting or disconnecting, and that's what made it seem like Peter was right.

But I really do think it could go either way at this point, for sure.

Fred: I love your idea of what UNITE stood for.

gsk326 said...

I have not posted since Lost went off the air; I am still struggling to find my “new lost”. Fringe is as close as I think I am going to get. We have to go back!!! I digress!

I was definitely excited to get some answers from the scene with Peter and September when their minds converged. The fact that September indeed “interfered” when he was supposed to just “observe” set in motion the cascade that has led Peter to be in the predicament he is in and for the two universes to be in turmoil.

It is still not clear why the other Observers are not as concerned as September that the “balance” of the universe has been changed and that their own existence in the future may be compromised. Do they not know what September did back in 1985 in Walternate’s lab? Why would the rest of the Observers want Peter to stay erased if his existence is so important? Is only September a direct descendent of Peter and his Olivia? Do the other observers just not trust September to be able to fix things?

I also find it strange if indeed Peter and his Olivia need to procreate so that the Observers will be born generations later that in the current “timeline” when Peter and his child ceased to exist that the Observers did not cease to exist as well or at least why September did not cease to exist based on my logic above?

And why does September tell Peter to do him a favor and go home? What kind of favor? What home and where and what timeline?

I think the machine is the key to what is going to happen next. I think that Peter with Walter’s help is going to somehow be able to time travel just like the observers and just like he did when he was hooked up to the machine before he blew a hole in the two universes and went “poof”. May be he is going to go back/forward in time just like we saw with the Man in Black from Lost and attempt to “repair” the damage caused by September! I suspect the machine is actually a “time machine”.

I hope that there is a next season!

SenexMacDonald (Cindy) said...

@Batcabbage - I also responded as you did about the comment and the reference to "... from this timeline?" I am intrigued that this could be OUR timeline but out of sync(?) or shifted in some way(?) so it does not match the one we have come to know.

However, that said, @Page48 I had thought at the beginning of the season that this was going to be Fringe's version of "It's a Wonderful Life" as well.

Now, as with @Nikki, I am thinking that it could be a little of both.

This is how I see this season so far. At the end of last season, once Peter enters the machine and it turns on - he disappears and the characters (alt- and non-alt) remain. It appears that they are the same as everyone looks and sounds as they did before the machine operated. Walternate is just a threatening as before; Walter is angry and the two Olivias face off. But as the season starts - and how long after the machine was turned on does the first ep begin?? - the characters are not as they seemed in the previous season's ender.

Same and yet different. Walter is still an introvert but manifested in a different way where he won't leave the lab and actually lives there. He deliberately abuses Astrid's name (I feel our Walter just can't keep track of her name and just says whatever comes into his head that is closest) and he has a close relationship with Olivia brought about by her relationship with him when she was a child being tested. Now that I call odd ...

Walternate appears gruff and the same, and yet, we find out that his relationship with his wife is loving.

Olivia and alt-Olivia have gone through the whole taking each other's place but we don't know if it was exactly as we previously experienced.

Plus, on top of that, we now have the shape-shifters who we know have taken the places of some of the main players in both universes. Something, at this time, we are unaware of in our universes.

I am not sure that all the changes - subtle or otherwise - can be attributed to Peter.

When the Observers are speaking about erasing "the lingering traces of Peter", if this is meant to include Peter's childhood, I doubt those 'traces' would have a huge influence after this much time has passed. If the Observers are talking about the adult Peter specifically, then Peter's reintroduction to the current timeline is the danger; not Peter the child that died. This could explain the Observers' concern.

Peter showed up in the current universe after using the machine in the lake that seems central to all universes. Could that, and not the machine, be his way 'home'? If Peter returns via the lake, will he 'die' in the current universe but reappear in the machine in our universe as we last saw him in it? There could be a direct link ...

Can't wait for the final 8 and yes, I want a season 5! :)

RickR said...

Niiki, I know you're not 100% sold on your "Peter must find his true Olivia" theory (which is what Peter now believes) because I think he's dead wrong- he HAS found "his" Olivia, and it was made pretty damn clear in the penultimate episode "A Better Human Being" when Olivia recounts what happened to John Scott in season 1, before she ever met Peter. Therefore, Walter's theory that Peter is "projecting" his memories of his Olivia onto this close-but-not-quite Olivia we've had this season is wrong. And if Peter doesn't realize he's wrong (after all, he has no way of verifying whether or not Olivia's memory is "true"), WE'RE supposed to see that she's actually "his" Olivia, and that this current version of Earth-1 is where he belongs.
Which made his choice at the end of "The End of all Things" extremely puzzling and annoying for me.

I should tell you that I started watching "Fringe" about 2 weeks ago, and watched the entire series very rapidly. For me, the best part of the show has been the "war between the universes" plotline, but it feels like the show is boiling down to "will our star-crossed find each other and live happily ever after?", which I'm not very excited about. (I'd feel the same way if the LOST endgame had boiled down to resolution of the love triangle. Bleh. "Will Jate give birth to the island protector?? Tune in next week!!")

My verdict on "Fringe" up to this point- DYNAMITE overarching mythology, uneven set of Case-of-the Week procedural eps, GREAT cast (seriously, who would have predicted Ana Torv could pull of 4 different versions of Olivia AND do a killer Leonard Nimoy impression?) And John Noble is great as Walter/ Walternate), cool, bold scifi concepts framing the narrative. But I wish the whole thing wasn't boiling down to "must keep the lovers apart for drama to work" because IMO "Fringe" doesn't need that conflict to succeed.