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.