Friday, October 08, 2010

Fringe 3.03: The Plateau

I LOVED this episode. The mystery – how someone could possibly predict the outcome of a scenario that has so many variables in it – was fascinating, and unlike anything I’ve seen in a show before. From the moment he first put that pen on the post office box, I immediately knew this guy was putting in motion a Rube Goldberg machine of human events. Watching it happen again and again never got old. (And the actor playing Miles was quite brilliant, I thought.)

The actual plot reminded me a bit of Flowers for Algernon, a story of a man who has a low IQ and is put through various experiments that exponentially raise his IQ, making him aware of the hostility and cruelty of the world around him, and he longs to regress back to the moron he once was. (I use that word in the clinical sense.) It’s a heartbreaking story (and a book that was on Ben Linus’s shelf; it was one I meant to add to one of my Finding Lost books, and I have the sticky notes throughout my copy to prove it, but then realized there wasn’t a place for it in S4 and it didn’t fit in the other seasons, so that was that).

I won’t go into too much detail on it because I’m a little late in posting this, but the thing that stood out to me the most in this episode was right near the end, when Olivia explained to Madeleine that Miles was now working with a computer to detect patterns that were beyond human comprehension, followed by Walternate talking to Brandon about the fact that he’s still a scientist. In season 1, Broyles was explaining “The Pattern” to Olivia (The Pattern, to refresh memories, is the idea that each of the seemingly unrelated events that we’ve seen in each episode ARE, in fact, related in some way, and that when you put them together properly they will form a pattern of some kind, meaning we need to keep track of each fringe event and where it occurred to see if there’s a connection), and he said it was like a mad scientist was using the world as his lab to conduct experiments. When Walternate assures Brandon that he’s still a scientist, he adds, “I’ve just got a much bigger lab,” which made me wonder, could HE be the mad scientist Broyles is looking for in our world?

Of course, the key to the episode is that just as Miles hit a plateau in his medication and the experiment, the experiment on Olivia is beginning to backfire, and she’s beginning to see through it. How much longer before she regresses completely and remembers who she was?

• The way they played with things that are rare in the other world (I want to call it the sideways world!) Someone sees the pen the first time and says, “When’s the last time you saw one of these?” and I was expecting Olivia to say, “Uh… wow… a MINUTE ago??” It was interesting to realize they don’t have them anymore. I really like this weird steampunk feel of the other world – on the one hand they’re so advanced, but on the other they’re behind us (like when it comes to bicycles or the fact they still use airships).

Where’s Baldo?: OK, I THINK I saw the guy this time, but I could be wrong. When Olivia is at that third accident and she realizes it’s still going on, she turns around and looks up to the bridge, and the camera makes a quick cut to the bridge and pans along the people. The first person is a man in a fedora and suit, and I’m positive that it was the Observer. A moment later, when they show the people again, he’s gone, so it would make sense.

Glyph (before each commercial break, there's a glyph that appears, and it corresponds with a letter of the alphabet, spelling out a five-letter word): This week's glyphs spelled out BREACH, a rare occurrence of a six-letter word.

Did You Notice?:
• When they referred to the baddie as “Milo Stanfield” both my husband and I said, “Wait! Where have I heard that name?” and realized we were thinking Marlo Stanfield. Could there be a Wire fan on staff? Considering Bubs was on there a couple of weeks ago, and now a character has a name almost exactly like another character, it could be likely.
• Walternate suggests putting someone in a sensory deprivation tank, which is what they did to Olivia in the first episode of the series.

• Will the rest of the season be back and forth between the two worlds, or will it begin to merge so we’ll see half in one world, half in the other?


Fred said...

This was a well drawn out story for this episode. I half expected we'd see Milo at the end pondering why he had got it so wrong; instead, he is just figuring out mathematical equations and probabiities of whatever with the computer.

I agree the alternate world is just odd with its mix of nostalgia and advanced technologies. Really, it would make no sense. Would we fall back to flying in biplanes for whatever reason? But this mix of nostalgia and advanced science reminds me of films about H.G. Wells and the time machine (see the time machine Leonard bought on Big Bang to see what I mean).

Olivia's growing recall of her past is a symbolic dramatization of the failure of ideology to sustain control over individuals. Afterall, she has been injected with the ideology of the other world (that she is that Olivia, and not this world's Olivia). This idea can be found in earlier films like The Manchurian Candidate, and Matrix.

With Milo, there is a sense that the operations of the world (cause and effect) can be set up in such a way as to operate to a particular end. I guess then that the Watchers are just more advanced beings than Milo who see over a greater causal chain (much like Vonnegut's Tralfamadorians). In other words, there is an even greater Order that surrounds even this alternate Walter and his world. If Milo was as super smart as he was, then he'd have had to have reasoned this out, that like an onion, layer after layer of ordered causalities exist surrounding other ordered causalities. Each layer requires greater and smarter super beings--perhaps we'll discover the Watchers aren't the end of the chain of overseerers of the order of the universe.

yourblindspot said...

Seriously, has this show ever been better? I really struggled early on with how I felt about it, thought there was a real ambiguity to the writing throughout that first season and wasn't completely sold on the team or the story until the very last episode, despite a few strong ones scattered along the way ('The Equation' comes immediately to mind). It was almost solely the magnificent performances of John Noble that got me through, and thank goodness they did.

Season Two was a steady improvement, and now that we've moved into full-on Mythology A Go Go here for third season, I have been consistently blown away every episode. The biggest surprise to me has been the pitch-perfect balancing act that Anna Torv is pulling off week to week. I wasn't sure she had it in her, but I gotta admit, she's totally rockin' it.

I think things are about to get much more difficult for Olivia Prime, too, as she moves from completely relying on those implanted memories to using them more as impulse touchstones while she tries to maintain her composure and keep selling the fake. Seemed the seeds were not-too-subtly sown tonight for Charlie being the one to figure her out, in which case I'd guess she'll be faced with either killing him or blowing her cover. And there's no way she'll pull the trigger. Question is, will this buy his loyalty, regardless of who she really is?

The writers must be having a ball with creating these alt-world idiosyncrasies like the rarity of ball-point pens. I think it's been quite deftly handled so far, with a good balance of variations on pop culture (like the bus stop sign for 'West Wing Season 11') and historical divergence (like 'Manhatan' spelled with the single T, in keeping with early journalistic and cartographic examples). Cool stuff, and makes for a great game of Spot The Weird while you watch. My favorite from this week was the panhandler with the cardboard sign that read 'Aruba War Vet.'

Something tells me we haven't seen the last of Milo...

Fred said...

I was just over at // and it just doesn't look good for this season. While Fox's thursday night combo of Bones and Fringe have picked up somewhat, the numbers for Fringe aren't all that great. And I guess we can be saying "bye-bye" to a lot of new shows: Lone Star, The Event (likely to get cancelled), and maybe No Ordinary Family.

Since 24, LOST and so many of the HBO family have ended their runs, its like television is opting for the mediocre. No Ordinary Family is a mixed drama of The Incredibles and Swiss Family Robinson, while The Event is either LOST or Flashforward, depending on how you look at it.

I would hate to think Fringe getting bumped out of the schedule when Fox finally brings X-Factor to Thursday. By any measure, reality television garners twice the numbers of scripted drama. That would be a pity considering how good this episode was.

yourblindspot said...

I've been seeing the same trends and am honestly trying not to think too much about it, lest I find the malaise settling into my very bones. The integrity of the major networks seems to have degenerated to the point that they're now using ratings numbers to dictate virtually every decision they make, and I hate to admit how much that sounds like the death knell of quality programming to me. It's a criminal monetization of creativity in my eyes, and unless technology serves to radically change the business model over the next decade, I can't see anything changing for the better.

Sounds dreadfully pessimistic, I know, but this fall season the whole system just feels... different somehow, more flippantly ruthless than ever before, and therefore so much more hopeless. Believe me, I hope I'm dead wrong.

Page48 said...

With experienced "Alias" writers (Alison Schapker and Monica Owusu-Breen) on board for this episode, is it any wonder the spotlight was on a dude named Milo?

Over There is proving to be the place to be so far in S3. Less Walter, more Olivia sounds like a winning formula to me. Having Charlienate along for the Over There ride doesn't hurt either.

I'm glad that Charlienate is the one with enough on the ball to question which Olivia he's teamed with at the moment. It seems fitting to me.

Broylenate, on the other hand, is guzzling Walternate's Kool-Aid straight from the pitcher. He's buying this junk about how, if Science Division can get a grip on how Olivia can go back and forth without destructive consequences, that "then we'll be able to defend ourselves". Defend yourselves from what, Broylenate? What kind of nonsense has the Secretary been spoon-feeding you and why aren't you skeptical like your man, Agent Francis? Up your game, Phillip, you're the head of Alt-Fringe Division, for cryin' out loud.

Thank God that Frank had to bolt for Alt-Texas before he and Olivia had time to do the nasty, 'cuz like Amy Pond before her, it seems Olivia is beginning to remember her "Raggedy Man" (not that I really want Olivia and Peter getting frisky either).

Batcabbage said...

yourblindspot said: Seriously, has this show ever been better?

Nope, never. It's hit a new high this week, and I loved every minute of it. Nik, you asked if the whole series would be going back and forth between the two realities, and boy, do I hope it does! The possibilities of playing around in literally two universes, with different stages of technological evolution, different moralities, different (for all we know) laws of physics, two different, separate, but at the same time wholly integrated storylines - it's magnificent. I'm loving this season, and it's the only show that's got me just about as excited to see new episodes as I was about Lost.

Lisa(until further notice) said...

I watch most of my TV the day after the fact, because with kids, I just can't get the peace and quiet I need to stay focused. That being said, my Fridays are loaded with shows I need to catch up on: Big Bang Theory, The Office, Community, 30 Rock, Project Runway, and last but not least, FRINGE. When I start re-watching everything, I always savae the best for last, which is Fringe. I love this show and hope those bythenumbers ratings are not an indicator of what will happen to this show. It is a true bright spot of intelligent programming.

I'm having a really hard time watching AltOlivia interacting with Peter, Walter, Broyles and Astrid. It feels wrong, and unsettling to me. But I wonder if she's going to become sympathetic. It feels that way to me (although she has some very unsympathetic qualities to her). I love how screwed up the altworld is with it's air quality issues and quarentine areas. Great show. We need to keep it around.

J. Maggio said...

I really like Fringe, but I also get frustrated with it because it is so pedestrian at times.

There is a scene when the scientist, fauxlivia, and Charlie are discussing Milo. It is the kind of bad exposition scene that Lost rarely engaged in, and tried to deconstruct/subvert. (See the splicing and incomplete format of the Orientation films as a kind of critique on these scenes.) Lost wanted to subvert the conventions of these scenes. And, in Fringe, it serves the plot, but that is IT. Contrast this with some Faraday exposition scenes in say The Constant or Because You Left, where--though serving exposition--the characters had emotional agendas and Faraday himself was eventually questioned as an authority. Lost did this badly sometimes too, see lamppost scene in 316 and Zoey/Jin scene concerning room 23.

Contrast this to, say, Buffy, which was often brilliant at deconstructing this convention: see the exposition scenes in Hush and Restless for perfect examples.

Fringe, on the other hand, is full of these poorly-written scenes that merely move the plot along. Some of these scene are on-par with bad procedurals. Lost, thankfully, mostly avoided this.

sk said...

An interview I read with Anna Torv had the writer expressing that Bolivia is a latter day Emma Peel in a kick-ass mood. Totally agree.

Marebabe said...

It's fun to read a post from yourblindspot and mentally hear every word spoken in Daffy Duck's voice. :)