Fringe, TV Review

TV Review: Fringe, Season 2, Episode 17: Olivia. In the Lab. With the revolver.

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It was one of the shortest hours on television in, well, a week. It was so short in fact that when someone mentioned there was only 10 minutes left, I checked three watches before realising that he was right – it was already 21h50 and there was only 10 minutes left in the episode.

You know someone is doing their job when an episode goes by this fast.

In a café in Providence, Rhode Island, James Heath (presenting himself as Neil Wilson) meets with Miranda Green. The former insists that he and the latter went to the same school in Jacksonville. However, Miranda doesn’t remember (probably because they are both CortexiKids and she has been made to forget) and she leaves – not before Miranda tells her about one kid she remembers, Lloyd Becker, and, in a seemingly innocuous gesture of affection, James touches her on the arm. On the drive back to her office, Miranda collapses, covered in what look like boils.

It’s a little past 5AM and Olivia can’t sleep. So she heads over to the Bowling Alley to talk to visit Sam Weiss. While she has ‘officially gone beyond (his) field of expertise’, he still tries to help. In typical Jedi-Sam style fashion, he guesses that Olivia is regretting one of the many decisions that she has to make during the course of her normal days as a FBI agent. She admits that it’s because of such a decision, albeit one only indirectly related to work, that she has been unable to sleep lately. Before they can pursue their conversation, Olivia is called in by Broyles.

Down at the morgue where Miranda Green’s body was taken, Walter meets one of his old biochemistry students, who is the doctor performing the autopsy. While Walter apologises for being a ‘slave driver’, the doctor thanks him for inspiring him, telling Peter that his father is ‘a great man’. Walter dazzles him yet again by identifying the ‘boils’ on Miranda’s body as sarcomas, reminding his old student: “It seems you have forgotten my very first lesson, doctor. When you open your mind to the impossible, sometimes you find the truth.”

While Astrid identifies five similar deaths, all related to rapid onset cancer, in the last 20 months, Olivia is trying to figure out the relationship between the victims. There is no known connection between them; the killings seem to follow no pattern until Olivia finally realises where she knows one of the names from the list of names transcribed off the height chart back in Jacksonville. After a quick check, it turns out that all the victims were CortexiKids. Walter theorises that only they are susceptible as Cortexiphan allowed children to access untapped parts of their brains, i.e. untapped energies, they have extra energy to ‘exchange’, which the killer is taking advantage of.

Hoping for a list to suddenly materialise, Olivia pays a visit to Nina at Massive Dynamic. However, in a surprising bit of deep insight based on her own experience with Bishop men, or a supremely smart and underhanded strategic move, Nina turns the tables on Olivia by confronting her about telling Peter the truth: “You didn’t come here today to ask me about a list that you already knew I don’t have. And you didn’t come here to announce that you are going to tell Peter who he really is. You came here to have me talk you out of it.”

Meanwhile, James visits Nick Lane’s aunt; however, he’s not there, since he’s probably still in a drug induced coma at Massive Dynamic, where we last saw him (117, ‘Bad Dreams’). Nick’s aunt tells James that six months ago, another Jacksonville kid came by, and gives him Olivia’s name.

Uh oh.

By the time James makes his way to her apartment, Olivia has figured out what happened: Julie Heath was the first person who died of rapid onset sarcoma; she died while visiting her brother, James at hospital. The latter was there for – you guessed it – chemotherapy. As Olivia locks the door to her place to leave for the hospital where James was being treated, she encounters him in the hallway of her apartment building. A confrontation ensues, and Olivia saves the day, as always.

Broyles annoys me a little further by showing yet again that he knows more than he lets on (well hello there, Walter Skinner). At Massive Dynamic, he and Nina, watching over a comatose James Heath, theorise about what could have happened. Broyles seems to think that James’ ‘ability’ was an unfortunate side effect of a botched activation.

Then he drops this little bombshell: other than the dozen of Jacksonville CortexiKids left unaccounted for, there are also 30 such individuals from the Worcester trial. Nina and Broyles then agree that they have to find these individuals before anyone else can.


The episode finishes with a late night visit, as Olivia goes to the Bishops’ to follow up on her conversation with Walter:
Olivia: I think that you may be right. I think that maybe some truths can do more harm than good. And that some Pandora’s boxes are better left unopened. So I’m not going to tell Peter.
Walter: Thank you, Olivia. But the truth is I’ve done enough damage. And it’s time to start to put things right, whatever the consequences. And that starts with telling Peter the truth. I have to tell him who he really is.

This in fact is the first real post-hiatus episode, since last week’s ‘Peter’ was a blast from the past (retro Fringe intro, anyone?). It was the first time we were going to see Olivia and Peter interact after the almost-kiss in ‘Jacksonville’, the subsequent not-date, and Olivia seeing him glimmer.

The tempo of this episode was amazing; as mentioned previously, the hour went by in a flash. There was always something surprising happening, always another ball to dodge or an idea to assimilate.

The glyphs spelled out ‘Energy’; kudos to Lola – which makes me wonder: are the writers referring to the energy transference, which was the science of the week, or rather does it have to with the implication of energy in the mythology (use to create a portal, transfer from one alternate universe to another etc)?

The Observer didn’t give us much time to settle in before making an appearance; he walked in front of Miranda Green’s car as the first symptoms of the cancer Neil gave her started appearing.

Guest stars include Diane Kruger, Joshua Jackson’s girlfriend, as Miranda Green, Neil’s first victim of the episode. Kudos to the beautiful Diane Kruger who didn’t mind Joshua Jackson, as Peter, see her covered in boils.

There was another fun game to be played this week: all of the choice ‘Clue’ weapons were to be found in the episode. And thank you Bastian for helping figure out their locations: the wrench and the lead pipe were being used by Sam Weiss at the beginning of the episode, while he was fixing things up at the bowling alley; the rope was on a counter in the lab; the dagger was on the mantle at Becker’s place; there was a clear shot of a revolver on the floor of Olivia’s apartment, where it gone thrown during Olivia’s final confrontation with Jakes Heath; and finally, the candlestick was used by her during this same confrontation. Check out Bastian’s post on the topic here.

Speaking of Clue, it’s interesting to note that it wasn’t Olivia, it wasn’t with a revolver and it wasn’t in the lab, but rather Olivia in her living room with a candlestick; the title of the episode didn’t have as much to do with the case as much as it had to do with Sam’s ‘work’ on Olivia. After she visited him at the bowling alley and admitted that keeping a secret was also keeping her awake, Sam visits Olivia at her apartment with a game of Clue. He uses his particular brand of perception and wisdom to start digging into what makes Olivia, Olivia: “You’ve lived here a while, but you’re still living out of boxes. Maybe you moved around a lot as a kid. A tumultuous childhood. A hard time forming relationships. I may not be the gumshoe you are, but I’ve got some skills”. He also identifies her penchant for bland colours and refers to her as a soldier & a protector.

Curious herself or uncomfortable at Sam’s ability to see through her (or a little bit of both), Olivia turns the tables on Sam:

Olivia: So what about you? What made you the way you are?
Sam: Oh, I don’t know. I’m older than I look. I barely remember my childhood. I’m also taller than I appear.

Very, very interesting.

There are two previous instances in Fringe in which people are older than they appear: first are, of course, the Observers, who have been observing time at least since the 1700s and haven’t changed too much since then, kind of à la Vulcans in Star Trek. Then there was the never again addressed Nazi man from The Bishop Revival, who was seen in a picture with Robert Bishop in the 1940s looking exactly like he did that very same day, before he was killed by Walter.

Another one of Sam’s particularity is his ability to be able to say the right thing at exactly the right time, sometimes without even meaning to:

Sam: I’m also taller than I appear.
Olivia: That’s it.
Sam: What? What did I say?

Sam manages to often, if not always, say the right thing at the right time. Not bad for a bowling alley guy. Does this have to do with his nature? Is he Fringe’s version of Yoda?

This is historic. Ladies and Gentleman, after The X-Files and Star Trek, please note my very fist Star Wars reference in a Fringe review.

Despite his relatively random decision to bake taffy at the same time as he was baking his ‘cancer omelette’, Walter was unusually sober and subdued during this episode. This doesn’t come as a surprise when one considers the duress he must be under, knowing that Olivia knows his secret and wants to tell Peter.

It was interesting to note yet again the parallel between the case under investigation and Walter’s situation. It came at the end of the episode, after James was subdued by Olivia in her apartment: “Not on purpose. It just happened. But that’s when I realised how it worked. I think if that man had never come to see me, I would have died the way I was supposed to. And my sister would still be alive. They’d all still be alive.” This seems to be a reflection of the Walter we saw in last week’s episode, ‘Peter’ (216), when he tells Carla that the negative consequences of ripping the fabric between the two universes is just “a theory”.

Sometimes, when we want something that we know is wrong, we might be tempted to take this approach: “It just happened” and “It’s only a theory” is an approach typically used by people who want something and yet can’t accept the responsibility of the potential harm of what they are doing. In James’ case, it might have ‘just happened’ with his sister and the second victim; but as soon as he realised what was happening, he went from committing involuntary manslaughter to downright murder. And in Walter’s case, putting the theories about the dangers of opening a portal between the two universes made him use a technique that seems to have kick started the Pattern.

Refusing to accept responsibility for our actions puts us in very difficult positions, and unfortunately, Walter Bishop is right there, creating some of the best and heartbreaking tension of the show.

An Emmy for John Noble, already!

Other than the thousands, if not millions that are going to die when the two universes collide (slight sarcasm alert), Walter’s past decisions are affecting none other than Olivia and Peter. In the couple of weeks since the event in Jacksonville, she has been a little awkward around him. Peter being Peter, he calls her up on it:

Peter: I think I know what it is that’s bothering you. Why it is that you’ve been so awkward around me for the last couple of weeks. (…) That trip down to Jacksonville was crazy. We were both exhausted, we were both emotional, and, you know, if something had happened between the two of us, I mean, if we had actually kissed, we would have to deal with that. But we didn’t.
Olivia: No. No, we didn’t.
Peter: Right. You know this past year, this is the longest I’ve stayed in one place. So this thing that we have, you, me, Walter, this, this, euh, little family unit that we’ve got going, I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that.
Olivia: I don’t either.
Peter: OK so, we’re good then, right?
Olivia: Yeah.
Peter, smiling: Good.

One of the main concerns Fringe fans have is that Peter and Olivia’s relationship dragging the show’s focus away from the Pattern to, well, them. But eliminating it altogether doesn’t make any sense either; and so, the writers have to strike the balance between keeping the show’s focus on Fringe Division while allowing room for its protagonists to have some very human concerns without allowing for stereotypical sap to clog down the storyline.

Lord keep us from sappy lines.

And so, while the focus of the show should not become the relationship between Peter Olivia, it doesn’t mean that the writers can just let that storyline go (for fear of the numerous Polivia shippers, like Lauren, for one). And I must say, I’m impressed: Peter addressed the situation in the most logical way. He is confident enough to have recognized the signs that Olivia does reciprocate his feelings; but knowing her as well as he does, he also knows that she’s a little fragile on the whole relationship thing. And so, he tried to smooth things out by putting at the forefront the most important thing to him: his newfound ‘family thing’ they’ve got going on.

By the way, I’m mildly offended he left Astrid out on this one. What, she’s not good enough to be part of your family unit, Peter?

The other thing I liked is that not only did Peter address the situation as mentioned above, but also helped propel things a little when offered the occasion:

Peter: How come you didn’t call Broyles?
Olivia: I’ve got you on speed dial.
Peter, grinning: Really. I’m number one on Olivia Dunham’s speed dial?
Olivia: Well no, but I didn’t think Rachel or Mr. Ire from the Indian takeout would be much use.
Peter chuckles.
Olivia: Peter. Thank you for coming.
Peter: You’re welcome.

Things are looking good for now for Polivia shippers and die-hard Fringies, as for the moment, Fringe writers are doing a great job.

Another great job that is being done by the writers is to bring together some details from past episodes into new ones, à la Harry Potter. There are a couple of specific cases in point I’d like to mention, i.e. the ones I found to be the most salient.

First is the fact that what we know of the identity of CortexiKids was reinforced. James Heath wore only bland colour. The role of protector taken by the CortexiKids was either directly or indirectly addressed. According to her co-worker, Miranda: “had a real thing about protecting those who couldn’t protect themselves”, while Lloyd Becker, according to the picture of him in his apartment, was in the military. As for Julie Heath, she didn’t leave her brother’s side while he was undergoing chemotherapy.

Second is the case that Miranda was prepping for before her death: a case against INtREPUS Pharmaceuticals, which, as Massive Dynamic direct competitor, first made its appearance in ‘The Cure’ (106). Just like MD, they do work in some controversial areas such as prenatal gene therapy and viral warfare.

An indirect reference was made by James Heath to Isaac Winters, who was involved, with Sanford Harris, in the activation of Susan Pratt and her twin, Nancy Lewis (119): “A man came to see me when I was in the hospital. He said when I was a kid, scientists had experimented on me, that because of the experiments, he could teach me how to fight the cancer. But it didn’t work. I didn’t get better. I got worse.” This is a theory that Broyles shares with Nina at the end of this episode.

Walter’s discussion with his former student at the beginning of the episode was yet another ongoing Fringe construct, that of thinking outside of the box: “It seems you have forgotten my very first lesson, doctor. When you open your mind to the impossible, sometimes you find the truth.”

It reminded me – inevitably so, perhaps – of the struggle Fox Mulder had throughout his years working The X-Files at the FBI, that of wanting to believe so bad that he would fall prey to lies. As Dana Scully put it: “I have never met anyone so passionate and dedicated to a belief as you. It’s so intense that sometimes it’s blinding. But there are others that are watching you, who know what I know. Whereas I can respect and admire your passion they will use it against you. Mulder, the truth is out there, but so are lies” (E.B.E., 1×17).

For me, the question has now become: how does one think outside of the box without getting lost in the void thereafter?

This week’s ‘out there’ Fringe Science was that of the healthy ‘chi’ of Cortexikids being exchanged for James’ cancerous one through a simple touch, a rather frightening possibility. As Walter explains it, “the Chinese believe that all living creatures contain an energy, our ‘chi’, and that with proper training, a simple touch can affect their chi. Reverse it. Can cause sickness, even death”. According to Walter, James’ technique is closer to that of tantric sex, which aims to achieve a “heightened sense of perception, of awareness. The partners are not interested in merely the sexual experience; they are seeking an exchange of energy”. This would mean that James exchanged his sick chi for that of Miranda’s healthy one in the hopes of delaying the progression of his own cancer.

Could this be a hint of things to come between Olivia and Peter? No, not THAT (i.e. the romance and the sex), but rather the exchange of energy? After all, the glyphs to spell out ‘Energy’ and Peter’s energy is that of the alternate universe… On top of that, he is becoming more and more a source of strength for her; isn’t that a form of energy transfer?

The main topic worthy of discussion covered in this episode is of course that of Olivia and Walter’s struggle about whether or not to tell Peter the truth.

After Olivia confides in Sam, albeit vaguely, that keeping a secret is what has had her losing sleep lately, he tells her that she is a good person, one of the best he knows, and that if she agreed to keep a secret, it must have been for a good reason. While I agree that Olivia is a good person, and while I agree that she kept the secret for a good reason, need I remind us that the road to hell is paved with good intentions?

Olivia’s struggle is between what she knows she should do and what she doesn’t want to do for fear of the related consequences. It’s the same for Walter, who can’t bear the thought of losing Peter a third time: once after Peter 1.0 died, and once after he was put away in Ste-Claire’s.

An intriguing detail in this situation is Walter’s extreme paranoia regarding Peter’s reaction to being told the truth:

Olivia: (…) He deserves to know the truth about who he is.
Walter: You don’t understand. Things have never been better between us. I can’t lose him again. I can’t!
Olivia: You won’t. Once he knows the whole story… Walter, you saved his life. I’m sure that he will understand.
Walter: No he won’t. He will never forgive me.

Why is Walter so convinced that Peter will not forgive him when he knows the truth? Truth of the matter is, Walter didn’t have the intention of kidnapping Peter, and Walter saved his life. Certainly what with Peter’s own fears about losing his father (remember his reaction in ‘Grey Matter’ (2×10), when Walter almost died?) and the fact that he has become so close to him would tame down an understandable initial anger, or even fury, on his behalf?

Which makes me wonder, again, how much of the story in ‘Peter’ (2×16) was true, and how much was omitted.

Another interesting take is Olivia’s position. Her feelings about Peter have been crystallizing and, as of ‘Jacksonville’ (215), she knows about Peter’s feelings for her. And so, she has an extra concern, that of the influence of keeping this secret from Peter on any potential relationship in the future:

Olivia: I, I have to tell him! I mean, if it was the other way around, I would want him to tell me.

And to be honest, this isn’t only important in that a romance could potentially happen one day, but also that Peter, Olivia and Walter work closely together on Fringe Division. If “truthfulness is the foundation of all virtues”, how can Peter trust either of them to have not only truthfulness, but other important things such as honour and courage if they lie to him? And what is the effect of keeping this secret from Peter on his newfound, unusual attachment to one place?

By the end of the episode, Walter and Olivia switched opinions; she didn’t want to tell Peter the truth anymore, while he has made up his made to tell him:

Olivia: I think that you may be right. I think that maybe some truths can do more harm than good. And that some Pandora’s boxes are better left unopened. So I’m not going to tell Peter.
Walter: Thank you, Olivia. But the truth is I’ve done enough damage. And it’s time to start to put things right, whatever the consequences. And that starts with telling Peter the truth. I have to tell him who he really is.

Many fans, including Lauren and myself, were quite disappointed with Olivia’s about face. I’m all the more disappointed that Olivia didn’t even acknowledge the real reason why she didn’t want to tell Peter. While tact and wisdom probably did play their part in her change of heart, the main reason for it is that she, too, can’t bear the thought of losing him, be it only for the first time.

Bottling up her fear burst through during her visit to Nina. And this gave way to what I felt was the best exchange of the episode, as Nina held a mirror up for Olivia to see her real intentions in.

Nina: Do you doubt me, agent Dunham? (…)
Olivia: Well you’ve kept information from me since I met you. Information that has prevented me from understanding the origin of many, if not all of the cases that I’ve investigated while working with Fringe Division. And I know about Peter. I know the whole story.
Nina: Does Peter know? Have you told him?
Olivia: No. But I’m going to.
Nina: No, you won’t.
Olivia: What makes you so sure about that?
Nina: Because you haven’t told him yet, and I’m guessing you’ve had any number of opportunities.
Olivia: Well I’ve had my reasons for waiting. This is the right thing to do, and Peter needs to know the truth.
Nina: Whether or not it’s the right thing to do, I recognize the look in your eyes. I know that working together closely with someone can bring about feelings. I’m fairly certain you’re not prepared to lose him. You didn’t come here today to ask me about a list that you already knew I don’t have. And you didn’t come here to announce that you are going to tell Peter who he really is. You came here to have me talk you out of it.

And still, Olivia seems to be refusing to look inside herself, which caused her to make, n my opinion, her first major misstep. I wonder if it’s going to make her fall flat on her face before the end of the season.

I also would be curious to know the reasons why Walter changed his opinion by the end of the episode. Was it because the CortexiKids, tested on by him and Bell, had been killed? Or was it because one CortexiKid in particular, i.e. Olivia, was now in danger because of him? He did look quite upset when, in their kitchen, Peter spoke about the CortexiKids being attacked. Does it have to do with the ‘PB’ that was tested on according to the list of CortexiKids found on the Fou Trust website? Could it be that Walter would like to tell the truth this time before it catches up with him, like the Cortexiphan trials have?

Theories and questions are flying around madly on the online Fringe community (check out the latest ones courtesy of the community at The Fringe Report). After last week’s insane bout of theorizing in the review for ‘Peter’, I’m going to take it easy and only address one question from this week’s episode: how come the first question Nina asks Olivia after the latter tells her she knows the truth about 1985 is: “Does Peter know?” and now “How?” or “Who told you?” Why shouldn’t Peter know about his origins?

Some great moments in this episode include:

Tom Potash, the doctor doing the autopsy on Miranda Green, is an old student of Walter and recognized him. Walter remembers being a bit of a slave driver, but Potash said he was mostly inspiring, telling Peter: “Your father is a great man”.

Walter: Could you get a sample of this pus please, Peter?
Peter: I always get the good jobs.

Walter: We need glycerin, corn starch and food colouring.
Astrid: Food colouring?
Walter: Not for her. But since we’re baking, we might as well make some taffy.

Peter: It just seems like an awful lot of trouble to go through to kill somebody. Why not just hire a hitman?
Olivia: Well a hitman would draw too much attention.
Peter: Really? And spontaneous fatal tumour growth wouldn’t?
Olivia: OK. I suppose you have a point.

Astrid: Walter? Don’t mix up the spoons.

Olivia: You must be a blast at dinner parties.
Sam: I don’t get invited to many very often.

Sam, to Olivia: What’s up, Buttercup?

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0 thoughts on “TV Review: Fringe, Season 2, Episode 17: Olivia. In the Lab. With the revolver.

  1. what is so interesting of Fringe (at least for me) is that behind all that crazyness and sci-fi we have so deep characters, thanks again for the insight into their relationships.
    in my opinion best scene on this episode: Olivia and Nina “little talk”

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