Fringe, TV Review

TV Review: Fringe, Season 3, Episode 11: Reciprocity

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This latest episode of Fringe drops more hints and clues, and plot twists that indicate that we are again in for a crazy end-of- season ride. For the sake of my poor readers, my editors and I have decided post the review in two parts. The first part is meant to be more plot oriented, and the second more concept oriented; the two are so intimately linked that there both parts will most probably feature a little of both.

The episode starts off with quite a metaphorical bang, what with Massive Dynamic having put together the infamous machine whose parts were unearthed in the sixth episode of this season, “6955 kHz”. We already knew that Peter was intimately linked to the machine’s working, but what we didn’t know is that the machine is also intimately linked to Peter’s “working”, and we see its dark effects on him clearly by the end of the episode, in a moment reminiscent of Season 2’s 13th episode, “What Lies Below” (which happens to be one of my favourite Fringe episodes).

The link between Peter and everything happening is therefore a lot deeper than we previously thought, what with the machine going totally crazy when Peter approached it. I have been so focused on figuring out the why that I haven’t seriously thought about the how: if the machine had to be ‘programmed’ to ‘work with’ Peter, then somehow The First People, who seem to have made said machine, had access to his DNA. It could have to do with time travelling, which might involve the Observers as well, as they can time travel. However, it could be that the machine is set to ‘work with’ someone who meets certain criteria, and that person’s DNA somehow gets to the machine. Again, who else but an Observer would be in a position to bring the DNA to the machine?

Needless to say, this makes what happened in the previous episode, “Firefly”, all the more ominous; Walter really might have to one day let go of Peter, and if it is to save him and both worlds, it might be that he will have to let him go to die.

The Observer can be spotted standing in the crowd of curious onlookers behind Olivia and Broyles, as the latter gives the former a run down of the situation. The glyphs spell out “Alter”. The obvious link is to the fact that everyone in the Fringe mythology has an physical alternate version of themselves. But I’m thinking that this word also has to do with the mental alternate version of oneself a person can have. For example, Walter’s current condition is an alternate, in a way, of the person he used to be, one that he has been seeking to retrieve in the last couple of episodes. And of course, there is now an alter version of sorts of Peter, i.e. the one that has been “weaponized” when he got close to the machine.

There was, of course, a big nod to the fans when it was pointed out that Walter calls Altivia “Faux-livia”, which probably has to do with the fact that fans have been calling her that. For those of you who are newer Fringe fans, this is the second time fans have directly influenced the show that I am aware of, the first being when the production team decided to use the name “Walternate”. Go fans!

An obvious and intriguing Easter Egg, was the seahorse-shaped metallic decorative item on the front of Peter’s bag, at the very beginning of the episode. We found out in Season 2’s 14th episode, “The Bishop Revival”, that the seahorse was Walter’s father’s nickname, and that the shape with which he signed his creations at a molecular level. As a reminder, Robert Bishop was a scientific pioneer, just like his son Walter; he was a spy for the Allies, working at the University of Berlin, sabotaging German research and smuggling information to the United States.  And this makes me wonder… Seeing as how Robert already has ties to the Fringe mythology (because of the abovementioned episode, but also because of the storyline in the comic book released almost two years ago), I have the feeling that Robert is also going to be tied to the story of the machine and The First People.

The potential for increasing the pace of the show is set more firmly in place with the breaking of the encryption on Altivia’s laptop. It helped advance the plot, helped advance the mythology of Fringe and helped advance the storyline specific to Olivia and Peter. I wonder how else will the information on the laptop help advance the rest of the season, and perhaps contribute to its ever-increasing pace in the coming months.

Speaking of plots, I’m pretty sure everyone found it obvious that Dr. James Falcon was the mole. The scene where Walter comes into the MRI room after Peter’s scan to tell him about the dead shapeshifter was too deliberate for such a delicately synchronised show. It makes me wonder why this was done: did Peter already know that the doctor was a shapeshifter – or perhaps he only knew that the doctor was on the list? And how would that affect us, the viewers?

As the strain one our main characters increases, another still underappreciated character (in my opinion, at least) is once again stepping up. Broyles asks Astrid to go over Altivia’s files from the laptop because of the sensitivity of the situation – i.e. the personal observations Altivia has about Peter. In the end, Astrid might not have solved the puzzle, but she does become something of a confidant to Olivia. First Walter, then Olivia; who is to say Peter isn’t next, and that Astrid will become a potent force in bringing him and Olivia together?

Another underappreciated but greatly loved character, Brandon, gets some unwanted attention when he ends up being the only person with A positive blood at Massive Dynamic. It did give way for one of the best moments of the episode:

Broyles: Don’t move.
Brandon, his mouth full: Can I swallow?

The episode’s title might be “Reciprocity”, but one of episode’s main themes is synchronicity. While Fringe is a work of fiction, the way things work out in some of these episodes is a good reflection of how things sometimes work out in real life. Life does after all have a certain synchronicity to it that makes things like breaking into Altivia’s laptop at the same time as the machine is now put together happen at the same time, creating a perfect storm.

While it was obvious that part of the data Altivia would have brought with her from The Other Side would include the names of the covers used by the shapeshifters in our world, it came as quite a surprise that more shapeshifters weren’t identified. My theory is that there are many more of them out there, but these ones are the ones Altivia needed to know about.

There is also the fact that Altivia’s files couldn’t possibly have been limited to the little we were made privy of in the course of this episode. Perhaps Fringe Division is slowly going to filter it all, in time for the action in future episodes, and perhaps this means that a future episode is going to have as title “Synchronicity”.

One last miscellaneous thought: did anyone else sit up a little straighter at Broyles’ near accident at the end of the episode? Wasn’t it very reminiscent of Olivia’s near miss at the end of Season 1, which we soon found out was the trigger to her ‘travelling’ to The Other Side? I can’t help but wonder…

One of the aspects of storytelling in Fringe I see emerging is that, although there are plots, subplots and sub-subplots galore, and although the entire show has one major arc, i.e. its mythology, each season is a particular chapter in itself, offering the opportunity to delve into one aspect of the mythology, while at the same time offering developments about many other aspects as well.

Season 1 really was about our universe, the rules that control it, and what happened to create the tear between it and the other universe, which was the focus of Season 2. The first part of Season 3 was mostly about the relationship between our universe and the alternate one; the second part is about what binds them together, i.e. The First People and the Observers. Interestingly, these two are also linked, in that one’s technology puts the universe that doesn’t have it in danger of extinction, a consequence of the interference of the other.

Just as in the last couple of seasons, we are fed small, painful morsel after the other about The First People. For example, Walter read the book The First People a dozen times and has found nothing about how the machine works or how it is related to Peter.

With regards to the book itself, Brandon, at Nina’s request, launched a search for other copies of the book. He found three other copies, one in a museum, the two others are part of private collections. The most interesting thing about these four copies (the three newly found ones and the one Peter found) is that they all say the same thing, word for word, although they have been published in three different languages (one is in Spanish, the other in Hebrew, and the other wasn’t visible in the camera pan) by three different authors within two years of each other.

Unfortunately we don’t know the names of these authors, or if they also are anagrams of Sam Weiss. And, interestingly enough, Bell launched his own search into these books a couple of years prior. The man might be dead in both universes, but he still continues to tickle us silly, doesn’t he?

With regards to the links between The First People and the Observers, I can’t help but be intrigued by the fact that straight after last episode, which was about the Observers, we now have an episode about The First People. Is there a closer relationship between the two than the one I mentioned above? Could September’s focus and determination on righting the wrong of Walter’s crossing over to the alternate universe in 1985 be a way for September to right a mistake he made in the past, that perhaps ended up with the annihilation of The First People?

If The First People created a machine that would end the war between the two universes, doesn’t it imply that this machine was built to end such a war that happened previously? And could that mean that, perhaps, in a distant past, there was an advanced civilization called The First People who got caught in a similar situation, a situation the Observers let happen, and now that history is repeating itself, September is now obsessed with stopping it?

Speaking of obsessions, a recurring one featuring one of Fringe’s best characters is a search for mental acuity. It’s so overpowering that it’s affecting Walter’s judgement in many ways. In this episode, it was demonstrated with the way Walter reacted to Dr. James Falcon. It seemed obvious that he didn’t like the doctor from the very beginning, and my guess is, it might have something to do with his diminished mental acuity, which he had been seeing more and more as a burden to bear. Dr. Falcon’s brilliance was bound to irritate Walter, who once was himself the golden boy of the government, just like the former is now of Massive Dynamic.

What’s even more interesting is that Walter’s jealousy might have blinded him to the reality of Dr. Falcon being the mole. While Walter was suspicious of him, his reasons were not based on fact, but rather on emotion. But what is Walter had managed to detach himself from his jealousy and insecurity? Perhaps he would have seen Dr. Falcon for what he really was, or perhaps someone else, like Nina, would have. Which makes me wonder just how many other things have been missed by our main characters in the last couple of months, what with the emotional roller coaster they have been riding, and how it’s going to eventually come back to haunt them.

Another obvious consequence of Walter’s obsession with regaining his former mental acuity was amusingly portrayed through his acquisition of chimpanzee-related traits. Nina found Bell’s research regarding regrowing brain cells. She also found three possible specimens: one was from a rat, another was from a chimpanzee and the third was from Walter. Instead of waiting for the lab to figure out which one was which, as a fire had destroyed the labels, Walter randomnly inhaled the cells from one of the samples, which turned out to be from the chimpanzee.

Nina: Walter!
Walter
: Don’t worry, I snorted worse.

I guess it’s a good thing that he didn’t take a whiff of the rat DNA…

However amusing and thankfully harmless Walter sniffing monkey DNA turned out, it underlines how impatience, anxiety and related, high-strung emotions are highly dangerous, becoming veils obscuring logic and objectivity. I find it highly ironic that in his quest for mental acuity, Walter is demonstrating even less mental acuity than he is currently capable of, what with the veil of his anxiety obscuring him.

Even more interesting is the fact that, although Walter claims that Peter is “what this is all about”, it’s become all about him and his mental acuity. In his quest to save his son, Walter has become wrapped in his self. It makes you wonder just how many people, in their day to day lives, while having the best of intentions, do the most grievous harm because they are wrapped in themselves.

Another veil obscuring Walter is the belief that his mental acuity is the only thing needed to save Peter from a terrible fate. Not only does that underline the underlying arrogance of the man, but it also undermines the power and potency of the consultative process, all the more that Walter has at his disposition Massive Dynamic. While intelligence is most certainly an asset, perhaps it would be more strategic for Walter to pour his energies into consulting with other in order to make up for his decreased mental acuity. After all, consultation is a form of intelligence. For example, instead of getting all up and in it when he meets extremely smart people like Dr. Falcon, to use them through consultation. Then would Walter become smarter in the sense that consultation brings out the spark of truth.

In a terrible attempt at smoothly changing the topic at hand, one person who certainly was not telling the truth in this episode was Peter. While it was obvious from the very beginning that Peter was hiding something, I really didn’t see the twist coming until near the two thirds of the episode. I didn’t link the first death to Peter in any way. The only thing that set me on edge was Peter’s “Do you actually want to catch this mole, Nina?” First indication that something wasn’t quite right with Peter, but I chalked it to being under a lot of pressure, what with the impending threat of the machine and his relationship with Olivia.

Actually, who am I kidding? Until I saw everyone but Peter marching down the hall to intercept Brandon, which came mere seconds before the big reveal, I had no clue. Kudos, Fringe production team: you got me.

Peter, in Walter’s words, has been weaponised – he has become a soldier. Perhaps it was something inherent to Peter, or something inherent to the machine. Then again, perhaps its Peter’s increasing helplessness, both in the face of his impending doom as well as in the face of his relationship with Olivia, that made him susceptible to the machine’s effect.

By the same token, remember how Peter was a loner when the show first started? Remember how he admitted, a little over a year later, how he felt he had a family of sorts in Fringe Division? Isn’t it interesting how the “weaponization” of Peter includes him telling Walter at the beginning of the episode that there is nothing he can do? Walter is part owner of Massive Dynamic – of course he can do something!

It seems that this vulnerability, which made him so endearing when he admitted to Olivia that he didn’t want her to read about how foolish he must have seemed to Altivia, also made him open up to the possibility of being weaponised, and could be making him more and more susceptible as time goes. Perhaps if taken to the extreme, this vulnerability will make him willingly step into the machine.

Seeing as how, up to now, the Fringe production team has relished the telling of each story, be it a major one or a minor one, it hardly comes as a surprise that they are doing the same with one of the subplots dear to many a Fringe fan: Peter and Olivia’s relationship.

First of all, I’d like to reiterate that, alternate universes notwithstanding, the relationships in the show are impressively realistic, all the more that they really stick to the character development meticulously done over the last three years.

Second of all, when it comes specifically to Olivia and Peter’s relationship, I find it quite refreshing that, as opposed to the irrational drama that often marks television relationships, this one is rooted in maturity and growth.

For your consideration: the feelings Olivia and Peter have for each other, developed throughout the last couple of years in situations fraught with emotions, are too real and deep to be tossed away, even despite an unintentional betrayal. It would make no sense for Olivia to not, slowly but surely, understand and appreciate Peter’s position.

It starts, in this episode, with their short but very sweet banter in the MRI room (near the quarter way mark). Some Fringe fans tweeted their disbelief that, after what happened, Peter and Olivia could go back to something remotely resembling normalcy. But as the majority of the fandom underlined, that is what rational adults do; they put aside their egos and are able to see the situation for what it is. Based on the development of both characters, this makes me firmly believe that Olivia and Peter’s relationship is going to work out in a realistic, mature way, although maybe after many more tests, obstacles, trials and tribulations.

In a rare moment of raw emotion and complete vulnerability, Peter admits to not liking being on the side opposite to the one he’s used to being on: “I’ve conned people. And I know what I would have written about them. She must have thought that I was a fool. And I don’t want you to see me like that.” However hard that admission must have been, it definitely helped, giving Olivia an extra boost in her effort to understand what he was going through: “I owe you an apology. (…) The last few weeks have been really hard for me. I’ve been so focused on what the other Olivia did to me that I just haven’t thought about what she did to you. (…) And I want you to know that I’m sorry, and that I get it now. The good news is that she’s gone… I know it doesn’t feel like that at the moment, but she is gone. And we can get past it.”

Another key ingredient, typical to the Olivia we have come to know and love, is her single-minded focus on getting the job done. While morbid curiosity might have been a minor factor, the need for another set of eyes to go over Altivia’s files in the hopes of solving the case is really what allowed for Olivia to gather together the strength needed to deal with the case as a true investigator of her caliber would: “I understand why nobody wants me to read these files. But what’s written here is in the past, and is important is the future. (…) I’m not just another set of eyes. We’re the same, the other Olivia and me. I should be able to think the same way. So maybe I’m going to be able to find a pattern.”

I don’t think it should be understated, how admirable it is that Olivia is putting this much effort into detaching herself from what happened and being so objective about it. I guess it’s going to be a lot of three steps forward, two steps back, but that at the end, a difficult inch at a time, Olivia will make it. And the life lesson in this is quite interesting: you should know what’s right and where you should be, you should be honest about where you are, and slowly go from where you are to where you should be one small step at a time.

Who would have thought that a Fox Sci-Fi show would teach us this life lesson, huh?

Being able to go above her own feelings and emotions gave Olivia an unexpected gift: she came to realise just how alike she and Altivia are: “‘It’s strange, but at moments when I’m with PB, I find myself forgetting what I’m here for. PB’s different than I expected him to be. A sincerity behind his eyes; a deep-seated goodness. It’s hard not to get caught up in it. Not to get caught up in him….”’ Olivia musings, which she shares part of with Astrid, further serve to demonstrate just how alike she and Altivia are: “You know, this may have started out as a mission, but it turned into something else” –  words that assiduous fans immediately recalled as having been spoken by Altivia in the episode “Entrada” (Season 3, episode 8).

Why is this a gift? The more Olivia comes to understand why and how Peter fell for Altivia, thinking that she was her, the more she will be able to believe it when he tells her that she is, in fact, the one he wants to be with.

If any fan had doubts as to Olivia’s feelings for Peter, these were swept aside when Olivia told Astrid, about Altivia, that: “she was starting to have real feelings for him. (…)We’re the same. She would see what I see. We speak the same. We use the same phrases. I’m reading this and I’m thinking this is how I make sense of things, make sense of feelings, of Peter.” This reflection was solidified with this final repartee of Olivia to Peter: “Peter, I read her file. And you should know that you have nothing to be embarrassed about.”

Another interesting fact of this weaponisation of Peter is the subsequent shift in the relationship between Walter and Peter. Ever since Season 1, but especially since Season 2, Peter has been more and more of a father figure of sorts to Walter. It looked like, despite Peter finding out about Walter’s betrayal, the relationship was pretty set – that is, until the machine “rebooted” it, in a way. What with Walter’s recent quest to increase his mental acuity for the sake of his son, it makes me wonder if this is going to be the mental kick Walter needs to get back on track.

What a shock it must have been for Walter to see Peter as a killing machine. Surely Peter, what with his shadowy past, had been in similar situations before; but parents sometimes tend to deny what is standing before them until it hits them so hard they can no longer deny it.

Which brings me to the scariest thing about Peter being weaponised, which isn’t, in my opinion, that he might end up in that machine just like the now infamous drawing showed. Rather, it’s that Peter is going to become a mere instument, a weapon in his singleminded focus to get what it is after, whatever the cost.

In this episode, Peter was after information, and he paid the cost, seemingly without much of a guilty conscience. Granted that its still questionable, if a shapeshifter has a soul; but even were they machines with no trace whatsoever of a soul, to destroy something just to get something out of it isn’t quite that dignifid a thing to do. And from the looks of it, shapeshifters seem to have souls, what with their ability to feel – or maybe they don’t initially have souls but have the potential to develop one (I’m still think about the cop in Season 3’s “Do Shapeshifters Dream of Electric Sheep?”).

An interesting parallel that we can draw between Peter and situations that seem typical nowadays is the helplessness that seems to have been the main fuel of the current situation Peter is in: “I have to know what they know, Walter. I’m tired of being reactive. (…) They are soldiers, Walter. They are here to kill us. Besides, they aren’t even human, and I’m not doing anything wrong.” I found this all the more intriguing that it reflects the attitude many people people have in the current climate of fear that has permeated so much of the world.

How many times have I heard, on many levels, that “we are defending ourselves”, that “the others” are the evil ones and thefore “we” are doing no harm? While Peter does have a point, that passivity is not something to aim for, he does forget that taking action needs to remain with an ethical framework that ensures we remain, in all our actions, as noble human beings.

As Walter puts it, simply yet eloquently, one of the powerful ways we have of judging if what we are doing is for the right reasons, is by seeing how comfortable we are with sharing it with others: ‘Then why didn’t you tell us? If you weren’t doing anything wrong, then why didn’t you tell us?” To which Peter has no answer. Of course the people we should be comfortable sharing these things with should be of the ethical sort!

Which seems all the more ironic that it is Walter, who, despite his recent increases in his sense of morality, has more than once shirked ethics in the name of science, calls Peter out: “I don’t know what happened – but this is not you.” And yet, father protects son by covering for him when Olivia visits them after discovering the last dead shapeshifter.

How will Olivia react when she finds out Peter lied to her, all the more that she was so severely berating herself for always being one step behind? And is Walter simply being overprotective or paranoid, or does he have every reason to be worried?

Does the reciprocity of the relationship, such as described by Walter below, imply that the machine has been somewhat humanised? Are it and Peter going to become one, in a way? And is this helplessness of the father also going to be expressed by the same attitude the son exhibited in this episode?

Walter: I think I know what’s happening to you. Every relationship is reciproqual Peter. When you touch something, it touches you. You’re changin son. When you touched the machine, it changed you. It weaponised you.
Peter
: So what do we do now, Walter?
Walter
: I don’t know.

As Fringe continues to gain momentum, I can’t help but wonder if, on the one hand, what the production team has in store for us for the season finale. On the other hand, it makes me shake my head at rumours of cancellation: surely FOX wouldn’t do something as foolish as cancelling a show that it becoming more and more fascinating with every passing episode?

Side Note: I wrote this review before Fox announced it was renewing the show for another season. Hurrah for that!

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