While it doesn’t answer any question about the overarching mythology, I still loved the case that drove the Fringe episode “Os”. From the amazing opening scene to the climatic confrontation in the prison cell between father and son, it reeked of the human element that makes the series fantastic.
The opening scene is brilliant; the way it was filmed makes it quite confusing, thus adding to the weirdness of a scene that has come to be accepted as normal in this show. This confusion has an added effect in the episode that I much appreciated. After all, as a regular viewer, I know that “weird” is the norm, and as such, not much surprises me in this show.
The episode features a couple of recurrent themes. One is the mistreatment of test subjects. Straight on the heels of “Subject 13” (Season 3, episode 15), it puts the focus yet again that subject mistreatment isn’t only about the test themselves, but the emotional manipulation of the subjects that can happen, deliberately or not. And so, while the way Dr. Krick treats his treatment subjects is a sharp contrast with the loving way Walter treated young Olivia in “Subject 13”, neither situation is acceptable in the realm of ethics, however much both Dr. Krick and Walter’s intentions were good.
With regards to the way Dr. Krick had identified his test subjects, Peter sums it up quite well: “Well they would be eager volunteers. They were confined to wheelchairs for years. How could they pass up an opportunity to fly? It’s a deal with the devil nobody would pass on.” Of course he doesn’t quite go into the underlying reasons why someone would resort to killing at least half a dozen humans, which includes ego.
The part ego plays as events unfold in “Os” is very interesting and quite relevant, albeit in an indirect way, to the overarching mythology of Fringe. A father can’t accept that his son is paralysed; just like Michael mentiones at the end of the episode, it implies that his father thinks he needs to be fixed. To be attached to one’s limited idea of perfection rather than to deferring to the larger definition of the word reeks of ego and touches on arrogance. By the same token, it’s about a father wanting to find a way to ‘fix’ his son, whatever the cost, hiding his experiments away like a dirty magazine because he knows that what he is doing is wrong, and yet he keeps doing it partly because of his ego.
The ego is also something Dr. Krick seems to have used to convince his subjects to keep doing the experiment, however hard the side effects (and ultimately of course killing them). Dr. Krick at first preys on their vulnerability, uses false hope to stoke said vulnerability into a fire that makes of them thieves (“I don’t have the stuff to make another batch”), and keeps them in a state of acceptance by telling them things such as: “You are a pioneer. Men like you – your participation in this experiment will help me discover a way to eliminate side effects.”
This matter of the ego is likewise related to Walter’s previously mentioned unraveling. Remember his reactions previously when faced with fringe events? Walter’s reactions included excitement and childlike wonder. Contrast that with:
Olivia: How would injecting someone with the heaviest compound in the world make them float?
Walter: It shouldn’t have. It runs contrary to the laws of nature.
Peter: So how is that possible?
Walter: I don’t know! Do I look like I have answers?
The theme of good versus evil often comes up in Fringe, and it struck me that Dr. Krick has been one of the most evil characters we have yet to meet. To tell someone vulnerable who has for the first time in a long while (if not ever) ‘walked’ that: “I don’t have the stuff to make another batch” – if that’s not evil, I don’t know what is.
The scene with Michael and his father in the prison is completely different than any we have seen, but struck a chord of familiarity with regards to Peter and Walter’s relationship. The way Dr. Krick addresses Michael (“I hurt some people, Michael”) is as if he sees him as a child, just like Walter won’t accept that perhaps Peter is the best person to involve in investigating the machine. Interestingly enough, while both fathers had the right intentions, they end up hurting their sons. It’s only afterwards, when the fathers realise that all their sons wanted was a father, that they realise the depth of their folly:
Dr. Krick: I was trying to fix them. They were I wheelchairs, like you. (…) I did it for you Michael. When it was perfected, I was going to give it to you.
Michael: Is that how you see me? Something that you need to fix?
Dr. Krick: Of course not. I just wanted you to be happy.
Michael: I was happy. I went to bed at night knowing I had a father that loved me.
This also relates somewhat to the previous episode, “Subject 13”; in that episode, children are underestimated, while in this one, a teenager is underestimated.
The story of Icarus, narrated (very) briefly by Walter to Dr. Krick, was both quite relevant and rather sanctimonious, coming from him, as was this exchange:
Walter: The wings he gave him wound up killing his son.
Dr. Krick: I suppose that makes me a lucky man then.
Walter: Other parents weren’t so fortunate.
Of course it could also be that Walter is somehow also being self-recriminatory, in that the life that Walter gives back to Peter might make him end up in hell in the form of burning up in that machine.
All in all, this was yet another great episode of Fringe. While the story has little to do with the mytharc (only in that the reason why the mixture of elements made the subjects fly), the underlying themes provide yet another layer of perspective and complexity to the human drama unfolding.