Fringe, TV Review

TV Review: Fringe, Season 3, Episode 17: Os – Part I

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While this episode in itself was one of those Fringe episode that future fans of the show, in a hurry to find out what is going to happen at the end of Season 3, might be told to skip, I found it fascinating because of the oft mentioned storytelling prouesse of the production team.

The plot was simple enough: by fluke, a scientist discovers that he can make people fly by injecting them with a mixture of two of the world’s densest elements. Having a son who doesn’t have the use of his legs, he immediately realises how he can help him, and starts secretly testing on other paralysed individuals, using their emotional vulnerability at being in wheelchairs to get them to accept. Of course this leads to many deaths and, as the end of the episode, leads to a very disappointed son who realises that his father thinks of him as something that needs “fixing.”

The title of this episode is “Os”, which of course refers to one of the elements at the heart of the episode, i.e. osmium. The glyphs spell out EARTH; is this related to the osmium, or to something else? I don’t quite know. As for the Observer, he is standing amongst curious onlookers outside the Massachusetts Metal Depository.

One of the stars of this episode was Anna Torv, whose portrayal of the transformation, at the end of the episode, from Olivia to Bell, was rather amazing. But more on that later, as we focus on another star in the show was John Noble, whose portrayal of a mad scientist slowly coming apart at the seams is just as brilliant.

In very typical Walter fashion, our he turns once again to drugs to numb his pain. While is always gives way for some amazing moments, such as the one at the beginning of the episode where he is hanging out with the night security guard at Massive Dynamic and smoking marijuana, it also underlies part of what seems to me the increasingly quick progression of Walter into Walternate.

One of the reasons I loved the following exchange is because it underlies the fact that dissatisfaction and discontent are extremely dangerous:

Walter: This is wonderful, Kevin. You get to sit here all night looking at these monitors. What a magnificent job.
Kevin: CEO of Massive Dynamic isn’t that bad either. Must be nice, to have all that power.

Perhaps part of Walter’s dissatisfaction and discontent has to do with the fact that he knows that, despite being CEO of Massive Dynamic, he doesn’t really have real power.

The parallel between this plotline and what is going on in the world currently is very interesting. While the fabric between our universe and potential parallel ones is not tearing (well, as far as we know…), the fact remains that the world as we know it is slowly crumbling apart, as the institutions and patterns of society developed in the previous decades, centuries and even millennia have yet to catch up with the extraordinary developments of the last couple of decades.

One thing that happens is that individuals, empowered to believe in themselves, are arising to make a difference; but because they are either focused on only one of the two mouvements towards progress (i.e. the individual or society), or they are only treating the symptoms and not the disease (i.e. child labour instead of a lack of justice permeating the system), the effect of their contribution doesn’t seem to reflect the amount of time and effort they put into it. Either they become dissatisfied and discontent, and their increasing helplessness slowly grinds their contributions to society to a stop; either they become angry and start doing what they think will contribute to the betterment of society — whatever the cost might be.

Eerie, how this sounds like Walter and Walternate, no?

Walter’s discontent and dissatisfaction has contributed, in the last couple of episodes, to contribute to him starting to grind to a stop. His thinking is irrational, even for him, and he has decided to blame this not on his inability make the most of the amazing resources he has at hand, but rather, on the fact that William Bell isn’t there anymore.

On a related side note, I found it really interesting how Walter had never — up to this episode — been to Bell’s office.  I would have thought that, as soon as the thought of “I need William” crossed Walter’s mind, he would have immediately headed there, looking for ways to “tap into” Bell’s thought process.

Which is, basically, what happened in this episode: Walter finally goes into Bell’s office and finds his personal files, which he sifts through to find a connection to Bell’s thought process so as to guide his own. In retrospect, it is quite interesting to see this dynamic of dependence and power, as it not only fed into their life-long relationship, but significantly contributed to the events that happened in 1985, events that Bell, as expressed in Season 2’s finale (Episode 23, “Over There, Part 2”), does not realise he, too, is responsible for.

One of the dangers of Walter’s attitude at the moment is that while now, he is taking refuge in the thought that, if he were to somehow get Bell back, he might be able to be “whole” again, this might change into something else. And yes, I’m thinking that, because of the slow movement towards taking on Walternate’s identity (especially in the scene where he was talking to Nina with the block of amber sitting before him on the table in episode 14, “6B” (Season 3), Walter just might take refuge in anger and, using his ‘power’ at Massive Dynamic, start doing what he thinks is going to contribute to stopping the collision, whatever the cost might be.

The guilt that Walter has carried with him since 1985, portrayed in the episode “Subject 13” (Season 3, Episode 15), significantly contributes to this process of unravelling, all the more that Walter is now intent on figuring things out that Peter is now happy:

Walter: If Belly were here, he wouldn’t let everyone down…William would have worked out what the machine does and how it relates to Peter and to make matters worse, for the first time since we have been reunited, Peter is truly happy.
Nina: How so?
Walter (with a smile): Peter and Olivia. I thought you knew. They are a couple now.

Interestingly enough, Bell wasn’t around back in 1985, either.

Going back to being CEO of Massive Dynamic, while I can understand and appreciate the fact that working for years with another brilliant mind can make you somewhat dependent on them to figure things out, and the fact that Walter’s brain is quite literally missing a couple of pieces, it frightens me (just as much probably as it frightens Nina) that Walter has been consistently blaming not being able to figure things out on Bell’s non-presence, or even to his brain capacity.

After all, isn’t he the CEO of Massive Dynamic? Doesn’t have hundreds of the top brains in the world working for him? Doesn’t he have his son, with whom he works extremely well? And doesn’t he have Fringe division? What underlying arrogance is contributing in maintaining the status quo, that Bell has to be present for Walter to be able to function, and what terrible thing is that going to make Bell do to Olivia, whose body is, at the end of the episode, containing Bell’s soul?

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