Fringe recap: Once More, With Feeling
Olivia reminded us yet again what 'Fringe' is all about as she tried to save Peter's soul in 'The Human Kind'
Many are the ways you can rephrase and reformulate the thematic conflict that has fueled Fringe’s storytelling engine for five seasons. Emotion vs. reason. Faith vs. science. Determinism vs. Self-determination. The sci-fi saga has usually expressed and dramatized this philosophical clash with great intelligence, artfulness, and fairness to both sides of the divide, even if the show has routinely favored Romanticism over Rationality. “The Human Kind” worked these motifs anew, and worked them hard. Maybe too hard. The cool left brain stuff was chilly neat: Peter playing Adjustment Bureau with Captain Windmark’s life using the chutes and ladders of well placed coffee cups and broken elevators; Olivia going MacGyver to whip together a weapon and an escape from the highwaymen who wanted to sell the wanted woman for reward. But the mushy right brain stuff felt forced and stale. It was great to see singer/actress Jill Scott grace the Fringe world, but Simone the faithful, magical barter town scrapper, a big believer in “mysteries of the universe” mumbo jumbo, flirted with a trope that deserves to be sent to the junkyard.
But the ending was a significant piece of business. Olivia managed to talk Peter off the ledge of escalating dehumanization and convince him to pull the plug on his Observer makeover. I loved how this scene involved a ledge (okay, a balcony) and actual plug pulling (Peter yanking the Observer all-spark out of his skull). This was a smart move. While I’m sure Peter’s brief stint as a mechanical animal will have ramifications for episodes to come, I think Fringe gave us just enough of his Observer daze before it became too much. And to be honest, as much as I enjoyed the boldness of this turn, I didn’t like what it was doing for Walter (I haven’t been enjoying his whole “Peter-I-need-you-to-stop-your-madness-so-you-can-save-me-from-my-madness!” angle on the whole thing) or the group dynamics. Here, in these last episodes of Fringe, I really want to see this family work and play and suffer and squabble and struggle together, not separate and apart from each other. My only regret: We didn’t get to see Josh Jackson rock a bald cap. It should have happened in this episode. Dude! Where’s the commitment?
You Are Here. Peter enjoyed messing with Windmark, relished taking the almighty piss out of him. It wasn’t enough for Peter to just leverage his augmented physical and mental powers to set a deathtrap for the time traveling tyrant who murdered his daughter. Peter wanted Number 19 to know he had his number. He wanted Windmark to know he was actively gunning for him. He wanted the cruel control freak to know that he controlled him, not vise versa. I loved the sequence in which the Uber-Observer infiltrated Etta’s apartment and found the elaborate timeline Peter had created to track Windmark’s movements. Every day, every hour, every minute had been mapped – including that very moment. “5:42: YOU ARE HERE.” Observing The Observer from afar, Peter smirked coldly. I AM DRINKING YOUR MILKSHAKE!
Peter was conspiring to lure Windmark to a point in time in which it would be most advantageous to kill him. But just when Peter thought he had cornered his prey, Windmark showed our misguided hero that for all his well executed rebelious rage, Peter was still a rat in a cage. During a surprise confrontation, Windmark said (claimed?) he’d been slyly countering all of Peter’s clever moves. Their Matrix-flavored fight was fun to watch, an inventively choreographed/visualized series of super-powered punches and teleportation-assisted evasive maneuvers. Nasty Man Windmark got the better of Wonder Boy Peter, and more, shot him with a psychic mind bullet. He made Peter see the very last thought that passed through Etta’s mind before she died: The memory of that happy day in the park – the day that The Observers invaded. Windmark assigned awful meaning to the recollection: It represented everything that made human beings weak – their sentimentality. In the moment, Peter couldn’t disagree. Still, he managed to escape, to lick his wounds and nurse his pride…
Back at the lab, Walter treated Peter’s injuries and tried to convince him to give up the Observer tech. Walter and Astrid had been doing experiments to study the plug-in’s impact on the brain using The Porcupine Man’s pickled gray matter. They had little faith that their work would yield useful results (reasonable skepticism/hopeless pessimism being key themes in the episode) but miracle of miracles! They had success, and a diagnosis: Peter’s juiced cerebral cortex was blowing up; his jacked-up reason was smothering his emotions. In assessing the Observers’ dehumanizing approach to super-sizing themselves, Walter dropped the term “controlled evolution” – a concept that also neatly described Peter’s bid to wrangle Windmark’s fate and (I would argue) the entire videotape scavenger hunt storyline. (More on that in a minute.) Peter was keenly aware that his thinker was becoming a quantum computer. He also didn’t care. Peter the dishonored gentleman insisted on having his satisfaction. Peter the faithless vigilante would get the justice he zealously believed he deserved. Peter Bishop: Avenging angel. Heaven help him.
Be Here Now. Another week, another hidden object to find to fulfill Walter’s mysterious master plan to purge the world of Observers. Once again, the experience gained and the character changes rendered during the course of the mission were more valuable than the object acquired, and probably entirely the point. Walter and Astrid had retrieved another videotape from amber. In this installment, 2015 Walter directed the viewer to travel to a scrapyard in Fitchburg, 46 miles north of Boston, and barter for a very large industrial electromagnet. Olivia took the assignment. She was “crawling out of her skin” with worry over Peter, from not knowing how to emotionally reach him. The distraction would do her good. And it did. As designed, I tell you! As designed!
NEXT: The Pick-Up Of Destiny
Olivia’s arc had elements of a certain holiday story that we celebrate this time each year, a certain New Testament approach to controlled evolution. When Olivia arrived in Fitchburg, she discovered that the grungy-hungry souls who herded heaps of junk like shepherds in the field considered her to be something like the fulfillment of messianic prophecy. For years, they had been safeguarding a truck and a magnet that had been left by an older, gray-haired man (Walter? His mysterious associate Donald?), who promised them, angel style, that one day, a redeemer would come to claim to them. Simone had become the chief attendant in this Loyal Order of the Promise, a role she inherited from her mother (shades of: The Recordist of The Plague Forest, who inherited that mantle from his father). Simone also had a “gift,” a sixth sense that allowed her to know things she couldn’t possibly know about other people. Who says you only need sophisticated science to be a partially omniscient know-it-all?
Olivia, that’s who. She wasn’t buying what Simone was offering for free. And she had reason to be suspicious. As she waited on diesel fuel for the vehicle, Olivia learned from a boldly gabby little girl named Darby that the desperate denizens of the junkyard were hip to Olivia’s fugitive status and knew that there was a reward for her capture. Olivia began to suspect that Simone was no saint, but a mentalist who was scamming her, setting her up to sell her out. Even after Simone convinced her otherwise, faithless Olivia wanted out, ASAP. She was done with Simone’s “parlor tricks,” like the one where Simone could see “The Bullet That Saved The World” hidden in her pocket, or like the one where Simone could sense that Olivia had recently lost a child. Simone insisted she was legit. She also tried to evangelize her fuzzy spiritual worldview to the unbelieving Olivia. “I can understand why your faith has been shaken. But there are mysteries to the universe. My gift is evidence of that! The fact that you are here is evidence of that! Your rational mind can’t make sense of your loss. But your heart — if you allow it to — will find its own intuitive way.”
Olivia begged to differ. She believed it was science and happenstance, not the divine electromagnetic in the sky, that brought them together. If Simone’s statement of faith was rather cornball, Olivia’s expression of skepticism was pretty damn condescending. “Simone, you have a gift. You can see things others can’t. I don’t doubt that. But wherever you think it came from, whoever you think bestowed it upon you, it’s simply an anomaly. I know that because I’m an anomaly. I’ve moved things with my mind. I’ve lit things on fire. I’ve caught bullets in mid air. I’ve seen thing people dream about. I’ve seen the seams of the universe ripped apart, things no human should see. People make up explanations and assign meaning to things without knowing because they’re reassuring, comforting, but I can’t do that. Because I know too much. It’s all just numbers. And the ‘invaders,’ as you call them? They’re just better at math than we are.” Hark the Angel of the Revelation! That revelation being… stone cold atheism. Enjoy that lump of coal in your stocking.
Simone smiled in response. Why? “Because I believe,” said Simone. “You can’t know everything.” It was hard to know if Scott’s line reading what point Simone was trying to make. It almost sounded like she was making a virtue out of ignorance, but I suspect what she really meant was that human beings can never know enough about the universe to ever rule out the possibility of supernatural powers or the existence of the divine. Regardless: I didn’t like how the debate between these two perspectives was staged. The writing and the acting could have been better. Olivia was smarter about her position than Simone was about her position. But in the end, Olivia owes Simone a debt of thanks for helping her get in touch with her emotions, and for helping her, even indirectly, in achieving some clarity about herself and her responsibility to Peter and how she might be able to reach him and assist in his redemption.
Olivia jumped in the pick-up, then got jumped by some bandits who’d set a trap for her on the road. At first, I thought the highwaymen were aligned with Simone’s folks. We never got any proof that they weren’t, but we never got any proof that they were. I’m ultimately choosing to believe they were independent operators. Before they could sell her to The Loyalists at a “truth church” (a neutral site where citizens could do business with Observers without fear of being psychically scanned), Olivia escaped by using her brains and her magic bullet. She rigged together a makeshift captive bolt pistol (a la Anton Chiguhr in No Country For Old Men, another randomness vs. predestination text) using an air tank, a hose, and the bullet that once killed her but saved the multiverse; the bullet that Etta found and kept to remember her parents; the bullet that Olivia reclaimed and kept so she would always remember her daughter. With this heavily loaded self-made weapon, Olivia found a will and a way, then scrapped and shot her way to salvation.
Then, Olivia pulled Peter from the brink. She found him on a balcony, waiting for Windmark to pass through a city square. Peter explained that if Windmark did as projected, at exactly 7:19 PM, the Observer would be back on a path that would culminate the next day at exactly 5:12 PM, when Peter would surprise him, then take a minute to snap his neck, then watch him take his last breath at exactly 5:14 PM. Olivia begged Peter to just stop it already, to get over his stinkin’ big brained thinkin’. She told Peter that she had come in the holy name of Feeling, not Reason, and she preached the salvation gospel of Etta. She argued that Etta’s life and death should inspire them to aspire to become their best selves, not their worst. She beseeched him to trust in emotional truth, to trust that emotions were their strength, not their weakness, in the battle against their sociopathic overlords. Finally, she told him that she loved him. It was an appeal to the heart, not the mind, and it worked. Peter flashed on the memory Windmark put in his head. He chose to give it new meaning, new power over him. Peter pulled the Observer tech out his head, and the metaphorical bug out of his metaphorical ass. Free at last, free at last, thank the god of feeling, we are free at last!
And with that, the lovers held each other and cried in the rain…
And later, back in the lab, Walter Bishop put that extricated piece of Observer tech in his head in a mad bid to boost his brainpower and figure out the master plan he had forgotten, and WAIT WAIT WAIT, that didn’t happen at all. But you were thinking it, weren’t you? WEREN’T YOU? Tell me now, tell me true, and while you’re at it, tell me how you felt about “The Human Kind.” Winner or loser? Go!