Fringe recap: Man In The Maze
“Everything In Its Right Place” began with Olivia Dunham returning something to Lincoln Lee that she longer wanted: His heart. In truth, she had been doling it back to him in jagged little pieces for several episodes now, ever since she began losing her Rebootlandia mind and remembering that her affections belonged to Peter Bishop. The final pulpy remnant came in the form of a charm bracelet Lincoln had given her months earlier as a gift for saving his life, during a time in which they were becoming close friends, and possibly something more. Olivia had forgotten those days (and late nights), the memories squeezed out by the re-emergence of her original timeline identity. The finer point of this poignant and painful opening scene presented itself when Olivia asked Lincoln to explain the significance of the image inked on the medallion: The “Man In The Maze” – derived from Native American art and specifically from the Tohono O’oodham culture. It shows a man (the creator god ‘I’itoi’; or ‘Se:he’ meaning “elder brother”) entering (or leaving) a labyrinth of light (or shadow) that symbolizes the serpentine, spiraling, sometimes backtracking path that leads to the elusive, sacred ground of true self. (I think.) Lee explained that his former partner, the late Robert Danzig, with whom he had a brother-tight rapport, had originally given him the charm. “The maze represents the journey of life – the obstacles – making the right choices until we find ourselves at the center,” Lee said. “Danzig knew I was never one for putting down roots. He used to joke that if I kept on living like that, one day I would just float off into space. He gave me this as a reminder that I always had a home, with him and his family. He said it was my tether.” (Shades of: “The Constant” from Lost; the concept of “taming” from The Little Prince.) With Danzig dead and with Dunham now re-committed to Pete, Lee was adrift – a man in a maze, searching for a new center. “Everything In Its Right Place” was about finding it.
The story also explored the themes of identity and heroism through Lee as well as another homeless nomad, a shape-shifter with the loaded name “Canaan” (the “promised land” of the Old Testament; derived from the Hebrew for “humbled” or “low”). “You can keep waiting for someone else to define you, to give you your place in the world, or you can decide that you’re not just somebody else’s broken puppet anymore,” Lee barked at Canaan during a tragic moment. “CHOOSE!” I’m guessing “someone else” can run the gamut of influences that we allow to hold sway over us and determine our worth, from parents to lovers, celebrities to svengalis, governments and religions. In a story suffused with conspicuous cultural references, the one that intrigued me the most was the one that belongs to an activist organization that was born in a time of crisis, that offers some marginalized Americans the means to loudly and proudly declare their identity and fight (sometimes in controversial fashion) for their lives and for the world that they want. I speak of the “ACT UP NOW” sticker inside the locker of “over there” Lincoln Lee. What exactly did that slogan mean to him? Alas, we will never know, as Captain Lee sadly left the Fringe saga for good after getting cut down by an assassin’s bullet.
NEXT: Batman or Mantis: CHOOSE!
Wanting a break from the daily reminder of what-might-have-been with Olivia in the “over here” world, Agent Lee asked Broyles for permission to fulfill an assignment that had been given to Astrid: Briefing the “over there” Fringe division about the latest news on David Robert Jones. What was supposed to be a simple sit-down with Bolivia at The Bridge quickly turned into a more adventurous encounter when Fringe duty called. The victim: A would-be mugger. The strangeness: His face had melted from some unnatural chemical reaction. (The corpse had been found in a parking lot, not far from a poster advertising travel packages to the USSR. Is communism alive and well in the “over there” world? Or did the Soviet Union simply opt to stay intact post-Perestroika?) The solider-detectives of Fringe division were convinced that a vicious vigilante was haunting The Big Apple. “Maybe Batman’s moved to The Bronx,” Agent Lee quipped. His doppelganger, Captain Lee, and Bolivia were perplexed. “What’s a Batman?” she asked. Lee – assuming, I think, that they were merely geek-ignorant – zipped through an abridged version of the schizoid hero’s premise, i.e. billionaire playboy that puts on a cape to clean up the streets of Gotham. Captain Lee: “Oh. You mean Mantis.” Agent Lee couldn’t believe that their version of the dark knight was a measly insect. Bolivia seemed slightly offended. “Oh, because nothing says ‘badass’ like a flying rat?!” I was tickled by the prospect that “Mantis” was a reference to M.A.N.T.I.S., the short-lived sci-fi/superhero series starring Carl Lumbly as a wealthy doctor who fights crime wearing a high-tech exoskeleton (or “Mechanically Augmented Neuro Transmitter Interception System”). It aired for just a year — on Friday nights! — on Fox. Perhaps it’s still running “over there.” No “death slot” curse in the parallel universe! There’s also a DC Comics character called Mantis – one of Jack Kirby’s “Fourth World” characters — a morally ambiguous, allegiance-shifty new god with the vampire-like ability to suck life and power out of people. That might be a better allusion for this episode of Fringe, considering our freak-of-the-week shared a connection to a certain mad man trying to manufacture a new breed of transhuman forever people.
The investigation into the mugger’s bizarre demise led the Fringe team to a part of town that had once been sealed in amber. We learned from Bolivia that the plague of spatial anomalies had been stymied. Why? No one knows for sure, but Bolivia credited the bridge between worlds and the new spirit of cooperation facilitated by the work of Agent Lee and his cohorts. (Does that resolve/clarify for you, in a satisfying way, any leftover fuzziness from the season 3 finale about Peter bringing the two Walters/the two realities together to save their respective dying worlds before disappearing from history?) Now, Earth B had begun the hard yet happy work of restoration. Frozen-in-amber quarters were being thawed out. Optimism reigned. Put another way: Glasnost (openness) had given way to Perestroika (restructuring). (And you thought that USSR thing was some random bit of alterna-world fun.) Consequently, in this realm, Agent Lee and his colleagues were now celebrated as saviors. “Your team may toil away in secret over there,” said Bolivia. “But over here, you’re heroes.” Just call them: Angels in America, daring to Act Up on behalf of others threatened by obliterating pandemic.
Which brings us to the church, located in that aforementioned de-amberfied sector of New York. Descending into the basement, Lee and co. found a hellish scene: 18 dead bodies (plus one disembodied head), gooey and gummy like the slain mugger. They had all been lost souls living on the fringes of society who had fallen prey to a life-leaching vigilante who didn’t think anyone would miss them. Agent Lee lifted a locket from the neck of one female corpse… and caused her head to tumble off. The jaw dropped open, revealing a shape-shifter’s life-eating dark mark: a trio of prong holes in the soft palate. In time, they would learn that the so-called dark knight responsible for this strange brand of street justice was not really an activist-vigilante, but veritable a critique of superhero allure. Meet Canaan, a pathetic, spiritually emasculated man separated from the woman he loved and estranged from their son. He had made a deal with a devil in a dumb bid to win them back: He sold out his humanity to David Robert Jones to become a new breed shape-shifter. He wanted to be a New God. He wanted to feel needed again. He wanted to be special. Alas, the transformation didn’t work; Jones declared him to be a corrupted runt and cast him out. As he wandered the urban wilderness, foraging among the ruins for fallen cretins like himself to suck for genetic sustenance lest his broken body melt into a puddle of chunky pus, Canaan waited in vain for Jones to reconsider and rehabilitate, reorient, and redeem him. Agent Lee tried to slap him out of this stinkin’ thinkin’ – but it wasn’t until Jones tried to silence him with death that Canaan realized the wrongness of his misplaced faith.
Speaking of wrong: How about that epically long and fleshy prong-tipped umbilical cord that Canaan pulled out of his mouth and stuffed into the maw of that junkie named Dawes so he could drain the dude’s genes? (“Open up and say awww, Dawes.” “Awww–gulpgagshlurp!”) To quote from the Tweet ofcritic/Fringe recapper Ryan McGee of Hitflix.com: “Um, can we show this on TV?”
NEXT: Somewhere ages and ages thence/Two Lincoln Tyrone Lees diverged in life’s wood/But when?
As they pursued Canaan, the two Lincoln Lees became fixated with each other. The scene in which the mirror twins compared lives was split-screen marvelous and a showcase moment in a showcase episode for Seth Gabel. Captain Lee wanted to know why Agent Lee was in no hurry to get back to his side of the quantum divide; Agent Lee wanted to know why he was so unlike Captain Lee in demeanor and personality when they shared the exact same upbringing. Same parents. Same schooling. Same prom date. Yet here in their adult lives, Captain Lee possessed an ease and assurance – a strong, healthy sense of self and significance – that Agent Lee lacked. “That’s the difference between you and me,” said Captain Lee. “My world wouldn’t survive without me.” Agent Lee busted on his alter-ego for his “unwavering confidence and self-aggrandizing narcissism,” even as he coveted the qualities. Put another way: Captain Lee was a man who found the center of his maze, who had planted deep roots in the sacred ground of self. He knew who he was, he liked who he was, and he wasn’t ashamed be to loud and proud about it.
(Less credible was the scene in which the two Lees continued this discussion via radiohead com link as they hunted Canaan. Thank you, Bolivia, for shutting them up and getting them focused.) (By the way: How I do love Anna Torv’s jaunty, smirky red-headed Olivia. With minimal effort, she steals every scene she’s in.)
The shooting of Captain Lee by was a turning point for the story’s two lost, questing souls. Challenged by Agent Lee to act up now and choose what kind of man he wanted to be, Canaan earned some redemption by helping Fringe division seize Jones’ shape-shifter factory and apprehend Jones’ ally, the parallel world Nina Sharp. As a reward, Agent Lee brought Canaan “over here” and into the care of Walter Bishop, in hopes that the scientist might be able to repair Canaan’s malfunctioning body. “I’m really looking forward to studying – er, helping you,” Walter said. Lee also gave Canaan his “Man In The Maze” charm. “To keep you from floating away.” (I trust that once Walter fixes Canaan, the misguided shlub will be sent back “over there” to be tried on multiple counts of Manslaughter by Prong-Shlong.)
Victory for Fringe division was subverted by the news that Captain Lee did not survive his gunshot wound. Bolivia cleaned out his locker — the interior plastered with photos of friends, many of them featuring Bolivia — and in that sad, quiet moment that she had lost more than a colleague, she had lost a brother, and more, someone she considered her tether. Enter Agent Lee. He wanted to give her a status report – then suddenly realized that perhaps his face was the last one she wanted to see. Wrong. She asked him to sit. Then, he asked if he could stay. Not just for a moment, but for awhile. Maybe longer. “I figured you’d need some help,” Lee said. Bolivia gazed long into his face. An array of emotions crossed her face. And then she chose. “Thanks,” she said. “That would be nice.” In the silence that followed, we wondered if at long last, in the most unlikely of places and with the most unlikely of people, Lincoln Lee had finally found the center of his life’s maze.
Yep: I liked this one. A lot. Did you? And what did you make of that creepy moment when “over there” Astrid bravely entered the office of Col. Broyles — who, remember, is a mole working for Jones — and told him… something. But what? That she knew about his secret communications with Jones and Other Nina? That she knew he was a shape-shifter? Your theories are wanted. [And your correction has been noted! Thanks to all who pointed out that Astrid was most likely just informing Broyles of Captain Lee’s death. Duh. Don’t know why that didn’t register with me.]