For those still watching “Fringe”, the start of Season 3 was a thrilling, back-and-forth tale of two Olivias. There was Our Olivia, and Over There Olivia, who many on the interwebs (including myself) called Fauxlivia. (Apparently, the writer’s room had similar thoughts, as we learned tonight.) Both iterations of Olivia focused their gaze on the single, solitary Peter Bishop, the man at the center of the fates of each universe. If there was a criticism that could be leveled at the resolution of that mini-arc in the Fall, it was that con man Peter Bishop should have sensed that he himself was being conned. Tonight’s episode, “Reciprocity,” showed that no one was angrier about Peter being fooled than Peter himself.
Recognizing, or rather anticipating, audience frustration need not always be part of future plotting of any show. But it’s often very cool to be shouting at the television and then seemingly hear an answer back. Television viewing isn’t bidirectional, of course, but it’s nevertheless comforting when certain shows deploy apparent potholes only to reveal they were laying groundwork for later stories. Peter’s lack of awareness could have simply been played as a convenient way for Fauxlivia to carry out her mission and wreak emotional havoc between Olivia and Peter upon their eventual reunion. Doing so would have moved the plot along, though doing so while sacrificing Peter’s character. But “Fringe” took that deception, combined with Peter’s relative new and unfortunately naïve trust, and is using it to set up something akin to Greek tragedy as the season progresses.
So much of the Over Here/Over There business delights due to its use of binaries. Pretty much everything has a twisted mirror image on the other side. That “twist” can be subtle, to be sure, but there all the same. However, Peter has no mirror image, no fractured reflection, no ability to gaze up at the stars like some intergalactic Fievel and know that somewhere out there someone’s looking up at the same stars as him. He’s of both worlds and yet belongs to neither, which could help explain why The Doomsday Device responds to him and him alone. In a war in which mutual destruction is essentially assured, he’s perhaps the one link that can stave off annihilation.
I spent the better part of the last six years of my life trying to decipher another sci-fi puzzler (“Lost”) only to watch a series finale in which most of that effort was proven to have been missing the point altogether. So I’m loathe to put a terrific amount of time and energy into trying to piece together shapeshifters, Observers, ancient societies, and obscure technology into a cohesive thesis at this point. (Just looking at that last sentence makes my brain hurt.) Sure, seeing another show featuring electromagnetic energy and nosebleeds has me anxious to re-read essays on Minkowski space-time equations, but then I have to tell myself that I should breathe, step away from Wikipedia, and stop the insanity. That way lies madness. And smoke monsters.
But looking at Peter’s place as a metaphorical and yet potentially LITERAL go-between betwixt these two universes DOES interest me, since it gets at a place that’s emotional as opposed to pseudo-scientific. Peter spent the majority of his adult life as a con artist, pretending to be something other than he was for personal profit. That all makes sense, especially when given the fact that deep down, he probably understood that he didn’t truly know who he was at all. So creating different aliases was no different than, say, shapeshifting. (See what I did there?)
What we’ve seen over the course of the show is him gradually accepting not only his father, but Olivia and Astrid as well and forming a type of family structure that he long forbade himself from having, or simply didn’t deem himself worthy of having. To have that trust violated so grossly by Fauxlivia essentially hit the reboot button on his personality, sending him back to the shady state in which Olivia found him in the pilot episode.
This explanation makes more sense, and is quite frankly much more palatable of an option, that Walter’s theory that the doomsday device somehow “weaponized” Peter and sent him on a shapeshifter killing spree. Peter Bishop as a combination of Gollum and Jason Bourne just doesn’t cut it for me. But a man dealing with a father and a lover, both essentially imposters, might go a little insane in the membrane, thus forcing him along a path in which he can trust no one but himself in order to get at the bottom of his true identity. (So, “The Bishop Identity,” as it were. But with enough mercury to send Jeremy Piven back to the hospital.) I’m fairly certain that we’re not supposed to take Walter’s hypothesis seriously, but what’s important is that WALTER takes it seriously. And this leads us back to Walter Bishops’s Brain Games.
Much of the early “Fringe” mythology was dropped not unlike it was hot once the idea of multiple universes was introduced in full force. This Snoop Dogg approach served the show well, as things like ZFT manuscripts gave way to “The First People”. But the mystery of Walter’s missing brain tissue has stayed intact, and functioned as a way to lend the show an air of tragic inevitability. Walter’s curiosity literally opened the door to the inter-universal war in which these characters find themselves, and we the audience know what Walter does not: that those missing pieces of his brain contain not only knowledge but 99% of Walter’s sizeable ego. Poor Walter seeks those parts of his brain that might save his son, but the act of trying to find Bell’s retroviral serum may be just the element that pushes Peter to the brink of death. For all the worry of Walternate employing moles, the true enemy was where it usually is: within each of us.
A few more notes about tonight’s episode….
*** Joshua Jackson killed in this hour. So often this season Anna Torv and John Noble have been given the chance to shine while Jackson did solid but less flashy work. But he sold the frustration, the anger, the menace, and sheer exhaustion that Peter feels at this point. Also? He also sold Peter’s mad cleaver skillz.
*** Fauxlivia’s journal needs to be published, preferably as a YA novel. The whole “PB” thing didn’t sound very adult to me. (And no, I won’t make any cracks about “PB” loving PB&J sandwiches.) If vampires can have diaries, so can smoking hot Fringe agents from Earth-2.
*** “Don’t worry, I’ve snorted worse.” I bet you have, Walter. I bet you have.
*** Massive Dynamic’s lie-detection software should be licensed out to the folks over at “Lie to Me”.
*** Speaking of other shows, I think the folks over at API should have been consulted on Fauxlivia’s computer. Truxton Spangler’s team would have cracked that code in ten minutes. Ah, “Rubicon,” RIP.
What did you make of “Reciprocity”? A great Peter-centric hour, or a wasted episode? Is the show sinking under the weight of its mythology, or just continually rising to greater heights? Leave your thoughts below!
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