I believe in self-determination. I feel like I have to get that out of the way before delving into tonight’s episode of “Fringe,” since it dealt so very much in the roles of fate and free will in determining the course of one’s life. (Or, in the case of this show, the course of an entire universe.) There are those that think things are supposed to happen in exactly one way, with us moving inexorably towards that singular destination without any hope of avoiding it. Under this configuration (expressed by Bellivia* tonight), trying to avoid what you know is to come only accelerates your progress towards that inevitability.
* I’m going with Bellivia as the moniker for the Anna Torv-as-Leonard Nimoy hybrid thanks to popular vote on Twitter. I had no real horse in this naming race, and let the power of the people decide. Moving on…
But there’s another way to switch around the seeming inevitably of certain end results to put the onus back into the realm of choice, a word heavy on the lips of Peter Bishop at the current moment. In the world of “Fringe,” you can look at every event in the show’s history as essentially ink filling up the page of the always-and-ever-written Doomsday Device schematics. Or, you can look at the choices made along the way at each point in history, and come to the conclusion that the present situation is simply the single sum total of all of those choices. Anything IS possible, but there is still only one concrete reality (per universe). In this configuration, human choice does exist, and serves to reduce an infinite amount of possible scenarios down to a single one created as a byproduct of all those choices.
Whew. I need some Soul Magnet Tea to calm my head after all that.
Tonight’s episode title “Stowaway” refers not simply to Dana Gray, the woman who seemingly can’t die. It also refers to William Bell, hijacking the body of Ms. Dunham in the very way hypothesized by so many you smarty pants here last week. (Some people put sugar in their tea: William Bell slips in soul magnets. You know, for the extra zestiness.) But is ALSO refers to the biggest stowaway of all: Peter Bishop. His kidnapping lies at the heart of the multidimensional battle, but it also possesses a kinship to Gray’s storyline as well as Bellivia’s. All three pose the same question: at what cost do we attempt to reunite with those that have left us/been taken away from us?
“Fringe” has slipped in some religion in its three-year run, but I can’t quite recall an episode that so clearly questioned the role of God in the scheme of things. In trying to make sense of how she survived a house robbery that killed the rest of her family, Dana read up on “The Ascension of Azriel.” This is turn leads her to believe that, like Azriel, God had punished her to reside in Purgatory, which then led her to try and hitch a ride to heaven via suicidal souls. This is a slightly different spin for “Fringe”: usually it depicts people that try to maintain their hold on the living, or at least seek the return of the dead back to the corporeal plane. There’s room in this show for two universes, but up until now hasn’t exactly carved out room for heaven.
Nevertheless, the third season as a whole has been carving out a space where science gives way to more ethereal, more emotional, less quantifiable realms in terms of ultimately providing answers to the mysteries of the week/universe. “6B” demonstrated how a collapsing barrier between two universes could be replenished by an elderly couple letting go of those they respectively lost. Hell, apparently the fate of an entire universe depends on which version of Olivia chooses to love. These answers don’t make logical sense, but on some level that’s the point of what “Fringe” is trying to accomplish: have emotion, not science, ultimately be the solution. (My quibbles with this approach has never been in conception so much as execution: it’s been too on-the-nose, all-you-need-is-love for me when played out onscreen.)
In any case, Dana’s logic follows the logic that’s been at the center of the show every since it fully deployed its multiverse storyline: the defining motivation of every seemingly unspeakable act in this show’s history has been loss. Nearly every action starts with the need to fill a melancholic abyss in the heart of the perpetrator, whether it be Walter “stealing” Peter, Alistair Peck killing dozens of people in order to reunite with his fiancée, or a dozen other instances in which the central characteristic of each person has been grief. Grief, as hinted at above, isn’t quantifiable. It can’t be measured on a chart or examined under a microscope. To overcome it, people will do nearly anything. And in “Fringe,” they certainly do.
All this brings us to Bellivia her/him/itself. I’m sure Torv’s performance will divide fans: some will find it brilliant, others off-putting, and still others simply sexually confusing. I will say that, until the final moments, I found the performance slightly wasted by the storyline. After all, if this were to be a one-off of Dunham-as-Bell, I wanted to see roughly 50% more of her chumming around with Walter and sexually objectifying Astrid. Because all of that stuff was GOLD. But there was an undercurrent to all of the shenanigans that the show never really addressed, and it’s something I hope they address in the coming weeks: should Bell have ever attempted to set this all in motion in the first place
The moral questions applied to Dana co-opting suicide victims’ grief in order to meet her family in heaven can not only be applied to Walter’s taking of Peter, but Bell’s use of soul magnets as well. Setting aside whether or not “Fringe” knew what it was doing when giving Olivia that tea early in Season 2 (something that’s not terribly important in the long run), what we should be asking, and really no one has asked in the show just yet, is how we should be looking at Bell’s engineered return to the world? Is the move justified? Can we even trust anything he says? Pretty weird for a guy who has essentially cheated death to deliver Peter such a heavy-handed message about the overpowering nature of fate, no?
There’s also the effect that Bellivia’s presence has on Walter, who turned from the doubting, unnerved entity of the past few months into a giddy teenager again, smoking dope and having a good laugh over sticking Bell’s essence into the cow, Gene. Did Bell conceive of this entire plan by banking on Walter’s grief in order to further his own agenda? (Or is this another one of those nefarious vagendas?) I’m currently going through my first full viewing of “Friday Night Lights,” and just finished an episode that featured the effect that the return of Tim Riggins’ dad has on his son. So maybe that’s why I viewed Walter and Bellivia’s easy-going rapport so warily: like Peter, I think this is WEIRD. As a fan of TV, I enjoyed the hell out of Torv’s performance. As a reviewer of “Fringe,” I don’t trust Bellivia further than I can throw him/her/it.
But hey, if you do, rock on. After all, that’s your choice. One I respect. I respect the power of choice as much as Huey Lewis respects the power of love and Madonna respects the power of goodbye. I just admire how a show that started out based on the premise of weird science has turned into such a moral, compassionate treatise on the ways people can treat each other. Conversely, it also takes great care in detailing the horrible things they can do based out of a twisted sense of love or the all-too-understandable sin of selfishness. Too often in the show, things go horrible wrong because people can’t let go of what’s been lost. “Stowaway” showed tree examples of that sin, and the effects both small and large those sins engendered.
Those sins didn’t come from fate. They came through the choices people either made or refuse to make. And for Peter Bishop, the show’s poster boy for the power of choice, this will be something to remember going forth.
Scattered thoughts about tonight’s episode:
*** I didn’t say anything above about Seth Gabel’s performance as this universe’s Lincoln Lee, but I loved his easy transition from normal FBI guy into actually solving the problem of a “compassionate soul vampire.” The show left the door open for him to return on that side, and I hope he does.
*** Torv’s line reading of, “OK. We need a Geiger counter!” made me do a spit take. Such perfect rhythms there. That said? Astrid buttoning up her shirt to avoid Bellivia’s gaze wins the prize as this week’s funniest moment. At least Astrid won’t ever have to milk WilliGene. (Who is NOT my lover, for the record. She’s just a cow who says that I am the one.)
*** I can’t tell if I really enjoyed Bellivia pointing out the fact that shows like “Fringe” love to have a mystery-of-the-week relate to the personal problems of those investigating them, or if I found that too cute by half. I’ll have to get back to you on that, but feel free to sound off about it below.
*** Anyone else yell out, “DON’T DRINK THE #$%@ING TEA, PETER?” in the final scene? And you wonder why I don’t trust Bellivia!
What did you think of “Stowaway”? Bellivia rock your world, or simply annoy you? What’s your take on fate versus free will in the “Fringe” universe? And how much longer can Olivia be gone before Bellivia overstays its welcome? Leave your thoughts below!
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