Fringe has been one of my favorite shows ever since it began. I loved the focus on a strong female lead who attacked problems head-on and who, at least in the beginning, provided direction for the group as a whole. But I’ve recently started to notice a few troubling details that make me wonder whether the writers are working with unconscious sexist assumptions.
Really, it all started with the horrid episode 4.19. It struck me as very odd that Olivia and Peter’s daughter should be, essentially, a clone of Olivia, and not have any of Peter’s scientific genius. This made me start to think about the female characters in Fringe in general, and I realized that none of them is really a match for Peter, Walter, William Bell, David Robert Jones. There are no genius woman scientists in Fringe.
Nina is said to be a scientist, but we rarely see her doing anything related to science. More often she is managing Massive Dynamic or directing others to perform scientific experiments. She can’t even repair her robotic arm on her own.
Astrid has a gift for computers, languages, and code-breaking, but more often than not she is relegated to the tasks of lab assistant and babysitter. We have never really seen her take the lead on a project, though she may make small observations that help the show’s featured geniuses arrive at a conclusion.
Other than that, we have the Fringe events of the week, some of which involve women, but usually those women are either pawns or are using technology they got somewhere else. We have had no main scientific antagonists who were female.
Do the writers of Fringe believe on some subconscious level that women can’t be genius scientists? Is this why there are no female Observers? (If what September said was true, and the Observers are the future of humanity, this implies that humanity evolved away from, or forcibly shifted itself away from, having two sexes. Are we to believe this is because women were inferior scientists and could not “keep up”?)
This all comes as the show has shifted its focus away from its protagonist, Olivia, to focus on Peter. Suddenly Peter is the one who has remained the same throughout all four seasons, not Olivia. Our base of “normal” is no longer Olivia, but Peter. We don’t see Olivia directing the action anymore…instead, she reacts. Things happen to her. At the very end of 4.20 she started to take control again, but after a full season without that strength, it didn’t feel like enough to re-cement her protagonist role. And we already know that in the ridiculous totalitarian Observer future, Olivia isn’t even there.
It’s just all very troubling, and I wonder if the writers see it.