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Fringe finale disappointments

There are copious spoilers in this post.

Let me first state that the two-part finale of Fringe was generally enjoyable. There was a nice Fringe event featuring one of my phobias–nanobots (you can’t see them!)–and it was awesome to see Leonard Nimoy return as William Bell, especially in the second half. His performance was excellent. I was intrigued by the notion that David Robert Jones got what he wanted in this timeline: recognition by Bell, even if it meant self-sacrifice. And the new explanation for why Walter had parts of his brain removed was shocking and perfect. I also loved Bell’s escape at the end, which hearkens back to Olivia’s first meeting with him in the original timeline. Makes you wonder if he rode out of there inside someone’s head. The various character wrap-ups were nice too. I appreciated seeing Nina doing some science and being recognized for it. You could tell that the writers had been planning things so that they could end the series here if they hadn’t gotten a season five. (Which perhaps would be better, since season five seems destined to follow the horrid totalitarian Observer plotline.)

But.

The heroes of the day, ultimately, were Walter and Peter. Olivia’s main contribution was to get her and Peter onto Bell’s ship, which seemed more “oh, Olivia should do something heroic too” rather than “Olivia is a vital member of the team”. In fact, it was Olivia, or rather Olivia’s victimization at the hands of William Bell, that threatened to destroy the world. And she had no way of fighting this. All she could do was stand there freaking out. She didn’t even think to kill herself–Walter had to do that for her. (Self-sacrifice would not have been an empowered choice, but at least it would have been her choice.)

Nina makes a big deal about how compassionate Olivia is, and how Bell is using that against her. It is Olivia’s compassion that allows her to become powerful. But based on the events of this finale, we may well conclude that compassion is weakness. Olivia is so compassionate, she can only react emotionally, and is stymied when faced with a dilemma more complex than protecting one person in front of her. She’s powerful, but ultimately she’s weak. She’s just a woman.

That’s the message I was getting.

I would have liked to have seen Olivia control her powers. We saw her doing it in the future of the original timeline, the future that Peter ultimately ended up erasing. The difference with the season four scenario is that she had been dosed with cortexiphan more recently by Evil Nina, to get her up to par with her original timeline self. This probably led to the instability and rapid release of power, provoked by the events Bell put into place around her. But think back to seasons one and two. Olivia–original timeline Olivia–had already dealt with her victimization, with taking care of other victims. She’d found her strength. She’d turned weakness into power and her past into a mission. Would this Olivia really have been flummoxed by William Bell, once she knew what was really going on?

I say no. I say that our original timeline Olivia would have stared Bell down, folded her arms, and calmly turned it off like a light.

Heck, if they’d played their cards right, the writers could have left in the headshot scene, which was actually pretty cool. Just as Olivia figures it out, Walter shoots her in despair. Peter freaks. But the bullet goes all the way through and Olivia’s cortexiphan-infused brain self-repairs instantly. Bell, about to flee, stops to gloat as the universe-destruction starts up again. And then Olivia drops the hammer on him. Later, in the denouement, Olivia undergoes a series of tests and discovers that excessive use of her powers causes an enormous drain on her body and might threaten her life, so they should be treated as a last resort.

(I’d like to keep the part where Walter removes the bullet, because that scene is just crazy, but I’d also like for Olivia to be able to stare William Bell down as she’s turning off her powers, and I’m not sure he’d stick around after he thought she was dead.)

My rewrite would allow Olivia to keep her powers without becoming some sort of overpowered superhero. It would give her an advantage in a universe populated with (male) scientific geniuses, other than her photographic memory and detective skills, which haven’t really seen much use lately. It would also bring back the feeling from seasons one and two, when the main character of Fringe was a strong woman who fought her own battles rather than feeling like a victim and waiting for her white knights (or rather, Bishops) to save her.

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Media Review

Feminism and Fringe

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.

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Media Review

Fringe 4.19 [SPOILERS]

I am disappoint.1

For the most part, I have been enjoying this eclectic season so far. It’s difficult to completely alter reality, and every character’s situation, and have the show feel like “home” to a viewing audience. Eureka kind of lost me, for example, when the main cast went back in time and changed the course of history. There were just too many differences in the new reality. I never regained that sense of “normal”.

Fringe has always been pretty mind-bending, and I was truly impressed with what the writers had done with the characters and history in the alternate universe. So I held out hope that our reality, the foundation we’ve been building for the past three years, would come back strong in season four, merging with the new timeline…that somehow, everyone, or at least everyone aware of Fringe events, would remember both.

Instead, the last handful of episodes have indicated that the only ones who will remember what the viewers remember are Peter and Olivia, and presumably the Observers, who worked to erase that timeline.

This climactic battle with the Observers in the future may yet lead to a restoration of the original timeline. It’s possible; anything is. But if that’s it, if that’s all, if that’s the resolution I’ve been waiting for, then what a letdown.

First of all, putting text on a screen to quickly explain an all-new story concept right in the middle of a show that’s already working within a different reality than the one previously established is heavy-handed. It might have been more confusing to be thrown into the episode with no explanation, but it certainly would have felt less awkward and B-movie sci-fi.

Second…Observers, in a nightclub, acting like gangsters, forcing themselves onto women. Uh, what? This is the first time I have ever seen an Observer do anything remotely sexual, and what a cliche way to add that to the story. I realize there are no female Observers–I’ve wondered about that for a long time, actually–but it doesn’t follow that upon wresting control of Earth from their ancestors, they’d start behaving like thugs from the 1940s.

Speaking of the 1940s: human enforcers of Observer law, dressed up like Nazis! Really! Yes, let’s invoke Nazi Germany in our already trope-heavy dystopian dictatorship.

I guess one thing that really drives me crazy about this is that the future September showed Peter seemed so bright. Humans would evolve and grow and eventually be able to go anywhere and Observe anything. This seemed Good. He never mentioned anything about destroying the planet in the future and then going back into the past to take it over. That, to me, sounds like some hack writer’s drunken “Dude, wouldn’t it be awesome if?”

But September fervently warned Peter that it was imperative he and Olivia get together, because their child would be essential. (If it wasn’t obvious to you that Etta was their kid, the millisecond she first appeared on screen, you haven’t been paying attention.) I had assumed at the time that this meant Peter and Olivia’s child would be part of building the bright future that led toward human expansion into the galaxy…not that she would be vital to stopping the Observers because her mind could somehow not be read by them. Snore.

And did it annoy anyone else that while Etta is practically a clone of her mother, she doesn’t seem to have picked up any of Peter’s scientific genius? What’s that about?

Speaking of clones: last night, I was convinced that this future must be some alternate timeline that would inform our own story, but did not doom our characters to its realities. My main support for this belief was the fact that William Bell was there. Only this morning did I remember that Walter didn’t bother to take William out of the amber…he simply removed his hand. This could imply that he intended to clone William, which could further imply that the William in the amber was also a clone. So that turns out not to be proof after all, much to my dismay. And come to think of it, I don’t think we actually know what happened to William Bell in this timeline anyway. He died in the original timeline, not this one.

Argh.

Already this season I’ve had many of my assumptions challenged or overthrown (I thought Evil Nina and alt-Broyles were shapeshifters, for example), so maybe things aren’t as doom and gloom as I think. Maybe something good can yet come out of what for now appears to me to be a very trite, uninteresting story. There are little things that intrigue me, like Walter having his brain back, Etta’s life and how she managed to hide the fact that she’s Peter and Olivia’s daughter (her last name was never mentioned in the episode), what happened to the other universe (is the bridge gone?), and whether David Robert Jones is still around somewhere. I’m not so keen on watching another episode without Olivia. Etta does a good Olivia impression, but, you know, Olivia is the main character. Kind of like having her around. It sounded like something happened to Olivia, though, which implies she may not be in this little dystopian future story arc at all. Blerg. [Edit: Looks like I don’t have to worry about the next episode not featuring Olivia, as we are apparently leaving the future storyline unresolved and going back to the present next week.]

At least we already have established precedent for Peter going forward in time, then back in time to change the results he saw. It’ll be totally cheesy if he does it again, but I won’t complain.

I think what bothers me the most about this episode is that my entire understanding of the Observers has changed. I used to think of them as, well, observers. They watched and didn’t interfere. They were scientists and historians. They were interested in their own past and were lucky enough to be able to go and see it in person. September, our most sympathetic Observer, made a big mistake by changing the timeline in two universes, and that touched off all the events where Observers started interfering (except that one where an Observer decided he didn’t want a particular young lady to die). Olivia had an affinity for the child Observer they found, and I felt that this indicated the promise of future friendship. While I knew the Observers were willing to sacrifice people for the sake of the timeline, I always felt they were working for the greater good.

This episode would have me believe that everything, all of it, was the Observers preparing to take over, and just watching and preparing for the best time. And that one big piece of their puzzle was making sure no Peter Bishop ever had a child with our universe’s Olivia Dunham. You might ask, “Why not just kill them, then?” I’m sure a writer somewhere can come up with an explanation like “It would affect other things in the timeline too much.” Never mind all the other timeline changes the Observers kept making, including trying to erase Peter. Did they ever think to stop our Olivia from getting treated with cortexiphan, or is that too obvious?

I’m just disappointed. I’m unhappy that the Observers are nothing more than ruiners and conquerors. I’m unhappy that basically the writers are saying humanity can’t evolve past our petty greed and selfishness in 600 years, even as we make astounding scientific discoveries (and apparently eliminate all women :P).

What this episode is telling me is that even if Peter or someone else from the cast is able to prevent the Observer takeover in 2036, that won’t necessarily stop the Observers themselves from being evil. I’d grown rather attached to them, and I didn’t want them to be evil. I didn’t want this to be so freaking black and white. I wanted a nuanced story with hard situations and tough decisions for everyone.

It’s naive to think that totalitarian regimes can’t exist, obviously, and I probably shouldn’t dismiss them as cliche in stories. I guess I was just expecting more from a civilization 600 years older than our own.

Fringe, season 1

* This post is rife with spoilers. *

The season finale of Fringe answered a lot of questions.

For awhile I thought William Bell was dead, or that he had never existed. We never saw him.

I knew that Walter and Peter had been saved at the lake, and that Walter now owed the Observer a favor, but I could always tell that there was something more to that story and I didn’t know what.

Olivia started getting flashes of what I assumed were various other universes.

Now, after the season finale, it seems there is one main alternate universe. Liv’s flashes all came from that same universe…a universe in which 9/11 didn’t quite go the same way, and in which there was some other, more recent attack. After seeing the finale, I speculate that her flashes are due to the fact that that universe is starting to merge with ours. The “soft points”, from which radiate all manner of phenomena, are only the beginning.

It also seems likely that the kickoff point for the dimensional collision was Walter’s selfish snatching of another Peter–I’ll call him Peter’–from the alternate universe when his own son died. Indeed, the place where I imagine that theft took place–the lake where the two of them were saved–was the soft point Jones was able to use to open the doorway. I presume what actually happened was Peter drowned, Walter went to the alternate universe and retrieved Peter’, and the Observer was helpful in some way, but told Walter that at some point he would need to deal with the ramifications. The stealing of Peter’ was obviously a huge dimensional event–matter was taken from one universe to another, and has existed for some time in a place where it doesn’t belong.

William Bell has been living in the alternate universe for “months”, at least. (That’s how long Nina Sharp claims she hasn’t seen him.) It’s possible that he’s there in an attempt to stop or delay the merging. Perhaps he didn’t realize until recently that Walter stole Peter’. Once he knew the reason for the soft spots, he tried to compensate by shifting some of our universe’s matter–himself–into the other universe to replace what it’d lost.

I imagine his move will end up being too little, too late. Since Bell’s a completely different person, it’s not an equal exchange. And even though it’s not clear what role time plays in this, the fact that the exchange took two decades to happen will probably also have an effect, unless Bell has been there longer than Nina implies.

What confounds me at this point is where the show can possibly go from here. What will we discover about alternate universes? Will we end up able to cross between them with impunity after all? Or am I right, and does dimensional travel without equal exchange cause irreparable damage that will ultimately lead to a universe-collide? If we’ve answered most of the questions about why these events are happening, what kind of questions can we ask next season?


The revelation that Peter’ isn’t from this universe adds a new layer to Walter and Peter’s relationship. We know that Peter’ considers Walter to have been an abusive father. I’ve seen some speculation that it was Walter’ who was abusive, and Walter was a loving father who was too late to spare Peter’ from his father’s abuse. I think it’s more plausible, though, that Walter didn’t know how to relate to Peter’ because Peter’ wasn’t really his son. Whenever Walter is able to connect with Peter’ in a meaningful way, he is so delighted that I imagine it doesn’t happen very much. Walter was trying to bring his son back, but instead he brought home a stranger, and I imagine that fact, plus the guilt over what he’d done, plus the pain over losing his real son, drove him to abusive behavior and insanity.

It will be interesting to see what happens when Peter’ finds out about all this.