I have come to terms that major Hollywood awards are not going away anytime in the foreseeable future. While I do not mean to take away anything from previous winners and nominees, I have noticed that the Emmys have a tendency to nominate many of the same individuals and shows year after year. Some shows and performances are worthy of such repetition, demonstrating the consistency of a program’s quality. However, some of the repeat nominations are habit, which frustrates me because a lot of talent ends up getting ignored. One example of ignored talent is Anna Torv, star of ‘Fringe.’ While the entire cast of ‘Fringe’ is exceptional and one of the best currently on air, Torv deserves individual recognition for her work as Olivia Dunham — all six versions of Olivia Dunham. Over the course of the show’s four seasons, Torv has portrayed six incarnations of Olivia, giving each distinct characteristics.
The unique nature of ‘Fringe’ has provided the opportunities for Torv to explore different facets of her character. ‘Fringe’ deals with parallel universes; there is a version of each of us in this world and an alternate universe. Because Dr. Walter Bishop wanted to cure his son, he created a way to travel to the other universe and bring that universe’s Peter here. Over time, the rip Walter created damaged the alternate universe and weakened the barrier between the two worlds. As the universes became aware of each other, the writers created more Olivias to develop the story. The six Olivias are: our universe Olivia Dunham, Alt-Olivia, Fauxlivia, Olivia who thinks she’s Alt-Olivia, Future Olivia, and Peter-less timeline Olivia.
In the pilot, Torv establishes who Olivia is immediately. She is in a relationship, but she is not sappy about it. Olivia can work without obsessing over her boyfriend every three minutes. When her boyfriend John is injured, she does not plead with someone to save him and sit by his side. Instead, Olivia researches John’s condition and finds Dr. Bishop’s work. When Broyles insists Olivia get Peter Bishop to release Walter from the mental institution, she goes to Iraq. Olivia tries a personal appeal, but Peter denies her request, so Olivia basically blackmails him, and Peter believes her bluff. Although she barely understands Walter’s explanation of the procedure, Olivia has the courage to allow Walter to put her in the sensory deprivation tank so she can communicate with John. The pilot shows Olivia is capable, intelligent, strong, determined, and proactive. These traits are why Broyles is impressed with her work and wants her to lead the Fringe division, giving her “anything, anybody” she needs. Broyles thinks Olivia’s skills are the best for the division, and he is proven correct as Olivia regularly demonstrates her abilities as a leader for the rest of the season and duration of the show.
We meet Alt-Olivia briefly in “Over There (Parts 1 & 2).” Alt-Olivia is not the leader of the Fringe division in the alternate universe, but she is a valuable member of the task force. She is smart and tough, but she is relaxed and laughs easily; she cracks jokes with Lincoln and Charlie on their way to investigate an anomaly. Alt-Olivia is in a fun and loving relationship with Frank Stanton, a doctor. She doesn’t have our Olivia’s recall ability, but she is athletic; she competed in the Olympics and won a medal for marksmanship.
Alt-Olivia becomes Fauxlivia at the end of “Over There (Part 2),” after she accepts the mission assigned to her by Walternate: pretend to be our universe’s Olivia. Fauxlivia is a willing soldier in Walternate’s crusade against our universe. Accepting Walternate’s assignment changes Alt-Olivia; Fauxlivia is harsh and has a cruel edge, but can still smile readily, which is one of the reasons Peter falls for her. We see all sides of Fauxlivia best in “Do Shapeshifters Dream of Electric Sheep?” The episode starts with Peter and Fauxlivia laughing and enjoying each other’s company during dinner. However, Fauxlivia has to take extreme measures to hide her identity. Of course she lies and hides evidence to subvert investigations, but at the end of the episode she coldly has Newton kill himself to protect the mission and, more importantly, herself. Afterwards, she seduces Peter. Does she have sex with Peter because she cares about him or in order to distract him from the truth? It’s a credit to Torv’s performance that, to this day, I cannot give a definitive answer even though I have watched season three multiple times.
While Fauxlivia is in our universe, our Olivia is brainwashed by Walternate to believe she is Alt-Olivia. Brainwashed Olivia might act like Alt-Olivia, but she is not an exact copy of her. Aspects of her original personality surface, as seen in “The Plateau.” Brainwashed Olivia laughs and teases Charlie, but she can’t tell Frank she loves him, and she forgets to follow environmental protocols. Brainwashed Olivia almost fools everyone, including herself, but Charlie’s misgivings show that Torv was able to make Brainwashed Olivia a separate character from the other versions of Olivia. By creating a new Olivia, Torv made Brainwashed Olivia’s journey to realizing the truth plausible and engaging. If Torv made the same choices in portraying Brainwashed Olivia as she did for Alt-Olivia, then the pill-popping would not have been credible.
At the end of season three, we get a glimpse of a possible future. The world is bleak, and multiple anomalies threaten to destroy our world. In this future, Olivia and Peter are married, and Olivia leads the Fringe division. Future Olivia is not just our Olivia with a new hairstyle. She has control of her Cortexiphan abilities, and the way she carries her body, stiffer and heavier than her younger self, indicates Olivia has been through many battles and trials. Her smile is not as bright because she is pessimistic about the future, which is why she is hesitant about having a child. Future Olivia only appears in “The Day We Died,” and she is not in the entire episode, yet Torv took the time to construct a fully realized Future Olivia, demonstrating again her dedication to her character and to the show.
Season four introduced a new timeline, one without Peter Bishop. With a new timeline, we have a new Olivia. Peter-less timeline Olivia resembles the original Olivia the most. She is in charge of the Fringe division and went through the Cortexiphan trials (Alt-Olivia did not) as a child. Although she is smart and capable, this Olivia is tense, anxious, and distant. At first I thought her rigidness was a result of not having Peter in her life. This Olivia also lost John, but without Peter, she hasn’t fallen in love again. However, as the season has progressed, we learn Olivia and her sister were raised by Nina Sharp, who is still in charge of Massive Dynamic. They seem to have a good relationship, and it appears Olivia had a decent childhood after the Cortexiphan trials; however, the episode “Wallflower” ends with Olivia being injected with a substance. And Nina is responsible. Is Nina continuing the Cortexiphan trials or performing a different experiment on this Olivia? Either way, the injections are giving Olivia headaches and interfering with her sleep patterns, which explain why she lacks the energy and spark of the original Olivia. Since season four is only halfway completed, it is not known if this Olivia will remain, the original Olivia will return, or if we will be presented with another Olivia. No matter what happens during the rest of season four, I know Torv will dive in and give the audience an incredible performance.
All of the Olivias have traits in common; they are smart, talented, determined, and members of the Fringe division. Although they have similarities, Anna Torv has made sure to give each new version of Olivia distinctive characteristics, making each Olivia distinguishable from the other. No other actor on television has had the chance to deconstruct and recreate her character six times. Torv’s ability to make subtle tweaks and deliver interesting versions of Olivia astounds me. I was shocked Torv was not nominated for an Emmy in 2011 for her work in season three when she played four different Olivias: original, Brainwashed, Fauxlivia, and Future. Torv has received recognition from the Saturn and Teen Choice awards, but she has not been nominated for an Emmy, a Golden Globe, or a SAG award. Torv deserves acknowledgment for her work not just because she has played multiple versions of the same character, but how well she has performed those multiple versions. Also, the aftermath of Olivia’s return from the alternate universe was some of her finest work. Olivia expressing her anger and rage towards Peter because he took Fauxlivia for her was heart wrenching, uncomfortable, raw, and mesmerizing. Torv tore down Olivia’s wall and displayed her vulnerability, her genuine hurt. The range, the depth, and the quality of her work can been seen episode after episode, season after season. Torv is one of the best actors currently on television. The lack of praise and awards baffles me and is a situation that needs to be remedied soon.