I do not know how to react to this episode. One of the things I enjoy about ‘Fringe’ is the aspect of parallel universes. I am not a fan of time travel stories, but parallel timelines I can handle. The “What If?” tangents that are created from certain decisions are interesting topics to explore. In time travel, you have to figure out how certain events could still happen after one moment is altered. For example, in ‘Back to the Future’ Marty McFly changes the course of his parents’ lives, and they were able to become successful people. With this new fabulous life, wouldn’t Marty be a different person? His parents are different, his sister is different, and his brother is different. Marty did exist out of time, but after rejoining the regular timeline, wouldn’t the events of his new life catch up to him? Would the Marty that had such a fabulous life still be friends with Dr. Brown? If he’s not friends with Dr. Brown, then he wouldn’t know about time travel, and he wouldn’t have gone back in time. By not going back in time, he doesn’t create the fabulous life, and we are back to the old Marty, and the confusing cycle begins again.
This is just one of the problems I have with time travel stories. Parallel timelines don’t have these problems. Parallel timelines are like trains on different tracks going the same way. They travel in the same direction and theoretically at the same speed. Going from one timeline to another is like jumping from train to train. It is difficult to jump from train to train, but the trains keep going; they do not change direction because of the new visitor. In the case of ‘Fringe,’ the trains became aware of each other, which broke the laws of physics and put the trains, the timelines, in danger of colliding and destroying each other. A visitor who can jump trains without causing damage is fine, but ripping holes in the barrier shielding the timelines from each other risks shredding the universes apart. ‘Fringe’ handled this concept very well for three seasons, and I understood that Peter’s actions in the machine caused two new tangents to form—the Peter-less alternate universe and the Peter-less version of the regular universe. Peter’s goal is to jump back into the regular timeline, the one he grew up in.
I was fine with all of this up until this week’s episode. In this episode, we learn the origin of the Observers. It is September’s explanation of things that I have issues with, and my aim is to resolve these issues by the end of this recap, which contains spoilers.
Peter and Lincoln search for Olivia. Peter looks around; he knows she is not there, but he thinks there is surveillance equipment in her apartment. If Nina was injecting her with Cortexiphan, then Nina needed to have known when she was alone. Lincoln is angry with Peter; to him, Peter let Olivia leave the lab for selfish reasons. Also, Lincoln doesn’t like how Peter thinks this Olivia is his Olivia. Peter finds a hidden camera; he will take it back to Walter’s lab. Lincoln is to try to get Nina, who is in FBI custody, to talk.
Olivia and Nina are trapped in a room. Nina says that she was taken weeks ago; she was replaced by her double. She knows Jones, who has the notes from the Cortexiphan trials conducted by William Bell and Walter Bishop, is holding her. Jones enters; he is happy to finally meet Olivia. She tells him that she has met him; she saw him die, and she wants to watch him die again. He says that is not the first time he has heard that story. Jones thinks Olivia’s memory is the side effect of the Cortexiphan injections. Perhaps he is right; one of Olivia’s abilities is to jump effortlessly between timelines, so maybe she can “see” the other timeline but not jump there. Jones wants to completely activate her abilities. He knows extreme emotions will activate her powers. Jones has an assistant. At first, Nina thinks Jones is going to torture Olivia, but the assistant peels back the flesh of her arm. Jones has a drill; he drills into Nina’s artificial arm, and she screams. Olivia wants him to stop, and Jones concludes that torturing Nina will work.
In Boston, the Observers meet. September has not been located. September has always taken a strong interest in Peter and interfered too much when it comes to Peter. From the tone of the conversation, September seems to be in trouble.
Nina is in the FBI interrogation room. Broyles enters. He stares at her hard, and his tone is icy. They think Nina is responsible for taking the Cortexiphan, injecting Olivia, and kidnapping Olivia. She vehemently denies this; she is angry because she wants to launch a search for Olivia. Lincoln enters; he has a file. She claims the last time she was in the vault was with Walter and Lincoln; before that it had been years. The file is evidence that Nina has visited the vault multiple times. Nina still denies responsibility. There were witnesses. She says it must have been a shapeshifter, but Broyles tells her that she would be dead if it was a shapeshifter, and he is correct. Nina, realizing they think she is guilty, clams up and wants her attorney.
This is Disappointing Moment #1: Nina thought a shapeshifter was responsible. After Broyles states that it can’t be a shapeshifter, why doesn’t anyone think about alternates? Why don’t they think she is the other Nina? They know about alternates. How come none of these very intelligent and very observant people think of the possible existence of an alternate Nina?
Walter, Astrid and Peter are at the lab. The camera has a memory chip; it records over itself every hour, so Peter thinks Walter’s equipment will uncover the buried images. Walter blames Peter for letting Olivia out of the lab; he blames himself as well. Walter is still convinced that Peter has projected his memories on Olivia. Peter finds an image of Olivia; this makes Peter want to dig deeper.
Jones enters with a box. Inside the box is the first test for Olivia; she has to turn on the lights. Nina is taken out of the room. Olivia can see Nina tied to a device through a window. Jones’s conditions are simple: turn on the lights and Nina won’t get hurt. Olivia says that she has done this before. Jones states that there is more to her power than she thinks; according to him, Olivia does not know her full potential, but he does. Since she has passed this test before, then it should be simple for her. Olivia tries, but she can’t. Nina gets shocked. Olivia tries again, fails, and Nina is shocked again. Olivia says she is tired and needs to rest. Jones will give her an hour to rest. He closes the view to Nina.
I have always been curious about how Jones knows Olivia has so much potential. There must be something in the notes about the Cortexiphan. Walter said that Cortexiphan unlocked the natural abilities a person has, so the notes must have what Olivia could do based on what happened when she was in Jacksonville.
Peter finds an image of a man; the image will be run through the facial recognition program. Peter and Walter discuss why Olivia would be injected with Cortexiphan. Peter knows Jones was interested in activating Olivia. Peter never knew why, and he wonders if Jones’s goal is the same as before. A voice says the goal is the same. The voice belongs to September; he is weak from the gunshot wound. They get September to a table. Walter is not sure he can treat the Observer, but Peter says that his Walter said the physiology is the same. Walter, thinking he can’t be wrong, begins to treat the Observer.
Nina is back in the room with Olivia; she calls her Olive. She tells Olivia that Bell fired Jones for being unhinged. Olivia remembers that a strong emotional reaction is needed for her ability to work, but she can’t remember her relationship with Nina very well; she needs Nina’s help to remember their emotional connection, so she asks Nina to tell her the story of when she and her sister went to live with Nina. They went by train from Jacksonville to Penn Station. Olivia was scared the first night, so Nina sat with her. Olivia called Nina “Ms. Sharp” that first night. Nina told Olivia not to worry because they were a family now. Nina kissed Olivia on the forehead, and Olivia called her “Nina.” The moment is touching, but Olivia can only remember fragments. Olivia realizes that her connection to Nina is not strong enough. She doesn’t want Nina to keep getting hurt, but it won’t work with her. Olivia needs Peter. For some reason, her ability works when Peter is around. After Olivia says this, Nina doubles over in pain. Olivia gets help; she tells Jones’s assistant to help Nina or lose their leverage. They agree to get Nina help.
In the hallway, Nina hops off the gurney and gets some water. She tells Jones that Olivia needs Peter. This is a great twist. The Nina with Olivia is the double; alt-Nina stole the Cortexiphan and injected Olivia. The real Nina is in FBI custody and is getting blamed for her alternate’s crimes.
Back at the lab, Broyles tells everyone about September’s visit with Olivia. Walter thinks the Observer could know where Olivia is. September’s organs are shutting down; the Observer is dying. Astrid comes in and says the man from the image is Leeland Spivey, but the Leeland from this timeline died years ago, so Jones must have brought him here from the other side. Peter, desperate to save Olivia, wants Walter to allow him to go into the Observer’s mind. Walter warns him of the dangers, but Peter still wants to do it.
Peter enters the Observer’s mind. He is in an observation deck; he sees the Big Bang. The Observer is there. He knows he is dying. Who shot him is not relevant. He wants to tell Peter a lot before he dies. September says he is part of a scientific team from the future. The Observers are the outcome of one of the possible futures of humanity. Their technology allows them to travel inside and outside of time, so they can observe important moments. September says he has interfered because of the mistake he made. He interrupted Walternate while he was finding a cure for Peter. If the Observer hadn’t been there, then Walternate would have known he found a cure. Peter would be fine, and he would have grown up with his biological parents. Peter is important, which is why September couldn’t let him drown. His efforts corrupted the timeline; the war between the universes wasn’t supposed to happen. Destinies were altered too much, and a child that was never meant to be was born. Peter is moved to learn he is a father; well, he was a father. When he ceased to exist, the child ceased to exist as well. Henry was born to the wrong Olivia Dunham. The circumstances leading to the birth never should have happened. September thought after Peter used the machine, everything would be fine, but he cannot explain how Peter returned. September thinks this will give Peter the chance to set things right. According to September, the regular Olivia is the one Peter is meant to share his future with. The Observer says, “They are coming,” and tells Peter is has to go. Peter wants to find Olivia; September tells him to “go home.” The Observer kicks Peter out of his mind. Peter wakes up. The Observer disappears.
I thought about discussing this at the end, but it would be best to discuss it now. The explanation of the origin of the Observers is Disappointing Moment #2: The Observers being from the future and having advanced technology was the obvious explanation. I expected more from the writers than this. It would have been great if the Observers were humans who mastered the ability to see time and step outside of time naturally, and the Observers were from different points in time. No explanation at all would have sufficed as well. I don’t need every single aspect of a show explained, and I would have been happy with the Observers not getting a detailed story.
I accept September wanting to correct his mistake. This gives the Observer motivation. The problem I have is the child. Why does the child have to be born with regular Olivia? September said that his mistake was not letting Walternate cure Peter. So if September did his job correctly, then he never should have been at that moment, meaning Peter would have been cured. According to this line of thought, Peter should have lived in the alternate timeline with his biological parents. In this timeline, he might have met Alt-Olivia, and they would have been together. According to September’s own words, Peter never should have met our Olivia. Henry would have been born to Peter and Alt-Olivia, which happened. Why is Henry’s birth wrong? If September hadn’t made the mistake, then Walter would not have had a reason to cross over, and the alternate timeline would not have known about us. Basically, the Observer’s mistake sets up the entire series. By making the mistake, September allows Peter to meet our Olivia, the one he’s meant to be with, but September wants to correct this mistake because the baby was born to the wrong Olivia, but the baby that is meant to be is the result of the mistake, which September has been trying to correct. Instead of focusing on fixing the damage done to the universes, the writers threw in a Child Born of Destiny. By having to correct an event, time travel is now part of the show, and the vicious cycle I discussed at the beginning is now in play. Why couldn’t the writers have kept it simple? Fix things so that both universes can exist at the same time without merging and destroying each other and so that the other side doesn’t have to use amber all the time because of the anomalies. This is a plot that is reasonable and not too convoluted. Now the plot is messy.
Back to the recap. Peter says that the Observer wants him to go home and back to his Olivia. Lincoln remarks that he thought Peter said his Olivia was this time’s Olivia. Peter was mistaken; his Olivia is still out there. Peter realizes that the Observer could have been literal. “Home” could be his timeline and his house. Peter decides to go home. At his house, he calls for Olivia, but Jones’s assistant, Leeland, is waiting for him. Peter is taken to Jones.
Olivia sees Peter tied to a chair. Nina is strapped to the electrocution device (to keep the ruse up). Olivia is alone; Jones and everyone else are in the other room. Jones claims to have had listening devices in the room. Leeland has a knife to Peter’s throat. Olivia glances at the device; all the lights come on. Olivia doesn’t stop with the device. She makes the lights flicker in both rooms. Nina tells her to stop; Olivia tells her that she is not her Nina because the actual story is that Olivia first called Nina “Nina” at her high school graduation. Leeland backs away from Peter. Jones and Nina flee. Leeland tries to run too, but he is electrocuted. Olivia slowly goes to the ground; the lights go out. The sudden rush of power is new to her, so she is understandably weak from the experience.
Olivia recovers. She frees Peter. She was able to concentrate her power because she did something similar when she was a child and having Peter there gave her a boost of some sort.
Jones and Nina prepare to cross over. Jones has a henchman take care of Peter and Olivia. In the hallway, Olivia has a seizure. She is on the ground; Peter tends to her. The henchman has a gun. Peter fights him. The gun is knocked out of the guy’s hands; Olivia gets the gun and uses it to distract the henchman. Peter knocks the guy out. Olivia gets up.
Jones activates the device to cross over. Nina goes to the other side. Peter and Olivia arrive. Olivia has the gun on Jones. Jones turns to leave. Olivia shoots Jones in the neck. Jones doesn’t even bleed. He has been reassembled on the atomic level, so the bullet passed through him. Jones crosses over.
Peter uses the henchman’s cell phone to call an ambulance. Olivia says she feels better; she thinks the energy she used messed up her nervous system. Peter thinks it’s him. He tells her that he knows she is not his Olivia, and he can’t believe he almost made the same mistake again. He saw what he wanted to see in her eyes. He thinks it is best that he stay away from her. She says that she loves him; he says that Walter should be able to correct the problem with her memories. He walks away from her saying that he needs to go home.
This episode was filled with emotion and excitement. Blair Brown hit a grand slam playing two Ninas, Lance Reddick used the angles of his face to cut into Nina as Broyles coldly questions her, and Jared Harris always brings a suave creepiness to David Robert Jones. The elements were there to make this one of the best episodes of ‘Fringe’ ever. However, the plot point about the baby being born to the wrong Olivia was handled in a way that twisted the story in an unnecessary manner. Why does it matter which Olivia is the baby’s momma? The conceit of ‘Fringe’ is that doubles exist in a parallel universe, meaning the DNA of Alt-Olivia and regular Olivia is the same. All the ancestors reproduced at the exact moments needed to create an Olivia; the Olivias have different personalities because they grew up in different environments. Cortexiphan activates the abilities someone naturally has; the DNA is not altered, so Olivia’s abilities could be passed on to her child whether she is activated or not.
Another problem I have with this episode brings us to Disappointing Moment #3: Olivia needing Peter to activate her power. In Season 1, Jones gets Olivia to use her power by forcing her to deactivate a bomb. She tells everyone to leave the area. Peter sticks around and watches her. Olivia diffuses the bomb without knowing he is there. She has used her power at other times without Peter being around; for example, Olivia got herself back home when Walternate held her prisoner. Why does Olivia need Peter? I know some of you are going to say, “Because this Olivia is not our Olivia.” This brings up another question. How come this Olivia was so dour and hollow and needed Peter to come to life? I thought the Cortexiphan had stunted her emotional state, but according to what is learned in this episode, Alt-Nina started injecting Olivia a couple of months ago. We saw her before the injections started; I thought the injections were going on the entire time she lived with Nina, but I was incorrect. I don’t want to hear about “Power of Love” and other romantic nonsense. For some reason, the strong and capable Olivia we met in Season 1 is being transformed into a woman who needs Peter. Perhaps the signs were there sooner than this episode and I didn’t want to admit that a character with the potential to be one of the best female characters ever on TV is being diminished, but I think that is happening. When the Observer told Peter that he is important shocked me. I knew the Observer saved Peter in order to correct his mistake, but by saying Peter is “Important” places Peter in the center of the show. ‘Fringe’ has shifted away from being Olivia’s story to being Peter’s story. I knew Peter had a vital function in the show, but the first two seasons suggested he was a key element in Olivia’s story. I’m just afraid the writers are going to shove Olivia Dunham into the refrigerator, and if they do, I will be heartbroken.
If you missed the previous episode be sure to read our ‘Fringe: A Better Human Being’ recap.
‘Fringe’ will return in four weeks and end the season with eight new episodes in a row.