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Chain of Events: Causality and Catastrophe on Fringe

"You're not from this world, Olivia. You're not her." - Peter

This week's haunting and lyrical episode of Fringe ("The Plateau"), written by Alison Schapker and Monica Owusu-Breen and directed by Brad Anderson, once again took place Over There, on the other side of the dimensional divide, where Olivia grappled with questions of self-identity as she attempted to determine whether she could trust her memories or the strange visions she was experiencing, echoes of a life forgotten.

Despite the fact that Walternate has been experimenting on our Olivia to make her believe implicitly that she is their Olivia Dunham, agent of Fringe Division, memories have a way of creeping back into the corners of our psyche. Are we defined by our actions or inactions? Or rather by those subtle reminders nagging us to wake up, those flashes of realization that point towards our true selves?

Olivia's journey towards self-realization is just beginning. The ghostly reminders of Peter and Walter Bishop, hovering on the periphery are the first signs that she's either still suffering from the psychotic break or that she isn't who she believes herself to be.

It's a tricky road, especially when our own memories can be turned against us. She believes herself to be Olivia Dunham because her memories, her experiences, position her to believe the lie. And the lie is deeper than just firing brain synapses. Her memories extend not just to the who, what, and where but to the emotions contained within those memories as well. She doesn't just remember Frank but she remembers loving Frank.

Which might be why her encounter with the ghostly Peter, with his phantom kiss and his plea to remember who she is, cuts her to the quick: Olivia both remembers her relationship with talented virologist Frank but she also remembers this kiss, this moment, with "the Secretary's son," a man she barely knew.

And Frank's departure to Texas to deal with the smallpox outbreak leaves her terrifyingly alone, the true ghost of the piece, haunting someone else's life. (Kudos to Anna Torv for again pulling off a virtuoso performance here, making Olivia Dunham tough as nails and tenderly, heartbreakingly vulnerable in a single episode.)

The others might have their suspicions of Olivia. Charlie definitely knows something is up: she might have been able to correct him about their Coney Island emesis incident, but she didn't know about the required codes for their mainframe system... and she failed to heed the warning signs that they were entering an area of comprised air quality in pursuit of their suspect.

Curiously, it's this variable, so unpredictable to Milo, that actually saves Olivia's life. Milo's gift--or his curse, depending on how you look at it--deals with the nature of causality, one of the underpinnings of our entire universe. A single action can have a ripple effect, spreading outwards, as it sets off a chain of events that results in a consequence. Able to quickly process each of these mini-effects to see to the ultimate result, Milo believes that Olivia will pause to grab oxygen, because she is trained to do so in these circumstances.

That micro-second pause positions her under the cinderblocks, so that she can be crushed when they topple over. But Olivia doesn't pause, because this Olivia Dunham doesn't know what the amber warning sign refers to. She also doesn't know how to use the oxygen canister that Charlie brings her, even though she had taken one out at the beginning of the episode.

While Charlie might not want to admit it, there's something clearly wrong with Olivia and he's already had a shadow of an idea that she's not who she says she is. The presence of a ballpoint pen at three crime scenes might be improbable, but the idea that Olivia could have exchanged places with her alternate reality doppelganger is impossible.


As for Walternate and Broyles, they know the true about Olivia and they want to use her to harvest her own gift: the ability to travel between the two worlds without suffering bodily harm. And while the Secretary might claim that it's crucial for their defense, his true mission has nothing to do with protecting their world and everything do to with conquering ours.

Next week on Fringe ("Do Shapeshifters Dream of Electric Sheep?"), a shapeshifter is called into action; Walter finds himself in a dangerous situation during an investigation at Massive Dynamic.


Chris L said…
Gotta say, I don't like that we're spending so much time on the "other side". Before, it was used sparingly, and I found it much more intriguing then. But the thrill is gone now. For me, at least. There was a scene in there where Small Pox was mentioned and I didn't even bat an eyelash.
Taylor said…
I don't mind spending some time on the "other side." Sure, some things are kind of silly (Astrid) but I'm enjoying Olivia's storyline and seeing a very different version of Walter.
Page48 said…
The 2 Over There episodes stood head and shoulders above the Over Here installment. For my money, this is a show about Olivia Dunham, (the way "Alias" was a show about Sydney Bristow) so I'm much more interested in following Olivia wherever she goes.

Not only that, but the sweet relief from Walter's weekly collection of worn out fart jokes, food gags, boring autopsies, and other predictable shtick, makes Over There my destination of choice until Olivia gets home.

This was a great episode.

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