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Knowing: Two Hearts, Two Worlds on Fringe

We were never meant to know exactly what other people are thinking.

It's a given fact that our own egos, not to mention our hearts, are saved a great deal of grief by not being able to peer into the mind of the person sitting across from us at the dinner table, or the girl at the coffee shop, or the estranged lover whose mixed signals you're desperately trying to parse. Sometimes, it's better not to know what secrets lurk inside that mind, what true thoughts they're concealing from you, and perhaps just what feelings they're struggling with.

For Olivia, the opportunity to peek into Peter Bishop's mind would be a gift, to be able to separate the feelings that he claims to have for Olivia from the experiences he shared with Fauxlivia. To be able to know, in no uncertain terms, just which version of herself he cares for: the one that's quick to smile, easy with a laugh, or the real her, the one who dresses in blacks and greys, who doesn't often wear a dress, who keeps her heart shielded to the world at all time.

But knowing is a very dangerous thing.

On this week's episode of Fringe ("Concentrate and Ask Again"), written by Graham Roland and Matthew Pitts and directed by Dennis Smith, Olivia gets the chance to know just what Peter is thinking, towards which Olivia is heart is being pulled, and the answer cuts her right to the core. It's not that Peter is in love with someone else; it's that he's still in love with a better version of herself.

The truth, as Oscar Wilde once said, "is rarely pure and never simple."

Fringe has, over the course of the last few seasons, become a series that revolves around some very damaged people and, as members of the Fringe Division have learned more about themselves, that damage has only increased. Peter Bishop is in fact the kidnapped son of Walter Bishop from another dimension; Walter's mental deterioration and memory gaps are the result of actions taken by William Bell; Olivia Dunham is haunted by childhood experiments performed on her by Walter. They're bound together by shared trauma, by mutual damage, by dysfunctional family bonds, even as they learn the truth about themselves. And the truth hurts.

Olivia has realized his keenly of late, still finding echoes of the time she spent "over there" while her doppelganger enjoyed the life she ought to be living, one in romantic embrace with Peter, a scene of domestic bliss and easy casualness with one other. The heartbreak she experienced when she learned of this life was gutting and beautifully portrayed by Anna Torv, delivering some of the best emotionally-laced scenes of the series to date.

Peter maintains that he noticed changes in Olivia, he ascribed them to changes that he was provoking; that the sudden happiness she was existing in was due to their relationship, that her easy laugh was due to being in love. As I said last year, in my piece on "Marionette," the heart sees what it wants to see. Here, we see the flip side of that, as Olivia's rational brain attempts to come to terms with how deep Peter's feelings were for Fauxlivia, with how much he still cares for her, and for which version of her he's pining for.

Freud would say that there is no such thing as a mistake. Peter brings Olivia coffee with milk rather than her usual (black with one sugar), not because he's confused but because that's how the "other" Olivia drinks her coffee. It's a tell of the highest order, a sign that Fauxlivia is still on his mind, that the life he led with her hasn't been erased on any level.

But while Olivia would be left to try to talk to Peter about his feelings, to try to find the truth in his words, she's given the instrument of her emotional destruction in Simon Phillips, a Cortexiphan trial patient those file Walter had scrubbed from the program way back way. Simon has the ability to read people's minds, but he can't control his ability, leaving him withdrawn and isolated, living far away from everyone in a world of silence.

While Simon helps Olivia and the group stop an assassination plot tied to Project Jellyfish and a chemical weapon, Simon represents a two-fold purpose to Olivia. For one, he's an example of how her life could have turned out; for her emotional coldness, she still is of the world, whereas Simon has become a virtual recluse, unable to talk to the girl he has a crush on, unable to control his telepathic abilities, unable to walk through the world because he would be privy to everyone's thoughts. Second, he's able to offer Olivia the thing she can't: the ability to know what Peter is really thinking.

Simon's ability walks the line between blessing and curse. Some might see his gift as the most incredible opportunity, but the episode paints it as the curse that it is, leaving Simon a walking basketcase prone to migraines and nausea, unable to shut down the voices that permeate his every step.

But Simon, in the end, allows Olivia to make that determination for herself, to choose whether to remain ignorant or to open herself up to the truth, not matter how damaging it may be. Rather than tell her just what Peter is thinking, he writes in down and gives it to Olivia in an envelope.

The choice is Olivia's then: open the envelope and know, or burn it and remain in the dark about Peter's heart. But Olivia's job and her character demands that she knows the truth, no matter how painful. And in opening that white envelope and reading the single line written within, she has potentially destroyed any chance of happiness that may have existed between her and Peter when she sees that he still has feelings for Fauxlivia.

Knowing is dangerous. But there's something even darker at play here, as Nina Sharp learns when she deciphers the identity of the individual who wrote the First People books, none other than Sam Weiss himself.

Which is extremely interesting. Just who is Sam? Where does he come from? And how old is he, really? These books seemed to have been written quite some time ago, each in a different language, each written by him, the authors' different names a puzzle to be unlocked, opening a path directly towards him.

It was only a matter of time before Nina unscrambled those words and learned that it was Sam who had authored those books. Sam, to whom Nina had sent Olivia after her return to this world. Curious, that. He now appears to be a much more significant character than we had initially realized, here assuming a much more knowing presence than any of our central characters. He's aware of the First People and of the doomsday device, that sword of Damocles dangling over two worlds.

The machine can be used to create or destroy, which is an interesting duality to set up with two worlds in the balance. Good versus evil, life versus death, creation versus destruction. The outcome depends on which Peter chooses, by what harmonic frequency he's vibrating at. Just as the Peter and the machine seem to have awakened each other, vibrating in harmony, so too will each affect the other. Will Peter walk the path of the hero or of the villain? Will he choose to love Olivia or her lookalike? Which world will he save and which will he damn?

It's only fitting that the fates of two universe will be dictated by one man's heart. But, by knowing just what Peter is thinking, by breaking the bond of trust between these two separate people, Olivia may have just unwittingly tipped the balance. One can only hope that she can change his mind. And his heart.

Next week on Fringe ("Immortality"), in the alternate universe, the Fringe team is forced to adjust to Colonel Broyles' absence during an investigation of a bioterrorist who unleashes a flesh-eating insect; Fauxlivia is reunited with her boyfriend; despite remaining determined to save his world, Walternate discovers there are lines he won't cross.


Mimi C said…
I am so happy with the direction this show has taken and I hope it is not canceled.
macy said…
This article is beautifully written. I'll be checking back in future for more fringe recaps.
Susan said…
Jace - The coffee troubles me. If she drank her coffee the same way for as long as they've known each other, why didn't it seem odd to Peter that Fauxlivia suddenly drank it differently?
Fringie6989 said…
That was a very insightful review. I really enjoyed it! @Susan I completely agree. The coffee thing disturbs was one thing for Peter to blame the character differences on the fact that Olivia was now happy and in love and that it was Peter bringing that side out of her...its quite another to have not noticed (or chose not to notice) differences that had nothing to do with him. The milk among many many other things should have stuck out like a red flag...

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