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Heartless: Danse Macabre on Fringe

"I don't want to be with you."

In a series where there is more than one of everything, where a shadow separates two similar worlds, what defines us as individuals? If we are identical on a cellular level with our twin from an alternate reality, are we the same or different? Do the little differences--being more quick to smile, still being married--separate us or are we still inherently the same underneath the surface?

This week's sensational and eerie episode of Fringe ("Marionette"), written by Monica Owusu-Breen and Alison Schapker and directed by Joe Chappelle, examined the fallout from Olivia's return to her universe and the emotional destruction left in the wake of her alternate reality counterpart. But it was the way in which this week's heartbreaking installment dealt with matters of animus, of soul, of life force, that left me asking those questions.

Peter didn't notice that the woman he was romantically involved with was someone else. Yes, they were identical and, yes, Alt-Olivia had done her homework exceptionally well. But the truth is that when Peter looked into her eyes, he saw his Olivia reflected back at him rather than her doppelganger, a woman who lived a different life, a life that wasn't based in the hardships that our Olivia has had to face. The differences in their personalities was explained away by what "Olivia" saw over there, embarking on a new outlook on life, a happier and more relaxed attitude.

Peter saw what he wanted to see, really.

He saw a happy, well-adjusted Olivia who was quicker to smile, who laughed and shrugged off the stuff that got under the other Olivia's skin because he believed that he was responsible for this change in her. That together, he had given her the same happiness that she gave to him.

But that's not the case. Olivia, trapped in a world not her own, clung to her memories of Peter, using her love as a means to get home, to return to the man she loved, to the world she left behind. She came back to a world that had gone on without her, to someone else having lived in her life.

Olivia is a ghost in her own life, returning to a story that someone else had picked up. Her clothes, her apartment, her life, all props in someone else's story. The heartbreak that she experiences is that she was forgotten, her friends all fooled by someone who wore her face but didn't share her soul.

Kudos to Anna Torv for the remarkable scene in which the weight of what has happened to her comes crashing down on her, after learning that Peter engaged in a relationship with her doppelganger. Standing in front of her closet--containing all blacks and greys--she begins to rip down her clothes, tear off her sheets, and discovers that in her washing machine is a reminder of the domesticity that Peter and Alt-Olivia shared, a faded MIT t-shirt that belonged to Peter mixed up in the laundry.

The entire sequence plays out without a single line of dialogue, as Olivia eradicates the visible signs that someone else has been playing house in her life. It's a more emotional Olivia than we've seen to date on the series, a woman wounded by the realization that's she's perhaps lost more than she's gained by returning home and that her life was so easily stolen from her. She's marked by the experience, emotionally as well as physically; that neck tattoo a visible indicator of the swap.

I am glad that Peter came clean and told Olivia about what had happened, the way that he was duped by Alt-Olivia, but it's never just as simple as a confession, no matter how heartfelt and mature. The scene that plays out in the back garden between the two reveals the full extent of the damage done. Olivia doesn't want to be with Peter; whatever trust or love existed between them has been shattered because Peter didn't hold onto Olivia. He didn't see her reflected back at him.

It's the realization that the organ thief makes as well, crafting a Frankenstein's monster out of poor Amanda, returning her donated organ to her corpse and resurrecting her. But what he discovers is that he was able to reanimate her body but not bring back what made Amanda Amanda: her soul. When he looks into her eyes, it's not Amanda who looks back at him, not the dancer, but an empty husk. Without her soul, she's just a walking cadaver, a marionette on strings that can be jerked around to make dance. (Which, just as an aside, was a terrifying and beautiful scene.) But it's not the girl. It's not anything.

If this mad scientist can see this, why couldn't Peter? Why did he not recognize what he saw before him? An imposter who looks like Olivia, sounds like Olivia, who wears her clothes and her hair just so? Because the heart wants what it wants.

And that might be the most terrible thing of all.

Fringe returns with new episodes and a new night on Friday, January 21st.


KriZia said…
Great review, Jace. As usual, you hit the proverbial nail on the head every time. I especially loved your reflection on the episode's themes at the end.

Oh, and for my personal opinion, the scene with Amanda on strings as a puppet was one of the more disturbing scenes I've seen on television in a while. A little too real, as well, which I guess is what made it so terrifying.
Lisa said…
Great review, and I also wanted to mention the wonderful use of Prokofiev's music from his ballet "Romeo and Juliet" during the puppet girl scenes. I think the selection was from the final death scene, and it's some of the most insanely sad but beautiful music ever written.
Bella Spruce said…
Amazing episode and fantastic review. The show has not always been consistent but when it's good, it's really good. I think this was one of my favorite episodes yet and Anna Torv was just brilliant to watch.
Ridolph said…
Is this still on?

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