Mark Watches ‘Fringe’: S03E12 – Concentrate and Ask Again

In the twelfth episode of the third season of Fringe, the Fringe division quickly tries to find out why men are being killed by a chemical that makes their bones disappear. They utilize an unregistered Cortexiphan subject who can read minds in the process, but it creates a damning result. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Fringe.

Do you know how it feels to be burdened with something that makes it impossible for you to relate to another person, that makes you feel completely alone in the world?

It’s not a new theme for me to discuss in my reviews and I’ll try to avoid repeating myself here. There’s a reason so many of are obsessed with this show, are clinging to the hope that posting about it on Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook, trying to spread the word about how fantastic it is. We want it to stay alive so genuinely. And while people are certainly welcome and encouraged to take what they want from Fringe, I am taking something very specific from this show.

I feel that there is not a show on television that is addressing such subtle and bleak themes as Fringe is. The opening scenes of “Concentrate and Ask Again” are heartbreaking, as Olivia opens up to Nina Sharp about what has happened between her and Peter, and how that makes her feel as a person who is left. It’s not often that we see the writers of a show take risks with their main lead character, to speak openly about depression and loneliness, to take the love of their life away and not do so in a way that is overly distracting. The way Olivia has been written post-“Entrada” assumes an intelligence in the audience, that we can handle a difficult, disheartening situation, knowing that we prefer this over a show that’s purely sci-fi or purely soap-opera drama. It’s a fine line between the two and I’m sure the writers are aware of it.

I was worried from last week’s previews that “Concentrate and Ask Again” would be a monster-of-the-week style episode, since the idea of a blue chemical and a regular investigation suggested that, but I’ve got to remember that the writers of this show have been doing this since the last third of season two. The way they can still blend in weird, terrifying science with the show’s greater mythology is impressive, even if the main plot is merely an impetus to bring up other issues.

But let’s talk about about Olivia and that loneliness she feels. By bringing in Simon Phillips, we’re reminded once again of what Walter did to those Cortexiphan subjects. I was worried before that the show would never acknowledge how awful and fucked up it was what Walter and William Bell did to those children, but “Jacksonville” provided that cathartic damnation, via Olivia. I appreciate that the writers are also not prepared to fully forgive Walter either, and I felt there was a subtext beyond the story device Simon Phillips created that the writers intended here: Walter must always be reminded of the lives he ruined, of the burden he gave a bunch of children, in the name of science. This show is unabashedly sci-fi, but is, thankfully, unafraid to criticize what science has done to people, especially without their consent.

Simon Phillips can read minds. It’s not a trope that’s unfamiliar in sci-fi, and neither is the idea that reading minds is painful and traumatic. But for Olivia, it’s a reminder as well, just like it is for Walter. It’s a reminder of her childhood, of how she’s grown to be someone who has a hard time trusting others, who feels so desperately separated from the rest of the world. It’s an even more horrifying parallel to what she’s still going through with Fauxlivia, who stole her life and reminded her that there was a chance she could have turned out better, that she could have been quicker to smile, easier to love, more friendly, more adjusted.

This show is not about me, obviously, and I don’t want to make this entirely about what I feel, but, as I spoke about during my review of Doctor Who’s “Doomsday,” it’s always been a challenge of mine to articulate my relationship with loneliness and social anxiety. In that sense, “Concentrate and Ask Again” resonated powerfully inside me. I don’t think I’ve seen many examples of any mainstream television show spelling out how I feel, in so many words, about my loneliness or the separation I feel from the people around me, how my traumatic past seems inescapable and ever-present.

Fringe is not necessarily the best show I’ve ever seen, and the first season has a lot of faults. It’s why I had a hard time getting into it and I know it’s why there aren’t more than two million people watching this every week. But the writers have crafted a delicate, heartbreaking show with a fascinating mythology, and, if anything, “Concentrate and Ask Again” is a perfect example of while I’ll be in for the long run.


  • Ok, let’s get to some more of the details. It’s strange (and a great testament to what a fantastic set of writers this show has) that I know really like Nina Sharp. Remember when we hated her, feared her? That opening scene with her and Olivia was touching and genuine and I can’t wait until we get a Nina-centric episode.
  • Simon Phillps was SUPER HOT. What.
  • Man, the Peter/Olivia relationship got so close to being repaired in some way and then WHAT THE FUCK, THE ENVELOPE. I yelled at the television, like I always do. My god, THIS SHOW.
  • Olivia dunhammed the shit out of those two dudes at the party. God, she is such a badass I LOVE HER FOREVER.
  • So the doomsday device was specifically built for Peter and specifically built to address these two parallel universes. I’m intrigued as to how they’re going to explain this: Who built the machine? Why Peter? How’d they know he would have to choose between both Olivias? I think this all but outright confirms that Walternate knows what the device is and knows how it works.
  • SAM WEISS. OH MY GOD, HE’S BACK, NINA FIGURED IT OUT. How did he write the book? Is he millions of years old? OH MY GOD THAT WAS AMAZING.
  • They kind of dropped the Project Jellyfish thing, didn’t they? So what exactly was it for?
  • In “Over There, Part 2,” the chalkboard behind Walter is an anagram that says, “Don’t Trust Sam Weiss.” UGH. WHY NOT.
  • Oh my god next week is going to make our head explodes, isn’t it

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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127 Responses to Mark Watches ‘Fringe’: S03E12 – Concentrate and Ask Again

  1. karate0kat says:

    On the one hand, BRAIN ESPLODING EVERYWHERE WTF?!?!?!

    On the other…are they really going to make Olivia's importance to the story being in a love triangle with herself? Fringe writers, I want to trust that you're going somewhere non faily with this, but….please just don't fuck it up.

    • Ames says:

      This, big time. As much as I love Peter, this is supposed to be a story about Olivia, isn't it? About her life and her choices and her agency. If it turns out that it's actually Peter's story and Olivia is important because Peter loves her, I'll be disappointed. Angry, even. That story has been told a thousand times. Let's see our lady save the world(s)!

    • sarasingsout says:

      This plus one million.

    • cjazzle says:

      i never really considered how RIDICULOUS it is that she is in a love triangle… with herself. Only on in sci fi i guess. But I also think that regardless of this seemingly stereotypical plot line where the girl is in love with the boy I don't think it cripples the rest of the plot and general mythology. While it has been at the relative forefront of the conflict between peter and olivia since her return from the other universe, it doesn't dominate and they still work together. they can have a conversation about how fucked up everything is with them and then say OK, back to work. maybe that's fucked up in itself, two characters that bury their conflict deep inside, but for a tv show it works. i think the writers KNOW that going the dramatic love story direction is not the best way to serve the story and i don't think (hope they dont think) it will become an issue.

      • karate0kat says:

        I should clarify…it's not the love triangle itself that bothers me. The handling of it has been downright masterful compared to most shows (I'm looking at you, Lost. It's the fact that the show seems to be shifting from it being all about Olivia and her specialness and her agency and choices, to being all about Peter. Now, I don't have a problem with them sharing mythological importance, but if Olivia's entire arc boils down to "who does Peter, the real special one, pick" them I'm gonna have words for those writers and none of them will be pleasant.

        But, for now, I am willing to see where they go with it.

  2. bookling says:

    Olivia dunhammed the shit out of those two dudes at the party.

    DUNHAMMED. Oh god. I am going to try to work this into my everyday vernacular.

    <img src=""&gt;

    I really loved that moment at the end between Walter and Simon. Walter doesn't say anything, but he looks sad and you can tell he's thinking about how sorry he is for what he's done to Simon. And Simon acknowledges it by just nodding at Walter. I'm afraid for Walter, though. The Walter we know and love might become much more like Walternate if he succeeds in fixing his brain.


  3. NB2000 says:

    Dear computer: Thank you for throwing a fit and eating my first attempt at commenting. Okay let's see if I can remember what I was going to say. This is probably going to be full of badly spelled nonsense thanks to the cold I'm trying to fight off.

    I got distracted for a second during, what I assume was a scene showing the guys they were looking for at the fundraiser so I had NO IDEA who they were looking for, which just made it even more tense.

    Olivia looked GORGEOUS in her evening gown (my girlcrush on Anna Torv grows with every episode) and Peter looked rather lovely in his suit.

    I liked how they handled Simon Phillips, after just a few scenes I really cared about him and felt so bad for him during the fundraiser.

    (splitting for length)

    • NB2000 says:

      Sam Weiss! I got rather scared during his scene actually, I thought it was going to end with him turning out to be a villain and killing Nina, or with him dead (maybe the dutch angles were mixing with my cold and throwing me off about that).

      I now have Very Bad Feelings about where this is going, the idea that the machine will depend on which Olivia Peter chooses and…oh god I love this show so much.

      (wow that actually turned into a pretty long comment)

      • psycicflower says:

        Sam Weiss is like the new series 1 Nina for me. I can't quite figure out how I feel about him and whether or not he can be trusted. Obviously the anagram says not to but he was so great before that. Not to mention he clearly has a lot of secrets.
        But I agree, Very Bad Feelings.

      • Hotaru-hime says:

        When Nina confronted him I was terrified he was going to hurt her!

  4. psycicflower says:

    This episode is just
    <img src="; border="0" alt="Image and video hosting by TinyPic">
    It’s like the writers are toying with us. Oh look there’s a bit of hope, do you want to look a bit closer … closer … sorry it’s actually an important plot point wrapped up in some heart break. Enjoy!

    I was wondering if anybody worked out what Simon heard in Walter/Peter/Everybody’s minds and if there’s anything hidden in there. It would definitely be Fringe’s style to have something important in there somewhere.
    ‘We both know what Nina Sharp wants, she gets.’
    We should have an Astrid centred episode followed by a Nina centred episode followed by an Astrid and Nina centred episode. And more episodes of people in fancy dresses and tuxes.

    ‘First real conversation I’ve had in twenty years.’ I love the Cortexiphan children and I'm glad that the show is continuing with them. Simon is a perfect example of everything that was wrong and went wrong with those trials. Obviously experimenting on unknowing children is wrong but then you have the added fact that he was dropped from the trials so Walter could protect his own secret and now has had to isolate himself from the rest of the world because he can't be within 50 feet of other people. And this all started to manifest when he was just 10. He can't even say hi to the coffee shop girl he has a crush on. He and Olivia should become BFFs and commiserate about their lives.

    I understand but hate Olivia putting herself down and saying Fauxlivia was better. Olivia is an amazing person in and of herself and it breaks my heart that she thinks so little of herself. I did like Peter saying he thought the difference was because of him and the relationship so he wasn't entirely stupid and saying that he doesn’t want to be with Fauxlivia more. But thinking of the end of the episode, you know that doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t want to be with her at all. Okay now I’m making myself sad.

    As to the ending I wonder how this whole thing with Peter and the Machine will work out. It will react to Peter’s frequency, which will depend on his mind, which will depend on which Olivia he chooses. I wonder though if that means a conscious or subconscious decision because that would be a lot tricker to guess than Peter saying that he's going to pick a certain Olivia because he thinks he should. I also wonder if they’ll totally surprise us all and go with creation, not destruction. Maybe that can even go along with the yellow universe theory people were mentioning yesterday.

    ‘He still has feelings for her.’
    <img src="; border="0" alt="Image and video hosting by TinyPic">

    • SecretGirl says:

      Love the idea of creation of the yellow universe. Never even considered that since I was too busy trying to reconcile being happy with the sharp shooting badassery and being sad from, well, everything else.

    • katherinemh says:

      The idea of Peter creating the yellow universe is really interesting. I was looking more into what people were saying, and some think that the yellow universe is where the Observers come from. If Peter ends up creating the yellow universe with the Machine, that would totally explain why the Observers are so interested in him and why they want him alive.

      • psycicflower says:

        I haven't read up too much on other theories outside of what people here have mentioned but that would be so wonderfully screwy. The Observers come from the yellow universe and need a Peter to survive in order for their universe to be created so that they can exist. I love when shows explore things like that.

        • __Jen__ says:

          I love this idea! Even if this doesn't happen in the show, my mind is blown by the possibility.

          I really hope that even if Fringe gets canceled (GOD FORBID), the showrunners have a chance to wrap this up well. An unfinished ending for Fringe would be the worst thing ever.

          • xpanasonicyouthx says:

            That would be a SPECTACULAR twist to the doomsday machine. God, I would have all the writers' babies.

  5. mkjcaylor says:

    It’s not often that we see the writers of a show take risks with their main lead character, to speak openly about depression and loneliness, to take the love of their life away and not do so in a way that is overly distracting.

    So Mark has not seen Buffy? Angel? Dollhouse? MARK YOU NEED TO WATCH THESE THINGS LIKE NOW. I won't blame you if you don't review them all, but they need watched by you so very soon.

    I actually agree that I really, really like Nina now. I used to be scared of her, too. Speaking of, did you see the William Bell books filed next to Dr. Spock books? Cause that was in no way a coincidence. Buahaha!

    I'm trying to get my parents to watch, but at this point I'm sitting there trying to explain things half the episode. My dad loves Scifi, but even then it's hard for them to remember all the little bits of information. Like how Walter was once evil, and so there's a ton of evil horrible things he did despite the fact that he's now a bit insane and lovable and goofy. And all the history behind the alternate universe, and all the history of Nina…

    I'd forgotten how Nina got her hand back. I was telling them, because she had gloves on, that she had a robot hand. Even I forgot that, because there in the next scene she didn't– oops. Although the actress does have some bad rheumatoid arthritis. I imagine that's why she wears the gloves so much.

    But I love the details, even if I forget some of them from time to time. I love the details in Fringe like I love the details in a book. I am so glad Fringe got better after its first season (I really rated it a 'meh' that whole first season, although I'm glad I kept watching.)

    • NB2000 says:

      "So Mark has not seen Buffy? Angel? Dollhouse?"

      According to the Suggestions page he is going to watch Buffy eventually.

  6. E.L.S.O.S says:

    I don't think anyone really has spoilers for Fringe, since it's currently airing so most people couldn't be watching ahead, but I though I'd post this anyway.

    I created a blog for spoilers. The only rule is that spoilers go there instead of here to protect those that wish to go unspoiled.

  7. Hotaru-hime says:

    I want it to be next Friday! Be next Friday!!!!
    Olivia's heartbreak is just too much. This poor woman has been haunted and terrified since she was a little girl and every time she is in reach of potential happiness, it's wrested violently from her. It's so tragic.

  8. sdempster1016 says:

    "Olivia dunhammed the shit out of those two dudes at the party."


    Do you remember, in the episode Olivia, when Walternate was trying to turn Olivia into Fauxlivia and he rolled +10 for SCIENCE and gave her Fauxlivia's memories? And one of the big things about Fauxlivia was that she was a crazy awesome sharpshooter? And that they knew the treatment was working (and Olivia was becoming Fauxlivia) when she pulled off that absolutely insane shot at the gas station and blew up…whatever it was, I can't remember, from a moving car a hundred feet away?

    And then in this episode when they were telling her that she only had one shot to kill the guy and she had to get his spinal cord? And they asked how good of a shot she was and Olivia was like "I'm okay."


    Incidentally, Fauxlivia won an Olympic medal for sharpshooting in the Other Universe.


    • thiamalonee says:

      I thought the same thing! And then there was the dress thing. "She [Fauxlivia] even wears dresses occassionally." then olivia's in a dress and she makes an incredible shot? I don't think all those memories are gone. Which would be nice, since it's been irritating that they've sort of dropped the whole "i have all her memories" line.

    • bookling says:

      EVERY TIME OLIVIA SHOOTS SOMETHING NOW I THINK OF THIS. Although even last season, she wasn't a BAD shot. Not like a Stormtrooper or something. BUT NOT THIS GOOD.

  9. __Jen__ says:

    Olivia dunhammed the shit out of those two dudes at the party.

    This is basically the truest statement I have ever read. 😀

    Many of the other blogs/recaps I've read about this episode and the show in general complained a lot about the dialogue and the plot as being too expository and direct. In some ways I can see their point, but at the same time I think that directness works for Fringe. The plot of the week is there because, first of all Fringe department needs some concrete reasons to exist for government purposes (as seen in S1), and secondly, especially as of this season, the case of the week is there to address larger themes and issues that our characters are dealing with. This show doesn't really want to be a complex procedural, though I would argue that the those aspects are about as complex as most actual procedurals out there. With the absolute weirdness of everything that goes down in Fringe universe, dialogue and plots that obfuscate too much would probably just be unbearable. We care about the characters because they seem so human, and with that comes talking and responding the way real people would. It keeps things grounded.

    And now that I've ranted about that /o\ this episode was certainly full of deep emotions and mind exploding revelations! I LOVE the continuation of the Cortexiphan kids. Like you said, yes, Simon was a plot device, but it worked well not only for the case, but for the larger emotional arc of the story. The actor did a really good job with that role, and I thought the episode over all was really well directed/scored. Nina as always was totally awesome, but I've kind of loved her from the beginning. I also like Fauxlivia and the team Over There so I am so psyched for next week! SAM WEISS! I am still undecided about the whole CHOOSE AN OLIVIA, SAVE THE WORLD thing, but we don't really know if we can trust him yet anyways so I'm not going to worry about it.

  10. Albion19 says:

    I've finally got caught up!

    I don't want Sam to be bad. He wears chucks and gives sage advice and basically plays ten pin bowling for a living 🙁

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

      ohmygod i know. I deeply love Sam 🙁

      • sdempster1016 says:

        I don't think he's bad, I just don't think you can take everything he says at face value. He is a ~mysterious enigma~.

        And I'm sill holding onto my theory that he's actually one of the First People and therefore knows a lot more than he is letting on.

  11. dcjensen says:

    I hope they do not go for the whole anger/anguish/despair, "why is he in love with HER" route.

    I would rather Olivia think about it for a bit and then go, "She took him from me once, I'll be damned if she'll keep him." And, god forbid, talk about the message with Walter, Astrid, and even, you know, Peter.

  12. Openattheclose says:

    Am I the only one that was reminded of this by the bone destroying powder?
    <img src=>
    Only it's a little more nasty in Fringe.

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