In the seventh episode of the fourth season of Fringe, a man who is able to blend into his surroundings, rendering him invisible, causes the entire Fringe team to examine themselves and their identities. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Fringe.
Are you full of feelings? How many of you are just full of things that are making your heart want to burst? It’s the one thing I find that Fringe does extremely well every time: give us characterization that is deeply emotional and, regularly, goddamn heartbreaking. I’m interested to see what they’re going to do with Peter, and if we are truly experiencing a third universe as opposed to the original one being warped. I’ve found myself increasingly intrigued by this new Peter-less world and the stories the writers are telling.
In that sense, I almost hope that this is really a third parallel world, that his Olivia and his father and his Astrid are all somewhere else. I want Olivia’s relationship with Nina, which is now drastically more intense and shocking, to be developed. I want to see more of Lincoln and Olivia. No, the whole world needs to see that. Oh my god they are SO ADORABLE. I want to see more of the way this show forces people like Walter and now Nina Sharp to be held, at the very least, emotionally accountable for the things they did in the name of science.
That’s also something Fringe has done particularly well, introducing the theme much more explicitly in season two during “Jacksonville.” It’s interesting to see it in a new context; this time, Nina Sharp is drilled pretty ruthlessly by Olivia over Eugene and the ramifications of what she had done. (For the purpose of this review, I’ll use “Eugene” to refer to the young man, since it’s just easer.) While we didn’t really have an episode quite like “Jacksonville” in this universe, Olivia is still coming to terms with what was done to her, and it explains why she’s so persistent with Nina. In this version of Olivia’s life, it seems migraines are one of the manifestations of her treatment with Cortexiphan. Wellâ€¦yes, that’s what we’re meant to think. However, much more important than this, Olivia struggles mostly with the idea that those treatments broke her.
I’ve spoken in the past about how much Olivia’s character is very familiar to me, how traumatic childhoods can lead a person to question how they developed, and how one can wonder if they’re normal by any meaning of the word. I love that this new version of Olivia arrives at the exact same question. Is she broken? Is she missing the very human reactions and feelings that others come to? She turns to Astrid for emotional support, running through the same inquiries. These are very real questions that I’ve asked myself time and time again. (And if I may take a moment to just be all squishy and fluffy, a lot of my writing for Mark Reads / Watches has helped me realized that while I do have a lot that’s different in me, I am not so alone in all of this.)
Like many of these episodes in season four, the “monster-of-the-week” manages to be either creepy, emotionally insightful, or, in the case of “Wallflower,” BOTH AT THE SAME TIME. Once we already have the emotional weight of Nina Sharp’s connection to Eugene, the writers decided to take us away from experiencing him through others and we switch to more and more to his point of view. One of the best written moments of this whole season is near the end of this episode. Which, first of all, when Olivia falls and the UV light reveals Eugene behind her glowing pale, I just started screaming NO. NO THANK YOU. NO. NOPE. NO. NO. Legitimately one of the creepiest shots in the entire show.
But that creepiness is offset by the writers’ brilliant decision to give Eugene motivation, to give him an emotional depth that most shows would never give to an antagonist. Fringe is especially great with ambiguous foes, and Eugene’s actions are hopelessly depression:
“All my lifeâ€¦I’ve been watching them live theirs. Watching themâ€¦fall in love. To be looked upon by the right person, to connect, and to see in their eyes kindness. Happiness. Andâ€¦recognition. That’s when you exist.”
In just a few sentences, the writers are able to communicate such a basic staple of human existence that so many rely upon and take for granted, and show us that Eugene has never had that. He never even had a real name growing up. No one could recognize him; how could he even build any sort of identity without that crucial factor?
And while this is all unfolding, it’s easy to see how this episode is about identity. We watch Olivia speak with Nina about who she is and what she’s become and her inability to feel like she belongs anywhere. We watch as this collides with Lincoln, who we learn has been unable to sleep since joining Fringe Division. In his case, his identity was so tied to understanding the natural world, and Fringe has pulled all of that out from under him. What can he believe in if all the constants he used to depend on are ever-changing and fluctuate randomly? And then we have Peter Bishop, the man who wants to be seen and recognized by anyone, trying desperately to get either back home or to find his place in the world.
How “Wallflower” resolves these ideas (or at least starts to) involves transformational moments of clarity. For Eugene, the very first moment he is recognized and has a name that someone else can refer to him as, he decides to let go. I meanâ€¦that scene in the elevator is SO FUCKING DEPRESSING. Wellâ€¦wait, it is a bit creepy because dude you spied on Julia. Symbolically, though, it’s a powerful moment.
For Lincoln, it turns out that Peter is the one to help push him in the right direction. Peter’s just accepted he’s in the wrong universe and instead chooses to find some way to take him back to the world he knows. (Is he seriously thinking of activating the doomsday device again? OH GOD OH GOD.) That means that the Olivia in this world is not the Olivia he knows and loves, so he makes it a point to help Lincoln. HE BUYS LINCOLN NEW GLASSES. Look, I love the black-framed ones more personally, butâ€¦he seriously is trying to make Lincoln and Olivia happen. HE’S A SHIPPER. THIS IS BEAUTIFUL. And it’s why I need further development in this world. I don’t want it to go away! That’s what this show has done, and that speaks volume to how well this is done.
Given all of the character development we see, it’s why the final couple minutes of “Wallflower” are so shocking. Just as people are starting to come together, just minutes before Olivia was going to meet with Lincoln, her apartment is gassed. And it’s Nina Sharp who’s behind it. What? What???? When she tells one of the agents that the formula Olivia’s being injected with will give her a “migraine,” I feel gross and betrayed. How long has this been happening? What is she doing to Olivia and why?
OH GOD WHY MUST I WAIT UNTIL JANUARY FOR THIS.