In the tenth episode of the fourth season of Fringe, a case the Fringe team follows brings out bizarre and frightening parallels from a warning an Observer gave Olivia. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Fringe.
There’s no doubt that out of all the episodes we’ve seen of season four, I think this one is the best acted, the best written, and the best executed, an easy favorite for me among plenty of fantastic and exciting episodes. “Forced Perspective” largely centers on Olivia and Emily, two women with abilities that have come to be fairly antagonistic to them. This show is obsessed with parallels, and it’s certainly one of the reasons I love it so much. Seriously, how many times am I praising character parallels in fiction?
But I also think “Forced Perspective” is so strong because it takes a story that’s not new to sci-fi â€“ a precognitive character swimming in guilt due to their inability to stop the things they predict â€“ and gives it a fresh, emotional twist, one that brings a rather cliche story to new heights. This is achieved, first of all, by inverting or destroying tropes that come along with it. It’s just beautiful that this show doesn’t have Emily Mallum keep her ability to herself, that they choose to have her parents and her brother keep the secret as a unit, and that this ability is one that could potentially ruin things. But not for the Mallums. They so wholly and completely love and accept their daughter that they’re willing to pick up and move to a new location to keep her safe. This isn’t always portrayed as a noble action, though, as we do see the strain that this has on everyone. But I never felt that the Mallums particularly blamed or shamed their daughter for possessing the power that she did. They always wanted the best for her, and they went out of their way to show her that they cared. That’s so much more interesting to me, you know?
Yet despite that this episode is probably more of a monster-of-the-week than anything else, the dire warning of September still hangs over Olivia’s life. At heart, there’s a rather somber and touching rumination on death in this episode. This story is about dealing with its inevitability, regardless of whether or not a person knows when they’re going to die. It’s interesting, then, that Emily and Olivia live at two ends of the spectrum. Olivia is terrified that she’s soon going to die because of what the Observer told her, and Emily is terrified that she knows how others are going to die. It’s two different problems that are part of an immutable conflict: everyone and everything dies.
So why does Olivia have to die? The unique nature of the characters in season four actually leaves open the possibility that Olivia could die on this show. We’ve already seen it happen in the future, and with Fauxlivia around, it wouldn’t be like the show was writing Anna Torv out of the cast. So why is it that the Observer believes that Olivia dies in all possible timelines? Why is her death written in stone? That is what Emily ultimately has in common with Olivia: death is far more certain for both of these characters.
Actually, they both have something else in common, and some of the most powerful scenes in “Forced Perspective” focus on Olivia and Emily’s past with experimentation on their own bodies. It’s something Olivia’s had to cope with for a while, and I’m sure she believes her migraines now are connected to them. (By the way, how fantastic and raw was the tiny scene between Broyles and Olivia regarding her visits to Health Services? Please, give us more of this, writers. It was nice to see a concerned Broyles.) When Jim Mallum reveals to Olivia that the family moves so often due to harassment from Massive Dynamic (!!!!!), you can see the empathy spread across Olivia’s face. She knows exactly what it’s like to feel as if she is a human lab rat. She knows how traumatic that is. I think Emily saw this exact expression on Olivia’s face, and that’s why she contacts her later. Truly, though, one of Olivia’s best qualities is her ability to empathize, to see and understand the pain and loss that others are going through.
I love that the writers use this to explore the horrifically fucked up situation between Nina and Olivia. God, it’s all so perfectly written, despite that it’s heartbreaking to see Olivia ultimately accepting Nina without knowing that she’s responsible for her migraines. I love that Nina is utilized in this way, even if it’s difficult to watch; she’s like a modern-day version of Billy and Walter from the original universe. While I’m not quite ready to call her sinister, she’s certainly manipulative enough to get what she wants in the name of science. (What exactly is it that Nina wants? Why is she taking Olivia’s blood and working with David Robert Jones? I haven’t come close to figuring this out yet.)
Amidst all of this character introspection, though, is a thrilling and terrifying plot. Once Emily reveals that Albert Duncan’s death is part of a larger event, I found myself sitting closer and closer to my computer in anticipation. It’s by creating an atmosphere where I can believe that Olivia might day that the writers give the entire plot with Duncan a form of suspense that just felt so horrifically real. Was this the day that Olivia would die? All that really mattered, though, was that she could die. It wasn’t out of the realm of reason, so the scenes in the courthouse were rife with tension and fear. I also don’t often get to talk about the special effects of this show, but the hypnotizing scene with Emily was gorgeous shot, creating a surreal and haunting image of a man destroying the lives of the people in that courthouse. It’s done so well because it looks so much like a fucked up dream.
The episode ultimately is a complete rejection of the notion of fate, and Olivia’s speech to Duncan personifies that. Even if it is a negotiation technique to tell someone that they’re in control, Olivia’s words have a second meaning: he quite literally does not have to die. He doesn’t have to accept his fate. He doesn’t have to create Olivia’s fate either. It’s a powerful statement of choice, and how important exercising choice is to carving out our own destinies. Plus, the scene is just downright horrifying. I admit to sort of freaking out more than usual. I felt justified later when Peter talks to Olivia about the Observers and points out they had no real reason to be wrong. Olivia is going to die. So is that a fixed point in time or is she in control of her own life? Does foreknowledge remove free will, or is it just observation?
Really, though, I was nearly sobbing my eyes out during the closing scene of “Forced Perspective.” It’s such a brutal moment to have Olivia vocalize her love and support of Nina when we all know the truth. Do I sense the slightest bit of guilt on Nina’s part during this conversation? Is she regretting the fact that she’s experimenting on Olivia, or is it all an act? Why is there an Observer outside Olivia’s house? WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?
Seriously, I just love this show so much. SO MUCH.