Olivia: “The shed where I found the frogs – John Scott led me to it.”
“You’ve been seeing him again, because his memories are still in your head.”

There’s an idea, popular amongst some Fringe fans, that Olivia Dunham’s life must be defined by misery. It’s a notion that I’ll be able to discuss further when I get to season 3 in the rewatch (particularly “Marionette” and “Concentrate and Ask Again”), but I’d like to touch on it now, since “The Dreamscape” once again found Olivia grappling with the haunting memory of her former paramour.

Before we go any further, I want to make something clear. I don’t want these rewatch commentaries to degenerate into meta-commentary. It’s not my intention to denigrate any portion of the show’s fan base because of an idea it espouses. That being said, I think I can examine that idea and evaluate it without resorting to ad hominem arguments, and that examination shouldn’t be perceived as a slight against anyone.

With that mind, let’s turn our attention to “The Dreamscape” and what happens to Olivia in it. At the start of the episode, after the cold open, we see Olivia enthusiastically getting dressed for a night out on the town, chatting on the phone with someone whom we can assume is an old friend. Her conversation is interrupted when she receives a call from Broyles telling her to round up the rest of the team and rendez-vous at Marlboro Airport. She tries to refuse, but Broyles won’t take her seriously. So she relents, and she travels with the rest of the team to New York to work on Fringe Division’s latest case.

From this scene alone, we can see where the idea of Olivia’s life being defined by misery comes from. Her job gets in the way of her personal life. In past episodes, we’ve seen her stay awake late into the night, working tirelessly on cases at the bureau. Sometimes, she wants to give up what she does, but she can’t, because her strong sense of duty prevents her from doing so.

It’s for that reason that John Scott fit perfectly into Olivia’s life. With him, Olivia didn’t have to sacrifice her personal or her professional life, because he was a part of both. The only complication was that she wasn’t supposed to be dating him. Thus, when John died, it was doubly tragic. Not only did Olivia lose the man she loved, she was also back to having to neglect her personal life for the sake of her professional one. And on top of that, she was led to believe that John betrayed her to work for a terrorist group. It’s a testament to her strength of character that she didn’t turn into an emotional wreck.

That’s not to say that Olivia is finding it easy to keep it together. She confides in Charlie that she wants time off to deal with her personal issues. And who would blame her? Seeing the image of the man who ostensibly betrayed her everywhere isn’t making it easy for her to move on.

But just as Olivia’s determination and dutifulness make her an excellent FBI agent, they also make her set on using John’s memories to glean all the information she can and obtain closure, no matter what is required in order to make that happen. Ironically, in much the same way that she accepts having to do her job, even when she doesn’t want to do it, she accepts whatever is needed to get that job done. So, she jumps back into the sensory deprivation tank to get information on the perpetrator of this episode’s crime, but also to find closure with her former lover. She obtains the former, which allows the FBI to crack the case, but not the latter.

Still, Olivia doesn’t want to give up. She wants answers. She wants to know what John Scott was up to. For that reason, she knocks on Walter’s hotel room door at night and asks for his help; she wants to go back into the sensory deprivation tank to see what other information she can get from John’s memories. Walter refuses, on the grounds that it’s unsafe, but Olivia doesn’t care about the risks. Still, Walter won’t make it happen; he cares too much for Olivia’s safety to put her in that kind of danger again. It’s interesting that Walter generally doesn’t mind conducting risky experiments on random people, but that he won’t do the same to Olivia. Foreshadowing, perhaps? We shall see.

In any case, the important point to take from Olivia and Walter’s conversation is that Olivia was willing to put herself at great risk – exposing herself to the possibility of seizures, aneurysms, and even death – to figure out what John Scott was doing as a member of a terrorist organization. Her dogged spirit will not allow her to stop at anything to achieve her goals. In that sense, Olivia’s life isn’t defined by misery; it’s defined by determination and tenacity. That her life constantly throws misery at her is unimportant. What matters is that she fights back, regardless of how difficult it is. There is no doubt that that if she persists, she will find the answers that she seeks.

For more information on the Fringe rewatch project, please click here.


By the way, this is the blog’s 300th post. Yay!