– sign at the Jacksonville daycare

There’s a tendency to idealize childhood as an innocent time, when one is free from worldly burdens. Children are supposed to lead carefree lives and be protected from evil. There are few greater sins than exposing a child to harm, which contrary to what the sign inside the Jacksonville daycare would have you believe, is exactly what Walter and William Bell did.

Arguably, Walter has been spending the last eighteen years of his life atoning for that sin, first at St. Claire’s, and then helping the FBI catch criminals who misuse science for nefarious purposes. But the effects of the Cortexiphan trials that he and William Bell conducted cannot be undone. Olivia may have repressed her memories from her time at the Jacksonville daycare, but as she discovers in this episode, she is still scarred from the experience.

Olivia’s childhood Cortexiphan treatments have left her with the unique ability to detect objects that have come from the alternate universe or that are about to travel there. However, that ability has been unused since her time at the daycare, and it needs to be activated again in order to identify a building that might be pulled over to the Other Side. So she, Peter, and Walter journey down to the Jacksonville daycare, the site of the secondary Cortexiphan trials and the place where Olivia first demonstrated her abilities.

It has been a long time since Olivia reconnected with her childhood. She can’t remember any of the toys, games, or displays at the daycare, but one thing does stick out to her: scrawled on the wall as part of a height chart, she sees the name “Olive D.”, the pet name by which she was referred to when she was a child. The name itself engenders thoughts of childhood innocence; one can easily imagine a young Olivia’s tongue tripping over the pronunciation of her own name and her parents settling on the sobriquet “Olive” for simplicity’s sake. As if to symbolize her transformation from frightened girl into fearless woman, aside from fellow Cortexiphan subject Nick Lane, nobody refers to her as “Olive” anymore. She is “Olivia” now, or in her rare moments of familial bliss, “Aunt Liv.”

“Olive” has become separate from Olivia’s current persona, which might explain why she sees a young version of herself as a separate entity in the vision that Walter induces in her with Cortexiphan. “Olivia,” always strong and reassuring, plays the role of protector, and “Olive,” fearful of some unidentified, sinister threat, plays the role of protectee. That threat may very well have been her abusive stepfather, but it is also possible that she was terrified of Walter, Bell, and the things they made her see with their experiments.

The evidence of that fear is visible in the daycare itself. One of the rooms in the building has been completely charred, save for a single corner where young Olive crouched in fear after setting the rest of the room on fire. Realizing this, Walter hypothesizes that Olivia’s abilities are activated by fear. To access them, Olivia would have to tap back into the repressed childhood version of herself, the scared little girl that couldn’t defend herself against Walter and Bell’s reckless experimentation (unless you count spontaneous, uncontrolled pyrokinesis as a reliable defense mechanism).

But Olivia is no longer “Olive.” She no longer feels fear. Moreover, she doesn’t even want to be “Olive” anymore. Olivia is furious that her childhood was ruined by Walter and Bell, that she represses it because she doesn’t want to relive the trauma caused by their experiments. Walter insists that he and Bell were simply trying to help Olivia go beyond her potential, but she’ll have none of it. She’s angry that Walter has stolen away a part of her life that she might have wanted if it had been a happier, more innocent time, just as childhood is supposed to be.

However, raw fury won’t help Olivia access her abilities. Disappointed that she failed to reactivate her power to detect objects from Over There, she journeys back to New York with Peter and Walter. Time is running out to identify the building that will jump over to the Other Side, and Olivia is beginning to feel helpless. In a moment of vulnerability, she seeks out Peter and confesses that she’s scared. As they’re about to kiss, Olivia realizes that she can once again feel fear and that her ability has been reactivated. Using it, she identifies the building that is about to cross over and is able to evacuate it before any lives are lost.

Taken at face value, the idea that Olivia’s ability was reactivated by fear makes sense. But there is also an interesting alternative explanation. Back in “Ability,” when Mr. Jones forced Olivia to defuse a bomb by turning off a grid of lights with her mind, Olivia was able to do so only when Peter came back for her. That is to say, it seems as if her ability was activated by Peter’s presence. Similarly, in “Jacksonville,” Olivia is able to access her ability only after having almost kissed Peter. Some have theorized that this means Peter and Olivia are somehow spiritually linked through the fabric of the universe. I propose a simpler theory, also espoused by many Fringe fans: Olivia’s abilities can also be activated by love, in this case, the love she feels for Peter.

After their near-kiss, Olivia and Peter are eager to go on what Peter insists to Walter isn’t a date. (But we all know better, right?) When she arrives at the Bishop household, she’s all smiles, but her happy demeanour soon disappears when she notices something shocking. In keeping with the theory that her foreign-object-detecting ability can be activated by love, Olivia sees Peter glimmering, just like the building that was about to cross over. She now knows that Peter isn’t from Here, and now she is burdened with the knowledge that Walter is aware of Peter’s true origins and that she is in love with a man from another universe.

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