“There are plenty of machines here. I can befriend a vacuum cleaner.”
– Fauxlivia

With their mercury blood and their spinal data discs, shapeshifters blur the line between animal and machine. Like humans, they’re sentient, and they even have the capacity to develop complex emotions. Are they not, then, for all intents and purposes, human?

Take the shapeshifter impersonating James Van Horn, for example. His human-like emotional capabilities make it so easy for him to slip into Van Horn’s role as a senator and as Patricia’s husband that no one suspects anything is amiss. He interacts with children like any beloved old man would, and he has even formed an attachment to Patricia; the only data that Walter manages to extract from his corpse are the locations of hotels to which Shapeshifter Van Horn wanted to take Patricia for “their” wedding anniversary.

Because shapeshifters can form emotional attachments, it can be difficult for them to focus on their missions. Ray, a police officer, is actually a shapeshifter in disguise. Over the past four years, he has come to love his family and care about his young son. Newton wants him to shift into another body in order to carry out a theft at Massive Dynamic. Ray has no choice but to carry out the theft, but at great personal risk, he does so without switching bodies. He cannot bear the thought of leaving the life he has built with his wife and child behind. Unfortunately, it’s not a very intelligent idea. Newton knows that after such a brazen infiltration of the headquarters of a multinational corporation, Ray will eventually get caught, so he eliminates the rogue shapeshifter.

If mere machines can develop feelings, then how can Fauxlivia hope to prevent herself from forming attachments? Newton keeps telling her that she’s weak, that she’ll eventually become emotionally attached to the people Over Here. One could dismiss this as simple taunting, just like Newton did back in “Grey Matters,”  but he has a point. Fauxlivia is human, prone to developing the same attachments that other humans do. Her assignment involves getting close to Peter, and he has been at his most charming lately. How can she prevent herself from falling for this guy?

Ironically, the easiest way to do that is sex. For Fauxlivia, sex can be used as a distancing mechanism. It doesn’t require her to talk or “get real,” things which really require all her attention in impersonating Our Olivia. For sex, all she needs to do is get physical and let her feminine wiles take care of the rest. We’re not talking about making love here. This is just pure fucking, plain and simple.

To bring it back to the shapeshifters, imagine them having to keep up a ruse similar to Fauxlivia’s for multiple years. This brings to mind the awful thought of humans having sex with machines – try to scrub that one out of your brain – but it raises an important point: if shapeshifters are capable of human emotion, if they can integrate themselves into human society, if they can make love to humans, what, aside from their internal composition, distinguishes them from humans? When he made the shapeshifters, William Bell essentially created humans with metamorphic abilities. They’re not robots; they’re machines with souls.

As much as Fauxlivia thinks she can set aside her feelings for this assignment, she can’t. She’s not a robot either. She can use meaningless sex to distract Peter for only so long. If her assignment lasts long enough, she might start to develop real attachments. In that way, she’s exactly like the shapeshifters who impersonated Van Horn and Ray. But there is one important difference: if she gets caught, she can’t shapeshift her way out of it.

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

This concludes the portion of the Fringe rewatch that I definitely wanted to finish before the season 4 premiere this coming Friday. I was tempted just to stop the rewatch project here because I’ve written reviews for every episode after this one, which you can find by searching the relevant episode name in the search box to the right. However, I think it’s valuable to write commentaries that aren’t totally clouded by my views of the quality of those episodes, if only to discuss some of the issues they raise without devoting text to criticizing their execution. For that reason, I’m going to continue writing commentaries for all the episodes up to and including the season 3 finale. I won’t be finished before season 4 premieres, but I’ll try to get some more done before then, and whatever I don’t finish will have to wait until slightly later. Until then, keep on “Fringeing,” and remember to tune into the season 4 premiere this Friday at 9 PM on Fox.