“My mom was telling me, you’ve got to imagine how you want things to be, and then you can try to change them.”
– Young Peter

Olivia and Peter didn’t have happy childhoods, not by a longshot. Olivia’s was marred by physical abuse, while Peter’s was marred by a different kind of abuse: the psychological trauma of having Walter and Elizabeth lie about his true origins.

“Subject 13” returns Fringe to Jacksonville, the site of the Cortexiphan trials in which Olivia took part. When we last saw the daycare, back in “Jacksonville,” it was old and run-down, as if to indicate that the happier times of childhood had passed. “Subject 13” brings us all the way back to 1985, when the daycare was bright and shiny, when it was filled with toys and books and arts and crafts. But its friendly facade belied its secret purpose: Walter and Bell were preparing the children for a war between the universes.

The kids weren’t told what the daycare was really for. That’s how they managed to maintain their innocence, only having it shattered upon reaching adulthood and falling victim to Cortexiphan’s side effects. However, Olivia – or Olive, as she’s referred to in this episode – was different. Her innocence was already shattered. She suffered abuse at the hands of her stepfather, and she visibly bore the signs of it: in this episode, a bruise around her eye.

Meanwhile, Peter is so traumatized by being thrust into another universe that he attempts to drown himself in Reiden Lake in an attempt to find his way back home. He knows he doesn’t belong here, and he knows that Walter and Elizabeth aren’t his real parents. Peter doesn’t bear the signs of this psychological abuse as visibly as Olivia, but it’s reflected in his demeanour. His eyes are filled with a deep sadness, bordering on cynicism. (It’s easy to see how he grew to be such a cynical adult.)

As children who have had their innocence shattered, Peter and Olivia are drawn to each other. Perhaps they even see each other as kindred spirits. Both of them – Olivia especially – tend to play things close to the vest, even in childhood. Olivia is scared to open up about her stepfather’s violence, but for some reason, she feels comfortable enough around Peter, a total stranger, to tell him about it. Peter tells her that she has to imagine the world as she wants it to be, and then she can try to change it. No doubt, Olivia imagines a world where she no longer has to deal with her stepfather, and the first step towards making that a reality is admitting to the abuse.

That’s what she does, but to the wrong person. In her heightened emotional state, she crosses over to the Other Side and tells Walternate all about what her stepfather did. Thus, Walternate discovers that his son, Peter, was kidnapped and brought to another universe. And thus, the war between the universes begins, making the possibility of Olivia and Peter ever reclaiming their innocence all the more unlikely.

For more information on the Fringe rewatch project, please click here. For my review of “Subject 13,” please click here.

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