Let’s talk about love, shall we? Specifically, how Fringe has chosen to portray love.
To those who are unfamiliar with it, science-fiction is a mess of hyper-technological mumbo-jumbo and pseudoscience, impenetrable to anyone but those who know the exact mechanical specifications of an X-wing fighter.1 In the view of an outsider, stories filled with robots, computers, and all sorts of other gadgetry appear to give off a distinct aura of coldness, because as we all know, machines can’t have feelings.
But that doesn’t preclude sci-fi stories from showcasing genuine human emotion, as many of the best stories of any genre do. Indeed, the entirety of Fringe’s mythology has centred around the two relationships at its core: Walter’s love for his son, and Peter and Olivia’s love for each other. On a week-to-week basis, many of the crimes have motivations rooted in love or a perversion thereof. That being said, on Fringe, love has always been just that: a motivation, something to push the characters towards their actions. Aside from last season’s “6B,” it has never had any instrumentality in and of itself; it has been an explanation for characters’ desire to exploit supernatural phenomena, not the direct explanation for those phenomena.
That all changed in the final few minutes of this week’s installment of Fringe, when we found out that the killer murdered couples…because of love. And Peter is in the new timeline…because of love. And Amberlivia is transforming into Regular Olivia2…because of love. And the hills are alive with the sound of music…because of love. In case you can’t tell, I’m not a happy camper right now. More details after the jump.
Since I’m going to focus mainly on the ending of this episode, I’m going to head off any accusations of hypocrisy for dumping on the Retake Mass Effect movement, because boy oh boy, Mass Effect “fans” are an angry bunch these days. Firstly, I more or less enjoyed this episode, in spite of the ending. Secondly, I’m not writing to Warner Brothers demanding that the ending be changed, and I’m certainly not donating to an unrelated charity to prove my point.3
Okay, with that out of the way, on to this week’s episode. The case this week centred around Anson Carr, a serial killer of happy couples. He would kill the men to extract their pheromones and then rub those chemicals on his face to make the widows fall in love with him for a few seconds before killing them. This was a perfectly serviceable case, not particularly compelling, but creepy, weird, and violent enough to provide some effective horror.
Unfortunately, “A Short Story About Love” didn’t stick the landing on the case. Carr’s motivation for his killing spree was revealed to be no more complicated than wanting to feel love. We never found out what drove him to that mentally disturbed state, and as a result, the whole thing felt like a shallow exercise. Carr was nothing more than a vessel for the idea of being deprived of love, not anything resembling an interesting character in its own right.
But no matter how disappointing the resolution of the case was, it was nothing compared to the monumental stupidity of the Olivia/Peter stuff that closed out the episode. As soon as Diana Sutter, the woman whom the FBI believed to be Carr’s target, launched into her overwrought speech about love, I knew that it would have a profound influence on Olivia. (Because on television, one speech from a total stranger is enough to motivate anyone to do anything!) But I still couldn’t have fathomed how ridiculous Olivia’s actions would be. Olivia decided to let the transformation of herself continue, allowing herself to morph slowly back into Peter’s Olivia. This irritates me on multiple levels. Does Olivia not realize how selfish she’s being? She’s robbing anyone who knew her before Peter appeared in her timeline of their shared experiences. She’s letting go of the foundations of her relationship with her surrogate mother, Nina. She’s willfully letting herself become another person for the sake of someone else. Furthermore, this development serves as proof that Amberlivia was merely a placeholder character, existing only until the “real” Olivia would return. If Fringe isn’t going to treat its characters with care, then why should I care about them?
I also found September’s explanation for Peter’s presence in the new timeline and Olivia’s transformation to be shockingly – for lack of a better word – lame. I didn’t like it when Lily’s motherly love had magical powers in Harry Potter, and I didn’t appreciate that love had magical powers here either. This raises a sort of plot hole: why is Olivia and Peter’s love so special? Why isn’t everyone timeline-hopping? Is everyone else’s love just not good enough? More importantly, this cheapens the very idea of love. If love has magical powers, why not any other emotion – fear, joy, anger? Olivia and Peter didn’t actually do anything to earn their kiss;4 the universe brought them there through the power of “love.” Taking agency away from the characters and putting it in the hands of the universe can be a powerful statement about fate and free will, but here, that was handled with all the finesse and depth of a Hollywood rom-com. With love having extra-special magical powers, this might as well have been Just Like Heaven. At least that movie had some laughs.5
So now, we’re in even murkier waters than we were prior to the hiatus, with Amberlivia having disappeared into the black hole of forgotten characters and Peter and Olivia embarking on a relationship that feels creepy and wrong on so many levels. (Seriously, a man who was written out of existence and a version of the woman he used to date in an alternate timeline are attempting to have a relationship. Try to wrap your head around that.) I still enjoy Fringe for its ability to tell competent sci-fi stories, but now that its mythology has begun stomping all over its characters, I’m not quite sure what to think anymore. A sci-fi story that uses love as a mere tool for explaining the supernatural isn’t going to dispel the stereotype that all science-fiction is cold and emotionless.
3 Thankfully, the asinine charity drive organized by the Retake Mass Effect movement has been shut down. This is hopefully the only time that I’ll ever have to openly oppose a charity drive. To all the Retake Mass Effect supporters who exploited Child’s Play to garner support for their cause: you should be ashamed of yourselves, and if you’re not, wiggle your head around a bit until you hear a *pop* and then wipe the shit off your face, because your head is stuck up your ass. ^