Page 47 speaks in apocalyptic terms, of annihilation brought forth by The Chosen One. Seems it all came to a conclusion after the Sovogda incident. But, promises aside, what do the characters actually gain or lose while on the quest of fulfilling Rambaldi’s prophecies? Does the quest alter their moral values? Did Sydney, Jack, Irina and Arvin go through a process of conscious enlightenment or spiritual decay in seeking what turned out to be the key to immortality? Was it truly a misinterpretation of page 47 to assume Sydney would bring destruction, while Irina (another candidate for the identity of the portrait on the page) and Arvin were busy getting their hands in all sorts of nasty dealings or did Sydney, through her integrity and acute sense of right and wrong, somehow overcome her fate and brought actual ‘good’ into the world?
- First, let’s take the lighten-ing effect out of enlightenment/illumination and weigh it against the show’s visual and thematic symbolism. This is the figurative light that’s supposed to brighten one’s heart and mind upon its celestial descent we’re speaking of. Rambaldi’s prophecies are significantly defined through the metaphoric forces of light. Sydney, chosen by the hands of fate as it seems, was guided through Rambaldi’s maze of encryptions by actual light, more than once. If you recall, early on, the sun glass pane (or The Golden Sun, ‘Sol D’Oro’) led her to Rambaldi’s journal. Later on while Dr. Brezzel (The possible prototype for Fringe’s Dr. Bishop in nearly all traits) is observing her dream state, Sydney finds herself greeted by a symbolic blinding light (representing awakening?) when walking through a certain door 47. “Truth be told” has its fair share of visual symbolism when it comes to light as well, the most significant of which perhaps, as discussed in the first section, is the way natural light bathes Danny and Sydney in almost-otherworldly brightness before the fateful shower scene.
- This notion becomes more relevant in case of Sloane, the restless seeker, the one who dedicated his life to unlocking Rambaldi’s alluring secrets, as light becomes a significant element in his quest for power. While the introduction of his daughter, Nadia, pushes him towards redemption to the viewer’s surprise, Arvin eventually goes down the path of evil again. We get a quick but nonetheless important glimpse of the mesmerizing effect the Mueller device (and for that matter, the entire search for Rambaldi’s artifacts) has on him in 4.16 when in an act of sheer fury he bludgeons an enemy operative to death. This terrifying scene is followed by Nadia’s bewilderment upon witnessing the bloodied face of her father, showing no sing of remorse, wrapped in symbolic blinding light. Similarly deceptive beams of illumination shine in the cave (4.16), lighting the path for our villain one last time, sending him to his demise.
- So does this mean that seeking immortality would always bring out the worst in people as it did with Sloane and to a large extent, Irina? Well, the term immortality is a tricky one; does it mean leading a normal, healthy life without natural death (think Highlander) or is it just life, extended? Yes, I’m talking about the undead, or zombies. The turned citizens that infested the streets of Sovogda in the Season 4 finale. They have passed the threshold of mortality, but they sure don’t get to live eternally like a normal person would, (until killed; say, like Connor MacLeod would), they have no emotion as far as we’re concerned. Instead, they just continue to ‘exist’, in scientific terms. The ultimate twist comes late in the game (5.17), when Sloane actually gains immortality but thanks to Jack’s sacrifice, he gets trapped in the cave rubble and has to spend an eternity with nothing to do, nowhere to go, and no one but the hallucination of his daughter. Did Arvin become blessedly immortal or just a helpless zombie who’s consciously tormented?
“There is only one response to a virus, and that response is containment … […] … You see, you’re a risk now, too.”
- The thirst for knowledge and immortality through Rambaldi’s great plan might as well work as a virus (much like Resident Evil’s T-Virus), infecting the souls of the followers if they’re not morally conscious enough to keep themselves from being devoured by corruption. On the other hand, perhaps the only way to survive in the game is to leave all emotions, moral values and attachment behind and submit to the cause, which is arguably what Arvin did, or Irina when abandoning young Sydney. Arvin and Irina burned all the bridges for the sake of what they believed to be the quest for enlightenment and salvation. It’s no wonder that among such mechanical followers of Rambaldi and his prophecies, a conscientious, honest individual like Sydney must be treated as an infection, eliminated or mitigated like a risk, when she’s threatening to oppose the system. But in the espionage universe of the show, it works both ways as we realize that SD-6 is actually ‘the’ virus in question; the covert enemy cell posing as the real agency.
“You know where my loyalty lies.”
- You could say SD-6 figuratively zombifies its employees into submission for a fake cause, creating an ambiance of mistrust and fear. Risks and liabilities (like in “The Matrix”) are sent to McCullough for behavioral adjustment. In Sloane’s book, a devout agent is an emotionally detached one, a reliable, pragmatic old fellow like Jack Bristow… much to his later disillusionment. Trusting Jack proves to be Sloane’s biggest mistake, as the man turns as out to be a double agent working for the good guys, posing as the cold wild card who gets things. But one way or another, Jack paid the price with years of estrangement from Sydney, and ultimately through his selfless sacrifice (in 5.17), which eradicated Sloane and evil schemes once and for all (much like the epic final battle between Jack Shephard and The Man in Black in LOST).
- The presence of water, or rather the submergence motif, plays an essential part in better clarifying the underlying theme of zombification through desensitization. Water is incorporated more than once as a means of torture, particularly on poor Sydney, throughout the series (see 1.07 for instance). And then there are occasions where Sydney gets trapped underwater:
- Now these moments could illustrate the metaphorical nature of the state of subconscious desensitization: In 5.12, Sydney’s persistent nemesis, Anna Espisona, is submerged in a tank of some red liquid where she’s physically transformed into Sydney; basically undergoing the ultimate Mission-impossible-esque identity shift process! In the series finale, Sloane is shot dead by Sydney, he then falls into a shallow pool by the tombs which shortly afterwards heals and resurrects him into immortality. To make matters more interesting, in 4.22 an overtly zombified (!) Nadia attacks Sydney when there’s the infected water rewiring people’s brains and the gigantic Mueller device threatening the town with a contained flood.
- Then there are less direct instances of symbolic water-induced transformation or desensitization: In the inescapable Thelma-and-Louise-like situation at the end of 1.17, Sydney drives her car into the water and gets away without the FBI noticing. This later gives her the momentous idea that changes her life for good; that her mother, Irina could have faked her death the same way years ago. Similarly, but to a lesser degree, Vaughn appears to have drowned (like Charlie Pace in LOST’s season 3 finale) by the end of 1.22, only to be rescued later after a significant turning point in his and Sydney’s lives, involving Irina. Among other similar instances in LOST or Fringe there’s Walter’s famous Bra and Panties (sensory deprivation) Tank with which he helped Olivia track John Scott in her dreams, or the temple’s magic pool which healed/resurrected Sayid and a young Ben.
- Symbolically speaking, Sydney shifting through countless costumes and aliases throughout the show could have led her down the path of desensitization, or loss of identity, but it’s her moral integrity which saves her from ending up mentally infected like Arvin and losing herself in the process. This notion is perhaps best visually highlighted in the shot where a ravaged Sydney, back from her mission, disappears into the crowd. She no longer wants to be a slave of her own destiny.