Last night’s Fringe season 3 premiere was the product of 2 years of concept building. Not only did we experience the alternate universe with more depth than ever before but we explored what it really means to be Olivia Dunham.
The first scene set the stage, as we see a tired and drawn Olivia (Anna Torv) being psycho-analyzed by Dr. Anderson who doesn’t believe (or doesn’t want to) that Olivia is who she claims to be. Walternate’s plan is cunning – he wants Olivia and the world to believe that she is alternate Olivia. Talk about identity crisis! This is not the first time that Olivia’s sanity has been questioned though – far from it. In the previous two seasons of the show numerous antagonists have scrutinized her mental stability, her choices, and her emotions. But none have had her trapped and restrained in this way – and in an alternate universe where reality can quite literally feel like a bad dream. It’s a theme of the show, one of the core themes.
But what struck me about this was Olivia’s inner strength – trapped and experimented on against her will, yet she was resolute in her belief that she was Olivia from the other side. She clutched onto her identity, despite having said these words to her double in the previous episode:
“You gotta trust me, I’m you.”
It’s these fine lines that make this story so captivating. Essentially Olivia and Altlivia are the same person. Nurture made them the same, experience and choices made them different. And this presents some interesting questions within interesting questions – what are we bound by? What makes us who we are? Do the choices that we make in life really make us unique, or are we just iterations of a central system?
In reality, it boils down to perspective, which is, as you would assume, based on your reality – your outlook and experiences. So finding that undisputed uniqueness can be something of a vicious circle. In the end the only way out is to choose – to define who you are by making a conscious choice to be that person – to use your nature and your nurture and to embrace both in whichever arrangement they fall. This is what Peter did when he turned his back on his real world to return with Walter, the man who kidnapped him as a child. While I still don’t agree with his actions, on some level I can understand the message behind it.
But Olivia’s situation seems to be far more complicated since Walternate is even more cunning than I had feared. Armed with alternate Brandon’s science, he doesn’t just want to turn Olivia’s world upside down by telling her that she’s Altlivia. He’s transferred Altlivia’s memories into Olivia. For all intents and purposes, making her Altlivia.
If this sounds too far out to be believable, you have to remember that not only are they in the slightly more advanced alternate universe, but Olivia has experienced echoes of this in her own universe. Back in season 1 she shared a dream state with her partner John Scott, fusing parts of his memories with hers, causing Olivia to believe that some of his memories where actually her own.
The thing is, so much of our emotions are based on memories. They house our experiences, our fears, our hopes and dreams. Imagine what it must be like for Olivia to go from having such a strong hold on who she is, to – in the space of a few hours – becoming another iteration of herself. But once her mind had latched on to the memories, it simply accepted them. It’s not insanity, it’s memory, and clearly the brain is not what ultimately drives our true nature.
We saw an example of this kind of memory distortion in the show’s second season, when it was revealed that Walter had pieces of his brain cut out and put into other people because ‘he was afraid of what he was becoming’. As I watched Olivia morph into Altlivia, these words came to mind with power and force. Olivia becomes Altlivia. It’s a transition that is made all the more compelling because of the show’s duality. How do you become someone who you essentially already are? It’s like nature vs nurture vs nature!
What Olivia’s transformation should give us is another approach to examining what it is to be human. We already had the duality and the two Olivias. Now we have an Olivia who literally is Altlivia because she now has her experiences. So what we should be looking out for are any differences – small signs that our Olivia is capable of being distinct..different from Altlivia even while she is in her shoes. Will there be any decisions made that only our Olivia would make? Are there any attachments that only our Olivia could have?
Olivia has to somehow find herself inside Altlivia. But this will probably only come from either glitches in the treatment giving her glimpses back into her original memories, or from something even deeper. Henry alluded to it – the soul:
“Sometimes you just gotta believe in what you can’t see.”
Amen to that. Fringe is back.