Dealing With Insanity and Soul In The Fringe Season 3 Premiere

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.

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  1. Cherioki says

    Hey Roco, I think anything that is related to fringe here should also be reposted on the fringebloggers website. Keep up the good work.

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  2. Inter-dimensional Dave says

    Brother Roco,

    The new site looks great. I look forward to reading your entries in depth. For now, good luck.

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  3. Page 48 says

    This is the “Fringe” I tuned into the Pilot hoping to see every week. No flying zebras or killer bedbugs, no endless string of similarly laid out ‘bodies-back-to-the-lab’ episodes. This was “Fringe” for grown-ups (aided in no small way by Walter’s relative absence). This was Olivia in actual danger, not just for a moment, but for the whole hour. Olivia on the lam. Olivia on drugs. This was Olivia in a situation, which realistically, she may never emerge from (although we know she will). At the same time, it was both easy and hard to watch.

    For as central to the story as Walter and Peter are, I’ve always believed that this is Olivia’s show, and 3.01 showed me that AT can hoist this show on her shoulders and carry it without me missing the Bishops presence all that much. In fact, without me much thinking about the Bishops.

    I like to think that we’ve seen the last of the old, often frustrating procedural and that, with what time we have left, Bad Robot will take us on a journey which leads to “Fringe” going supernova.

    Here’s to seriable “Fringe”. It was a long and winding road that got us here. This is no time to look back.

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    • says


      Well said. I take great encouragement from the fact that I didn’t miss the Bishops at all. Perhaps also aided by the fact that I got my Walternate fix. It was also great to see AT essentially lead the episode, and it seemed like she enjoyed the responsibility too.

      This is the Fringe I was on this ride for. Here’s to a seriable Fringe indeed (I’ll have to borrow that one!) :)

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  4. Anjali says

    Anna carried this episode all the way through. I totally forgot about Peter and Walter…. sorry guys.

    I understand that the writers are trying to make us sympathize with the alt-world, but at this moment, all I can see is that Walternate is one cold bastard.

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    • says


      Same here – Peter and Walter didn’t really enter my mind. I had a residual sense that they were still part of the equation, but my enjoyment of the episode didn’t suffer for their minimal screen-time.

      Personally, I can sympathize with Walternate. He’s prepared to do what it takes to save his world (and get revenge), and while this doesn’t make him ‘good’, I find him to be far from being one dimensional.

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  5. Elaine says

    You know, it’s interesting that you guys mention being so caught up in Olivia’s story that you didn’t miss the presence of the Bishops, and I felt the same. Of course, when I think about it, I felt the same way during ‘Peter’. If the episode had begun in 1985 just to reveal that Walter was telling Olivia this story towards the end, it wouldn’t dampered my enjoyment because I didn’t see Olivia or Peter the entire hour.

    As much as I’m still struggling to embrace ‘Northwest Passage’, I can’t deny that the acting was very good, and truthfully, I didn’t miss Walter nor Olivia during the episode. It was about Peter’s journey, and I felt despite the content, Joshua Jackson did a very credible job with the material he was given.

    So, imo, all three leads are quite capable of holding their own, and leading the audience through the hour as a solo act. However, I’m glad they’re not required to do so as a whole. :)

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  6. FinChase says

    I was fascinated by this episode. I was almost shaking at the end of it. I didn’t miss the Bishops at all, frankly. AT is completely up to the challenge of carrying an episode alone. And while I am very intrigued to see how AltLivia deals with her impersonation and find out what she’s up to, I really wish we were staying “over there” with our Olivia.

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