Friday, September 24, 2010
Fringe, Season 3, Episode 1: "Olivia"
When season 2 of Fringe ended the way it did -- with an Olivia swap that saw our girl trapped in an asylum on Liberty Island, while an alternate (and I'm purposefully not saying "evil") Olivia returned with our regular gang of Fringers -- we had to expect that we'd be getting some kind of split narrative like this in Season 3. I'm not sure, then, why I'm so surprised that this episode is pretty much entirely Olivia in Wonderland rather than following AltOlivia in our world. (By the way, is there a sleeker moniker than that for the other Olivia out there? "Walternate" is so elegant in its simplicity, and I thought there was a similar offshoot of Olivia out there, but I can't remember.)
You knew sooner or later we were going to have to get the big escape scene for Olivia, and as always, it's great to see how resourceful and ass-kicky she is. No muss, no fuss, and a hypodermic needle in your neck. What's surprising, at least from an anti-formulaic perspective, is that the rest of the episode -- while dotted with some perfectly thrilling sequences like Liv shooting the gas tanker behind Charlie Francis -- is much more internal, as Olivia sinks into the realization that she may well be trapped here (the Orpheum theater, where the rest of Our Gang crossed over, has been sealed in Amber; a trip to see Nina Sharp reveals that where Massive Dynamic once stood is now a park dedicated to MLK and Eldridge Cleaver), and then incrementally succumbs to the drug treatments she was given and "becomes" AltOlivia. That's a lotta weight on one character...and actress.
I think my point is that I'm not sure the Anna Torv of Season 1 pulls this episode off as assuredly as she does here, and it's a credit to both her development and the show's that by the time Peter and Walter showed up at the end, it was like a pleasant reminder rather than an oasis in the desert.
Of course, it helps that Olivia got to play off the alt version of Charlie Francis for a few scenes (the moment where he thanks her for not shooting him was a nice reminder of the rapport they share/d). And of course a huge assist has to go to some superlative guest casting. I'm one of those jerkfaces who (STILL) hasn't watched The Wire, but I've heard the praise Andre Royo got for his performance there, so I'm not surprised he was so strong as the cab driver. It's a role that could've been functionary, but the showrunners recognized that the bulk of the emotional terrain covered in this episode was happening within Olivia in the back of that cab (as the drugs she was given slowly took hold and she incrementally crept towards becoming AltOlivia), and she needed a strong counterpart for those scenes.
Similarly, the character of Olivia's mother had a very short ramp with which to get up to Olivia's speed. Liv has talked about her mom, but not in such a way that, say, a photo of the two of them at the beginning of the episode had a whole lot of emotional resonance. Which is why you cast someone like Amy Madigan (AMY MADIGAN!) who can cover that emotional terrain in no time at all. Yes, "mom" is a button that a show can push as a shortcut to an audience's heartstrings, but Torv and Madigan really did the work, here.
In general, I'm encouraged by the emotional complexity of the Olivia exchange. Alt-Charlie and Alt-Francis are good men, and even this Lincoln Lee in all his melted glory -- these aren't villains, strictly speaking. Walternate, sure, but even there I'm hopeful that there are further revelations that work to humanize him. At the very least, we're aware of what having Peter stolen did to him years ago. I'm similarly hopeful that when we rejoin AltOlivia (next week, one would assume), she's as complicated and tangled as our own Olivia. Lord knows Anna Torv is up to the acting challenge.
-- The track marks on Olivia's arm were really effective as shorthand for just how harrowing her experience on Liberty Island has been.
-- Like I said above, the moment with Olivia and her mom, and the seductiveness of giving over to a world that gives you your mom back, was really powerful. I hope to see that moment twinned in our world when Olivia encounters her sister. (Plus, you know, Ari Graynor fun times!)
-- I don't know what confluence of events happened in the Alt World to have kept the pennyfarthing in style, but I like it. Maybe that's just the Alt World's version of Brooklyn hipster douches riding skateboards to work?
-- Can someone explain to me what was up with that Zeppelin floating above OUR Capitol building before flashing out of existence? Is that something our gang brought back with them when they crossed back over? An example of further soft-spottification of Our World? Artistic license on the part of the show? I have a feeling that one missed me completely. Little help?
And just in general: what did you guys think? Anything I missed?