Fringe 3.12 “Concentrate and Ask Again” Review

In some respects, tonight’s Fringe was a bit of a return to the case-of-the-week format, but the tie-in with a former Cortexiphan kid, and the ongoing relationship issues between Olivia and Peter, definitely prevented it from being completely stand-alone. That being said, one thing that I love about Fringe is that no episode is truly stands alone: there is always some thread that ties each episode to the larger tapestry. I did like tonight’s episode overall, as it brought us back to some interesting themes that were introduced in season 1, but it wasn’t a favorite of mine.

The case was not the most outrageous that we’ve seen, although it certainly was weird to see people with no bones. The call-back to the drug company INtREPUS that was first introduced back in the S1 episode ‘The Cure’, and referenced in S2’s ‘Olivia. In the Lab. With a Revolver’, was a nice touch, and I do so love the attention to detail that is always evident in Fringe. As usual, the case that Fringe Division was investigating provided a vehicle to discuss what is going on in the lives of our characters. The fact that it was the soldier-fathers who were experimented on, but their children who paid the price, and that they themselves were undeniably damaged by the drug trials certainly parallels the experiences of the Cortexiphan subjects.

Ever since the possibility was raised that Olivia was one of the subjects of the Cortexiphan trials when she was a child, I have been intrigued. On the one hand, I do think that William Bell and Walter had the best (or at least, not bad) intentions when they decided to prepare the children for a war they believed was coming. On the other hand, you have defenseless children who were not able to make a choice for themselves as to whether they wanted this to be a part of their lives. The ethics are further complicated by the fact that I sincerely doubt that the children’s parents knew what was going on, which probably means that Bell and Walter didn’t have any sort of consent to administer the drugs. Not that Walter has ever let a little thing like ‘informed consent’stop him.

The introduction of Simon Phillips, a Cortexiphan-induced mind-reader, certainly complicated matters. In Simon, who has to physically remain apart from the world, Olivia is faced with an embodiment of what she must feel: damaged and isolated from the world, unable to fully relate to anyone. Her conversation with Nina, where she outright stated that AltLivia is ‘like [her], but better’broke my heart a little bit. Not that I agree with her at all — although I might be biased, since Olivia is the character we’ve known from the beginning — but I can see where she’s coming from with that kind of assumption. Her state of mind isn’t helped by the fact that Peter himself, even though he was only trying to point out that he noticed the differences between the two Olivias, said that AltLiva was ‘quicker with a smile’.

To go firmly in the category of ‘be careful what you wish for’, Simon reads Peter and tells Olivia that Peter still has feelings for AltLiv. I do wonder about this: technically Peter never really knew AltLivia. He knew a facsimile of Olivia, or at least, what AltLivia thought Olivia was like. He never really truly knew AltLivia, because she was never really able to be herself with him. I certainly think that there was arrogance in Peter explaining away the differences by thinking that Olivia was happier because of him, but I also can’t quite bring myself to blame him for it. Very briefly, in the pilot episode, we saw what Olivia was like when she let herself love someone, and I think she wasn’t too terribly different from AltLivia.

In the realm of crazy revelations, Nina made a leap that many of us fans made following ‘6955 kHz’— that SEAMUS WILES (the author of ‘The First People’) anagrams to SAMUEL WEISS. In going to visit Sam, who apparently knows far more than he lets on about pretty much everything, Nina is told that Peter is going to have to make a choice between Olivia and AltLivia, and that his choice will ultimately determine which universe survives. I wonder if Sam’s certainty over Peter’s choice not being an easy one is a reference to the fact that Peter does have feelings (or thinks he does) for AltLiva, or whether it is because AltLivia will turn out to be pregnant after all, and that that will sway Peter. I’m still not sure if I believe, as many do, that AltLivia is pregnant, but it would certainly throw another rather large obstacle — to say the least — in front of Livia and Peter.

Along with the theme of ‘choice’, redemption, particularly sought by Walter, has been a rather pervasive one throughout Fringe. It also seems to come up every time the Cortexiphan kids get involved, as they serve as a living, breathing reminder of a way in which Walter irrevocably damaged someone. I thought that Walter had found some absolution after his discussion with Nick Lane, James Heath, and Sally Clark in ‘Over There: Part I’, but he does seem to still be carrying around a lot of guilt over the trials. I found it interesting to hear Olivia trying to convince Simon not to let his abilities prevent him from living his life, as I think it is something that she desperately wants to believe about herself: that she is not damaged beyond the point of being able to sustain a normal relationship with the people around her, and that she is capable of leading a happy life.

Overall, I thought ‘Concentrate and Ask Again’was a solid episode of Fringe, and did a great job of moving the plot along without resolving the situation between and Olivia and Peter too quickly — which I think would have been a mistake. I do hope that Simon Phillips is not the last of the Cortexiphan kids whom we see, and that Olivia will, at some point, develop powers beyond being able to crossover safely — seeing some of those latent pyrokinetic tendencies manifest in Olivia would be rather fascinating. B+

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