Fringe 3.13 “Immortality” Review

WARNING: the following contains spoilers for tonight’s episode of Fringe, and there was a pretty big reveal. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should probably wait to read this!

As William Bell — and T.S. Elliot — used to say, ‘only those that risk going too far can possibly know how far they will go’. Well, it seems as though tonight we discovered what line Walternate refuses to cross: he will not experiment on children. What I found most fascinating about this is that we’ve seen the lengths to which he will go to save his world, so it absolutely shocked me to find where he draws his moral line in the sand. This also says a fair bit about Walter, and how he and Walternate do actually have some fundamental differences, beyond the obvious superficial ones. In a comparison between the two, on this matter, Walternate actually comes out far superior, morally speaking.

When Walter and Belly began their experiments with Cortexiphan in 1981, they did so knowing full-well that they were changing the lives of the children who were their subjects. They did so merely because of a war they believed might happen in the future — and we don’t even know what kind of proof they had for believing this. On the other hand, Walternate, who has far more justification to proceed with exploring exactly what Cortexiphan can do as his entire universe is in danger and he is fighting a war, refuses to experiment on children.

Just a side-note: I was a little displeased with the discontinuity in the way Cortexiphan works that this episode introduced. We know that the power of Cortexiphan lies in the fact that it acts to ‘limit the limitation’that aging imposes on a child’s brain. In case you’re unfamiliar with the way this might work, when we are born, we have a certain number of neurons, and as we grow and learn, a pruning of sorts occurs: neurons that do not get used undergo cell death, and connections form and strengthen between neurons that do get used. From what I understood of Cortexiphan, it acts to stop this process, and allows subjects to experience the world differently in that it works on perception — and seems to grant some pretty crazy powers to people. So, by this logic, Cortexiphan really shouldn’t have any effect on an adult, yet Walternate and Brandonate did see some results, although apparently the majority of people to whom they administered the drug died.

I think it’s easy to forget the reprehensible things that Walter has done in the past because as we see him now he is so lovable and amusing; it’s easy to forget that he ruined the lives of countless people and caused an immeasurable amount of damage. Not to mention that some of the damage he wrought left an indelible mark on Olivia herself. If TPTB were hoping that this distinction between the two Walters would humanize Walternate they absolutely succeeded. That being said, seeing that Walternate apparently has a mistress did swing me right back towards disliking him — perhaps because I really like Elizabeth Bishop. I have to wonder if Elizabeth and Walternate’s relationship fell apart after their Peter disappeared, and they are still together more for appearances considering Walternate’s stature Over There.

And the big reveal of the night: AltLivia is pregnant. To be honest, this both surprised me and didn’t at the same time. On the one hand, it seemed like a natural way to tie AltLivia more permanently to Peter, and a way to link the two universes even more closely than they have been before; on the other hand, this was exactly why I wasn’t quite expecting them to actually take Fringe in this direction — it’s something that fans have been speculating about for months, and usually our show is a little less predictable than that. I am worried about how they’ll handle this development, but, well, the producers and writers haven’t really steered us wrong yet, so I’m infinitely curious about how they’ll deal with this development.

I have a feeling that I’m in the minority on this, but I really quite like AltLivia, and I can’t bring myself to dislike her. Maybe it’s because she’s another version of our Olivia, which predisposed me towards liking her as a character, but seeing the differences between them, and also the similarities, intrigues me. I really want to learn more about AltLivia’s backstory, beyond the fact that her mother is still alive and her sister died in childbirth.

As usual during Fringe, I was on Twitter and talking about the show as it aired with my friends, and I saw a lot of reactions to the reveal of AltLivia’s pregnancy. I know a lot of people really dislike AltLivia for the deception that she perpetrated on Peter, and the effect that it’s had on Olivia and their relationship — and I don’t blame them in the least. But at the same time, I don’t think it makes AltLivia a bad person: she is, at the core of it, a soldier who was fighting for her world. In Entrada, AltLiv tells Peter that while it was initially an assignment, her feelings for him became real: a lot of people questioned this, but I actually believed her. The developments tonight definitely bore that out: her reaction, as Frank noted, was very telling. It seems as though she really is in love with Peter. Not entirely surprising, since, as Olivia noted in Reciprocity, AltLivia and she are very similar to each other, and AltLivia saw the same things in Peter that Olivia herself does.

Although I can absolutely understand why Frank was so upset that AltLivia would say yes to marrying him when she was in love with someone else, I also can’t quite blame her. I think that AltLivia was just trying to move on, given that the man she’s in love with is in another universe and she probably doesn’t expect to see him again. From what we saw of their relationship before AltLivia went on her mission to Our Side, I think she does love Frank; obviously, though, a baby certainly complicates matters.

One thing about this storyline, though, is that there really can’t be a happy resolution: even though I like AltLiv, I can’t quite root for her and Peter, because that would mean, if Sam is to be believed, the destruction of Our Side — or, at the very least, devastation for Walter and Olivia. Yet, it certainly complicates matters for Olivia and Peter, because Peter has some sort of feelings for AltLivia, and I can’t help but think that even if he didn’t, he would want to do right by a child of his. And Olivia is self-sacrificing enough to let Peter go if she thought that would make him happy — especially considering that she thinks that AltLivia is a better version of herself.

At times during this episode, particularly when she was distraught, AltLivia reminded me of Olivia. Yet, it’s always so clear that she is significantly different from the character we’ve known since the pilot episode. Even 13 episodes into season 3, I am continuously amazed by the way the actors, particularly Anna Torv and John Noble, make their alternate counterparts so radically different from the familiar characters Over Here.

The Other Side can be something of a touchy point among Fringe fans, because so many people dislike AltLivia and the alternates, but I love learning about Over There: it’s always intriguing to see the similarities and differences. For instance, in the alternate universe, famous scientists Louis Pasteur, Jonas Salk, and James Watson and Francis Crick are all still known for their contributions to science. I also love the dynamic between the alternate Fringe Division, particularly between AltLivia and Charlie. Seeing them joking around and teasing each other is so different from how Olivia and our Charlie acted, particularly because AltLivia is more willing to joke around, yet at the same time, you can still see that respect between them.

One last note: I loved seeing Stargate: Universe alumni Haig Sutherland and Julie McNiven. I hope we see more of McNiven’s quirky entomologist ‘Mona Foster’, who is amusingly smitten with Charlie. And the banter between AltLiv and Charlie with regards to Foster was pretty hilarious.

I think I’m going to need to watch Immortality several more times before I even come close to parsing out how exactly I feel about this episode, but I can tell you that I thought it was great and very well-done overall. Not to mention the fact that the effects of the revelations in tonight’s episode will reverberate between two universes. How many other shows can say that? A-

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