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Fringe: "Marionette"

This is our last Fringe of the year, folks. When next we convene on January 21st, 2011, the show will be airing on Friday nights, with an episode aptly named “Firefly.” (And I’ll be at Sundance, so if I don’t get an advance screener, you’ll have someone filling in on the review.) So let’s enjoy these closing minutes before halftime—minutes in which Fringe most definitely did not take a knee and run out the clock.

Initially, “Marionette” is about two people who get their hearts ripped out—one of them literally. The literal one is a poor bastard from Rye, NY: a one-time recipient of a heart transplant who gets dosed with tranquilizers (among other chemicals) in a train station by an umbrella-toting eccentric named Roland Barrett, and then stumbles into his house, where our Freak Of The Week subdues him, straps him down, and extricates that donated ticker.

The figuratively heartless one is Ourlivia (whom I guess we can just call “Olivia” now, and for the near future). Olivia’s having a little trouble adjusting to life back on Earth-1. Like, she loves having good coffee again (or even tolerable coffee), and she appreciates being able to wear her favorite shoes. But she hates that the other Olivia made herself so comfortable in her apartment and in her world. And Olivia really hates that Fauxlivia had sex with Peter. Repeatedly. And with such apparent mutual satisfaction.

I thought both halves of “Marionette” were very strong, but I was especially impressed with how Fringe handled the Olivia/Peter relationship. It’s not that unusual for a genre show to deal directly with the emotional lives of its characters, but I’ve rarely seen one that devoted so much of an episode to dealing with the ramifications of what two of its romantic leads have done to hurt each other (however inadvertently). And there are few straight dramas that have handled the awkward aftermath so sensitively, without trumped-up histrionics or contrived complications. Instead, we get a few quiet, well-played scenes that lay out just how Olivia and Peter are feeling.

In the first, the two are sitting in a hospital cafeteria, and Olivia’s describing to Peter how disconcerting it is to know that someone else has been living your life. And then Peter confesses to what he and Fauxlivia had together. He reminds Olivia that the main reason he came back to Earth-1 was because she asked him to, by way of explaining why he was so eager to pursue a romance with someone who looked just like her. (And during the first part of that explanation, the camera cruelly holds on Olivia, her face falling as she slowly understands what Peter is saying.) To make matters worse, Peter talks about how Fauxlivia is more good-humored and less intense, and Olivia nods along, noting that from what she could see, her Earth-2 counterpart “had a really full life” (and a boyfriend that Olivia might’ve slept with if he’d been in town … darn the luck). 

Olivia insists to Peter that she doesn’t blame him for what happened, but she looks distracted during their meeting with the transplant doctor at the hospital, and later when she gets back to her apartment, Olivia contemplates her neck tattoo and stares at her closet full of work-clothes, and she starts to get angry. Then she finds one of Peter’s shirts in a load of laundry that Fauxlivia left behind, and she crumples.

The next day, she seeks comfort from Astrid, who tries to reassure her that Peter’s feelings were for the real Olivia, no matter who was actually on the receiving end. It was the Earth-1 Olivia whom Peter had developed an affection for over time, and with whom he had a shared history. But Olivia can’t shake the feeling that  Peter should’ve known. And when she confronts him about it at the end of the episode, his own body language more or less confirms that he did know it wasn’t her, in his gut. So Olivia fumes, and leaves him to sit it one of Roland Barrett’s wrought-iron chairs, muttering an “I’m sorry” to no one.

As for how Peter ended up in such a metaphorically appropriate seat, well, that brings us back to the other half of “Marionette,” and the strange case of Roland Barrett, a scientific genius who has followed through on some of Walter Bishop and William Bell’s research into reanimating dead tissue. Bishop and Bell were primarily concerned with post-mortem interrogation—something we’ve seen in action of Fringe, if not so much lately—while Roland was creating new living cells in his lab and looking to revive the various pieces of a body enough that they could truly be called alive. Through good old-fashion procedural legwork, Fringe Division is able to track Roland by finding out whose body parts he’s been stealing back from their transplant-recipients. They're all from a woman named Amanda, whom Roland met in a therapy group for the suicidally depressed. Roland stole her corpse after she killed herself, and has been restoring her one part at a time, like an old Buick.

Something else I appreciated about “Marionette” is that while there are obvious parallels between the two storylines, for the most part the episode just riffs on the ideas offered in both. It’s another Fringe episode that contemplates the increasingly blurry lines between life and death, and man and machine. What makes us who we are? I can get a new heart or new eyes and still be Noel, but if someone who’s my genetic double appears, is he me? If I die, and my organs are harvested, and someone pieces my body and uses special chemicals to spur cell-growth, will I be the Noel that this person expects me to be? 

For Roland Barrett, the answer, tragically, is no. He succeeds in reviving Amanda briefly, but just long enough to look into her eyes and realize that “it wasn’t her.” And for Olivia and Peter, they may be realizing that some lines have been permanently crossed. Peter may have to admit to himself that he liked Fauxlivia a little more than the Earth-1 model, and Olivia may realize that in the time she was gone, Peter has changed enough that he’s no longer the same man she was tentatively flirting with months ago.

It’s a tricky situation all around, and kudos to Fringe for acknowledging and exploring just how tricky it is. Kudos also for doing so in an episode full of creepy imagery of people with missing body parts, and scenes of Walter sniffing (and tasting) corpses, and one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen on this show: a not-yet-reanimated corpse, strung up with wires, made to move about a dank basement for a mad scientist’s amusement. That’s why they call it Fringe, folks. That’s why they call it Fringe.

Stray observations:

  • All that and I didn’t even mention the epilogue, in which the Observers re-enter the picture, effectively teasing the series’ return in January. The Observer makes a call to his boss—but without the Sprint picture-phone feature?—to let him know that “He’s still alive.” 
  • Another quietly moving scene: Olivia debriefing Broyles on Walternate’s methods and mood, then telling him all about what a good guy Colonel Broyles was on the other side.
  • WalterLogic: When Peter says that Olivia wasn’t bothered by his confession to her, Walter wonders, “Do you think possibly they replaced her with a robot?”
  • Yet another quietly moving scene: Olivia bitterly eliminating names from Peter’s list of possible suspects based on how much they may or may not have loved Amanda.
  • Nothing like a little injury-to-the-eye motif to liven up the night.
  • Help me friends: When Walter talks about the Viking “blood-eagle” ritual, I had a strong childhood memory of either hearing about or reading about that, but I can’t remember where. Was it in a popular book? Anyone know?
  • My wife and I have an understanding that if an alternate dimension version of her crosses over and takes her place, I will not hesitate to bust a move.
Filed Under: TV, Fringe

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