FRINGE Recap: ‘Subject 13’
February 25, 2011 by Marisa Roffman
Tonight’s episode of FRINGE once again took us back to the 80s — this time to the aftermath of Peter’s kidnapping from “over there.” Six months after he was taken, the ramifications were still playing out in both universes and this look back allowed another layer of the mystery to be unraveled to reveal entanglements between our characters that had been previously hidden.
Unlike last year’s “Peter,” this episode was a total flashback, which meant no Anna Torv (Olivia), Joshua Jackson (Peter) or any of the other present day regulars aside from John Noble (Walter). While I certainly wouldn’t want this to be the norm, I didn’t really feel like they were missed for this episode. There is still so much left to explore from what happened when Peter and Olivia were kids and the work that Walter did back then that I was grateful we got to spend as much time as possible with their younger personas.
So let’s talk about what we learned in “Subject 13” and some questions the hour raised…
Walter: Going back in time to see this Walter is always fascinating because he is so different from the Walter we know and love. (Which I suppose means John Noble almost plays three or four different characters on this show.) This Walter is burdened by what he did, but he’s not yet aware of the destruction he’s caused. Not to mention “our” Walter is much quirkier than this serious man is. It’s a bit bizarre to see our Walter and not have the unexpected food mentions come out of his mouth, right?
And while Walter wasn’t necessarily bonded with Young Peter in this episode — how jarring was that? — he did eventually form a connection to Young Olivia.
Our girl was known as “Subject 13” and much like with the rest of the series, she was the key to nearly every important thing in this episode. When Young Olivia’s stepfather hurt her, the heightened emotional response led to Young Olivia crossing over to the other side — something Walter discovered when he saw a drawing she did of a blimp from over there. Through testing he realized her fear during her stepfather’s attack triggered her ability to cross over and speculated she could perhaps bring Peter home.
However, when Walter scared her too much, she caused a fire (much like the one we first saw her cause in “Bad Dreams” tape), which led to her running away. After Young Olivia’s chat with Young Peter (more on that below), she told Walter she didn’t want to go home with her stepfather. However, the man Young Olivia was talking to was actually Walternate and Walter walked in to catch the end of her plea — but he didn’t see Walternate. But when Walter saw how terrified Young Olivia was of her stepfather, he warned the man that nothing should happen to her. It was the most Walter-like scene of the episode and I hope in some way that connection can be paid off at some point.
Walternate: The Walter vs. Walternate debate is always mesmerizing to me because these men are so different. Much like Nina Dobrev’s work on THE VAMPIRE DIARIES as Elena/Katherine, I have to constantly remind myself that Noble plays both of these parts. Heck, Walternate’s shift from the broken-down drunk who was mourning the loss of his son to the powerful titan of Bishop Dynamic in this episode alone was startling. And it’s a good thing Walternate ignored his wife’s pleas and went to work, otherwise he might have never seen Young Olivia cross over.
Um, I guess we could technically point to this moment as one of the ultimate turning points in the war between the universes? Poor Olivia. All she wanted was someone to help her out of a bad situation.
When I watched this episode for the first time, I was struck with how much I sympathized with Walternate. And when I talked with FRINGE executive producers Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman (who co-wrote “Subject 13” with Akiva Goldsman), they pointed out that had we seen these episodes in the order of their timeline, our Walter would have been the “bad guy” of this story. Walternate was the victim of an unknown figure stealing his son. Sure, we now know that Walter did it to save Peter’s life, but they didn’t have that information.
Instead, we have what we saw in this episode: Walternate and alt-Elizabeth, broken, missing their child and unable to comprehend what happened. And yes, Walternate has done some horrible things in the present but at the same time…can you blame him?
Here’s the only bad thing about these flashback episodes: we were left with Walternate realizing there was an alternate universe, thanks to the appearance of Young Olivia and her drawing of herself and Young Peter, but who knows if or when we’ll get back to that time? There are still so many years between this period and when we first meet our group, so who knows where we’ll land next if they decide to do another flashback episode?
Young Peter and Elizabeth: While Walter was determined to bring Young Peter back to his real home, Elizabeth Bishop (played tragically well by Orla Brady) was struggling to keep him safe. The opening scenes as the boy dragged the brick across the frozen pond, desperately trying to go home to a place he believed was hidden beneath the lake and Elizabeth’s panic search for him and horrified realization of where he was going was breathtaking. Of course we knew they’d both survive this, but the raw emotion they expressed was intense.
We know Peter and his mother on this side were close, so it’s interesting to learn now that she was the one who finally convinced him to let go of his doubts about not belonging here. Of course, that wasn’t without a cost — we saw Elizabeth turn to drinking at the end of this episode and we know that she died when Peter was a teen. I wonder if her deception will ever be fully explored by the show?
Young Peter and Young Olivia: Karley Scott Collins (Young Olivia) and Chandler Canterbury (Young Peter) were fantastic, not only in their acting, but also in their believability as younger versions of these characters. As I watched them, I could see their older counterparts playing the scenes the same way. I can’t imagine how tough that must have been, but they nailed it.
So now that we know Peter and Olivia were drawn to each other as children, is that enough to say they are destined to be together? There’s no denying their scenes together were incredibly touching and their impact on each other is unquestionable — if it wasn’t for their meeting in the tulip field, Olivia might have never trusted Walter enough to run to him to try and tell him the truth about her home situation (which of course wasn’t our Walter, but one could argue had she not run to talk to our Walter, Walternate might have never known about the alternate universe) and Peter might have never been open enough to trust his “mother.”
It hurts your brain a little bit to think what might have happened for these people had they never had that meeting in the tulip field, doesn’t it? I know my head aches thinking about it.
A few bullet points about what else stood out to me…
- Was I the only one who spent the episode either on the brink of tears or literally crying? From the moment we saw Young Peter dragging the brick on the ice intending to “go home” until the final moments when Walternate was left holding the picture of Olivia and Peter, I was an emotional wreck.
- And that reminds me…John Noble is just incredible. I’m not sure if there is any actor on television who can do what that man does. That’s not to take away anything from the rest of this fantastic cast, but man, I really wish Emmy voters would pay attention to the work Noble does.
- The 80s credits make me smile. I love when shows go above and beyond in their opening credits.
- Peter picking up the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA game made my nerd heart happy.
- White tulips!
- Bishop Dynamic?! Is Walter destined to be a major part of this company in both universes?
- Is anyone else wondering why none of our characters remember the events of this episode? Walter’s memory could theoretically be explained away by his surgery, we know Olivia didn’t recall most of her time at Jacksonville, but what about Peter? I wonder if at some point it will be vital for our characters to remember this period of time…
- No mention of Nina, but William Bell was name-checked a lot.
I’d love to hear any theories you guys have about why this story was told now. Is it to remind us that Peter and Olivia are linked as they go forward with their romantic relationship? Is it to further explore the character of Walternate as the us vs. them dynamic heats up? Something else entirely?
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