Fringe Review, Season 4, Episode 13: “A Better Human Being”
Written by Alison Schapker and Monica Owusu-Breen (teleplay), Glen Whitman and Robert Chiappetta (story)
Directed by Joe Chappelle
Airs Fridays at 9pm (ET) on Fox
This week, on Fringe: Sean hears voices, Nina plays innocent, and Olivia remembers
Genre fiction is full of cautionary tales depicting man’s destruction at his own hand, due to pride, a quest for power, or, in this case, abandonment of ethics. While this may not be the most memorable episode of Fringe, it’s a well-executed take on the Frankenstein tale that, as the story is so familiar, wisely focuses on the monster, or in this case, one aspect of it, rather than Frankenstein himself. Blending this classic genre convention with a typically Fringe spin on schizophrenia is a good move, allowing Olivia to travel back in her new memories to the series’ pilot and allowing the audience to see Olivia’s journey from confusion and fear to acceptance and joy. It also, of course, gives us a few great moments with Walter, whose affinity for the other psych patients is both logical and entertaining. Perhaps due to the connection between Sean and the Hive and Olivia’s journey, this episode is one of the most successful this season at balancing the case of the week with the continuing character arcs.
Centering on a man misdiagnosed with schizophrenia creates a nice parallel to Olivia, who it could be argued is also experiencing phenomena that could easily be diagnosed as this. Olivia feels a sense of peace at the presence of her new memories, a togetherness and end to her isolation. Should these memories fade, however, will she be left much like Sean, bereft and abandoned? On this show, it could go either way. Anna Torv is a pleasure to watch this week. She imbues Olivia with an incredible sense of joy and calm, a rightness and surety that she hasn’t had the rest of this season. Unfortunately, this clashes quite dramatically with some scenes from earlier this season, which showed Olivia developing her relationship with Lincoln, excited and happy at their budding romance, of which she was the instigator. The writers backed away from this entirely after the midseason hiatus however, nearly sidelining Seth Gabel in the process, and this makes Olivia’s new direction feel more disjointed than it should.
As interesting as the case of the week is, and as enjoyable as Olivia’s new memories are, perhaps the most impressive performance this episode is Blair Brown’s. The audience has seen Nina knock out and dose Olivia. We know she’s conspiring with David Robert Jones. Yet absolutely nothing in Brown’s performance gives Nina away. Those who missed these earlier episodes could easily buy into what we assume is her act (though, on this show, there could be another Nina running around). She seems genuinely concerned for Olivia and surprised when confronted with the missing cortexiphan. That’s not to say she’s entirely above board- Brown balances Nina just right. Was the phone call she moved to make upon Lincoln and Walter’s visit routine or an attempt to warn her conspirators? Did she honestly expect Walter to believe the fakes were cortexiphan, was she intending to rely on her acting abilities, or was it somehow a genuine surprise? What’s particularly refreshing is in these scenes is both Walter and Lincoln’s obvious distrust of Nina, despite her seeming surprise and concern. While we don’t get any big reactions from them, the writers have done their homework with Walter, showing his distrust of her, and this gives weight to John Noble’s subtle reactions.
Joe Chappelle keeps the recent trend of interesting visuals going this week, giving the early break-in scene a fluid, floating quality. The editing in this sequence is also well done, intercutting enough to get the point across without drawing attention to itself. It’s even better during Olivia’s trips down memory lane at the mental institution, meshing the past and present seamlessly, giving us Olivia’s point of view without ever losing track of the narrative. The stark visual contrast between the rest of the episode and the dark closing moments also works well, setting viewers up for the next episode, which we’ll have to wait until March to see. Finally, though most of the Fringe team has less to do this week, allowing more time for the Hive and Olivia, Astrid actually gets more to do than usual and Jasika Nicole nails her final scene with Sean. Astrid knows just what to say and this gives the audience a glimpse into how she is able to work so well with Walter.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Are you as excited as I am to see Jared Harris back next episode? Just what is Nina up to? Think His Olivia’ll be pissed if Peter gets back to her and tells her about this kiss? Post your thoughts in the comments below!