Fringe, Ep. 4.15, “A Short Story About Love”: Answers and identity issues overshadow familiar case

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Fringe Review, Season 4, Episode 15: “A Short Story About Love”
Written by J. H. Wyman and Graham Roland
Directed by J. H. Wyman
Airs Fridays at 9pm (ET) on FOX

This week, on Fringe: Olivia makes a choice, Walter slows down time, and Peter gets answers

Were Fringe episodes titled like Friends episodes, this week’s installment could easily be called, “The One Where Everyone Asks All Those Questions And Realizes All Those Answers They Should Have Been Asking And Realizing For Weeks”. To put it briefly, it’s about damn time. The episode opens promisingly with Olivia putting forth the question many asked after watching the previous episode- how could Peter implant memories in her he didn’t have? The answers given, both to Olivia and the audience, didn’t make sense then and they don’t here either, and Olivia’s journey over the course of the episode may be partially sparked by her realization of this. Both sets of memories are valid and she must make a choice between them.

The second promising sign is the out of the blue return of the budding Lincoln/Olivia relationship from the beginning of this season. Granted, at this point it’s one-sided, with Olivia too wrapped up in her new memories to reciprocate, but given how much time was spent building this dynamic up, and with Olivia as the instigator, it felt very strange to have it fall entirely by the wayside over the past several episodes. Though it’s great to have this thread reintegrated, it’s disappointing that the writers have chosen to cast Lincoln in the role of the unrequited and passed over partner for the second or third time. Even OtherCharlie got the Bug Lady- why can’t Lincoln be the one moving on? That being said, we’ll see how the season progresses. Who knows what the writers have up their sleeves for Agent Lee?

The capper to everything is the end of episode reveal that, as many fans had surmised, there is no Home for Peter to get back to. He hasn’t crossed Universes or travelled away from his world- he was pulled out of his timeline and it adjusted. Then he was pulled back into it. It’s not a complicated bit of science fiction logic, but after everything Peter’s experienced, it’s not surprising he would hope for an easier, less painful answer than that his entire world, his entire life, is gone, never to be recovered. Right now,  all this means to him is that he has His Olivia back. Hopefully we’ll see an exploration of the darker ramifications of this further down the line.

The rest of the episode centers on the case of the week which, in the grand tradition of semi-serialized procedurals, ties in directly with the emotional lives of our protagonists. The case itself is somewhat familiar. Several of Fringe’s best episodes have dealt with broken men doing terrible things to try to regain love. This week’s mad scientist, Anson Carr, at least has somewhat of a surprise agenda. He has very little dialogue (though he does have an adorable dog!), and only one real character beat, as he looks at a worn picture of a woman and weeps. Based on our previous experiences with the show, this would imply that he’s trying to recapture the love he lost with the death of his wife or significant other. Instead he has a much more clinical goal.

Carr’s (mad) scientific approach to trying to chemically formulate love is cold and terrifyingly methodical. It’s also BS- were he really doing it only to find the formula for love, he wouldn’t be stalking and killing the women. Perhaps because the case of the week feels so familiar, and because the final motivation is so divorced from the rest of the episode’s themes, it’s not particularly effective. It’s satisfactorily creepy, but outside of the horror of the attacks and the men baked in Carr’s lab (particular squick points go to the shot of the killer squeegeeing his sweatbox), the storyline lacks resonance. By leaving his motivation a mystery until the very end, Carr feels like an unknowable threat, a mindless force of evil to be put down. This can be interesting in its own way, but the rest of the episode’s developments overshadow this storyline.

By far the most interesting journey in the episode is Olivia’s, and her eventual decision to abandon her memories, her life, in favor of the new memories and emotions flooding her is treated with appropriate gravitas. This is a fascinating concept, one that is perfect for intelligent sci-fi to broach. What is the self? How does one define oneself, and what would you sacrifice in the name of love, a potentially purely chemical experience? Olivia’s decision is given added weight by her lovely bookending scenes with Nina. Nina handles the news well- it’s a heartbreaking notion. Imagine learning that someone you love has chosen to forget you, to let their entire identity slip away to be replaced by some stranger’s experiences. Hopefully this is another journey we’ll see continue over the remainder of the season. More than anything, however, let’s hope Fringe keeps exploring the bigger questions, as only the best science fiction really can.

What did you think of the episode? Do you like where they’re headed? Think Lincoln’ll ever get a legitimate love interest? Post your thoughts below!

Kate Kulzick

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