Fringe doesn't do anything normally, so it makes sense that television's best freak show would do love triangles in a skewed, horrifying fashion. Last night, we learned a lot more about the show's central romantic dilemma... and it all spelled more heartache for Olivia Dunham.
While "our" Olivia was being held prisoner and temporarily brainwashed in the other universe, her counterpart from that universe impersonated her, and seduced Peter Bishop. And ever since Olivia got back to "our" universe, she's felt jealous that the other Olivia got to experience the blossoming of romance with Peter — and he, in turn, has kept insisting that he only liked Fauxlivia because he thought she was the "real" Olivia. But Olivia's either been sensing that Peter's not telling the whole truth, or she's just been consumed by paranoid jealousy.
So last night, we finally got to the crux of exactly why Peter might prefer Fauxlivia to Olivia. As Olivia puts it in the most brutal scene ever, Fauxlivia is just like Olivia... only better. Fauxlivia is more fun to be around — because she wasn't experimented on and basically tortured by Walter Bishop and William Bell as a child. The fact that Olivia has nobody to confide these fears in besides Nina Sharp is sort of a sad statement in itself.
No doubt there's a whole Cosmo article devoted to this topic: Many guys' turnoffs include dealing with the results of your childhood abuse at the hands of their dads.
Seldom has Fringe gotten so raw and fucked up in dealing with Olivia's trauma at the hands of Walter Bishop — and certainly, we haven't delved into this topic in quite some time. One of the show's M.O.s is to leave a particularly incendiary topic out of the way for a few months, only to bring it back in the most knife-twisting way possible.
As with some other recent Fringe episodes, "Concentrate and Ask Again" has an "A" plot, but the real story of the episode is all dealing with Olivia's fear that she's just not as lovable as the other Olivia — and the reason for this isn't anything she's done, but what was done to her. She can't shed her scar tissue and become as carefree as the other Olivia, any more than she can learn how to fly.
So the main plot of the episode is mostly just an excuse to confront Olivia with a foil, in time-honored television fashion — someone whose presence illuminates the stuff she's going through. Basically, there are three ex-soldiers who took part in testing an experimental weapon that leaves people without bones. And as a result, all three men found that when their wives became pregnant, the babies turned similarly boneless. So they seek revenge against the men who did this to them, using that same weapon. But the mastermind of the scheme gets hit by a car and is stuck in a coma — leaving Walter Bishop to find an unconventional way to question the comatose man.
The horror element of the bone-melting weapon, delivered via talking dolls which certainly deliver the creep factor (as Peter helpfully notes) is pretty great.
But it's a bit of a contrived set-up to create a need for a telepathic interrogator. All of a sudden, the entire FBI is a bit useless at investigating stuff, even basic things like figuring out who the other two men were. And Walter suddenly doesn't have any other bright ideas about tracking the bioweapon or reading the comatose guy's brainwaves. Come to think of it, didn't Nina have a way to question a dead guy back in season one? You'd think questioning a comatose man would be easier than questioning a dead man. But this is all nitpicking, really. It's all just an excuse to introduce a new character, Simon.
Simon was a Cortexiphan patient, just like Olivia — but he developed a different ability, telepathy. For the past 20 years, he's lived out in the middle of nowhere, becuase it hurts him too much to be exposed to the barrage of other people's thoughts all the time. He provides a handy foil for Olivia, because they were both severely damaged by their experiences — the difference is, she's high-functioning and reasonably adept at dealing with people, while he's a wreck. And in a sense, Olivia is the opposite of Simon — she's closed off from people, and can't tell what's going on with them even when she's standing right next to them.
Simon's other purpose in the story, of course, is to remind us that Walter didn't just inadvertently wreak massive damage on a whole universe — he also purposefully experimented on children and committed other atrocities. And this is the part of himself that Walter is trying to get back, by regenerating the pieces of his brain that William Bell took out. In true Walter Bishop style, he becomes more quirky and lovable the more we learn about his revolting past — making weird inappropriate comments about farting in his hazmat suit and needing to pee, plus the weird oversharing about Richard Nixon's wife hitting on him. He's just such a sweetie — how can he be a monster?
But really, Simon's main function is to serve as a foil for Olivia — and like all foils, he teaches her a valuable lesson. Or rather, she learns a valuable lesson while trying to teach it to him — she keeps telling him that he has to live his life, and that he should go and talk to the woman that he's been pining for from afar. But in the end, the lesson she learns from all this is that she should open up to Peter. And she does make an effort, at one point, but he just repeats the same line he used before — that he feels manipulated and betrayed.
Peter's clearly not telling the whole truth. But just to clinch it, Simon shares something with Olivia that's going to make it harder for Olivia to trust him and open up to him. Because Simon's read Peter's mind, and it turns out that yes, Peter does still have feelings for the other Olivia.
Meanwhile, Nina Sharp is investigating the mystery of the books about the First People, which has been on a slow boil for a while. She finds one more of these books in a safe inside William Bell's hidden inner sanctum. (And nice in-joke, having a book by Dr. Spock next to William Bell's diplomas.) The combination of the safe is 052010# — what happened in May 2010? I guess that's when William Bell died, but is there some other significance to that date? Besides the book, the contents of the safe include a red toy car, a sketch of the Massive Dynamic logo, a picture of young William and young Walter, and another picture of young William with young Nina — showing she really was close to his heart.
Each of the books is identical except for the name of the author — and Nina finally draws the obvious conclusion, that the different names comprise a code. This leads her to Skeevy Bowling Alley Guy, who we haven't seen since he helped Olivia get over her universe-lag. Turns out S-BAG was the author of those books, which makes him a lot older than he appears. He tells us something we already know — the mysterious ancient superweapon can be used for creation or destruction — but then follows it up with a new piece of information: how the weapon is used depends on Peter's state of mind when he activates it. And which universe survives will depend on which Olivia Peter is in love with — so it's more important than anyone realized that he choose "our" Olivia.
On the face of it, this is kind of a lunatic soap-opera twist, even by Fringe standards. But on the plus side, it does open up some pretty fascinating story possibilities. Will Nina tell either Olivia or Peter what she's learned? How can she play matchmaker and get those two crazy kids to work it out? Was Fauxlivia's mission merely to convince the Bishops to work on building the superweapon — or was she actually assigned to seduce Peter? Does Walternate know his son's love life is literally universe-shattering?
Most of all, though, it puts incalculable amounts of pressure on Olivia to be the person that Peter wants her to be. He keeps showing that he's willing to try again with her, but she's the one who's holding back and pushing him away because she doesn't want to be compared with the other, more fun version of herself. Can Olivia get over her wounded pride — and get past the lingering trauma from her childhood? After watching this episode, it seems more unfair than ever even to ask.