Saturday, February 26, 2011

Fringe - "Subject 13"

Dr. Walter (John Noble) encourages the kids to chase that Cortexiphan dragon way back in the '80s.
Photo Credit: FOX
Review by Paul Steven Brown

Season 3 - Episode 15
"Subject 13"

Hey, it worked once before. Why not try it again?

Thus, we are given a return to the Fringe-verse of the '80s, complete with nostalgic theme music and intro. If 'Fringe' is allowed to continue past this season (and I think the show's Friday performance will almost certainly warrant it), then a journey back to parachute pants-ville will more than likely be a yearly event. Think of it as the annual trip to the Mirror Universe on 'Star Trek: Deep Space Nine' or the Desmond episodes on 'Lost'. A yearly, but gratifying ritual.

Granted, 'Subject 13' didn't have the wow factor that last year's 'Peter' had, but you can only ride the horse out of the gate once. Still, I continue to be amazed by the deaging make up the special effect wizards are able to conjure for John Noble each time we journey back a quarter of a century. Part of this is attributed to the physicality of Noble's performance, but look at his arms! There's some sculpting, make up or CGI... I can't tell, but it's the little details that really sell this effect.

This trip to the '80s takes place about six months after Walter kidnapped Peter from the other universe. He always intended to take the boy back after he cured him of his ailment, but Walter has been having difficulty recreating the bridge. Enter the Cortexiphan kids.

We get to meet Subject 13, a young Olivia Dunham, at the child care facility ran by Walter in Jacksonville. Whoever cast the girl did a great job. She had a delivery that really made me think this could have been a young Olive. Plus, we finally get some insight to one of the dangling plot threads from season one: Olivia's abusive stepfather.

Still, the biggest moments in "Subject 13" were when Olivia's powers kicked in due to her fear. The first was masterfully done, having Olivia running from her stepdad and suddenly appearing outdoors where she looks up and has a shadow of a blimp fall over her before she is snatched back into the Fringe Prime universe. The second incident occurred when Walter attempted to scare her powers into being by having one of the other kids play dead. This triggered Olivia's alluded to, but never seen pyrokenetic abilities.

However, the third burst of power was such a big moment. Olivia runs crying to Walter about her stepfather hitting her. Walter looks confused and doesn't recognize her. Then it hits you; Olivia has crossed over and is talking to Walternate (who continues to despair over the loss of Peter). Of course, she leaves behind her sketch book that conveniently has a picture of her and Peter drawn in it, thus cluing in Walternate on the fact that his son was abducted to a parallel universe.

We get some really good material concerning Peter, too. He knows that the Bishops are not his real parents. Our world is different enough for him to notice (Red Lantern instead of Green Lantern, no airships, etc.). He even attempts to sink himself into the icy lake so he can get back to his own world. However, throughout this episode Mrs. Bishop does her level best to convince him of her love. After Peter's conversation with Olive, Mrs. Bishop has finally sold him on the idea that his sickness really confused his memory of the world. Unfortunately, this begins her cycle of drinking and depression that would lead to her untimely death.

While "Subject 13" didn't have the benefit of freshness that "Peter" had, this was still a high point of an already excellent third season of 'Fringe'. Though this was entirely a flashback episode without any scenes from the present, it continues to humanize Walternate, while demonstrating the lengths that our Walter is willing to take to get the job done.

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