Sunday, February 10, 2013

Fringe Finale: The Real Olivia Dunham?


Like many of the Fringe faithful I cheered when Olivia Dunham laid down the law and made a car sandwich out of Windmark in the last episode of Fringe.  It was a great call back to her old "B/A" days when Olivia took control and exercised the powers she usually kept carefully under control.

The scene itself was charged with tension as Windmark easily disposed of Peter and Olivia as if they were rag dolls.  Windmark seemed slightly amused at his dispatch of Olivia and turned his back on her as he prepared to capture Michael.  Suddenly car alarms began to blare and city blocks of Manhattan began to wink out.  As Olivia struggled to right herself she locked eyes with Windmark.  Her face may well have been the last thing that Windmark saw as Olivia sent a car hurtling in his direction as vainly sought to "apperate" himself out of danger.  He was too late and the Fringe team was allowed to proceed with their plan to change the future.

Olivia still had the vestiges of Cortexiphan surging through her system and with Michael in imminent danger, she summoned the strength of her greatest asset, her willpower, and brought it to bear on the now hapless Windmark.

For as long as we've known the character of Olivia Dunham she has struggled with the ghosts of her past.  She has been at once a strong and confident women and other times the tortured victim of the cortexiphan trials during her youth.  I think it may have been the episode, "Bad Dreams" where Olivia unburdened her tattered psyche on the unsuspecting Walter Bishop and verbally attacked him with such ferocity that Walter was visibly shaken and Peter was left perplexed at what just happened.  What happened was Olivia became aware of the breadth of Walter's experiments and the awful truth that he conducted those trials on mere children.

As the events of season four unfolded culminating with Olivia being shot by Walter she was finally free of the effects of Cortexiphan.  No more childhood terrors or secret needles from the Redverse Nina.  Free at last.

As season Five progressed we witnessed an Olivia that bore many of the character traits as her previous iterations had.  Fear of the unknown, self doubt and occasionally the loss of hope.  We even witnessed her deep seated fears of motherhood.  But she never lost her resolve and perhaps her greatest moment was when she talked Peter back from the ledge as he nearly became a full on Observer with the tech firmly imbedded in his neck.


It was Olivia's trademark confidence fortified with her overwhelming love for Peter that saved him from the abyss.  No mean feat considering he had nearly lost all human emotion.  With this done the Fringe team was able to keep their date with destiny.

All without the power of Cortexiphan.

So I ask you this, should we feel cheated or satisfied that the old Cortexiphaned Olivia Dunham came back?  

As I referenced just earlier, Olivia had talked Peter out of his misguided plan to defeat Windmark.  The episode was called, "The Human Kind".  In this episode we learned the valuable lesson that what separates us from the Observers was our humanity.  But this episode also provided us with one of Olivia's finer moments.  After she had secured the giant magnet for Walter's device she encountered some thugs along the way back to Boston and was subsequently held captive.  In her captivity, Olivia had a true "McGyver" moment.  Using her innate guile, cleverness and resourcefulness, Olivia set a complex trap and tricked her captors into releasing her with deadly effect.  No Cortexiphan was needed as the memories of Etta embodied in the bullet keepsake was enough to empower Olivia.


Fast forward to the last episode


Once again the "Bullet That Saved the World" came into play.  The bullet serves as the catalyst that launches Olivia into a state of mind that is nigh well unstoppable. It's the talisman that fires the memories of Etta and how she died so tragically and all too young.

So the larger question is, if Olivia possess such great love and willpower does she really need to be enhanced by Cortexiphan?  She defeated the thugs and rescued Peter during the "Human Kind" episode; could she not have defeated Windmark without Walter's drug surging through her veins?

I guess it felt like a bit of a stunt to me to have Olivia use her telekinesis to squash the threat of Windmark.  I realize she needed it to cross between universes to rescue Michael and I have to admit that was cleverly done by the writers but the last Cortexiphan induced trick just rang a little hollow for me.  Maybe it was too convenient.  We spent an entire last season seeing how wonderful a human being Olivia can be only to have that rug slipped out from under her and have her returned to the artificially enhanced Olivia that brought so much pain to her psyche.

So my friends, do you agree or disagree with this point of view?  Should we feel cheated by the last Cortexiphan caper?  Do you prefer the "Human Kind" Olivia that succeeded so well during this last season or are OK with the "souped up" version of Olivia that closed our tale?  It seems a bit of a shame to me to see that well rounded "human" Olivia replaced by the "Robo-Liv".

Your thoughts?

17 comments:

  1. She's both, that's what makes her special. There are different aspects of her life where she needs different strengths. Dealing with Observer!Peter was one thing, having cortexiphan there wouldn't have changed anything. Dealing with Windmark was another, he had powers normal human beings couldn't fight with. She had to tap onto her beyond human abilities to deal with that. That goes into the whole scify part of the show that needs to exist. The cool part of this is that you can connect it with the initial cortexiphan idea that was to prepare soldiers to a great war that was coming. The greatest war ended up being, in a way, with the Observers not just the other side. I don't feel cheated at all, the opposite. I thought that was a very cool way to bring back some of the essences of her. True it was abuse that she suffered and it was a bad part of her life, but those things makes us what we are ('cause Olivia w/o cortexiphan is an uptighter version of Alt!Liv). I remember really starting to like Olivia when she turned off the lights in 'Ability'. I thought she was very cool already but the abilities made her extra special, one of a kind. Olivia without cortexiphan, to me, is missing part of her. If you take it in a more philosophycal way, you can parallel it with hardships we have in our lives that make us stronger. Cortexiphan harmed her, yes, but also made her better.

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    1. Well Carlinha you certainly sound like a true Olivia Dunham fan. You're forgiving of the way the writers of the show have developed her character. Maybe my choice of "cheated" as a word wasn't entirely correct. I like how you brought up the character of "Altliv". Her personality was altered also as the show progressed. She was originally a stone cold killer on a mission but eventually became a compassionate member of the team. And that's what bothers me. These wholesale abrupt changes. It's like they had to change her to adapt to the new narration.

      I think we'll have to agree to disagree. But I appreciate your feedback and respect your point of view. Thanks!

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    2. So you don't like that Alt Liv changed? Isn't that the point? That she evolved. She was more like Olivia than we thought.

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  2. Didn't really see this whole scenario when I was watching it but I think I get your point. Well, I won't say that I feel cheated by it though. To me, the Cortexiphan does not change Olivia for who she is. And things happen for a reason.

    When Olivia is able to use her power in the Jacksonville episode of Season 2, it's because she's scared, her fear is enabling her to use it. This scene though, after Olivia looked at the bullet, it's more like the writers are saying that this time her power stems from her love and willpower. For me, it kind of transmits the feeling of "Hey, I think I got this" from Olivia. She's lost everything (sort of), from Etta to Nina, what is there left to be afraid of?

    -------------------------------------------------
    Also, I'm not sure if I should include this, but it seems related to the "things happen for a reason" theme.



    My take on the Michael hush hush scene (one where he puts his finger on his lips gesture to Olivia) is that that things happen for a reason. Why did he let himself get caught during that train scene? My theory is that it's a ploy to let Olivia to be injected with the Cortexiphan not to just save him, but to defeat Windmark USING it's powers.

    We know that Observers can predict future, it's their advantage over humans. Perhaps Michael can see that it takes more than a normal human to defeat these Observers (or specifically Windmark). And with Peter not on par with them after the tech removal, Michael somehow sees the option of infusing Olivia with the Cortexiphan for this purpose.

    Now you ask, why not just say/propose the idea directly to the Fringe team or taking into account his refusal (?) to talk, at least gesture towards the Cortexiphan or something, instead of getting caught for no reason and endangering the Fringe team's lives? Well, just look how Peter reacts when Olivia is injected. What I'm saying is that the Fringe team will try to find some other ways to prevent each other from getting hurt, etc, etc. And, I think for Michael, fully-identified himself as an important asset, the Fringe team will do anything to save him, including reluctantly risking safety of loved ones in the name of better future (or past, technically). It is interesting because when you take a look at the larger picture there is some sort of butterfly effect going on.

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    1. Hi Syafiq, good to hear from you.

      I could argue that Olivia was acting out of fear during the finale episode just like she did in Jacksonville. She must have been afraid that something dire was going to happen to Michael at the hands of Windmark. The wild card was the addition of the "Bullet" to stabilize those fears perhaps. In Jacksonville her powers burst forth without control but this time her powers were more concentrated thanks to the memory of Etta.

      So, yes, I can see your point. I just wish there was more consistency to her character instead of treating her like a human light switch that can be turned on at the writers convenience when they need to solve a narrative point. It just felt rushed to me and not organic to her season 5 personality.

      As for Michael and the "Hush, Hush" scene, I still think Michael is a bit of a cypher. I actually plan on blogging about him next so keep your thoughts ready. I've seen variations of your theory and they seem to make sense but it is asking a lot of the viewing audience to piece together that much of the story to make things work. It's oddly enigmatic. If Michael was so prescient you'd think he'd appreciate people NOT being experimented or pharmaceutically manipulated. After all he was the product of genetic manipulation and was scheduled for disposal. You'd think he'd be against Olivia being manipulated in a similar fashion.

      Does that make sense? Thanks for the feedback and stay tuned for my Michael-centric blog post!

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  3. The question we should be asking is did Olivia need to cortexiphan to do what she did to Windmark or was the power always within her?

    The show made a point to tell us over and over that Olivia only had limited time with to save Michael before the cortexi wore off. Yet by the end she's dialing up enough power to turn out the lights in NY?!

    I think the show was telling us that Olivia always had the power within.

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    1. Was that an electromagnetic effect of her powers or was she actually draining the power grid in order to defeat Windmark?

      When she sprung Peter from Alt-Nina and David Robert Jones' trap the lights flickered and electrical sparks shot everywhere so I am leaning towards an electromagnetic effect. I'm not sure if we ever got an explanation of the electrical side of her powers.

      Sorry, but I'm not convinced she always had the powers with in. I think she always had the "willpower" within and that's what made her an exceptional warrior for the ZFT war. Thanks for the feedback though, much appreciated!

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    2. Part of the point of Olivia's arc was her accepting her power. Olivia killed Windy and that WAS her killing the power in NY.

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  4. >>>When Olivia is able to use her power in the Jacksonville episode of Season 2, it's because she's scared, her fear is enabling her to use it. This scene though, after Olivia looked at the bullet, it's more like the writers are saying that this time her power stems from her love and willpower.<<<

    Olivia's powere always stemmed from a combination of love and fear. It was always her love for Peter and also a fear of becoming vulnerable to him. A fear of getting trusting again.
    In the finale it was her love for Etta and the fear she wouldn't get her back.

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  5. Actually, I thought the last cortexiphan caper was extremely significant with respect to Olivia's character, because this time it was entirely her decision to take it. Previously, she'd always done it DESPITE her reservations, and taking cortexiphan always brought out her insecurities and fears to the surface. This time, however, she embraced it without fear, and while she DID want to save the world, like every other time she did it, what really drove her was her love for her daughter and the desire to have her back. That's pretty significant for a character who's spent pretty much her entire life helping and saving other people, and rarely doing anything for herself. It's even more significant in the context of cortexiphan, which has been the source of so many of her fears and has influenced her entire life negatively in so many ways. Her making the decision to take cortexiphan was, more than anything, a sign of how strong her love and humanity made her, and I think that was a beautiful idea and an excellent way to conclude her arc.

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    1. It was not the cortexiphan that gave her fear, the fear and love triggered her ability that was enhanced with cortexiphan.

      And the fear was there when she was injected as a child, and set fire to the room from what she saw as a child,
      For convenience sake ( Poor Walter had to be Poor Walter) Olivia and her freaking good memory, did not remember Jacksonville until the end of season 4, when
      Olivia remembered how scared she was , 1 line.

      BTW I am certain that Walter would never have given those shots to Peter,
      so Olivia was still his labrat.

      Olivias arc since she discovered to being abused by Bell and Walter should have been confronting them, being angry with them, learning to accept her ability and control that ability,
      and all this would have made fantastic character growth.

      The entire season 5 Olivia was not allowed to have a bond with Etta, she had to worry for Peter,
      and at the end she did not even have a scene with little Etta,
      so for whom did she take the risk with cortexiphan?

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    2. Not true. This wasn't the first time she took Cortexiphan and didn't have any reservations about it. She did that to escape the AU in season 3. She didn't have any reservations back then, just like she didn't have any in Enemy of Fate, because both times she needed the drug to accomplish a goal.

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  6. Olivia Dunham has always been human , caring , emotional and her biggest asset was her empathy, the reason she was chosen for the trials.
    She was so great loving with niece Ella,
    When she was home she let her emotions go, but we did not see much of Olivia outside her job, and her job was a leading FBI agent in a mens world.

    In season 5 they did a rewrite with Olivia being pushed back and all of the sudden she was not fit to be a mother, she was no longer assertive and not pro-active.
    So do we have to believe that was because Olivia is nothing without cortexiphan?
    5.12 was great only because Olivia was where she belongs central in the lead, best episode of the serie,
    but the way cortexiphan was used, was degrading for Olivia,
    as she was used by Walter for Walter.

    Olivia should have had an arc in season 5, where she discovered she could still have some ability etc, now they made it look that Olivia is only Peters wife , except when she gets the Red Bull.

    Cortexiphan was to enhance natural ability, always to stay in the system, see Cameron, Simon, Nick and co, those children were damaged for life,
    for the greater good to save the world, and Olivia was their leader as the strongest, the Chosen One.
    Olivia would be able to tap that ability through fear and love,

    With the end of season 4 and most of all season 5, that concept has been totally destroyed, Olivias role in being the savior reduced to zero, and
    in the end there was no reason at all for Walter and Bell to abuse the children.

    The best part of Fringe was Over There and Cortexiphan and the idea of modifying soldiers, but they decided to just use that when convenient,
    and do nothing with the moral side, namely Walter and Bell cold hearted taking children and damage and abuse them, and scar them for life.

    Fringe has made a huge mistake to never tell the backstory of Olivia in the way they did over and over with Peter and Walter,
    You refer to Bad Dreams, when she just realized that she was part of those trials as a child, 1 scene, and then she had 1 scene to confront Walter later in season 1 ( when Walter started to cry, and Olivia was the bad one), and there was the moment in Jacksonville.

    Olivia never had an arc to deal with her past, never had an arc where we could see her control her ability,
    in fact that cortexiphan part was only used for Walters storyline or for Olivia to be the victim.
    The end of season 4 was Olivia being used by Bell and Walter, nothing to do with controlling her abilities,
    the way Bell switched her on.

    It would have been a great arc for Olivia to show her accepting being special, to show her learning to control them,
    and I mean really telling that story in multiple scenes like they did with Walters and Peters past.
    Now they told that story off camera, and only through Anna's acting we got where Olivia was.
    Olivia should have had an arc where she could confront Walter and Bell.

    why does Walter get to whine about his brains 20 times in season 5, and a 100 in the entire series?
    why does Walter get to whine about St Claires at least 50 times?

    Olivia got may be 5 scenes about her childhood and family, 5 whole scenes for a lead character.
    And Jacksonville memory got 1 line in the season 4 finale, 1 line in 5 seasons.

    The difference between overwriting Walter and giving him all the backstory and the contrast Olivia nothing.

    Makes it only more brilliant how Anna Torv managed to create that beautiful Olivia character (and all those versions), but those quiet, introverted subtle roles never get the credit.

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  7. Hey Dave. Happy almost weekend! Great thoughts as usual. Admittedly, Olivia has always been my favorite character and was the draw for me to Fringe right from the start. The character is just so complex and well, to me really relatable. Her issues with relationships, emotions, etc. always got to me.

    Yes, I too loved seeing that B/A Olivia back for the finale. That is something I had missed all of Season 5. I understood the character change this season, yet I didn't like it. I have to say that I personally do not feel cheated when it came to that final Windmark scene. And well, I personally think Olivia is very complex and when there is cortexiphan in her system, it just allows for more complexity and the ability for her to utilize a different set of skills to show her love, passion, compassion, etc. She is a fierce lion when it comes to those she cares about and the cortexiphan magnifies this I think.

    When we saw Olivia see the "Bullet That Saved the World" again there lying on the ground (where she & the others are in essence defeated); it seemed to me to serve as a reminder of Etta, what a person will do for love and of the power she has within. Walter said to be safe he was setting her watch for three and half hours as he didn't want her stranded on the other side. Walter didn't say the cortexiphan would be depleted. After seeing the bullet, Olivia was again emotionally charged to survive/win (versus feeling defeated); then she drew on those strong emotions to utilize the cortexiphan. Without her strong emotional being, cortexiphan is useless and therefore to me this is no stunt. My first impressions when she blacked out the city, triggered car alarms and such was that this was all a distraction for Windmark so she could catch him by surprise (and boy did she). I loved the use of the car to make Windmark go splat! I also felt it very appropriate that it is Olivia (mama bear) that ended up being the demise to Windmark. That felt right to me.

    Olivia has always been a smart, tough, innovative and very compassionate character. Loyal to a fault to those she cares about and loves. So, it was no surprise to me that she utilizes skills/talent when taken captive in "The Human Kind" only to be able to turnaround and dig into her love for Peter to bring him back from his wayward path towards Obvserverville. These are all parts of Olivia. As for the cortexiphan there at the end, as we see during that episode this is not Olivia's first instinct - to use the cortexiphan "powers." I actually think she may have forgotten about it ..... until she saw the bullet. (I can't believe you said Robo-Liv).

    I'm not sure I've made much sense here as I keep getting interrupted and distracted while writing. Hopefully I have though. Basically, I thought the finale was amazing. I thought everyone did a great job with it. And yes, I miss this show terribly still.

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    1. Hi Kristin, Happy Wednesday (and seven days after you left your original response, sorry about that!) I was immediately drawn to Olivia also. I like a show that has a strong female lead such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Xena: Warrior Princess. (I've even referred to Olivia as the "Warrior Princess" before.) The problem that I had with the re-introduction of the Cortexiphan is that her emotions didn't need that boost or magnification as you put it.

      The different set of skills refer to are all artificial and their re-introduction didn't seem organic. I know that sounds strange because the Olivia we know was always a product of the Cortexiphan trials but my take on her is that the 5 years we spent with her was a journey to re-establish her humanity and her dignity. There was no doubt she was portrayed as an unwilling victim and more than once she expressed her outrage at being experimented on. (As did Peter.)

      The culmination of her journey was the restoration of her humanity without Cortexiphan and becoming a mother. The high point of her journey to humanity came in the episode, "The Human Kind" where she brought Peter back from the Dark Side. Her greatest strengths in that episode was love and her compassion.

      I suppose I should look at the absolute ending of the episode as the last step of Olivia's journey. With the reset timeline Olivia is back to being Cortexiphan free, relaxing with Peter and watching her daughter chase daisies. That's the Olivia I want to remember.

      I guess I rambled a bit myself Kristin and I hope I made sense also. I miss Fringe but at least the community is holding strong and its always good to hear from you.

      Thanks Kristin!

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  8. I will admit that I found the use of Cortexiphan in the finale very disappointing, both plot-wise and character-wise.

    Plot-wise, because it was the easy way out of a very artificial situation. Visiting the alternate universe was a nod to the fans that love that storyline and I'm okay with that, even though the excuse to do it was very weak, but the fight that came afterwards was Cheeseville overload and Windmark's demise was a huge letdown. Personally I think Michael had more to do with the his death than Olivia, but the whole thing was so bad, I don't care who did it.

    However, I was more disappointed with Olivia having to take Cortexiphan to be kickass again and that's the opposite of what I was hoping for her character. She may have escaped her captors earlier in the season, but you have to admit her captors were the dumbest kids on the block. They left her alone in a room full of sharp ends and tools, so it's not like they made it difficult for a trained FBI agent.

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  9. I am one of those people who felt cheated/disappointed with Olivia's character for season 5. I felt slightly pacified by the cortexiphan reappearance in the finale. Throughout the first 4 seasons we were treated to Olivia being a superhero due to her cortexiphan ability. She was arguable the strongest character of the series. In season 5, I felt she was relegated to the 2nd team. In fact, what I have been hoping for all along is to see her advance to the level she had advanced to in the flash-forward from the season finale of season 3. I really wanted to be able to see that level of control and acceptance of her abilities. Instead they disappeared. So do i view cheated by this scene from the finale? No, I feel like the writers acknowledged that many of us were really frustrated with Olivia's lack of "badassery" and threw us a tiny little bone.

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