Thursday, December 9, 2010

TV Episode Review: Fringe “Marionette”

I have to admit that I had mixed feelings about a return to “freak of the week” mode this week after such a string of harrowing episodes with much higher stakes (not to mention fascinating glances at what the other reality looks like—I never thought I would mourn the loss of the zeppelin).  But tonight’s  transition back to the old team you know and love and the chasing down of a super-creep did a nice job of stringing out the master storyline a bit while providing some clever (if incredibly dark) thematic parallels betwixt the two stories.  I’m bringing back “betwixt”.  I don’t know where it was, but it’s back.  Deal with it and tell your friends.

Tonight’s cold open was a fairly memorable one.  At first it seemed overly familiar—one unknown stranger stalking another unknown stranger for unknown purposes, but by the time the camera put us at the cliff’s edge of a spread open rib cage, I was hooked.  The fact that the victim reawakened long enough to wave off the EMS guys was an added bonus of unsettling imagery (though it didn’t turn out to be part of the master story, it felt at the moment like he knew something we didn’t).

I was really intrigued to see that tonight’s episode quickly shone a light into some of the darkest corners of Fringe’s reality.  In particular, the marionette scene from which the episode takes its title was easily the darkest, most unsettling thing the show has ever done.  The sequence is excellently shot—the room is filled with the antiquated, overly-simple looking machinery that Fringe always makes us believe is what near-magical levels of science would like, though in this case it’s all just gears, strings and levers to allow a “dance of the dead” that would make Richard Matheson vomit on his typewriter.  If you don’t get that joke, you bought the wrong edition of I Am Legend.  The sequence is not really all that moving; Barrett’s tears certainly left me unmoved (perhaps because I don’t believe we even knew his relation to her at this point?), but the creepiness of the obsession he has with her is brought to horrifying fruition here.  The practical purpose seems to be the exercise of the body parts, but her ballerina costume, which clearly seems to be holding her body together and in loosely human postures, and the care with which he seems to have actually choreographed her dance were enough to force me to glance away from the screen more than once.  And what a wonderful, artfully disgusting end to the “routine” as the camera follows her final dance step, her slipper tracing a line limply across the dirt floor of the basement.  I shuddered; an awesomely effective scene start-to-finish.

Overall, though, the main storyline of the night was a bit too predictable—once we discovered the heart was a donor, it only took a remembrance of the preview for this week’s episode to make the connection that the girl we saw waking up Frankenstein’s-monster style was the organ donor who had once owned the heart.  That’s a minor strike against an otherwise solid episode, but I like this show best when I’m guessing for at least the first few segments, and I love it when I end up being wrong anyway. 

Of course, the real purpose of the main story tonight was all metaphoric, and in that sense I thought it worked wonderfully on multiple levels.  Peter and Olivia’s ongoing attempt to come to terms with his relationship with the alternate Olivia (have we decided what we’re calling her yet, internet?) is nicely exploded by Barrett’s comment that he didn’t see Amanda in the eyes of whatever it was he brought to life.  While I’m not sure Olivia and Peter’s situation is even a near-parallel to a support-group lurker reanimating a beautiful young girl to fulfill a ballerina fetish, the statement itself stands up:  When we truly care for someone, we know them more deeply than any imposter could really hope to overcome.  Peter’s whispered apology to Olivia’s empty chair in the park is a sad moment for a character who has already suffered enough emotional devastation this season.  Sadly, it doesn’t look like things are going to be looking up for Peter anytime soon.  But on the bright side, he had alternate universe sex.  That has to be SOME consolation.

The more subtle metaphor of “Marionette” is one that the show has really built its whole foundation upon, but I thought tonight was a particularly strong entry.  The idea that human bodies are simply machines made of modifiable, removable, controllable parts was on gruesome display in the marionette scene as well as the various outcomes of the victims—both of them received the parts from a different machine and were able to go on functioning, but only with a cocktail of drugs to help the body run properly with replacement parts.   The actual physical control of Amanda’s body by another human being is perhaps the most explicit image we’ve seen of this idea though.  I was reminded of the occasional overhead shots the show has used of characters running through mazes, labyrinths, tunnels, etc (reaching all the way back to the pilot), all suggesting that perhaps some higher power (or what the show used to suggest was a Pattern) was pulling all of our strings at its leisure.  It continues to be an intriguing thematic exploration for this show and I’m glad they reanimate the idea every once in a while.

So overall, there wasn’t much to complain about in this episode.  It was filled with nice small touches and used its main story to nicely compliment and expand on its master stories and themes in more than one way.  It definitely wasn’t one for the squeamish, and it was a bit of a letdown in terms of adrenaline after a season that has been heavy on near-misses, double crosses, daring escapes, and other intensifying-adjective-plus-action-show-type-noun sorts of things.  It also reminded us nicely of one new addition to Olivia’s character that I’m really looking forward to as the show moves forward:  she has made a promise to someone from the alternate universe who entrusted her to save his world at the expense of his life (and his family’s life if she breaks the promise or fails).  For me, the alternate Broyles was as likeable as the one we know and love, so the quiet reminder here of who he was and what his death and her promise meant had a lot of impact.  I think it will be a key to her character by season’s end—an end I’m very excited for based on where things have taken us so far.  See you in the new year.

Overall:  8.3/10

Great Quotes, Interesting Moments, What Not and Occasionally What-have-you:
  • Looks like our last episode until January 21st—and when Fringe returns, the Watchers return with it! 
  • Fringe moves to Fridays—this is a death slot for Fox, so don’t you DARE miss an episode and ruin this show’s ratings chances completely (I know that’s not how ratings work, but the more who watch the more voices talking about it on the web)
  • Walter’s shout/squeal of joy when he discovered his briefcase in the bathroom is exactly the kind of tiny moment of personality that John Noble lends to Walter that makes him my favorite character on television.
  • Walter:  “And by ‘intimate’ I mean sexual.”
Peter:  “Yeah, I got that.” 
Jackson plays off of Noble so well in these exchanges.  See also:
  • Walter: “I could use a…strawberry milkshake.”
Peter: “I can handle tha—“
Walter:  “With whipped cream.”
Peter:  “Don’t push it.”
  • I have heard of the Viking “blood eagle” as something different:  incisions are made in the back and the lungs were pulled out through the incisions (sometimes with the victim still drawing breath) to look like wings.  Either version:  Blerg.
  • When Walter hears about the final moments of the (literally) heartless first victim he exclaims “Lady Fortune has smiled upon us!”  Only Walter.  And that’s why I love this show.
  • The timeline of Olivia’s absence is blurry to me:  Broyles says two months have been rough for her, she responds that “the last few months” had taken a toll.  Do you think she’s been BACK for two months in tonight’s episode, or did she recover quickly and the whole affair w/the alternate universe was a couple months?
  • This episode was brought to you by Sprint, which apparently demanded that their sponsorship be made explicit within the episode.  “Hey, nice video phones.”
  • Do you think Walter’s story about grave robbery inspiring Frankenstein holds water?  I thought Mary Shelley just invented the tale to entertain some friends who were also into scary stories?  Either my AP Lit teacher or Walter is a liar.  I would prefer to learn that Walter is an honest man.
  • Josh Jackson does a great job of selling the idea that Peter “tells” Olivia what happened with her alternate without actually having to say it aloud.  He’s come a long way since being Pacey.  His work on this show is overshadowed by Walter’s overwhelming personality, but he’s really gotten stronger as the show has gone on.
  • Walter tasting the remains was not surprising given who he is, but the fact that he was able to identify flavors of concrete and two different types of wood (cherry and mahogany) was a hilarious touch.


  1. I believe the internet has concluded that we're calling her Fauxlivia?

  2. I like that. I think I've seen that around, now that you mention it. the nickname of choice was eluding me last night as I wrote this post though...

  3. Great stuff!

    The entire premise of bringing a loved one back to life is exactly what starts Full Metal Alchemist - an anime - off. Two brothers attempt to bring back their mother through alchemy (a different kind of science) but don't get what they hoped for.

    As for alt Olvia's name, I've heard Bolivia, but I don't like because I don't get it.

    And I think it's been two months since the swap was made.

  4. I believe that the in-story timeline has Walter, Peter, and Fauxlivia returning to our universe from Red Earth in the season finale, and the subsequent chain of events wherein Olivia and Fauxlivia trade identities and then return to their respective universes takes place over the next two months.

  5. Frankenstein was written about the same time that the execution rate in london was falling, meaning less bodies were available for academic purposes. So it's possible that shelley drew inspiration from that.

  6. The more I talk to people, the more convinced I am of your timeline, somebody. S_Hodge, I don't know my British history that well, but your hypothesis is making me want to go back and double check the foreword to my copy of the book...