Beyond The Cape and Mask


ABILITY: (n.) The quality or state of being able; power to perform, whether physical, moral, intellectual, conventional, or legal; capacity; skill or competence in doing; sufficiency of strength, skill, resources, etc.; — in the plural, faculty, talent.

For a series that describes itself as the “Science Next” show, it should really come as no surprise that “Fringe” is set to reach beyond the conventional norms of regular television experience. The latest episode, “Ability”, presented us with the idea that Olivia is special, gifted. In other words, she has mad skills! It’s a possibility that gives me great optimism for the future of the show. Not only does it offer plausible explanations for why Olivia is so widely coveted by the likes of Nina, Jones and Broyles, and why these seemingly random events happen all around her. But it elevates the show above a human drama to the level of an inspirational human drama.

On some level, wouldn’t we all want powers? Don’t we all aspire to be faster, stronger, better..wouldn’t it be good to heal the sick and the needy, to bring back loved ones, even for a moment? What price having abilities that allow us to do the things that we can only imagine? I feel that this is why season 1 of “Heroes“, despite obvious flaws, was so legendary. It instilled a sense of wonder and possibility at a time when the television LOSTaudience was open to it. And why Bad Robot’s Lost has, in my humble opinion, been the best television show over the past 5 years. The willing among us can understand the magic, we can see that the show itself is one big metaphor for our world and the people, conflicts, hopes and desires in it. The show invites, no, compels, it’s audience to journey through the trials and tribulations of these seemingly disparate characters. We suspect that they are connected, that they might be special, that they are “there for a reason”, for a grand purpose. And most of us, I suspect, can all relate to that. So when John Locke died and resurrected 3 days later, it resonated, because on some level, we all believe in our own metaphorical ‘islands’ – our own place “where miracles happen”, our own “constants”, our own destiny.

Which is why “Fringe” intrigues me — it shares many of Lost’s themes, but is even more grounded in the ‘real world’. Sure, some of the science can be ‘out there’, but hey, science is pretty out there.

SupermanOf course, the fantastical aspects are only one of the reasons that make such stories great, but I think such inspirational elements are are among the most powerful. Which is why I really hope that Olivia is a ‘Cortexiphan kid’. She may not have been born special like Superman. However, she was chosen..

What does that mean, to be chosen? Did Olivia display specific traits that  gave her the best chance of maximising her abilities? But what distinguishable traits can a child display? I guess the “Run Away” story in the latest Fringe comic can provide some ideas for why certain children were selected for William Bell’s clinical trial.

At any rate, aren’t all children “special”? It’s a notion not lost on “Lost”, where the concept of Tabula Rasa and the importance of rebirth are some of the underlying themes of the entire series. Themes which have recently evolved into self-fulfilling prophecies, where the arrival of a ‘special child’ is foretold by the adult version of that child (yeah, Lost goes there). Which makes me wonder – could Olivia have been prophesied? After all, doesn’t everything happen for a reason in these shows? Could the Observer have had something to do with Olivia’s selection..or perhaps Peter’s? In fact, I’d be surprised if Peter wasn’t also a Cortexiphan kid..or at the very least, the crude equivalent from one of Walter’s experiments.

Who will watch the Watchmen?Thing is, Cortexiphan, like so many ‘gifts’, must surely come with negative consequences. I believe they call it the “gift and the curse”. It seems to be the blueprint for many ‘heroes’ that they should struggle with their abilities and the moral implications of their use. In an ideal reality the hero would always remain a hero. His or her actions would be purely for the good of humanity, there would be no question as to their intentions. But as The Dark Knight and Watchmen stories have illustrated: every hero will fail at some point, every hero will question their own ability, every hero will at some point wonder: ‘am I part of the solution..or part of the problem?’. As we well know, some end up becoming the very thing they are fighting against.

This personal conflict could be argued to mirror the broader issue at the heart of Fringe (and indeed, our world) – the advancement of science and technology; tools of the enlightened, from which so much good has been done. Science, in many respects, is OUR ability.  Just as faith is, for those who share that belief system.

But how do you regulate and control the use and application of science – who watches this advancement? It’s a tricky question..

Probably a better question in relation to this topic would be, who has the right to decide that a child should be treated with Cortexiphan? It is not a life-saving medication, or a treatment for an illness. It’s a reality changing (or preserving) drug, the ethical and moral implications of which have to be severely questioned. Does anyone deserve to be made a “soldier” at such a young age?

Olivia Dunham in the the FringeverseOne thing that I’ll be particularly interested to see upon the Fringe return is Olivia’s long-term response to her supposed ability. It’s one thing knowingly living with something like this your entire life, it’s another thing suddenly finding out that you’re a piece of a much larger pattern. How will she respond this reveal – will it make her question her identity, or will she embrace it? Maybe she’ll seek help from those who already know more about her than she does?

But perhaps this is all part of the plan? If Cortexiphan really does preserve the mind as it was perhaps intended – as God (or whatever your belief system) intended, then maybe the likes of Olivia have been given the opportunity to experience reality in it’s purest form? In the context of the show, perhaps everyone at one point had the ability.

For me, this is the underlying message of the “Ability” episode – that we are all born with an innate skill. A tool that gives us everything we need in the journey that awaits humanity. This ability elevates us all. Perhaps the key is understanding how to unlock it.

Maybe in this context, the advancement of science and technology will take us full-circle. Expanding upon that fleeting time when our minds were their most open — when anything and everything was still possible? If this does happen, perhaps we’ll be better prepared to face the challenges, like the ‘multiversal’ conflict that the ZFT’ers predict in their manuscript?

Which world..which reality deserves to win and prosper, if there can only be one? I fear that it’s a question that our own history has already answered for us. But maybe we all have the ability to change the future, if not the past..


  1. Erin says

    Did you ever discuss Olivia’s ability to recall any number she sees and how this relates to the fact that she was in the Cortexiphan experiment? I’m sure you have, and I just haven’t seen it. Hrm.

    Like: Thumb up 0

  2. says

    I think that I may have touched on it, but not since “Ability”, I don’t think — Olivia mentioned those skills in the “Safe” episode during the card scene with Peter, right?:

    “That’s all I would do when I was a kid. I’m sure that if I was a child today, I would be diagnosed with something. I just have this thing for numbers. I see them once and remember them the rest of my life.”

    That said, I’m suspicious that this might even allude to the idea that John Scott is (also) a Cortexiphan kid, since weren’t these his memories/skills that were leaking over to Olivia’s mind? Hmm..

    Olivia also mentioned similar skill-sets during “The Arrival”, when she connected the dots to spot the Observer:

    “There are many things I’m not good at, too many, but one thing I can do, that I’ve always been able to do, that game, Concentration. Memory. Connecting things. Putting them together. See…Two weeks ago at the hospital. That’s him”

    Eitherway, it’s a good shout, Erin — I agree that this could well be foreshadowing to Olivia’s (and possibly Scott’s) Cortexiphan induced ‘skills’.

    Like: Thumb up 0

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *