There’s no doubt that the writers have used Olivia and Peter’s memory impairment as an nonlinear storytelling device, but personally, I’m fine with it. To my mind, it brings the story closer together and remains true to the cyclical narrative. I think many of us have suspected at one point or another that Olivia and Peter had met as children, given that their stories are so connected. More than that, this reveal also speaks to one of the core themes: memory.
What I find particularly interesting is that Olivia and Peter’s mutual ‘blind spot’ seems to be converging with some of the show’s other big ideas, that of SLEEP and WAKEFULNESS. It was Nick Lane who, referring to the Cortexies, told Olivia, “I think they meant for us to forget,” and that “sometimes what we wake up, can’t be put back to sleep.”
“Subject 13“, therefore, provides additional context for what we’ve long believed to carry a level of intent. The question now becomes: why and how were they made to forget?
The first thing to consider is whether or not Olivia and Peter’s ‘blind spots’ are related. It could go either way, depending on what the writers want to do, but here I’m working with the premise that it’s a bit of both.
Here are some possible reasons for Olivia and the Cortexiphan kids memory issues…
Possible Reasons for Olivia’s Memory Impairment:
- Olivia and the other Cortexies were essentially ‘sleeper agents‘ for a future war. Walter and Bellie may have wanted to preserve their unique childhood abilities by repressing their ‘inner child’ memories.
- They were children – the Cortexiphan kids were bound to forget one another if regular contact was broken.
- Their powers became to harder to control, so they were ‘put to sleep’ until the time came for them to be “activated” as adults.
- For their own protection. This may tie into the above.
- To prevent ‘outside forces’ from learning or acquiring their abilities.
- Olivia chose to. We talk about the power of dreams, isn’t it possible that she could also chosen to forget – perhaps influencing the others to do the same? Perhaps this is a bit too Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. But there’s also the potential flip-side: locking away happy memories, like a photos in a photo album, to be re-opened later.
- Olivia’s ability to identify objects from the other side may have prompted Walter to sedate her memories of Peter. “Dr. Walter” didn’t want people knowing the truth.
- Olivia and Peter didn’t meet as children..originally: If you buy my theory of ‘experience happening all at once’, perhaps within that we also have iteration - a cycle of events incurring slight changes during each additional loop. Perhaps their meeting as children was only truly experienced the moment they..ahem..went boom-boom in Peter’s room-room? We could be looking at a series of retroactive memories constantly forming. There may well come a time when the characters ‘suddenly remember’ their childhood meeting.
Here are some possible reasons for Peter not remembering meeting Olivia…
Possible Reasons for Peter’s Memory Impairment:
The absence of Olivia in Peter’s childhood memory is perhaps easier to pinpoint, since we know that he was already predisposed to growing up in another universe – the memories of which were distorted by the ‘culture shock’ and conditioning he endured under his new parents. The consequence was that he eventually ‘forgot’ his original universe – a combination of imagination and the added bonus of the mantra Walter gave him to stop him from having nightmares about his abduction (“Dream Logic“).
I would imagine that without regular contact with Olivia, she too would have been expelled from his memory banks – at least on a conscious level.
As for the possible methods which may have resulted in Olivia forgetting elements of her childhood/Peter, I’d put forward the following suggestions:
Possible Causes of Olivia’s Memory Impairment:
- Hypnosis. Perhaps the green, green, green, red lights may have played a part – preserving the specific memories in a state between sleep and wakefulness?
- Cortexi-Powa. Did one of the children have the ability to quieten memories? Could this have been controlled by Walter and Bell?
- Treatment. We have Cortexiphan, could Bishop & Bell have concocted a formula that specifically allowed them to negate emotionally charged memories?
- Technology: Walter has many toys, perhaps he invented something to help them forget?
- The Observer: We know that at some point he warned Walter not to let Peter go back to the other side (thanks to FB Peanut for the reminder). Did he also have a hand in putting certain aspects of Olivia’s memory to sleep?
Those are just 5 possibilities from the top of my head. I’m sure there are many more that we could think up if we put our minds to it.
Other related thoughts:
- Olivia the adult has a photographic memory.
- Olivia recently battled with memory loss while trapped in the alternate universe.
- I’ve suspected for a while that the red thematic for the alternate universe, could also signify memory. Could an entire universe be stitched together from memories?
This is just a framework – if you have any thoughts on the above, or the spotless minds of P-Olivia, feel free to share in the comments so we can make it all fit together.