Welcome to Fringe Observations: the comprehensive clues and eastereggs round-up for episode 3.03 “The Plateau”.
We dive deep into the mythology, symbolism and resonating factors to explore the meaning and unlock the interconnected mystery of Fringe.
Sign of the Time – And Place
Pens have been a recurring device in Fringe, particularly of late, with Milo using the rare and mighty instrument to set in motion a chain of improbable events.
The clue for this episode, foreshadowed in the previous episode, was “The Pen Is Mightier” message on the door (left).
Other popular pen references include, Peter’s ‘save a dying pen’ routine in the season premiere, the “find the crack” reference from “Northwest Passage”, and the Clause Penrose (Pen-Rose) easteregg from “The Same Old Story”, to mention a few.
As for why pens are so rarely used in the alternate universe? There may be an ultimate reason that the show will get to – let’s just state that, but it seems like another one of those quirks. Instead of pens they use digital devices. Yet they still use pencils and sharpies. It may seem ‘weird’ to those from Over Here, but really it’s not much ‘weirder’ than driving double decker cars, or flying zeppelins – when they still use airplanes to travel.
For me, the pen is one of the best nuances between the two universes that we’ve seen so far, because not only is it a nice metaphor, but it also illustrates how a perfectly useful instrument has been phased out by a shift in technology and mindset. It casts my mind to the Observers and how they appear to hanker for ‘old tech’ – yet that ‘old tech’ is powerful, some might even say mighty.
And who knows, perhaps this ‘marginalising’ of the pen was done intentionally? And how many budding writers have had their paths blocked because they are not as adept with digital as they would have been with ink? I’m only being half serious, but it’s just interesting to consider how this pen idea doesn’t just describe a trigger, it also talks about removal or extraction.
It’s not the yellow brick road, but Olivia is on the path home. As we speculated a couple of episodes ago, the symbolism here is quite apparent.
“Maybe I should, dive off the deep end?”
Charlnate’s words unwittingly make reference to the fact that Olivia has dived into the sea of her subconscious and is furiously kicking so as not to be submerged by the memories of Altlivia.
“You think anyone would notice the difference?“
So we have two conversations going on at once – the jokey surface level conversation, and both Charlnate and Olivia projecting their subconscious thoughts/fears on a deeper level.
Rather curiously, Olivia glances over at Broylnate who is watching her from his window. Is this Altlivia’s conscientiousness coming to the surface, or is it a faint moment of recognition from Olivia, who sees this familiar face reflecting from within. A face she recognizes on a deeper level internally?
Broylnate is soon joined by another reflective force in what really is a powerful camera shot – to have this discussion play out using such a device helps to resonate the internal dynamics at play where everything and everyone is feeling just a bit backwards and upside down, even those who belong in the alternate universe have been unhinged and refracted by this new Olivia Dunham.
And notice how they are both looking down at Olivia – giving the vibe that they are in a higher dimension from the one that Olivia comes from.
We’ve often spoken about the importance of choice in this story and what that really means in the grand scheme of things. So it’s interesting to note that Walternate wants Olivia to submit willingly. We know this from the premiere, but his phrasing here reveals a skewed idea of choice. If Olivia submits under the current circumstances she wont really be choosing because that choice will be driven by ‘Altlivia’.
How does this idea play into the overall themes of freewill and fate in this story? Without wishing to reduce the consequences of our characters actions, I find it interesting to consider whether there is a larger framework governing their choices. We’ve seen glimpses of this with the Observers interfering in certain events.
Yellow sheet draped over Jillian Foster – a color that Olivia has hated since childhood, used to symbolise death in this scene. Jill also liked Daisies – as we know, the Blight has crippled a lot of the vegetation and plant life in the alternate universe, but not everywhere has been inflicted, so that’s not a problem. The ‘Daisy’ reference reminds me of Loraine Daisy from “The Same Old Story”.
AU State of Mind
The bus driver says that he has never hit a person before, but that he once hit a pigeon and felt “horrible for weeks”. Why is this important enough to warrant mention? Because the writers haven’t wasted the opportunity to tell us something about the alternate universe. Pigeons are considered by many Over Here to be nothing more than “rats with wings”, but in the alternate universe where they have suffered so much damage to natural life, they see things slightly differently.
And just in case we didn’t notice the intention, he’s sitting on a blue seat to help cast our minds to the Over Here universe and make the subconscious comparison.
Last season we found out that Texas is divided into two states in the alternate universe – North and South Texas. This single frame makes reference to that fact, while also establishing that Frank is a virologist.
Observing The Observer
Clearly, being in the alternate universe is not a bridge too far for the Observer.
‘Van Horn’s Tavern’ may be a reference to Senator Van Horn – Broyles’ buddy, last seen in 3.01 “Olivia”.
His Little Pony
In the previous episode, “The Box”, a symbol of a horse can be seen as Walter opens the box containing his ownership rights to Massive Dynamic. In this episode Madeline uses Milo’s miniature horse in an attempt to remind him of who he really is. The recurrence of horse symbolism is another episode clue (along with the pen) used to foreshadow events in “The Plateau”.
Horses are considered to be helpers and messengers, which plays into Madeline using the toy horse in an attempt to get through to Milo, to remind him of who he once was. Horses also symbolise freedom – Maddy had hoped that the drug trials would release Milo from the restraints that he was born with. Horses are also powerful symbols in dreams. As we’ve mentioned before, in many respects the alternate universe itself can be considered to be a dream, with the horse being Milo’s marker for reality. Milo has lost his grip on reality because he’s forgotten his emotional attachments. Thankfully, Olivia is not that far gone.
Leaf Her Alone
This faux leaf glyph looks a bit shady if you ask me.
The Russian Matryoshka dolls were a nice touch. They serve as a metaphor for the ‘object within a similar object’, which describes the way in which Altlivia’s memories have been placed inside Olivia. That the dolls are back-dropped by a mirror only serves to magnify the strength of this piece of symbolism and the way Olivia is reflecting on ‘her’ life in this scene.
On a broader scale it also illustrates the way in which the two universes are essentially within one another.
You may also notice that this scene mirrors (pun intended) the one from the premiere where Olivia looks at the pictures on Mother Dunham’s mantelpiece.
Perhaps one of the most powerful reflections used on Fringe, because the timing is so great. Just as Olivia’s identity splits with the faint memory of her real life emerging, so does her face in the mirror – literally reflecting her internal conflict. It’s awesome.
Big Brother, or rather, Fringe Division, is watching.
“The State of Midland Welcomes You” – as we discovered last season, Oklahoma and Kansas are one state called Midland. We often talk about the ‘cyclical nature of events’ on this show, so I’m obliged to point out the carousel. I know it’s an advertisement a fair, but it still works for me.
Walter and Peter were internal manifestations from Olivia’s mind. To help her remember who she is, Olivia’s subconscious projected representations of those she is close to, those who help form her true identity.
Initially her sightings of Peter and Walter are not fully realized – neither of her projections speak to Olivia at first, as her internal mind continues to form and shape them. It’s not until later that the projection of ‘Peter’ is strong enough to communicate with Olivia once her guard is down.
In effect, there are three Olivias in this scene :
- The Olivia part of Olivia
- The Altlivia part of Olivia
- The subconscious of Olivia manifesting as Peter.
Since Walter and Peter are representations from Olivia’s subconscious, it’s worth noting the way in which they behave because this is how Olivia’s internal mind feels about them. ‘Walter’ manifests at a hospital, which mirrors their reunion in the Pilot. They are back at square one with much still unresolved. He looks broken and rather tragic, indicating Olivia’s sympathy for him. He smiles at Olivia, but it’s a weak smile, suggesting that while Olivia has a fondness for this man, she doesn’t entirely trust him, a lot of damage needs to be repaired.
As for Peter. He comes over rather distant at first. On his second appearance, half of his face is cast in shadow, representing his search for union and resolution. Other than that he comes across as strong, calm and soothing. Qualities that we know Boy Wonder to have.
So Olivia’s subconscious does a pretty accurate job at projecting the characteristics of Walter and Peter. But it’s worth bearing in mind that we, the audience, have a much fuller perspective of Walter and Peter. For example, Walter can be ruthless – just as ruthless as Walternate. And Peter can be vulnerable. Olivia is a good judge of character, her subconscious is even better, but it is also subjective.
This isn’t the first time we have seen the subconscious projecting – here are two other examples:
We know with a good degree of certainty that Olivia’s subconscious examined, interacted with, and projected with that of John Scott in various stages of the first season.
I’ve also been of the opinion that Walter’s ‘visitor’ in “The Equation” was his own subconscious manifesting itself. He greets Walter with “welcome back”, suggesting that Walter’s subconscious mind still resides at St. Claire’s in some shape or form. Walter may have left, but it hasn’t.
As for the origins of this manifestation, did Walter’s subconscious project itself as a means of keeping Walter ‘relatively sane’, in a similar way that Olivia’s subconscious is trying to help her? Or was it a more self-destructive projection brought on by Walter’s own confusion and lack of identity after having the pieces of his brain removed and being pump full of drugs?
Those of you wondering, this isn’t the first time that Olivia has kissed herself.’ Projection Peter’ (left) follows ‘Sub-level Scott’ (right) in that regard.
I also wanted to point out another cute parallel. When Olivia’s subconscious projection of Walter is interrupted by Charlie, the projection disappears and in its place is a patient carrying a blue box. This echoes the previous episode where Walter is seen with a blue box containing his gift from Bell. No doubt this is intentional – I mean, the box even has the number “2” on the side. That, or this another case of the show’s inherent ability to guide the storytellers.
Both alternatives work for me, because it ‘works’. What also intrigues me is the message behind this. It adds further fuel to the idea that there’s some kind of intuitive correlation between the two universes – signs which mirror and manifest events on the other side. Of course, such signs need a wily subconscious to latch on the their energy – Olivia has such an ally. Moreover it illustrates that while they may be separated by an entire universe, our heroes are still able to communicate in ways they probably don’t even realize. It will be interesting if Walter and Massive Dynamic end up rescuing Olivia.
- Not a clue as such, but interesting to observe that the alternate universe has a ‘Science Division’ (Not that Brandonate does much except pretend to look busy).
- “Died on impact, no attempts to revive her were made.” Chalnate responds by saying “Obviously”. Which is fine, since she died immediately. But it’s interesting to note that the alternate universe, with all their advanced technology, don’t have the ability to revive the dead. I mean, it’s so out of the question that Charlnate says “obviously”. Considering that Over Here, Massive Dynamic can revive people within 5 or so hours of ‘death’, this tidbit is quite useful. Perhaps Walternate’s keeping that technology all for himself. 😉
- Charlnate teases Lincoln over his and Olivia’s “Vulcan mind-meld” – a Star Trek telepathy reference not lost on Fringe, even before Olivia was ‘sharing’ her mind with ‘Altlivia’.
- The glyphs for the this episode spelled BREACH, as in Olivia’s subconscious mind breaking through the memories of Altlivia.