Welcome to Fringe Observations: the comprehensive clues and eastereggs round-up for episode 3.05 “Amber 31422”.
We dive deep into the mythology, symbolism and resonating factors to explore the meaning and unlock the interconnected mystery of Fringe.
The brain scans serve as a nice metaphor describing the internal duality-crisis that Olivia is experiencing, and the general parallel universe theme.
The brain also represents memory – which as we’ll see holds major value in the episode’s primary message.
Speaking of twins, the “Do Shapeshifters Dream of Electric Sheep?“ episode clue for this episode could well be the word ‘TWINS’ on Astrid’s magazine cover.
Break The System
Olivia takes the red pill.
As I’m sure you know, in The Matrix Morpheus offers Neo two choices – the blissful ignorance of the blue pill and the potentially painful truth that comes with the red pill.
Olivia thinks she taking the red pill because she wants to get rid of Projection Peter who is gnawing away at her, telling her that her reality is false. But internally and thematically what Olivia seeks is not ignorance, but truth.
Subconsciously she wants to go home – so much so that she instinctively puts on a blue shirt:
As we know, blue is the thematic color for the ‘Over Here’ universe – Olivia’s true home. This brings Olivia’s internal conflict to the surface – a part of her wants to just get on with her life, but she’s projecting another message entirely. Depending upon your perspective, the red and the blue could be argued to switch meaning.
We could also use this concept to once again examine whether one reality is truly more real than the other. Have the creators already told us through the colors they’ve assigned the respective universes? It’s certainly possible – but right now all Olivia wants to do is to resolve the feeling that something is not quite right with her world. ‘Home’, real or echo, is where the heart is.
By the end of the episode we discover the message behind Olivia choosing the red pill. The answer is that in order to go home (blue), Olivia needs to embrace the truth (red). Again, we have balance – her subconscious projecting that search.
Stuck on Goo
As we discovered last season, the alternate universe use a specially formulated toxin called ‘Amber 31422’ to contain the anomalies caused by tears in the fabric of their universe. This is a callback to the amber toxin used by Matthew Ziegler in episode 1.03 “The Ghost Network”.
Nature demands balance, so it’s only to be expected that such parallels exist. But whereas Over There the amber is used for containment, Over Here we’ve only seen it used as a weapon. Amber is neutral. Man isn’t.
This amber also has significance in describing Olivia’s internal state of being trapped in the alternate universe, while referencing the amberized mosquito in the movie Jurassic Park.
In the movie, DNA from mosquitoes that sucked dinosaur blood before they were preserved in amber were used to recreate (or clone) dinosaurs. We can see a similar thing happening with Olivia, in terms of her spiritual ‘rebirth’ and the possibility that Walternate might use her Cortexiphan to recreate soldiers with her ability to travel safely between worlds.
“The Ghost Network” holds another parallel. The episode featured Roy McComb, who heard voices in his head (aka the ‘ghost network’) due to experiments performed on him years earlier by Walter. Olivia has her own voice in her head (Projection Peter), in part due to her childhood experiments by Walter and William Bell. While projection Peter represents her subconscious (or real self), it’s likely that her Cortexiphan enables it to manifest so strongly during this highly emotional period.
Ghost Face Killer
While I very much doubt this was the intention behind this visual, it did remind me of the smoke face glyph.
The slanted light thematic has been present since the second season. We suspect that it is used to convey the presence of high levels of energy. That idea is preserved in this scene where amber has been used to contain rifts in the fabric of the universe.
Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of
Lincoln attributes the quote, “The stuff that dreams are made of,” to Cary Grant and not Humphrey Bogart. Chalk this up to another difference between the two worlds.
It’s in the 1941 movie The Maltese Falcon that Bogart’s character utters the famous line:
We can assume that Over There, Cary Grant starred in the movie instead.
It’s also interesting to see that the writers haven’t wasted an opportunity to incorporate another dream reference into our subconscious minds.
October 17th, 1989
As per the information video, in 1989 isolated tears in the fabric of the alternate universe began to increase in frequency, creating micro-black holes. Walternate mentions that they first used amber to contain such anomalies on October 17th, 1989 – a date which corresponds to the Loma Prieta earthquake ‘Over Here’.
The suggestion is that the earthquake Over Here is linked to a devastating black hole Over There. Another reminder that the two universes do not operate in a vacuum – as we’ve seen on countless occasions, nature seeks balance. The interesting thing is that Harvard Yard was hit Over There on that date (and not the San Francisco Bay area) – nature seeks balance..where it can.
This event is also interesting because it was the one in which Christine Hollis’ parents were killed when she was just a little girl. Christine is the girl that our Observer friend August ‘developed feelings for’.
Door To His Heart
Notice how Walternate frames the picture of himself and young Peter with his hands, as though creating a kind of doorway. Actually, by mentally rotating the image it reminds me of the door that Walter used to steal Peter. Intentional or otherwise, I don’t think it holds any less power.
(Then there’s this archway)
Another parallel – both universes have discovered how to pass through solid matter by using harmonic vibrations. Joshua ‘Over There’ and Mitchell ‘Loeb Over’ Here (back in episode 1.10 “Safe”). Man-made breaches to both sides of the fabric.
Am I In Heaven?
The wakeful-haze thematic is one that has been used frequently throughout Fringestory. It seems to represent the blurry interim between dreams and reality (or life and death, etc), and is an effective way to help transition the audience through the eyes of the character. Above are some examples of its use.
Silence In The Flybry
Either Olivia was really lucky, or her CortexiPOWA! enabled her to hear the bomb.
When she returned from her other side meeting with William Bell, she displayed heightened hearing – a consequence of her childhood trials and the trauma from the crude method of travel used to return her home. It’s possible her ability cranked into gear the moment Charlnate mentioned ‘walking through walls’ – something familiar to Olivia from her universe. Another sign of her mind’s internal protection system while leaving us room to once again speculate just how ‘constructed’ Olivia’s journey is.
It’s also worth noting that Lincoln Lee wasn’t too slow on the bomb uptake either. Does he just trust Olivia’s judgement, or is his own hearing really..super?
The Truth Behind The Curtain
Olivia continues to deny her true nature and takes more red pills..
But all around her is blue..
And the curtain to the other side is beginning to open. Peek-a-boo!
Bra & Panties Tank™: What Dreams May Come
sacrifice dip into the isolation tank is obviously a strong callback to her trials in the Bra & Panties Tank™ in episodes: Pilot, The Dreamscape and The Transformation. Over Here, she primarily used to tank to navigate the subconscious memories of former partner John Scott via drug-induced dreamscapes.
Our hopes of seeing this method of subconscious travel being adapted for travel between universes are now realized. But as the thematical bridge between dreams and reality draws ever-closer, is Olivia heading back to reality, or back to the dream?
The scene also shares a resemblance to Olivia’s leap into the sea of her subconscious in the season 3 premiere – “Olivia”.
Water plays an important part in providing a womb-like environment for the body, regressing the mind back to a state of childhood – the time when it is most free and capable of accessing those special abilities that we each had for a time too brief.
Water often represents transformation and rebirth. As you may recall, it played an important visual role in Walter’s struggle to rebirth his own little Peter, and nature’s failed attempt to evoke the balance that she so craves.
As Olivia takes the plunge, she jokes, “it’s like riding a roller coaster on Coney island, right?”
Bless her, she knows not of what she speaks.
But in reality, it’s a subconscious reference to her happy day out with the littlest of Ellas in the season 2 episode “August”. Olivia’s emotional pull to go back home is being driven by the internal knowledge that it is her niece’s birthday. ‘Projection Peter’, as we call him, manifests in many different ways.
As Olivia pushes herself back to the surface of her true reality, Walternate voices his own preparedness to cross the line:
“Only those who risk going too far, find out how far they can go.”
These words underscore the stakes, while paralleling William Bell’s push for Walter to cross the line (“The Box”):
“Only those that risk going too far can possibly know how far they can go”
Once again we have intrinsic balance – the two universes proving that they travel in similar circles, with those within them caught in the echoes. Walternate’s resolve is fixed – he’ll do anything to see through his objective. Walter’s mettle is less clear at this stage. He has his Prometheus (Massive Dynamic), but does he finally have the wisdom to apply himself towards a more positive outcome? Don’t hold your breath.
Olivia travels back home to her universe. The suggestion here is that she physically travels home and doesn’t just glimpse over like she seemingly did in “The Road Not Taken”. (although even in that episode, there’s the slight suggestion that she may also have physically traveled during one of her glimpses). The static on the monitor, and the overall presentation of the scene, seems to imply that Olivia’s momentary journey home was physical and not just mental.
Olivia ends up in a gift shop because it is located on Liberty Island – the exact same spot where Walternate’s research facility is located in the alternate universe – makes sense. But why a gift shop?
The answer – because it is Ella’s birthday and Olivia’s subconsciously knows this – she badly, madly, wants to get Ella a gift for her birthday.
The convenience and coincidence of which is eradicated by remembering that much of what we see in this show is Olivia’s journey. Are her worlds self-constructed ones? The further down the rabbit hole we go, the more possible this becomes. But even leaving that idea aside, listening to our internal function often gets us to where we need to be. Olivia listened. Olivia got there.
The snow globe not only represents the gift that Olivia would have possibly picked out for Ella, the falling snow globe also symbolises the Story Beast that is the potential destruction of one, possibly two universes. It’s a callback to Nina’s crazy prop demonstration from “Momentum Deferred”.
The above image adds a third layer to the symbolism. When I look at that I see the Multiverse in all of her glory, the choices – the idea that somewhere out there, there is another, and another, and another. It’s perspective-shifting and may be mindset that resolves our story. If we are just one of many – shouldn’t we want the best for our other selves? Walter and Walternate might do well to get themselves a snow globe. It’s what wishes are made of.
On the same token, we go from external to internal – the multiple universes, the doubles – they are representations of the battle of self. I keep saying this but I think it’s worth saying, Walternate is Walter and vice versa. The difference is the path that was taken. With this viewpoint, we can see that Walter hurt himself on every level (similar perspectives can be gleaned from the other doubles). He stole from himself and he’s seeking revenge on himself – he’s caught in the spiral. Which is why forgiveness and redemption isn’t just a one way street, it’s about acquiring the internal harmony that everyone seeks. For me, this is what the alternate reality story represents at its very core.
The One She Forgot
In remembering Ella’s birthday, Olivia forgets lunch with Mother Dunham. This was supposed to be an important day for the pair of them because it represents the death of R@chelnate, who died giving birth to Ellanate. Much like the auburn diamond scenario in “The Plateau”, Olivia is not from this world, so her other side feelings dictated.
Although Altlivia IS Olivia, just on a different road, she doesn’t share her experiences – certainly not as intimately as Walternate would have hoped.
Olivia’s personal experience of what it’s like to be switched causes Altstrid to look at things in another light – illustrating the limitations of the ‘Lookers’, while implying that emotional logic and statistical logic combined could lead to more accurate problem solving.
On The Right Track
Olivia wakes up on train tracks of her memory. Trains represent travel. She is underneath the Riverdale bank. Rivers represent consciousness. Both of which foreshadow the upcoming reclamation of Olivia’s identity.
It’s also interesting because Altlivia saved Peter from a train splattering not too long ago. Probably not intentional but stories seek balance too.
Amber Vs Water
The episode used amber and water against one another to supplement the primary themes of being trapped and freedom.
Observing The Observer
The Observer eyeballs Broylnate as he presides over the latest goings-on.
Olivia is now in the driving seat – the feeling now too strong for her to ignore. She needs proof.
Olivia’s second dip in the Bra & Panties Tank™ sees her travel back home for the second time – and once again she shatters the snow globe (callback and possible foreshadowing). Now we get verification that the gift shop is located in the same spot as Walternate’s facility on the other side – the screencap above makes that clear.
Both worlds going about their business, both with their own scars. Look at them, poor fragile worlds. A reminder that we are all in this together. How can we afford to lose either?
Speaking of reminders, the episode did a good job at conveying the human need to remember. We see it represented through Walternate remembering the day that Peter was kidnapped/the first amber quarantine. With Matthew’s experience of being stuck physically and mentally in amber. With Charlnate remembering that something was different. With the picture of the Raven (symbolizing memories). And, ultimately, with Olivia remembering who she is.
Memory has always been an important theme in Fringe, but it’s application here is particularly poignant as it shifts the trend of memories being painful (as we’ve often seen in the past on this show), and presents memory as a positive device – something that can manifest remarkable inner strength.
For me, there is sadness but also dignity in this scene as Olivia stands shoulder to shoulder with liberty. Finally free, our trapped ‘twin’ has rediscovered herself by holding on to her memories and using them to move forward. No wonder the world around her reflects what’s going on inside – this journey has made her more self-aware than she otherwise would have been, and you have to think that this will..in time..make her stronger and wiser.
Upon returning from her journey of discovery, Olivia looks quite the part in her cape and ‘halo’. My interpretation is that she has leveled-up and gained a new sense of self and knowledge – having experienced both sides through her own eyes, she is now well placed to use wisdom to solve the problems of both worlds. The journey back, though, can be just as traumatic – and internal peace may not come without a sacrifice.
- More underground symbolism with the Franklin Street Station quarantine.
- Update: The next episode clue (6955) can be found outside the Franklin St. Station at the beginning of the episode. (Thanks to Xerophytes for the reminder).
- Joshua and pal used the famous green, green, green, red when reviving Matthew from the amber.
- Broyles tells Walternate that if he notices anything “unusual about Olivia he’ll let him know. He certainly recognizes something strange about her – will he let Walternate know?
- As mentioned in my review, Walternate’s line about nature only recognizing balance and imbalance juxtaposes Walter’s line in 2.15 about there only being ‘one god in his Lab’. Something I didn’t mention in my review is that Walternate’s declaration also confirms our suspicions that he doesn’t see himself as being ‘evil’. Whether we agree with his methods or not, this is a crucial character detail going forward.
- The Glyphs code for this episode spelled E V E N T – as in, What is The Event? 😮