Fringe Observations: 3.09 Marionette

Welcome to Fringe Observations: the comprehensive clues and eastereggs round-up for episode 3.09 “Marionette”.

We dive deep into the mythology, symbolism and resonating factors to explore the meaning and unlock the interconnected mystery of Fringe.

The Ballerina

The “Entrada” clue for this episode was the ballerina sign outside of the Springsteen Station (above, right – alternate universe). It foreshadows Amanda Walsh the deceased ballet dancer reanimated by Roland. The color of the spotlights depicted on the sign also match her ballet outfit.

Crossing The Line

A lot of focus has been placed on our characters “crossing the line“; going beyond the commonly accepted means of obtaining something desired. There is a reason why the show is called Fringe – to get there they need to cross a few lines. To get leave they need to cross a few lines.

In the first season, this idea was crystallized by Nicholas Boone (“Midnight“), who asked Walter: “How far would you go for someone you love?”

In season 2, we saw exactly how far Walter had gone.

In season 3, William Bell crosses from the beyond to encourage adventure once more in Walter; in the belief that the only way for his old friend to ‘fix’ (redeem) the damage they helped facilitate is to face those lines once more:


Will he? Wont he? Should he? With Walternate on the ‘other side’, relentless in his desire to enact balance, the laws of the story (and indeed, nature) dictate that Walter must pro-activate.

So here we are, the very first scene of “Marionette” sees Roland’s victim crossing a literal line –  foreshadowing the lengths that Roland is prepared to go to obtain something dear to his heart.

The train is an interesting mode of transport here. It symbolises a journey into new realms – Roland’s goal is to fix a mistake, to take back what was given away, to transport Amanda back to life.

The color of the line, though coincidental, evokes memories of the yellow STICK ME; conventionally known as Amber 31422, used in the alternate universe to contain anomalies. What are anomalies, if not metaphors for breaches in the heart? For Walternate is surely blighted.

“How far would you go for someone you love?”

In the space of one second, a  foot, and one line, we subconsciously have a sense of what is being implied, courtesy of the sheer weight of back-story.


Here we have our next episode clue – “Firefly Railway“. The following episode hasn’t aired at the time of writing this article, so if you don’t know how this relates to episode 3.10 but want to know, see here. I think you’ll get it.

The Northeast Connected” reference is possibly less meaningful in context, but does remind me of Olivia’s “Northwestern” T-shirt, last seen on Altlivia.

Given this is the first episode since Olivia’s return from the alternate universe, are we being asked to reflect? To consider the story from both sides – east and west?

Olivia certainly does a bit of dot-connecting in this episode.

Windows To The Soul

Nice framing here with Roland positioned between two windows. It is commonly held that eyes are ‘windows to the soul‘. Foreshadowing strikes in the subconscious mind..

Because Roland will soon take back the eyes once owned by Amanda, in his quest to revive her soul.

“Her eyes. When I looked into her eyes.. It wasn’t Amanda. I don’t know what I brought back, but I know, it wasn’t her” – Roland

And it was looking into the eyes of Amanda 2.0 when Roland realized that her soul was different – he had ‘brought back the wrong person’. The Fringe statement on the ‘uniqueness’ of a soul.

And so these ‘windows’ reflect the crux of Olivia’s anguish and her ‘crazy notion’ that she is so distinct, so unique that Peter would be able to see that Altlivia (pictured above) wasn’t her with just a look.

It may be a lot to ask, but as humans we want to be the best representation of ourselves in the eyes of those we deem important. Because then, a ‘crack’ becomes a window.

From that we can see the broader objective of the season – to invite the audience to question the notion the true concept of “there’s more than one of everything“. There are (at least) two universes, but are they merely iterations of one another? Can either be replaced (or obliterated) without the governing laws of nature noticing or doing something about it?

Are we, the fair-minded participants of this great epic, able to view both sides without prejudice; as definable worlds with their own. unique. spark?

Notions of hope, the soul and spirituality have been raised on both sides for a reason. They invite balance – placing us more in touch with the other side. Some of us even sympathize more for their world, perhaps because we sense that what they need most is hope, and a cuddle.

As we’ve previously discussed in depth, the people inside both worlds serve as a metaphor for the two external universes, and the two universes describe the characters’ internal conflicts. It’s a fascinating way of building character and mythology in parallel.

While I expect Fringe to make a statement on the relative ‘reality’ of the two worlds (is one, or are both, ‘constructs’?), I wouldn’t be surprised if the overriding message is that both are very much as real as the other.


Parallels abound as both Roland’s victim and Peter are both injected with what I like to call ‘SLEEP ME’. Fixing them in a kind of stasis, a strong theme of the season. As you may recall, Olivia was trapped in the alternate universe, both physically and spiritually. While Amanda is trapped between life and death – at least in the eyes of Roland, who can’t let her go.

We could further reference the Alternate Universe Amber, which traps unfortunate souls to preserve the living. Within that we have the duality of sleep and consciousness. You might want to look at it as MOTION and STILLNESS.

Perhaps allowing us to look at the stop/start motion present in the opening frames of the Fringe titles (video above).

All of our ‘stasis victims’ experience the conflict of being both asleep and awake; conscious of their plight yet unable to act. Perhaps Amanda is the exception to that rule, and given that she was literally brought back from the dead only to return as someone ‘different’. Perhaps there’s further meaning in that? The idea that you can restart life, but you can’t recapture the soul.

The He-art Of Door

The victim’s stolen heart is very reminiscent of Peter’s heart in “Brown Betty”, which is stolen by Walter in a bid to save his own life. A similar story plays out in this episode, with Roland stealing Amanda’s heart (which she donated before her death), in an attempt to bring her back from the dead.

The love triangle allusions are very apparent.

As an aside: Peter’s heart had little doors on them, which aside from being super-cute, symbolised his role in the conflict between the two universes – a child of two worlds. Roland’s victim may not be from the alternate universe, and his heart lacked the awesome door pimpage, but the two realms he stood between with were just as pertinent: life and death.

Worlds Apart

Am I right in saying that the last time we were provided with such a lengthy scene in front of the Bishops ‘two worlds picture’, it was Olivia helping Walter keep a lie about Peter? Now, it’s Walter encouraging Peter to tell Olivia the truth. It’s an interesting turn of events that ties into the story’s inherent desire to balance the scales.

Alternate Lines Of Thinking

More line crossing.

Project Yatsko

Yatsko and the Yatsko Project referenced in this episode is named after Thomas Yatsko, who directed this episode of Fringe (and the classic “White Tulip), and also worked on Alias.

Is It Serum To Make You Better?

While observing Peter take a good look at the serum that slowed down the death of Roland’s first victim, I was reminded of Walter’s HEAL ME serum which saved the life of young Peter. (You’ll also notice that two images above have the blue/red universe thematic going on.)

This further begs the question of whether Peter’s clock is ticking? (remember, we observed a lot of clock references in the previous episode, “Entrada”). Did Walter’s HEAL ME truly cure Peter all those years ago, or did it merely slow down his pending death, ala Roland’s victim?


“I’m betting it helps our organ thief sleep well at night”

“Well, at least somebody is”

Sleep is an ongoing theme that we like to monitor. We discover that Peter’s not sleeping very well.

Why is it that whenever Peter wakes up to a ‘great truth’, he ends up falling asleep soon afterwards? Take a look:

After crossing realities as a child and sensing that Walter was not his real father, he sleeps as he recovers from his illness.

After discovering his true origins he momentarily falls asleep in Northwest Passage.

After meeting his real father, he sleeps for three days.

After finding out that Olivia wasn’t *his* Olivia, he injects himself with SLEEP ME. And do we even need to mention the: “she’s trapped in the other universe!” wake up call courtesy of the one, the only, Gift Shop Lady (GSL)?

It’s a theme, and in many ways it’s indicative of the way he interacts with life. But might it tap into a broader idea? The notion that states of wakefulness and sleep are comprised of levels, perhaps? Is Peter still on his way to fully waking up, or is he falling deeper into the snooze?

Robot Dunham

Walter’s query as to whether Olivia was replaced with a robot was not only the funniest thing he has said in YEARS, it’s also poignant in terms of the show’s obsession with technology and the human concern of the machines rising and taking back their Internets.

Through the exploration of the season we’ve discovered that ‘machines’ (some of them) also share this desire to remain distinct. Moreover, we’ve explored the alternative idea in which machines are presented as a  lesser threat to our own selves – in Olivia’s case she became obsolete courtesy of Altlivia replacing her in the eyes and heart of Peter:

“She’s taken everything”

The Lioness, The Witch and the Wardrobe

A few episodes ago we commented on Olivia’s metaphorical journey through the wardrobe. One that signaled her glorious return home. Trouble is, our lioness has come out the other side to find that it’s no longer her wardrobe – a ‘witch’ has been rooting around her things. And by rooting around, I mean..

The Scene Of The Crime

No deep insight here, just a great choice of direction. The overhead perspective, as if watching Olivia uncover the scene of the crime.

Through A Glass Sparkly

Continuity and delicious detail. This image of Olivia intently peering into a mirror has reflected throughout the third season. It’s a powerful image because mirrors add great context to the story.

They’re introspective portals to internal realms, adding incredible depth without a single line of dialogue being spoken.

Olivia’s mirror gazing is paralleled by Altlivia in “Entrada”, but the icing on the cake is the existence of another level of duality with the mirror’s inner edge creating a skewed double image of the eye – those windows again.

Illustrating the changing way in which the Olivias see themselves (and perhaps the way others see them). I mean, when you look in the mirror you don’t expect to see two of you staring back. But what if you catch a glimpse of something you don’t recognize, what internal changes will that evoke?

Tatts Not Mine!

Mirrors can also trigger memory. It’s here that Olivia remembers her ‘other self’, the one who was branded, the one she chose fight her way out of. The one she still can’t rid herself of because of the..memories.

There’s symmetry here because you’ll remember the classic bathroom scene from Olivia’s self-titled episode, where the sight of her mark causes her to break down in silence. Still one of the most interesting pieces of direction this season, as we didn’t actually get to witness Olivia’s tears. Instead we stood respectfully outside cubicle, joined Henry for a moment of prayer/contemplation, and waited for her to sort herself out. We’re good like that.

Not this time. Now we’re all up in it. Now we know why the tears were shielded from us previously. It’s hard watching people cry. It’s hard watching people who don’t cry cry. She’s supposed to be the strong one, the gatekeeper, the protector of worlds.

Little Olivia. Re-created to save the world. But who will save her?

As we back away from her breakdown, does this change the way we see her? In a twist of fate, does this in some small way make Peter even more significant? One wonders.

Dream Decay

Walter: “Imagine the possibilities if this can permanently arrest cell decay.”

Astrid: “Well that dream is going to have to wait, Walter”

Dreams – another theme we’ve been tracking. The chewy center of SLEEP. They could be a mechanism for describing the meaning of the show, or they could represent the very construct of what we are experiencing. Astrid telling Walter that his ‘dream’ of finding a way to stop cell decay is going to have to wait, is an interesting piece of layering. What happens when one puts their dreams on hold? Do those dreams not decay?

As an aside: Walter mentions cheese as part of his dream to prevent cell decay. Cheese is said by some to facilitate dreaming. Is Gene an illusion? (Tee-Hee).

Halo III

The Halo imagery here is quite apparent, given that Roland essentially brings Amanda back from the dead. Her strings, allowing her to float across the ground under Roland’s control. His very own ‘Angel of Death’.

Who was this for, Roland. Amanda, or yourself?

Is there anyway back once you’ve crossed into God’s domain?

Olivia might well ask that of Walter.

The shapeshifters might one day dream of asking.

Pray Her

Interesting bookends. In “Ability”, Olivia had just saved the day with the aid of Peter (spec.). She had tapped into something that she didn’t think she had. Now in “Marionette”, Olivia is feeling a sense of great loss due to Peter’s inaction. She’s ends up letting go of someone that she thought she had.

Musical Chairs

I get an Alice In Blunderland vibe here. More interesting to me though are the ‘skeleton chairs’, illustrating the ‘bare bones’ of Olivia and Peter’s relationship. The truth is out – not just the fact that Peter slept with Altlivia, but Olivia’s own realization of WHY his inability to tell the difference between them is so deeply soul-destroying for her.

The presence of three chairs – one for each character in this scene – gives us a game of musical chairs. Just without the music. Or the fun.

The focus narrows as Olivia and the shell formerly known as Peter thrash it out. Before the Dunhamnator gathers her self (respect) and leaves Boy Wonder to wonder.

To his immense credit he apologies to thin air. Only God, the garden fairy, and 5 or 6 million observers heard him.

The suggestion is that he’s apologizing to Olivia. And while I hold that to be true..

The camera turns to speculate that perhaps it’s not just Olivia he’s apologizing to. The re-emergence of the THIRD CHAIR leaves us with a slooow vibration.

Observing The Observer

The Observer didn’t disappoint. Seen here reporting to his mysterious colleague that one of the two Bishops are “still..alive”. Though September is contained at the best of times, the scene was framed similarly to the one at the end of “Brown Betty”, where he reports, “the boy has not returned”.

It’s likely that he’s referring to Peter at the end of “Marionette”, especially given his history of ill-health and connection to the BOOM-BOOM-MACHIINE (BBM). It’s not impossible that he’s talking about Walter, but the evidence is staked in Peter’s favor, so to speak.

Other Clues

  • Walter references The Blood Eagle – the Norse method of torture, “breaking the ribs and spreading them out to resemble blood-stained wings.”
  • Walter refers to Roland’s first Victim as a “Tin Man”, which would make Walter the Wizard of Oz. Tin Man is also a reference given to Peter in the past, partly in relation to his glass heart from “Brown Betty”. The episode “Fracture” also contains a “Project Tin Man” reference.
  • A minor point perhaps, but lots of SLEEP ME ‘haze’ in this episode. We’ve spoken about it before, so it was nice to see it employed again.
  • The glyphs for “Marionette” spelled ADAPT. As in change. As in get used to. As is evolve.
  • Update: There’s also a chess reference and plenty of cyclical thematics. In fact, the chess board can be seen on a circular table. Possibly coincidence, but I found it noticeable.


  1. Pam says

    That is an excellent observation there about the third chair, Roco! But, makes me wonder, why on earth would he want to apologize to Alt-Livia? Is it because he didn’t recognize her personal attributes for what it were (“like being quicker with the smile”) and overrode her personality with this image of Olivia? That would then make him “in love” with her! But, perhaps for Peter, it is not as easy as it is for us, to tell apart the two Olivias because the two of them together is the package that he wants!

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    • says

      “why on earth would he want to apologize to Alt-Livia? “
      Hey Pam. Good points and interesting questions! While I do believe his apology was mainly meant for Olivia, it’s likely that he just feels sorry in general.

      At this moment in time he’s lost both of them. So it’s complicated, messy and can’t be separated on simple terms (just as Walter’s love for his original son didn’t prevent him from loving Peter). I guess in such circumstances, sometimes all that’s left is sorrow or denial. Peter’s on the path of sorrow, it seems.

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  2. Pam says

    And, I forgot to mention this, this chair metaphor then also indicates that the main players in this relationship are really Peter and Alt-Livia (because those two are the chairs facing each other) and Olivia is the one who intervenes – she is not facing Peter, rather facing the line that connects the other two chairs! And now, Peter is not near Alt-Livia’s chair because he stopped short in order to deal with Olivia.

    Please tell me there is something wrong with my observation there – I don’t want it to be real!

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        • Count Screwloose says

          Certainly a reasonable way to read the scene, but my take was a little different. I thought the other chair was Walter’s, making the scene a stark picture of how Peter is now estranged from the other 2/3rd’s of the Fringe triumvirate. How much more alone could he possibly get and what might it mean for the future?

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  3. says

    I knew it would be worth the wait, Roco. Thanks for another great Observations article!

    This line poked my interest: “As we back away from her breakdown, does this change the way we see her? In a twist of fate, does this in some small way make Peter even more significant? One wonders.”

    This got me thinking about August and how he had to make that girl important. Everyone’s been saying how special (important) Peter is. However, is he only important because Olivia makes him important? We all seem to be putting so much emphasis on Peter being the one who controls the BBM (nice acronym) but perhaps his only function is to be the catalyst for something that Olivia is going to do to save the worlds. He had a role to play in bringing her to her lowest state (thus making him important) so that she can rise like a phoenix from the ashes and save all of humanity (and non-humanity). Just a thought.

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    • says

      Excellent line of thought Schwakamole. While Peter’s importance (plot-wise) seems to tie into the machine, we shouldn’t forget “Ability” and what was implied there..

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  4. Michelle says

    Here’s an odd little clue I picked up on with this episode– when Walter mentions strawberry or milkshakes, the Observer makes contact. Examples: root beer float/the Arrival, Frankenberry cereal/the Road Not Taken (September takes Walter to the beach house), the Strawberry Supreme dilemma/ August (and tutti fruitti milkshake mention later in the episode), delicious Strawberry-flavored death/Northwest Passage (the dropping off of fiery-eyed Peter picture), strawberry milkshake/Marionette. I don’t know what it means, but it seems a little coincidental?

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  5. Inter-dimensional Dave says

    Roco when you reference the final scene where Peter apologizes to thin air you said you get the “Alice in Blunderland” vibe. I thought that scene had a real Tim Burtonesque feel to it. Kind of a overwrought creepy gothic feel to it. Are you making the same relation to that scene and Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” that came out last year?

    As far as the empty chair is concerned, there is a common practice in psychotherapy to place an empty chair in the room. The therapist will ask his patient to imagine someone they are in conflict with in that chair (e.g. Father, Mother or Molebaby) and address that person as if they were there.

    Peter has a lot to work out.

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    • says

      “I thought that scene had a real Tim Burtonesque feel to it. Kind of a overwrought creepy gothic feel to it. Are you making the same relation to that scene and Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” that came out last year?”
      Definitely! Even on general terms I felt it had an AIWL tea party vibe (albeit without the tea).

      “As far as the empty chair is concerned, there is a common practice in psychotherapy to place an empty chair in the room. The therapist will ask his patient to imagine someone they are in conflict with in that chair (e.g. Father, Mother or Molebaby) and address that person as if they were there.”
      Great shout, Dave. Thanks for bringing this to the table.

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  6. runpaceyrun says

    Thankyou Roco……and bravo for saving the Observations for FringeFriday. A real delight on this awesome day.
    I too thought a lot about the ‘crossing of lines’ or ‘blurring the lines’ that seemed to be a theme of The Marionette. I can honestly say that this episode really creeped me out…..but also provided some very poignant moments (wont go into just how much i cried). Roland definitely tested the boundaries of my limits as far as what i consider to be ‘acceptable behaviour’. I just couldnt do what he did….. But it also made me reflect on ‘just how far would i be prepared to go to save someone i loved’. Whilst Roland wasnt ‘saving’ someone that was alive….he was so consumed by the fact that Amanda had made the wrong choice that all he wanted to do was ‘correct her mistake’ and give her a second chance. The themes of this episode have resonated with me more than any other episode…..and they continue to do so.
    Thats why i am so addicted to Fringe. Its not just an awesome tv show…its a way of life……a window on life!

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    • Cortexifan says

      Totally agree with you, runpaceyrun.
      Life without Fringe is no life.

      Roco, I was sure you’d mention Olivia walking underneath the stain glassed window. It’s got to be important somehow ’cause Walter kind of followed her with his eyes, sorry can’t express myself today.
      Anxiously awaiting T – 3 hours. Fringe rules!

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  7. megan says

    Finally! thanks Roco, great observations as usual. Love what you said the third year, that scene was powerful for me.

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  8. Fringie6989 says

    Wow another great observation, Roco! Thanks for all your insight. I am so nervous and excited for tonight!! While Olivia does need time to process what happened when Peter failed to notice her absence, this is not the time for Peter to ignore her. Action speaks louder than words, so I really hope Peter steps up and tries to fix things with how he acts more than what he says. I think Olivia wants him to pursue her even if she is angry and hurt beyond belief. Maybe that is just because I really want them to work it out. But they do need to work together to figure out a way to save both universes and they make a great team. Awesome observations about the third chair, Pam. I just really really hope that the Peter/ Altlivia thing doesn’t become anything more than is already has…even though I am afraid there is much more to that story

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  9. Ms. Cheery says

    The injection Roland gave to his victims reminded me of the potion Juliet took to prevent her marriage to Paris. Perhaps it’s a nod to Shakespeare’s play.

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  10. Tyler says

    anyone consider how the Title is close to “Mary Anne Twanet” (fail spelling im sure) and as we have seen before the observer in the painting with the killing of Mary Anne Twanet, or her husband..whoever it was

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