Welcome to our review for episode 5 of Fringe season 3 – “Amber 31422”.
In this review we give an honest opinion on the good and not so good aspects of the episode. We find out the answers that were provided and the mysteries that remain locked away. We take an in-depth look at the other aspects of the episode that made an impression on us, before rounding off the review with our final thoughts and episode rating.
- Parallels and Callbacks. The fringe case involving wall-walkers and ambered victims were excellent callbacks to previous episodes, all the while serving to deepen the mythology and character journey of both Olivia and Walternate.
- The Humanizing of Walternate. That ticking sound Olivia heard wasn’t just a bomb, it was Walternate’s HEART! I was overjoyed to finally see the more delicate shades to Walternate’s canvass. His intimate discussion with Broylnate showed that he really does care for his world, and that he suffers from occasional self-doubt. Losing Boy Wonder not only cost him personally but it put him on a path that he doesn’t enjoy – one where he has to make extremely difficult decisions for the so-called greater good. As an advocate of character, I want every single decision to cost Walternate something – because I think it has to, in these circumstances. I am pleased to see signs of that at last.
- Iconic. Some of the imagery used in this episode was truly iconic – from the Bra & Panties Tank™ scenes, to the gift shop travels, to the twins caught in amber – you can tell that they had fun coming up with these ideas.
- Lance Reddick / Broylnate. I liked his portrayal of Broylnate in this episode. He wasn’t the focus but he played an important supporting role for both Olivia and Walternate, and I thought that Lance Reddick Reddick did some interesting things with the time he was given. While I wouldn’t say that Broylnate’s becoming conflicted, the wheels are certainly turning in his conscience to the point where he’s behind Walternate, but he’s also developing a level of intrigue and feeling for ‘our’ Olivia. Whats more, Broylnate is such a cool cat – with a cool hat. What’s not to like?
- The Gift shop Travels. Probably the moments that saved the episode emotionally, for me. Olivia’s second voyage to the gift shop was really well done visually, but it also carried weight emotionally. I loved the fact that she remembered Ella’s birthday, and I enjoyed experiencing her break-through and the meaning behind it. It’s totally in-keeping with Fringe that the journey back to the other side is not just physical one – but an emotional/spiritual one. This is why it works so well – we see her travel, and that’s great and all, but more than that it’s the feeling that comes from it.
- Hammer Time. While I was pleased to see the political and emotional aspects of the amber storyline explored, at times it felt as though I was being hit over the head with the parallels between the twins and Olivia’s predicament. As we know, Fringe delivers some truly brilliant parallels, the best of which are subtle. Having Projection Peter point out those parallels negated the effectiveness somewhat. A necessary circumstance of articulating Olivia’s rediscovery, perhaps, but I felt that Projection Pete could have been less on the nose.
- Unconvincing. I thought the characterization of the twins was slightly under par by the standards set this season. I didn’t really believe that Joseph was this expert bank robber. For the most part, the emotional bond/angst between them didn’t really connect considering what they had both been through. Contrast that to Milo from a couple of episodes ago, who was totally and utterly convincing as a pill-popping probability machine, and his sister Maddy who really added to the emotional weight. And don’t even get me started on Henry.
- Unsatisfying. I thought that Joshua’s ‘self-sacrifice’ was interesting and framed with iconic imagery, but ultimately it felt somewhat unsatisfying. It lacked real weight and tension. I would have liked more torment on Matthew’s part, and I felt the scene could have been a little longer, giving us the kind of emotional resonance that sacrifice deserves. I would also have liked more on what it was like for Matthew to have been trapped in amber for four years. On the whole, there was just something missing. That said, I understand that they probably wanted to save the emotional kick for Olivia’s final visit to the gift shop. But still..it didn’t quite land on that sweet spot.
- Mother Done-ham. I assume we’ll get more on this in future episodes, but I found Mother Dunham to be a bit pointless in this episode. Did she really need to be involved? After that emotional reunion in the premiere I was hoping for more. She may have emotionally helped Olivia to find her next breadcrumb, but she didn’t do enough to warrant her two appearances.
MYSTERIES & QUESTIONS
- Where did Joshua get the sophisticated amber cutting technology from?
- Does Walternate know that Olivia is lying to him about not having travelled to the other side on her second attempt?
- Olivia has been back at work for just over a week.
- The isolated tears in the fabric of the universe began to increase in frequency in 1989. Some of these tears expanded into micro black-holes.
- The chemical substance used to contain these tears is called Amber 31422. The people trapped in the amber are in a state of suspended animation and can be revived, but at the risk of destabilizing the anomalies.
- The Franklin Street station where Matthew was sealed was amberized in 2006.
- Walternate has begun to realize that Olivia was treated with Cortexiphan as a child.
- Olivia remembers who she is. World holds its breath.
- References to sleep and dreams is something we’ve been tracking for a while now (in light of their potential significance/thematic value), and Brandonate gave us the episode’s first mention by asking Olivia if she’s been having trouble sleeping, specifically if she’s been suffering with insomnia. He also uses the description, “lingering symptoms”.
- I mention this because in many ways the whole Fringe story is about a lingering symptom – be it tears in the fabric of the universe, heart-break, child abuse, science in the wrong hands, etc. Symptoms are of course bookended by causes and cures. We know the cause of all the problems in our story (or we think we do, more could be revealed), but what will be the cure?
- Bradonate is more subdued, less enthusiastic than Brandon. What is it that caused this version to have less light in his eyes?
- Speaking of light in his eyes, Walternate smiled and the universe didn’t collapse! It’s not I found him to be completely insincere, but he was most definitely putting on a face that he thought would placate
DorothyOlivia. Oh the masks that people wear.
- Nice double-meaning:
Walternate: “You look well”
Olivia: “I am, good as new”
- You have to love the recurring themes on this show:
“With your permission we’d like to put you through a series of experiments to see if we’re right”
- Instantly this takes us back to Olivia’s childhood Cortexiphan trials, where she was prepped by William Bell and Walter so that she could travel between worlds and ‘watch the gate’. Years later, Grown Olivia is once again experimented on, this time by Walternate in the universe that she once saw as a child to find out how she is able to travel between worlds.
- Poor Olive – is there no escaping childhood? What I find interesting here is that unlike Bellie or Walter, Walternate offers Olivia a proper choice. Whether this choice is an illusion or not is another question (answer: ‘yes’, because Olivia is not fully informed), but I always like to come back to the importance of deciding your path because it defines everything else that follows.
- In that context, while Olivia was given a rather tragic and burdened life largely through the choices of others, she now has the opportunity to reclaim her identity – to make her own kind of music. This is partly why her story is so heroic, because she’s actively and passionately chasing the Story Beast even when she’s been erased from the face of the earths.
- It can also be seen that Walternate’s plan is also beneficial to Olivia discovering the truth about who she is. It’s mutually beneficial. Further illustrating the entanglement between the two universes. Maybe everything that happened here was fated?
“I’m sure you understand what this would mean to our cause – we’d be able to defend ourselves against the other side”
- There he goes again, using the word “defend” as the premise for his actions. The question is whether he truly believes that this is a war of defence. Personally, I believe him – to a point. But to understand where he’s coming from we need to take an objective view and place it in his subjective slippers. From his perspective they were attacked – a monster pierced a hole through his world, stole the family jewels, and left it on fire.
- The Blight symbolizes the erosion of his world and his heart. A natural response is to hit back, to use whatever weapons you have to seek revenge – and if you can heal the problems of your world at the same time, then you can kill two pigeons with the same stone. But is Walternate ‘David’ or ‘Goliath’? He’s both.
- This is why I’m not too quick to judge old Walternate. I genuinely feel for him. My current loathing of Walter is just as genuine. Will the tables of my heart turn? I’m sure they’ve got rotation left in them, but this is where I am with both of them at the moment. I believe it’s important to experience every step of the journey to fully understand the dimensions of the story. Truth is, both Walters hold parts to the solution – Walter needs to redeem himself and Walternate needs to forgive.
- These are very human problems presented here in the form of two characters, but at it’s core I think the writers are illustrating what each and every person struggles with in their own right. Can you forgive others? Can you be redeemed? Indeed, can you forgive yourself? Can you redeem yourself?
- This why I want Walter to demonstrate change. This is why I have such a hard time when he regresses by violently attacking shapeshifters (which by the way, is just one example of his failings) – because, for me at least, his character represents the redemption arc of the story. Sure, he might never change – that might be the point, but as a page-turner I want him to change for the better.
- I can accept that he’s flawed – who isn’t – but that doesn’t mean that he’s above criticism. The man would sacrifice all of us to mend a heart that is probably beyond fixing (certainly with his current mindset) – I have a problem with that.
“But I know you’ve been through a lot, Olivia. So if you’re not up to it you should just say so”
- Indeed she has Walternate. She’s been through the fabric of your universe, for starters. Worth-noting that Olivia accepts, because that’s in her nature.
- Olivia’s very next move is to reach for a pill to help her cope with those nagging self-doubts about her reality. Note that she takes the red pill (more on that in our observations).
- I’m still making my mind up about the portrayal of ‘Projection Peter‘. I like the fact that he’s there for Olivia (or rather, she’s there for herself through a representation of Peter), but if I had him rolling around in my head 24 hours a day I think I’d take the blue pill.
“And you can keep on telling yourself that you’re fine. But you’re not fine”
- Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Petah! 😮
- In all seriousness, I love this storyline. Seeing Olivia fighting for her own identity – and so creatively at that – carries a lot of weight. I love the way the subconscious/true self is represented here because I find it to be very accurate. Not the looking like Peter part, but the idea that Olivia’s strength is truly from within.
“I’m not a lingering symptom.”
- But you’ll become a lingering smell if you don’t get out of that coat for a while! Goodness, Olivia must really dig that coat.
- As mentioned earlier the resin was a great way to contrast amber as a weapon and form of containment. Is amber wrong? It’s a matter of context, though it would be extremely difficult to blame Walternate for its use.
- I appreciated the scene between Walternate and Broylnate. The ‘Over There’ protagonist was finally given the sympathetic lens that has been afforded to his counterpart. Though it was a brief look, we got to see that his son’s kidnapping still affects him to this day.
- Imagine getting him back only for him to slip down the rabbit-hole again? If not for his long-term goal to preserve him, I think the man would die of sadness. The scene also allowed us to see that he doesn’t enjoy the decisions he has to make:
“sixty-three civilians were trapped in amber that day [..] It sickens me”
- Decisions he’s had to make because Walter kidnapped his son. Much like Olivia, Walternate didn’t choose the life he was given. And I know, who does, right? But it’s clear that many of his choices have been reactive ever since that fateful night. In many ways his heart has been trapped in amber, the pain stuck at that moment when he realized that his boy had been taken to wonderland. So it’s quite poignant to see why his outlook is transfixed on cutting the tether that joins the two worlds.
- It did cross my mind as to whether Walternate’s stroll down memory lane with the news-cutting of Peter’s kidnapping was completely sincere. Did he take himself to that place emotionally to get Broylnate on-board? It’s possible, but I don’t think so. The scene was designed to show us that Walternate is as trapped as anyone.
- Broylnate plays an effective part in Walternate’s humanizing. Previous episodes have illustrated the quiet respect between the two men, while suggesting that Broylnate may not be completely on-board with Walternate’s methods. And while that may still be true, we now get to see the pair more as friends. Broylnate goes from questioning Walternate’s logic in the previous ‘Over There’ episode, to now reinforcing his choices and blowing wind into his sagging sails (so to speak).
“It’s a tragic but small price to pay for the greater good”
- I’ll be honest, I loathe that phrase – “the greater good” – ugh! But he’s right in that Walternate’s decision was one designed to protect the majority. That Walternate still sees a problem with his decision shows that his morality button hasn’t been deactivated. That’s not to say that he’s blameless – he’s knowingly kept secrets about the real nature of the anomalies and the quarantined victims being ‘alive’.
- That Broylnate didn’t know about this is interesting. The speed with which he accepted the new information was also worth noting.
- Just when I thought their chat was over, Walternate felt the need to further underscore his motivation:
“Nature doesn’t recognize good and evil, Phillip. Nature only recognizes balance and imbalance.”
- We often talk about nature as a ‘character’, and we’ve seen plenty of evidence of her need for balance through the level of duality and like-for-like exchanges. While nature appears to have a wicked sense irony in the way she goes about things, it’s also important to acknowledge that she is without prejudice. Nature doesn’t care who did what or who stole who’s Slusho!, nature just wants her damned kidney back!
- Nature may very well be the fairest participant in this story – and Walternate knows this, which is why he’s decided to reason his self-doubt by envisioning himself as nature’s enforcer:
“I intend to restore balance to our world..whatever it takes”.
- Compare this with Walter’s claim that there was only room for one God in his Lab (prior to stealing Peter), and we end up with some very interesting character insights. Walter played god by denouncing the importance of God. Walternate’s doing it by siding with God (or mother nature, if you want). I don’t know about you, but I find that incredibly revealing on a character level.
- Essentially we can trace their respective perspectives back to the way that they feel about their role in the problems. Walter knew that what he was about to do was terribly wrong, so he reasoned his actions by ignoring God, whereas Walternate feels terribly wronged, so he reasons his aggressive response by believing that he’s performing Gods work. Wow, Fringe..wow.
“The people entombed in amber are in a state of suspended animation”
- As is Olivia who has been submerged in her own consciousness by the invasive memories of Altlivia.
- Did Olivia’s CortexiPOWA! help her hear the bomb? Yet another occasion in which Altlivia would have died had she been in this situation?
- I’ll probably spend more time on the Bra & Panties Tank™-propelled travel in the Observations Column, but I thought it was really well done.
- What’s wrong Timmy, you’ve never seen anyone travel via the B&P Tank™ before? I kinda feel sorry for that poor kid though. Aside from getting grounded without pocket money for a month (snow globes aren’t cheap), for years to come he’s going to suffer recurring nightmares about the wet woman with the fiery hair, and no-one will believe him.
Mom: “What did she look like, Timothy?”
Timmy: “She was wet and her hair was red like it was on fire”
Mom: “That’s a paradox! Go to your room young man!
Timmy: “But mom, I saw her..and now she haunts my mind”
Mom: “To your room!”
- Would they really have experimented on Matthew for the rest of his life, Joshua? I get the allusions with Walternate experimenting on Olivia, but that idea doesn’t really hold up with me. If the general public found out it would open up a can of molebabies, but surviving amber seems like something anyone can do – Matty really isn’t all that interesting. It’s more surprising to me that no-one else has tried to free an ambered relative before now.
- That’s the thing though, I think Joshua was seeking balance – he wanted to, “do one good thing”. I don’t think it comes from the most selfless place ever, but I guess you have to appreciate his sacrifice. It certainly foreshadows several of the show’s prominent themes and ideas, and possibly the personal sacrifice that may have to occur within Olivia for her to fully reclaim her rightful identity.
- Also, how cool was the image of Joshua’s golden goodbye – not quite sealed with a kiss, but certainly with a smile. I thought the scene could have carried more weight, but it flirted with greatness.
- As I’ve said before, the memories of Altlivia have formed a character in their own right, and a far more sympathetic one than the actual Altlivia who is sexin’ it up in the blue universe. Projection Peter is trying to restore balance, but this may come at a price. It’s not so much which life Olivia will choose – that seems somewhat inevitable, but it’s the cost of the internal fallout that really intrigues me.
- I like Captain Broyles in both universes:
“Are you aware of how many protocols you broke? *deep lingering stare* Good work”
- I get the sense that he’s talking to what we’d call ‘our’ Olivia there..and I have a feeling that ‘our’ Olivia knows that. You can see in her eyes that she’s found a potential allie who quietly cares for his agents in a similar fashion to the Broyles she knows. Well, that’s how I’d like to interpret that little scene – otherwise it didn’t need to be so drawn out with lingering stares.
- As Projection Peter says, Olivia decided to keep Matthew’s secret because she can identify with being trapped. If before we saw cracks in the frozen lake of Olivia’s consciousness, now there’s a giant crater..with a fire burning inside. She’s listening to the voice within.
“The only difference is, no-one’s going to save you. Only you can save yourself.”
- Indeed. As I’ve said before – only Those Who Help Themselves – or at least try to, can find out who they are. Livvy has to make a choice. She has to choose to leave this life behind, and I suspect that a part of her wont want to do that. Not only the ‘Altlivia’ part of her, but the part that has ever wished for a second chance in life, the part that mourned her mother’s death, the loss of Charlie – and the part that sometimes wishes she didn’t have to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders.
- If the writers give the next stage of Olivia’s journey its rightful due, we should see that this choice will not be easy. Yes, Ella, R@chel and Peter represent her ‘real’ life, but this is a character who herself projected the very worlds, “reality is a matter of perception“. I’m afraid that this decision has to cost our Dunhamnator.
- So, R@chel hasn’t been sucked into oblivion. She’s in Chicago and apparently back with her husband? Really? Whatever, it’s not like I care, just please water Ella.
- The Bra & Panties Tank™ certainly holds mystical powers. Intrepid explorers are incapable of testing its alluring waters just the once per episode – oh no, they always come back for another dip before the end credits roll.
“About twenty minutes ago her brain chemistry spiked – it seems there’s some dormant chemical in her brain.”
- Looks like Walternate’s on the path to finding out about Cortexiphan. But can he re-produce it? If so, will he by-pass the child experiments and adapt it to adult soldiers? It’s interesting to speculate his end-game considering he also has the Weapon in play. It makes me think that there’s another part of his plan that has yet to fully emerge.
- It’s really interesting to see that Cortexiphan still resides in Olivia’s brain in chemical form. Apparently her body doesn’t reproduce it – rather it’s bound to her neurons. Theoretically, could it be removed?
- Happy birthday Ella! You are seven, not sixty – don’t listen to mother. And don’t eat the cake that she fry-boiled for you.
- It could be described as a coincidence that Olivia managed to remember Ella’s birthday, but I’d say it’s exactly the opposite. Her subconscious remembered and it was this internal knowledge that gave her the emotional push to tap those heels and cross over.
- On a deeper level I think it implies that a lot of what we consider to be coincidence is actually driven by our underlying feelings and senses. As we’ve talked about in the past, the subconscious mind is capable of guiding us in all manner of ways, and often it gets us to where we need to be. It’s about trusting yourself. And if the universe wasn’t constantly seeking balance and shifting about the place, perhaps we’d be more powerful beings. Or perhaps that’s the point.
“It didn’t work, nothing happened, all I saw was black”
- Do you think Walty believes her? Neither do I. Our heroine is back. God bless her, she never left us.
Fringe returns with a strong episode choc-full of parallels and resonating features. A mythalone-styled case-of-the-week once again supports the central story, encasing it with extra meaning. This wasn’t a shapeshifting hero like the previous episode, but it played an important role in the overall journey.
The two most important things that “Amber 31422″ did was to paint Walternate with broader strokes and bring Dunham back home..albeit for just a while.
Best Performer: Lance Reddick.
Best Line: “Nature doesn’t recognize good and evil, Phillip. Nature only recognizes balance and imbalance.” – Walternate.
Best Moment: Olivia crossing over and dialling Birthday for Ella.
Episode Rating 8/10