Fringe’s Garden of Forking Paths

A lot of people have felt that Fringe has not been at its best this season, for various reasons. One specific complaint has been about spending time in a world in which the fact that Peter Bishop drowned in Reiden Lake rendered everyone slightly different from the versions we know. Not radically different, as in Earth 2, but still not quite the same.

When introducing Fauxlivia and Walternate’s world, Fringe had the advantage of stepping into a world that was very clearly, very obviously, different from ours. Blimps in the sky. The World Trade Center still standing. Olivia’s red hair. Everything about the world said, this is different, and the audience could approach it as such. The problem facing Fringe this season is that we have no clear indicators of how to approach the reality we’re watching. Neither Here Nor There indeed. The problem has been, I suppose, that we weren’t quite sure whether we were supposed to take this as OUR Earth, rendered different enough for it to be unfamiliar after whatever Peter did, or as an entirely different timeline. I think the writers definitely knew all along, but we didn’t, and I think it’s caused a certain unease.

After the most recent episode, Peter seems to have answered the question above. This is not HIS Earth, it’s yet another version, and he believes his version is out there and that he can get back there somehow. Which I suppose makes this Earth 1.5? In any case, I understand how for plenty of people this doesn’t make things better, how they feel they’re following characters that they’re not invested in, etc. Personally, I don’t have this problem, but that’s because infinite possible versions of reality is something I’ve been fascinated with for a long long time.¬†When I was little, my father would tell me about The Garden of Forking Paths*, a story in which every choice a person makes generates different possible realities, leading to even more choices and even more possible realities, so that there are infinite possible realities, existing parallel to each other, corresponding to infinite possible chains of events. I was fascinated by the idea, and I suppose that this is the reason that I’ve always been partial to stories that dare to deal directly with… wibbly wobbly timey wimey… stuff. Oh, it can go horribly wrong, of course (Kamen Rider Kabuto, I’m looking at you!), but the attempt is often so much fun that I’m more than willing to go along for the ride.

*Jorge Luis Borges

In any case, my point is that all the way back in season 1 we saw Walter explain the possibility of infinite parallel worlds, and YMMV, but I personally like that it looks like Fringe is opting to explore the fact this idea further, as opposed to sticking with just two possible realities. Might it go wrong? Of course. But I’m very interested to see where this is going.

One point in particular that I’d like to see explored is… well. Does having had different life experiences mean that the various Olivias are fundamentally different persons who just happen to look alike, or is Olivia always fundamentally Olivia, with the different versions being merely manifestations of different sides of her that are nevertheless always there but don’t always develop? Are Walternate and Walter really two different characters, one whom we love and one whom we love to hate, or should we realize that they’re the same man that arrived at two different destinations because he walked two different paths?

In the end the answer is probably all of the above. And none of the above. Even if Olivia is always Olivia, that doesn’t really matter to Peter if the past 3 years never brought them together.

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