-Fringe Episode “A Better Human Being”: Television Romance Done Right (Peter and Olivia)
By K. Haley
FRINGE, in my opinion (as well as 3 million others), is by far the best show on television – with its superior writing, incredible acting and excellent production value. Even more so for me, this show continues to execute the best ‘will they or won’t they’ storyline that I’ve seen on television to date – and I’ve logged a lot of TV time.
That said, I was motivated to write about a FRINGE episode that aired on Friday, 2/17/12, “A Better Human Being”. I will not focus on the episode’s A-story, DNA testing gone awry when conducted by an arrogant, but brilliant doctor. Nor will I bother to delve into the whole idea of how this MOW (monster of the week) episode tied into the broader story arc/mythology, as more competent people have already written about it. My interest is in the other A-story and the real reason for the episode: how Olivia regains her memories from the old timeline (OT).
[Update: Latest episode “The End of Everything” separated Peter and Olivia yet again. I will comment on that later in this article.]
As a proud Shipper, I am nearly an obsessive one around the Peter/ Olivia relationship. Why? I haven’t been able to pinpoint it yet, but maybe it’s because of how it has been handled since the pilot. I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t see any signs of the possibility of a romantic connection between the characters, especially since Olivia was in love with someone else at the beginning of the series and throughout most of Season One. I also measure everything against my all-time favorite show, X-Files, and the Mulder/ Scully relationship. Talk about soul mates!
A funny thing happened when I “re-discovered” the series after not watching it once I had gotten through a few episodes from season one (1). The reason for my initial dislike was pure rationalizing, really. Based on an unfair comparison, I didn’t like the Olivia character (she was no Scully and Peter was no Mulder). However, with nothing else to watch, one evening I happened to turn to FOX and found Fringe, and really tuned in (the producers, John Noble and Josh Jackson were actually tweeting during the broadcast). After watching the episode, I later rented the DVD of the pilot; subsequently rented the entire first season and was from then on hooked. Re-watching the pilot, I immediately noticed how the seed was being planted for the future romantic relationship between Peter and Olivia. In the scene where Peter and Olivia were in the lab at Harvard, folding tarp and the sharing of a cup of coffee, it was a ‘look’ they exchanged that would make its appearance throughout the series.
The history of the Peter and Olivia (P/O) relationship ebbed and flowed at a snail’s pace for the first two seasons to the point that many felt it didn’t exist; some viewers even commented that there was no chemistry between Anna Torv and Josh Jackson. Because Josh Jackson was being so vocal about not wanting a romantic relationship between the two, I believe his view affected the believability level of the budding romance. To his credit, though, when the writers decided to put the relationship front and center, Josh embraced it and did a wonderful job with Anna in conveying the growing love between the two.
Season Three really set the stage for what was to come in Season Four, as Peter and Olivia’s love may very well be what saves the universes from destruction. As a Polivia (P/O) Shipper, I have watched with frustration – and complained about the potential love affair between the New Timeline (NT) Olivia and a romantic relationship with the recently added over here Lincoln character, as absolutely unacceptable. At this point in the season, I can’t say that I still don’t believe this to be true, but my fears of keeping Olivia and Peter apart were unfounded. As Joel and Jeff have stated in numerous interviews, they are 100 percent vested in the P/O relationship, which they delivered in “A Better Human”. [Update: this has since changed, as the latest episode has separated the two destined lovers, once again, opening the possibility for an Olivia Lincoln romance].
This episode truly gave a lesson on how to (potentially) resolve the ‘will they or won’t they’ scenario in a satisfactory way. It was apparent in the previous two or so episodes that Olivia was warming to Peter, I believe, even before having any of the OT memories. This speaks to the notion that no matter the distance or circumstance, when two people are meant to be together, they will be. Once Olivia slowly regained her memory of the OT, she didn’t push back, but accepted these new memories and began to pursue the relationship with Peter. Peter resisted, even though it was difficult for him. The pain in Peter’s eyes and the yearning in Olivia’s eyes illustrated the depth of the relationship—well acted by both Anna Torv and Josh Jackson.
Why did it work? Because Anna and Josh gave one of the best performances of two people in love that I have seen on network television, since ER’s Doug Ross (George Clooney) and Carol Hathaway (Julianna Margulies).
The writers constructed an entire episode that was believable and earned the ending of the two star-crossed lovers coming together. Using flashbacks to illustrate Olivia’s slow recovery of her memories from the OT, you could compare the OT Olivia with this TL Olivia and witness the merging of these two versions into a more emotionally assessable person. Unlike the OT Olivia, who spent the better part of the series being closed-off and untrusting of people, let alone a romantic relationship.
Peter wouldn’t or couldn’t believe that ‘his’ Olivia was right in front of him, while a newly changed Olivia experiencing a strong attraction and love, embraced this feeling of love – a feeling that a few weeks prior wasn’t there. Olivia’s awakening was truly lovely to see. Anna Torv, in this performance, is able to deliver such strong emotions that it draws the viewer into the scene even more than usual.
Meanwhile, Peter struggled mightily to fight his feelings; afraid that because he wanted ‘his’ Olivia back so badly that he might make the mistake of accepting this NT Olivia as his.
Again, the acting on FRINGE is far superior to the vast majority of acting on television or even the movies. Josh Jackson’s eyes conveyed it all: longing, hope, reluctance and finally acceptance and matched Anna Torv’s intensity.
The payoff for the characters and, indeed, for the Shippers was spectacular. When romantic pairings on television work it is utopia for those vested in the relationship. POLIVIA is a great current example of the classic Hollywood romance and television’s ‘will they or won’t they’ storyline. Bravo, Anna Torv, Josh Jackson and my favorite Fringe writers Monica Owusu-Breen and Alison Schapker who wrote the script for the episode while Glen Whitman and Robert Chiappetta wrote the story – they do some of the best Peter/ Olivia storylines.
UPDATE: The February 26th episode saw Peter retreat and ending the budding relationship before it could even start. I will reserve my opinion if this development changes my opinion or supports it.
Until next posting, be happy, open and ready to embrace romantic love. It just might be lurking in that “little shop around the corner.”