I don’t like exercising my patience. It’s a bad trait that Netflix and DVDs have exacerbated. Sometimes I’ll skip to the next episode after a juicy cliffhanger and remark to my wife (or my cat, depending on that particular day’s level of patheticism), “Can you imagine having to wait a whole week?”
Lately, I’ve been on a Fringe binge. I’d been wanting to watch this show since I first heard about, probably while its second season was starting. But I didn’t want to start until it ended! After all, I wouldn’t want to invest that many hours in a story with a dud ending. Avoiding ALL spoilers (and I mean I avoided every spoiler, like I didn’t even know that you-know-who played you-know-who), I managed to hear that Fringe ended in a pretty okay way.
I’ve been delaying revealing that I’m watching Fringe also, specifically to avoid spoilers like, “Did you get to the part where Peter —–?” But last night, I watched “August.” This is easily the best episode so far, building on the frantic mythology and turning it on its head. It’s reminiscent of Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s “I, Borg,” Star Trek : Voyager‘s “Equinox,” and Doctor Who‘s “Human Nature.” All of these truly excellent stories rely heavily on the audience taking the show’s formats and mythologies for granted.
The Borg, for instance, are exempt from Starfleet’s usual passion for “new life and new civilizations” because they are so unwieldy. We take for granted that every time they show up there’s big trouble. “I, Borg” elegantly introduced us to a single Borg and applied one piece of Trek mythos to another. “What if the Borg were dealt with according to the ethical standard that all other aliens are?”
Voyager established the strangeness of a Starfleet presence in the Delta Quadrant. Janeway’s passion for the ideals of Starfleet is expected. But pitted against another ship in the same dilemma, we see just how peculiar she is as a hero. This episode exploited what we took for granted: Janeway’s ethical standard.
The Doctor can go anywhen and anywhere and his confidence saves the day. When he doesn’t have the answer, he’ll bluff his way out and earth will be safe yet again. That’s all taken away in “Human Nature.” The show’s premise is turned on its head. “What if the time-traveling hero were to become like one of the millions of normal people he’s saved?”
This Fringe story does the same kind of thing. The audience has a fragile understanding of a figure called the Observer. He observes, like Uatu. He’s weird, he’s silent, and he’s probably either immortal or able to travel through time. And he can’t taste anything unless it’s covered in pepper and hot sauce.
We know very little, but we’ve known it for a long time. So when the show takes that knowledge and flips it on its side, we have an excellent episode. The Observer, turns out, is part of a society of Observers. Maybe there’s only these few, maybe there’s more. Maybe there’s twelve of them. That would satisfy the religious foundation of twelves, and the ones we’ve met have monthy names. Maybe they age, as one of them is obviously older-looking than the others. And they have a prime directive of non-interference. One Observer, August, breaks the rule. He finds a girl, tracks her life, and sees that she is set to die on an airplane. So he kidnaps her to let her live longer.
This arouses the FBI’s Fringe division and the concern of the other Observers. August seeks the advice of the only man he knows to successfully reroute fate: Walter Bishop. August knows that his kin will not understand why he saved her, in fact, he isn’t fully informed of his reasons yet. But he knows that they will kill her to set the time stream, or whatever, right again. How can he save her? Walter tells him that the others may not know why she’s important so August must convince them that she is.
August knows the only cosmically special thing about this girl is that he loves her. He finally admits it. He loves her. Now to convince the others. Anticipating an attack from an Observer-commissioned assassin, August puts himself in the way. He dies.
His death accomplished two things: it immediately saved the girl. The bullet didn’t hit her, it hit him. And, being the indirect cause of the death of an eternal being, she is now special.
She did nothing to deserve the love of this being, but she received it and was given life because of it. She didn’t know him, but he knew her. And he chose to step down from eternity for the single purpose of saving her life.
Can anyone think of any other stories about a powerful and eternal being dying on purpose to save the life of a nobody?