Fringe season 3 episode 15 review: Subject 13

Fringe goes back in time to when Peter and Olivia first met, many moons ago…

This review contains spoilers.

3.15 Subject 13

After watching Subject 13, I’m inclined to salute those behind this show for having the bravery to do something that was purely aimed at those who have watched the show from the outset. Because, truth be told, if you tuned into this by accident, you’d have absolutely no idea what was going on.

While possibly a little late in the day for backfilling characters, the episode rather brilliantly tells the story of how Peter adapted to life in this dimension after a very difficult period where he obsessed about going home. What we didn’t know about the events that take place about six months after Walter brought him back, was the part that Olivia played in his rehabilitation, and how the science of transporting him back was the basis for the experiments that he performed on Olivia and other children.

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For Fringe fans, this was all fascinating stuff, as it laid out the origins of their relationship, lost in both their memories, and how it sculpted the future, ultimately. As a plot device, I’ve never been a big fan of destiny, but here it’s done in a way where even those involved aren’t conscious of it, giving an added potency to the story dynamic.

At the top of the list of those who should take credit here are those who cast the two adolescents to play the young Peter and Olive, who are both quite polished actors for such a young age. Chandler Canterbury is remarkably good as Peter, even getting many of the mannerisms of Joshua Jackson into his subtle performance. Karley Scott Collins gives a slightly less observed Olivia, but she’s no less convincing.

The director, Akiva Goldsman, is also a producer of the show and wrote some key episodes, including Over There: Part 1 & 2, and Peter. His relationship with the show is key here, because a contracted producer couldn’t have given this story the undercurrents that it’s got, and deliver something compelling that’s relatively action-free. He also elicited some excellent performances, not only from the children, but also from Orla Brady (Elizabeth Bishop), who is the very taut twine about which the narrative freely twists.

Having explored the placement of events that have major consequences, this story also provided a new insight into the relationship between those over here and those over there, expanding on the ideas that were presented in 6B last week.

When Olivia gets to the point where she tells Walter that she’s been physically abused by her stepfather, it has an almost equally devastating impact on Altivia. As much as she’ll undoubtedly hate the idea, the two versions of her are intrinsically linked and they’re both linked to Peter. I’ve no idea where they’re going with this, but I’m determined to find out.

If there was a weakness in Subject 13, it was probably the de-aging of Walter, which with the best will in the world didn’t quite work. His hairpiece seemed implausibly shiny, and all the soft focus work became distracting in his scenes. Without a film budget, I can’t see they could have done better, but I felt it important to acknowledge that it was one part of this production that didn’t quite come off.

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That said, Fringe often exceeds my expectations, but Subject 13 was quite marvellous in many ways. I just hope it isn’t one of the last examples of how the team behind this show can demonstrate their ability to make the sort of show that you won’t see on any other franchise.

Read our review of episode 14, 6B, here.

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