Fringe S3: Olivia and … Olivia

Please note this post will contain spoilers for season three of Fringe, now airing in the US.

I’m having some problems with Fringe this year.

At the end of last year, we were left with the not-terribly-shocking reveal that our Olivia Dunham, from the blue reality, was not our Olivia but the other Olivia (Fauxlivia), from the red reality. The people on the red side had a plan and they executed it. Olivia, as it turned out, was being held prisoner in the red reality.

This season began with her, and it began strongly. We found out that the powerful Walter double (Walternate) was trying to break Olivia down, by convincing her that she was, in fact, actually Fauxlivia. We were not given a reason why, but can assume it was not an arbitrary decision. We saw Olivia in a therapy session with a doctor guiding her to memories she steadfastly refused were her own – because they weren’t. She refused to break. Eventually, it was revealed that Walternate and his scientist minions weren’t just coaching her – they were imprinting her by injecting some sort of concoction that contained Fauxlivia’s, well, life, to put it simply. This science was supposed to overwrite Olivia and replace it with Fauxlivia, but it would not work on her. This was a huge source of frustration for Walternate.

When Olivia was dragged to a lab for another “treatment”, she observed guards using codes for elevators, etc. The opportunity for escape presented itself, and she took it – but only after they’d managed to inject her with Fauxlivia again. Still, she kicked ass and took names in true Olivia Dunham style. Most of the remainder of the episode also showcased how awesome and collected Olivia was. Is. She commandeered a cab and began trying to find her way home – a home she is convinced was not where she currently was. She remained strong and steadfast, except cracks began to show. Fauxlivia memories started creeping in and confusing her.

And eventually, heartbreakingly, those memories won. What made the difference? Why did that last treatment work, when countless others had not made a dent in erasing Olivia? Adrenaline. Yes, folks, the adrenaline from her awesome, amazing escape was what triggered the transformation. To sum up: she did it to herself.

Troublesome, from my viewing perspective. But not as troublesome as Fauxlivia. This last week, back in blue reality, we watched as Fauxlivia tried to slip into her role of Olivia – sans any magic drug. My problem here was that, while the story concept itself is interesting, I was having an extremely difficult time understanding how those around her were not aware of the change. Fauxlivia was not Olivia. She looked like her and sounded like her, but in practice was so different someone should have noticed. Even the way she spoke wasn’t Olivia, so much that those in her circle would surely take some notice. I suspect we were supposed to believe because they have so much going on, they haven’t had the time to focus on anything but their own issues.

But take, for example, Olivia’s relationship with Peter. Last season, it was a slow build. It took Olivia a long time to even acknowledge the fact she might just have romantic feelings toward Peter. She was, quite literally, terrified at the prospect. In the finale, she revealed how she felt. They kissed. Then they got the hell out of red and ran back to blue. Except, of course, it was Fauxlivia running back with Peter. And since then, she accurately read the chemistry between them, but they’ve been very openly physical about it. Like, all of her inhibitions just vanished. Now, I’m no expert in the ways of love – but shouldn’t Peter have been the obvious choice to realize Olivia was Fauxlivia?! Did he simply think he’d won the lotto with how different and open and sexual she was being with him all of a sudden?

I’m having a difficult time with the whole idea, the thought that Olivia can be replaced by a lookalike and no one who knows and loves her can tell the difference. That chemistry inherent between Olivia and Peter – are we to believe it’s only physical? He is, in fact, sucking face with a complete stranger. Peter’s a bright guy. He has to know something is up. I think part of him might, but in the meantime, we have Fauxlivia being terribly faux and no one noticing enough to call her on it.

I know I’m not articulating why this whole thing bothers me so much. I think it’s that they’ve made Olivia plug-and-play to tell this story, and one thing Olivia has never been is plug-and-play. They’ve turned her into the “replace this good-looking blonde woman with this good-looking blonde woman and no one will care” trope, and they’ve done it using the same actor! It makes me bristle.


  1. megs says

    I totally buy that no one has noticed yet. Altlivia, as I’ve been calling her, is a good liar. I’m picking up the differences because I’m looking for them and the camera is helping. The pan in front of her hands when she’s NOT drinking, for instance.

    But I find that her relationship with Peter is actually what’s making it believable that he totally misses what is possibly the most obvious clue. They did have a slow build and for a while I was kind of happy thinking it wasn’t going to happen. They have great chemistry together, but does Olivia really need another partner romance? Anyway, they kissed and tried to escape back and the switch happened. As far as Peter knows, Olivia is acting differently around him because she’s finally let him IN. She tells him how she feels and now she’s not the same. Not everyone is like that, but it certainly does happen where once something happens they change their demeanor. Peter has seemed to want to be with Liv for longer than she has – so I buy that he’s so excited that he wouldn’t notice. Even though he’s the only one who’s met Altlivia. Maybe because he felt like he noticed such a difference in Altlivia when he met her that because he didn’t notice right away when they came back, the longer he’s fooled the less likely he is to think he’s being fooled, if you get my meaning. Look how long and how much evidence it took for him to think he was from the other side. But he still did figure it out, so I think he’ll figure this out too.

    I think Astrid is the only one so far picking it up. And oddly enough, I think she noticed the most in how Altlivia dealt with Walter and Broyles. But I’m such an Astrid fan.

    • sbg says

      Hmm, I totally get where you’re coming from. I suspect it’s the same place TPTB are coming from. I mean, it’s been only days since all this incredibly stressful, hard-to-believe stuff has happened. I can give a little leeway for that.

      But it still does not preclude the fact that Olivia being swapped out has been made so easy it’s insulting to her as a character. Unlike you, I can’t really buy Peter being so easily fooled. Fauxlivia’s impersonation has been, so far, clumsy. And I’m not convinced the chemistry would be the same.

      • megs says

        You’re right – the chemistry is different and though I think it’s plausible for Peter not to suspect, I don’t think he’s not really noticing. I’m expecting that when something puts the idea in his head that there’s been an Oliviaswap, he’s not going to be able to deny it. In fact, that’s the main reason I suspect he is fooled – he just hasn’t thought it possible yet.

        I don’t know that it’s insulting to Olivia’s character. She can act sort of similar to Altliv, after all and hasn’t been over here long enough to run into something obvious that brings up Olivia’s hauntedness, emotional connection to her job, or Cortexifan specialness. I do think it’s insulting to Peter, at least when Altlivia distracts him from noticing things by physicality – dancing in one scene, and makeouts in the dead body in the bathroom scene.

    • says

      Yeah, when Peter was being nice to Olivia’s sister, I’d *really* hoped that was the pairing the creators were leaning toward, because I thought a Peter/Olivia pairing would take something away from both characters. A big part was timing, though, because I was really pleased with the pacing of Olivia reclaiming her psychic abilities, realizing she had feelings for Peter– and then the next moment, finding out that Peter was not of this world, AND it was a secret from himself.

      So I see what you mean with Peter and Olivia’s relationship being so new to both of them that he would just think this was just a new SIDE to Olivia… which, if this continues to play out, will end poorly for BOTH Olivias, and Peter.

      I love Astrid, too, but I wish she had more to do than be Perception Girl and the “straight man” Walter bounces off of…

      • megs says

        Joshua Jackson has said in interviews that he really wanted them to be best friends/like siblings, which kind of make me love him. It’s just so typical in TV for the two parters working together to hook up and I thought they did such a good job of her with John Scott that they didn’t need to go there again. And remembering her with John Scott, she was a little more like Altlivia – dancing, makeouts, smiling. And Altlivia’s instincts are similar – dashing into the tunnel after Peter when he’s in danger is so Olivia.

      • sbg says

        Actually, I did too. Then they started showing Olivia kind of bothered by it and I knew they were going to pair her and Peter up, or at least try. Slightly predictable, there, but at the same time I don’t mind Olivia/Peter.

  2. says

    I agree entirely. Fauxlivia’s actions both professionally and personally were so “off” (and sloppy) that I found myself disliking her more for NOT being caught. Even how she dressed, wore her hair, and carried herself were different. Her boss didn’t notice? And I know Walter’s not very stable, but he’s known Olivia since she was a child. He didn’t know? And Peter, who’s been shown to be a rather competent detective, with extensive paranormal experience?

    I’m not sure if we’re supposed to generally be more aware of Fauxlivia’s fakeness than the other characters, or if, given time, they’ll notice something’s up, or if their heads are so far up their own asses that they won’t realize anything’s wrong until Red Olivia either pulls something off or starts to crack. Or if Real Olivia breaks out and back into her own world, leading to a dramatic confrontation (which, if it happens, I hope will be free of any “catfight” battles).

    The whole thing makes me wonder if Our Olivia (when she returns “home”) is going to point out her comrades’ failure to recognize Fauxlivia isn’t her, or if someone like Astrid (borderline magical Negro/token minority until this point) is being set up to have the “big reveal” moment because her agenda (if she has one) does not include obliviousness to her peers/head-ass-ititis. Then again, the show has surprised me before, and I like it well enough to keep watching, so I guess I’ll see soon enough!

    • sbg says

      I really do think Peter knows something is up, but I think he’s chalking it up to the surreal trip to the other side. I suppose I might be inclined to give him a bit of a pass – he’s only just found out that 1) Walter is not his father and 2) his actual father wants to use him as a cog in a giant doomsday machine.

      But, no. No, I can’t. He has feelings for Olivia. I mean, I’m not even convinced the physical chemistry would be the same, though Fauxlivia is technically, genetically identical.

      I have a feeling they’re going to drag this out far longer than I’d like. Because, at this point, Olivia doesn’t know she’s Olivia anymore and it’s going to take some time for her to break through that. And she will. She’s got her cabbie friend! (Who I suspect might be being groomed for his own Magical Negro role!)

      I’ll keep watching too, unless they really screw it up. Fringe is still very watchable.

  3. says

    Forgot to add: Olivia’s sister and niece! They haven’t appeared this season (yet), but I’d hope, if the writers know what they’re doing, Olivia’s own family would know she wasn’t her. Even if they only find out because Fauxlivia’s family dynamics are different, or if Fauxlivia doesn’t call because it doesn’t occur to her that Olivia would have a family.

    The whole thing is just so OBVIOUS I’d really like to believe it’s a deliberate subversion of the replacable actress/character trope, especially because of all the ways the trope itself works are highly improbable at best. :/

    • sbg says

      Ooh, yes! For a while last season, they were very present in Olivia’s life. Then they started to fade away – and I’m guessing this is why. I think they could get away with fooling her sister, but her niece? She’d know. Kids always know.

      The whole thing is just so OBVIOUS I’d really like to believe it’s a deliberate subversion of the replacable actress/character trope, especially because of all the ways the trope itself works are highly improbable at best. :/

      I’m right there with you.

  4. says

    I think what did it for me was when the two were in the bar and faux liv told Peter that she likes the song crazy by Patsy Cline and then invited him to dance. He looked right at her and said that this was the first time she had expressed any interest in music. Considering that he himself is from the other side and had been switched, that should have set off alarm bells. Someone does not change that drastically. She always seems aloof and that is not like Olivia at all. I think the first person to clue in that something is off is Walter. I am not sure where this switch is going but I feel like they took her away from us and I am not sure I like this plot line.

  5. SunlessNick says

    I’ve not seen the s3 pilot, though I know of this turn of events; and I’ll be eschewing any other fringe discussion after this post, in fear of learning any more (Fringe is a series where I like to avoid spoilers). But I’ve got one response, and one hope:

    To sum up: she did it to herself.

    I could easily imagine Walternate gloating to that effect, but the counterpoint could be made that no she didn’t do it to herself; they still did it, just that circumstances worked to their advantage in a way Olivia couldn’t have predicted. What they have here is a perfect set-up to victim-blame Olivia over this – but simulataneously, a perfect set-up to demolish victim-blaming.

    Fauxlivia tried to slip into her role of Olivia

    In the s2 finale episodes, Bolivia (that’s apparently how she’s referred to in the scripts, though I like Altivia) didn’t seem evil the way that Walternate did. My hope is that we won’t get a one bad/one good, but rather that Bolivia will turn coat, and become an agent for the blue team. And if Olivia’s going to need rescuing, which presumably will be the case now, I hope against hope that it’ll be Bolivia doing the rescuing rather than Peter.

    • sbg says

      To be fair, the “she did it to herself” thing was not a major deal on the show itself. I noticed it and the implication, no matter how slight, kind of bothered me. With the Fringe PTB, I’m never quite sure where they’re going or saying with something.

      I think you might be right about Bolivia/Altivia/Fauxlivia (whatever we call her!), but I don’t know because I don’t do spoilers either. :)

      • SunlessNick says

        But I take your point. Some narratives are easy to fall into, and prevalent enough that they apply even if a specific instance wasn’t meant to come across that way.

        Or to put it another way, unless they (as in the writers) choose to actively subvert the victim-blaming version – even if just by having a character deny it on screen – then I’ll probably see it the same way you did.

        • sbg says

          It’s a bit, to me, like the folks who say that we shouldn’t be so bothered by 15-30 second adverts that reinforce all kinds of horrible things. It’s because they’re so prevalent that I am bothered, because there are a LOT of 30 second spots in an hour of broadcast television.

          I really don’t think that the writers intended it to be that way, and even if they did – it is a tragic irony. There wasn’t any actual victim-blaming going on, yet it could still be read that way.

  6. Azzy says

    I don’t really know about the “did it to herself” bit; it doesn’t really look set up like that, but more like dramatic irony: just when we think she’s safe, that she finally outran the danger, the trap springs closed and she can no longer escape.

    As for Bolivia, I’m waiting until the end of the season to see how it plays out. We’re shown that she’s started to learn Olivia’s mannerisms and abilities, so she’ll presumably be better at imitating Olivia before anyone really notices. The way I think it’s going to go is, over the season, characters will notice small inconsistancies until they all add up and they start piecing together the truth. What they’ll do afterwards about Bolivia will be interesting to see.

    • sbg says

      Oh, I don’t think they were actively saying that. I think they were going for bitter irony, and that it was. I also have no doubt Olivia will break through eventually, because she’s that awesome.

      Fairly sure Bolivia will be an all-season thing, which I think is what bothers me. 😉

  7. M.C. says

    OK, so German tv is still airing season 2, but I did get spoiled, so let me chime in:

    They’ve turned her into the “replace this good-looking blonde woman with this good-looking blonde woman and no one will care” trope

    But they didn’t replace Olivia with another woman, they replaced her with another version of Olivia. Fauxlivia is what Olivia could have been. So I think it’s entirely possible that especially Peter thinks that he’s just getting to see a different side of Olivia.

    Of course Astrid should be the one to find out. She’s not as emotionally attached to Olivia as the other characters, that’s why she might see things more clearly.

  8. Anne says

    I decided to read this before I watched the episodes so I could watch for it, and while I don’t fully agree with you, I can definitely see what you mean.

    For one, I was not troubled by the “she did it to herself” thing with Olivia’s reaction to the memories and the drug, not because it’s not a troubling thing to think about but because it IS troubling. It’s so…tragic for someone so strong to be undone by herself, and I have the feeling (hope) that it will be her who undoes it. I will, however, be majorly pissed if it’s a man who “saves” her from the false memories. They better give her the same strength of character and intelligence she’s always shown! But right now, i viewed it as a very tragic irony that some of her best character traits worked against her in this case. But yeah, if they make her helpless and have a stupid “saved by love” confrontation between her and Peter and he reminds her of who she is…that’d bring me right into the “totally not liking it” side.

    As for Fauxlivia (I liked this name for her!), while I could definitely see where she’s different, I was looking for it. We are in the privileged position of the viewer who is in the know. The other characters, not so much, though I could see times she gave them pause. There were also times where she was VERY much like Olivia, so it’s not all obvious. However, again, this is just based on these two episodes. If someone doesn’t notice within the next episode even, I will probably be in agreement with you fully. I would think Broyles might be the first to notice, myself, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Peter is either. But Broyles would notice if she makes an unusual mistake within the bureaucracy that is probably vastly different in “our” world verses the alternate world. :)

    Anyway, whether I agree full or not, this was a great article and I am glad I read it and then watched the episodes. I totally get how something can bother you but you can’t quite put “why” into words. Just because it doesn’t bother me also doesn’t mean I’m not just missing something! (Which happens, sadly, quite a bit XD)

    • sbg says

      It would be pretty boring for everyone to agree all the time.

      For one, I was not troubled by the “she did it to herself” thing with Olivia’s reaction to the memories and the drug, not because it’s not a troubling thing to think about but because it IS troubling. It’s so…tragic for someone so strong to be undone by herself, and I have the feeling (hope) that it will be her who undoes it. I will, however, be majorly pissed if it’s a man who “saves” her from the false memories.

      It wasn’t that sticky for me, to be honest. And I don’t think they intended to lay it out like that, not really – but the germ of that idea is still there. Of course, Olivia had no choice. Of course she was going to make the attempt to get away. And, of course, it’s heartbreaking that the very attempt is what got her caught. I don’t think it’s her fault, and I don’t think anyone on the show would think that. Hmmm.

      • Anne says

        That it would be!

        And I realized that I went wrong in my wording of it: I mean, physically, she was undone by herself–but she didn’t do anything to herself. They did it to her. So no matter how much her adrenaline played into the chemical reactions that spurred the false memories taking her, of course you are right and it’s not in the least her doing, or “her fault.”

        That’s not really in response to anything you said–just a realization of my own word choices.

        Hopefully the next episode won’t bother you! I’m hoping this whole Fauxlivia plotline gets wrapped up fairly soon. I’m intrigued by the pieces of the machine that I’m assuming they’re going to be constructing to still get Peter to destroy the ‘verse, but I’m not that into the switch thing.

        • sbg says

          I knew what you meant.

          And so far this eppie?

          1) Whew, Olivia is already trying to break through.

          2) Alt!Broyles is … *thud*. He was always *thud*, but getting him out of the suit might be the best thing about the alt storyline.

          3) Philip Winchester.

          Okay, so those last two points are incredibly shallow.

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