This week’s episode was about heroes. I know what you’re thinking—every episode of Fringe is about heroes. Peter, Olivia, and Walter are the epitome of heroism. All they do is risk their lives to save the world, whether it means eliminating themselves from existence, using their abilities to fight evil, or getting bangs. The Fringe team has over four seasons’ worth of proof that they’re some of the bravest, most selfless people in the universe, but this episode was sort of a tribute to the unsung heroes who have helped them along the way, sometimes even at the cost of their lives.
In 2036, Fringe Division is a legend. They’re the stories parents tell their kids at night, stories about the brave heroes who fought the Observers and tried to save the world. In fact, the Bishop-Dunhams are so well-known that even the isolated colony of bark-skinned people knew who they were when they stumbled upon them in the woods of Pennsylvania. River, the son of the resident historian (or “recordist”) was such a big fan of the Fringe team that he created his own comic books depicting their adventures. This was a surreal moment, because it was as if River represented the entire Fringe fandom, and he was somehow face to face with his idols, asking them to sign his comic book.
Olivia was not exactly comfortable with her newfound fame, but she still signed River’s comic book while Peter made a crack about how River gave him a strong jaw line. (This was one of those little moments that remind me of why I love Peter.) Later, Olivia told Peter why she was conflicted about River’s idolization of her, as well as Etta’s dream-come-true attitude about fighting side by side with her mom. Olivia confessed to Peter that the reason she had stopped looking for Etta wasn’t because she knew the world needed her fighting for the Resistance, but because she was too scared that they would discover that her daughter was dead. This made Olivia feel like she wasn’t deserving of the “hero” title that had been thrust upon her. What Olivia is too humble to realize is that she was a hero long before she became a leader of the Resistance, before she was a bedtime story and a comic book character. They spent so many years saving the world without anyone knowing it, it must be hard to adjust to being figureheads for an entire movement. That, and Olivia’s guilt about why she gave up the search for Etta seemed to make her very resistant to accepting her position as the amazing, brave, badass heroine that River (and the fandom) see her as.
Edwin said it best when he talked to his son about what it means to be a hero. He told River, “There’s a lot more to the word ‘coward’ and the word ‘hero’ than you think.” Even though River thought Edwin was being cowardly because he wouldn’t help the Fringe team get what they needed, he was really just doing his best to try to keep his son and his people safe. Edwin’s son thought he was a coward, while he was really trying to be heroic. In the same way, Olivia’s daughter and River thought she was a hero, even though Olivia felt like a coward. It’s surprising how close those two concepts can be, and this episode was an interesting look at what it really means to be a coward or a hero, versus our perceptions of them.
In the end, Edwin died a hero. He sacrificed himself so that the Fringe team could get the crystal they needed from the mine to help with their Master Plan. River took up his father’s position as the recordist, and he made sure it was recorded that his father “gave his life selflessly in pursuit of freedom and a better future.” Now that’s a real hero.
This made me think of those battery commercials where they talk about “the everyday heroes” who never get commended, though they perform selfless acts of bravery every day. Helping kids cross the street on their way home from school, fixing your electrical wires after a storm, or even something as simple as being a teacher. Edwin was basically just a historian. He recorded everything, so that when humans were eventually wiped out by the Observers, there would be at least some record of our culture. Of course, I don’t know why he thought it was a good idea to record it all on those digital cubes, since I suspect the magic cube reader machine probably wouldn’t survive the apocalypse. (Try carving some glyphs on a cave wall next time, Edwin.) He went from being an observer and recorder of history, to making history.
Edwin and River’s story reminded me of Peter and Walter in some ways. Their father/son dynamic made me a little nostalgic for the days when Peter and Walter’s relationship was still being rebuilt. Peter resented his father for years, and I’m sure there were times when he thought Walter was a coward, just like River thought Edwin was being weak. River and Peter couldn’t see things the same way as their fathers because they weren’t parents themselves. What I’ve noticed about Peter now is that he sees the world as a father, so he is more able to understand why his father did what he did, and why, for instance, Edwin made the decisions that he did. There are still moments when I’ll be watching Fringe, and I’m just struck by how amazing it is that Walter, Peter, Olivia, and Etta are all together, fighting for freedom like some post-apocalyptic Partridge family. It really is a Fringe fan’s dream come true.
It’s hard not to see them as heroes, because to us, that’s what they are. This episode was an interesting study of heroes and how we idolize them. At the end of the day, heroes are just people. And people are never just one thing, so even if they act like heroes, and even if the world sees them as heroes, they might sometimes feel or think or even act like cowards. What’s important isn’t how the world sees us, but how we’re seen by the people we love. Olivia was a hero to Etta and to River; Edwin was a hero to his son, and to the Fringe team. “Hero” is how you act, not what you are. And sometimes we can be heroes, just for one day. Oh wait…that’s a David Bowie song. Whoever you are, you’re my hero, because if you’re reading this, you’re probably part of the reason that Fringe got a fifth season. So thank you for saving my world.
Photo Courtesy of FOX