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Posted by on Oct 7, 2012 in Blog | 21 comments

Why We Fight…

Why We Fight…

..or better put, the title of this post could be expanded to “And Why We Don’t.

I thought this most recent episode of Fringe, “In Absentia” to be most exemplary.  Not only did it succeed on so many levels it may stand out as the best episode of the season and I’m including those we have yet to see.   In it, we were exposed to the family dynamic that is so important to Fringe especially how important Olivia is to it.  We also got our weekly dose of pop culture and Easter Eggs and more importantly we got insight on how the season is to proceed in the hunt for Walter’s tapes.

But what I found most fascinating was the examination into human nature.  Specifically, our instinct for self-preservation versus our will to live in freedom.  You’d think the two would work hand in hand but that is not necessarily so as we witnessed in the case of loyalist Gael Manfretti.  Manfretti was a self professed “coward” and not only that but an accomplished liar.  As Henietta pointed out to Olivia he lied to her because, “He only wanted to live as long as possible.  Its a natural human instinct.  Its what they used to turn us into slaves.”  That’s a pretty damning indictment of human nature.  Henrietta is saying we’d rather sacrifice our freedom rather than our lives.

 

 

So what drives us to be so innately selfish and what separates the rest of us to be so self sacrificing?  The will to live is a strong one.  But if faced with an overwhelming foe the urge for capitulation can be irresistible.  But on the other hand, what price freedom?  Henrietta was nonplussed when her torture of Manfretti was interrupted by Olivia.  She sensed Olivia’s disapproval and responded by saying,  “Can’t you see what the Observers have brought, this is war and we’re losing”.  The irony of that statement  is Henrietta has taken on the role of her oppressors and that of their methods.

Fringe is to be given credit for taking on such a deep subject and to accomplish it within the confines of an hour long episode while all the while wrapping it into the plot line of this season was exceptional.  The breadth of which was filled out by our remarkable cast of actors and the expert direction of Jeannot Szwarc.

Olivia had the role of the compassionate leader.  Someone who could see the better side of us no matter what the circumstance.  A true believer in the good side of humanity.  Henrietta was the embittered freedom fighter.  Damaged by years of fighting and as ruthless as the enemy she wishes to defeat.  Peter, the chameleon, as comfortable in his nascent fatherly role as he is in adorning the trappings of the fascist Observers.  And of course, Gael Manfretti, the craven turncoat representing the shameful side of humanity.

 

I think it is revealing that we see the Loyalists portrayed in the uniform of the “Brown Shirts”.  The Brown Shirts in history were the paramilitary unit of the Nazi party.  They were tasked with keeping order at rallies and party meetings and stifling those of the opposition.  It no wonder the Observers have dressed their underlings in the trappings of their fascists forebears in order to instill fear kept in our collective consciousness.   Its notably ironic again that these Brown shirt thugs are tattooed with glyphs by the Observers to mark their servitude and identity.  Tattoos were also used by the Nazis to mark the proud Jewish people that they sought to exterminate.  Do you think the Loyalists of 2036 are aware of this juxtaposition?

 

I’d like to to take the time to mention Directors Jeannot Szwarc’s role in all of this.  I don’t pretend to know the man and I know very little of his background.  But I do know he was born in Paris, France in 1937.  Too young perhaps to witness the Nazi invasion of France in 1940 and the lightning victory of the Germans but old enough by 1945 when the war ended to see the pain and agony in the eyes of his family and countrymen.  I feel Szwarc was in a unique position to comment on this era in human history and Fringe is extremely fortunate to have him on board for his direction and his important perspective.  Who better to reveal to us this terrible moment in our history and in some small respect help exorcize his own memories of that time.

 

In 1994 I visited France on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Normandy invasion also known as D-Day.   I took the above picture in Le-Havre France.  Its a sculpture to honor the Resistance fighters that fought and died to liberate France during the Second World War.  I was curious why we hadn’t seen any other monuments in our tour of northern France as you’d think these monuments would be sprinkled virtually everywhere do to their historical nature.   I asked our tour guide “where are all the other monuments celebrating the heroic resistance?”  She looked at me and my naivete and responded, ” The French have a difficult time reconciling their history.  Yes, there was a part of them that resisted the invasion and occupation but there were many more that were complicit in it or just simply stood by and let it happen.  It’s something they struggle with to this day.”

I was stunned.  All I knew of that time period was the romantic notion of the Resistance as portrayed in such movies as Casablanca (which serves as some of the inspiration for this season and “Letters of Transit.)  I had know idea that many of the French people may have given themselves over to the invasion out of weariness and and overall sense of defeat.    This was noted by the character of Gael Manfretti when he remarked to Olivia why he became a Loyalist when he said, “I don’t understand you people, the world would be a safer place if you stop trying to fight them.”

So there you have it in a nutshell, the shame for turning yourself over to the enemy because it is easier to survive that way than it is to fight.  Fortunately, Gael followed this lament with the question directed at Olivia,  when he said, “Do you really think you can win?”  She responded by saying, “We have to win for the people that died, including your son, so they didn’t die for nothing.”  This was a transcendent moment for Manfretti.  He told Henrietta upon his release that he saw a certainty in Olivia’s eyes that, “We were supposed to win.”

So what does this say of humanity and how superb was it of Fringe to encapsulate all of this in one episode?  Is it leadership?  Does the moral compass and strength of one person like Olivia Dunham make such a difference?  Are we all so easily cowed?  I don’t mean this as an indictment of the French people.  I ‘m fortunate to live in a country that has been by and large been spared the atrocity of war and the stain of  servitude.  But I now have new perspective what its like to live in fear where every moment may be your last.

Manfretti was given his freedom by Henrietta and vowed to fight with the Resistance.  We don’t know if he actually will but the same spark that he caught in Olivia’s eyes was reflected in Henrietta’s when she let him go.  The spark of humanity was nearly extinguished in her especially after witnessing Simon’s fate.  But it was rekindled by the words and actions of her mother and hopefully that flame of humanity will spread amongst the rest of the world.  All it took was the compassion of a single person and with it the courage to act not for your self but for someone else.

21 Comments

  1. Come the war, come the avarice
    Come the war, come hell
    Come attrition, come the reek of bones
    Come attrition, come hell

    And this is why, why we fight, why we lie awake
    This is why, this is why we fight
    When we die we will die with our arms unbound
    This is why, this is why we fight, come hell

    • dana I’m a big fan of the Decemberists. Saw them at the Boston House of Blues. Highlight of the show was The Mariners Revenge Song. It was incredible. Great reference by you citing “Why We Fight”. Absolutely great.

    • They’re my favorite band! And what an excellent quote to pull out for this particular post! It definitely put a smile on my face :) Cheers!

  2. Dave,

    What a great write up. You are so right on so many points I feel. I too loved this episode and especially the compassion shown by Olivia. All these actors did an amazing job with getting across the points and feelings you so correctly wrote about above.

    I may come back with more comments on this and the episode, yet for now I need to digest what you wrote and perhaps even rewatch the episode now that I’ve read this. Thanks for sharing it!

    • Thanks Kristen,

      It’s going to tough to top this episode. It was high quality to the max. I’ve remarked before on Anna Torv’s acting skills. Sometimes the strength of her craft resides in her non-verbal delivery. This time she had both. We might have to march on Washington if she doesn’t get an Emmy nod this time around.

      This episode had great depth it deserves every re-watch it gets.

  3. One of the things I like about Fringe is that it isn’t black and white. It takes on deeper, philosophical subjects, and show people and issues as multifaceted. I didn’t, however, know that there were allusions to the Nazi’s, and that Jeannot Swarc has personal connections with the conflict. A friend I work with at DISH mentioned historical inspirations in the show, but I never picked up on them. I am saving the entire season to my Hopper, however, so I can go back and look through episodes to see what historical influences I can find. I love having enough memory that I can save episodes like that, so hopefully the show will continue to throw things like that in. Maybe I’ll get better at finding them as the season progresses.

    • No doubt there will be more historical references to come Hailey.

      I think the people at Fringe know they have struck pay dirt when it comes to the romantic side of the “Resistance”. Thankfully they also understand the real history behind it all. There is a cost to fighting and off times it is paid in blood and tears. What we saw Friday night was a dramatic insight into the pain and sacrifice needed to fight on. You wouldn’t think Fringe had the time to explore such issues with only 13 episodes but they pulled off an amazing “pas d’armes”. Cheers Hailey.

  4. It was all you, Dave! Great post!

  5. Dave, posts like this are why I take the time to read blogs. Excellent, really.

    “Dandelions spread further, are more difficult to exterminate, and grow under more under adverse circumstances than most competitors.” – from Identifying and Harvesting
    Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places

    Sounds a little like hope doesn’t it? Little blond Etta kept hope alive while the Fringe team was ambered. Now that they are free, the hope that humanity just might win is already starting to spread. Even if it is one human at a time. The glyph code was appropriate of course, FAITH in what you are fighting for makes the impossible surmountable.

    I’d like to think that if it came to it I would uphold the principle of my NH neighbors: “Live Free or Die”. I hope I never have to face that choice.

    -Lynne

    • Thanks for the kind words Lynne.

      When I see Etta blow on the dandelion seeds I’m reminded of the ephemeral nature of peace and or beauty. At once perfect and serene and then a moment later, gone.

      I’m also reminded of the weeds in my own front lawn that were worse than ever this year. I blame my neighbor.

      Kidding aside, I can see the seeds of hope blowing in the wind. A little faith is a powerful elixir and so is hope, the thing the Observers most fear.

      I’ve always wondered about my own fight or flight instinct. I hope I never have to make a dire decision like Ettta or Gael.

      Stay cool Lynne and go Pats!

  6. To begin, I love that you pointed out / recognized that Etta has become the oppressor that she is valiantly fighting against. There is a book I love called Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Friere. He’s a professor who was raised in the slums of Brazil and wrote this book, ultimately as a guide on how to run a classroom, but it talks about the oppression he was raised under and the values it inevitably instills in those being oppressed.

    In short: Those who are oppressed, if they make it out, become oppressors because that’s the only other role they know / understand. It’s takes an outside agent, a variable, to teach people that they can break the pattern.

    See where I’m going with this?

    At the end, there was a dialogue between Etta and the Loyalist where the Loyalist tells Etta (I’m paraphrasing), that Olivia made him believe, for the first time, that they should win (the rebels). Olivia is the variable. Olivia is not only the hope. She is going to be the real leader. She’s always been the leader whether she’s wanted to believe it or not. She’s was the child with the best cortexiphan results, she was a prime “sleeper soldier” for the ZFT, she was the key David Robert Jones wanted… etc…
    Some people have said the show originally began with Olivia being the important one, but then it shifted to Peter and now it’s shifted to Etta. I completely disagree. It is and always was Olivia regardless of Peter’s disappearance or Etta’s birth being to imperative to the Observers. Olivia is the savior.

    In short. To answer your question. Yes. Olivia, just one person, makes ALL the difference.

    Cheers :)

    • Glad you reached the same conclusion as I did Sarah. This episode was so superior that I can only hope the rest can hold a candle to it. I was just watching the opening credits again and the team is in the old Harvard lab. Etta tells the team that she’s sure Manfretti knows something she’s “sure he knows plenty.” Just prior to that statement Olivia half closes her eyes and when Etta leaves the room and closes the door Dunham cocks her head and gives a quick glance at Peter. So much emotive force! Her Spidey sense was tingling and as her maternal and leadership skills tripled their focus. The glance to Peter was to see if he had picked up anything. His look didn’t betray anything.

      I thought Peter was good at chess but I think Olivia was two moves ahead of him.

      Thanks for the above reference to Friere’s work it helped add valuable insight into Etta’s mind set.

      Cheers to you Sarah Maria.

      • No problem, Dave!

        Great minds think alike :)
        (I know that’s cliche to say, but I love that expression… especially when it comes to Fringe).
        I did notice that silent exchange between Peter and Olivia, and you’re once again absolutely right. Olivia is FAR more intuitive to what’s going on. We’re on the same page :)

  7. This episode proves how important Olivia Dunham and Anna Torv are for Fringe.

    When they decided to put Peter cenrtral after Marionette, Olivia lost her entire status, and was reduced to a needy woman, and a peetr needing woman in season 4,
    Fringe did not work.

    As soon as Olivia is the driving force, Fringe works, it was like taht in teh pilot season 1, 2, 3, until Marionette.

    Even if she was the go-between (and underrated) in the beginning, Annas beautiful subtle acting is what gives the depth to Olivia, the pain and suffering always there.

    Olivia has a childhood from hell, Walter abused her, but she takes care of him.

    Etta would kill Walter, ice-cold, although raised in a famlly (photographs we never got of Olivia as a child).

    I do not like Georgina Haigs acting, it is the cliche tough girl acting without showing the inner turmoil.

    If you are with the reistence, and think like she does about loyalists, you should show your disdain in the eyes
    (like Olivia always had the anger, pain, disgust in her eyes.)

    Etta is empty, hollow, no anger , no close-up when she saw Simon, but the cliche reaction.

    Compare that to Olivia, what Anna did from the start was brilliant, but with Olivia they did not bother to write for her, to explain her background.

    And now we are in S5 of Fringe and we have to care for an Etta, big mistake.

    They should have set this in 2016, everything else would have worked the same.

    Anna Torv is the only one who really brings across a now 38 Olivia, with the pain of losing a child, and the anger etc,
    Noble and Jackson behave as they have just had a party in amber.

    Olivia and Etta is all the work by Anna, Etta is just the young woman, talking, it are the silent responses of Anna that really bring across teh mother-daughter part.

    Pity she does not get a scene in a yellow cab with Yazoo and a striped robe, maybe then people would notice how awesome Anna is.

    • Thanks for the response Anna.

      I can’t disagree with you on how important Olivia Dunham is to the show. I think Anna Torv’s acting skills have grown by leaps and bounds. No doubt this role is a challenge for her and lets not forget she had to play the Red Universe version of her self. There is a lot of beauty in the subtlety of her craft, wherever she goes after Fringe I’m sure she will excel in it.

      As for Georgina Haig, I think they want her to come off as a bit of an automaton. She has to be battle hardened and war weary. Also she has to project a facade wherein she works as a public servant of the Fringe Division and hide her role as part of the resistance. Switching between so many persona’s has to take a toll on the human condition.

      She did let the tears flow when she finally met her “Mama”. I don’t think I could cry like that even if I chopped a dozen onions.

      Either way, I am a big fan of Anna Torv also Anna, thanks for checking in.

  8. Dave, this post was seriously brilliant. Great job.

  9. Dave, I have to agree with all the folks saying how great this post was – really terrific job. I also loved this episode, and really love the backstory that your blog brought to it. Thanks for taking the time to share!

    “All it took was the compassion of a single person and with it the courage to act not for your self but for someone else.” I wonder if this isn’t one of the most important themes that this show has for us? This, and how it connects to the importance of family – family by blood or otherwise – feel like the ideas that will carry us to the end of the season.

    -Tony

    • Thanks Tony, I’m a big fan of history and I saw an opportunity to dig deep into the themes represented here. I’m also proud to follow a show such as Fringe where they have the audacity to pursue such themes and explore them on the human scale they deserve.

      You spoke of the importance of family and I just realized how similar a family is to a cadre of resistance fighters. Both operate with the trust, love, courage, compassion and sacrifice that is forged through togetherness. Its no wonder that cadres of fighters are so effective because of their family like size and bonds.

      The price to pay for courage and compassion is off-times sacrifice. I’m afraid someone will have to give their last full measure of devotion before seasons end. As a fan of the show I hope I can face it! Thanks again Tony.

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