Sunday, March 20, 2011

Anna Torv Channels Mr. Spock

I've written before about the negative reaction Anna Torv's performance as Olivia Dunham received in Fringe's first season. A lot of people complained that the show was great except for her flat, boring existence. I disagreed. I thought Torv was playing flat because of the tragedies her character suffered at that time, not least the death of her fiance, who, it turned out, might or might not have been a traitor. I thought it was a nice, quiet, understated performance.

In the second season, we learned that Dunham had been the subject of Walter's experiments. Others who had been experimented upon had similarly isolated lives with similarly dark wardrobes. So, Torv's quiet, flat Dunham made even more sense to me.

But this season has given Torv the opportunity to play not one, not two, but three characters, all various versions of the one. Besides Olivia, there's Fauxlivia, a woman rather like Olivia, but one with a lighter heart (at least, until she feel in love with Peter Bishop), a fuller life, an easier smile. It turns out that Fauxlivia is less certain of herself than ours, and less able to think creatively. But she has more friends, and seems to have easier relationships with others. Until her trip to our universe, her life was pretty sweet - she even had a fiance.

Then, in Stowaway, the most recent episode of Fringe, Olivia was mostly absent from the episode, all because she drank some tea when she visited William Bell in the other universe. Apparently, Bell had served the tea with his soul magnets, and when a particular bell was rung, Bell's soul was drawn into Olivia like, well, a magnet to steel. Or whatever magnets are attracted to. Olivia was pushed to the side, and Bell had taken over.

I'm not really clear on why Bell did this. Perhaps he genuinely believes that his presence is important to help the floundering Walter Bishop find his self-confidence. Perhaps he believes only he has the knowledge necessary to prevent the two universes from destroying each other. Perhaps he's like so many of us, unwilling to die.

He acknowledges that he cannot stay in Olivia's body for long, and after at first hedging how long he can stay, agrees to vacate after finding a suitable substitute. While the computer program attempts to find an adequate host, he agrees to help solve the mystery of the week.

In the meantime, we are treated to quite a performance. It is, I am sure, no surprise that I am a lifelong fan of Star Trek. I have spent the years studying the various characters and actors, of which, Mr. Spock and Leonard Nimoy are favorites. I've watched Nimoy's career through the years, and thoroughly enjoyed his turn as William Bell on Fringe. I wasn't surprised when Bell died last year, given Nimoy's announced retirement from acting (Nimoy's retirement may be as short lived as the Who's - he may be returning to Fringe later this season). Normally, I'd think such a "return" as this a cheap gimmick, but Torv's performance was so spot on, that I actually forgot who she was.

What did I see in Torv's performance? Well, first, she walked differently, slower, less gracefully. Much like an old man would walk. Her hair was blander, and her make up even less prominent than normal. She had a sly grin as she talked (Olivia never grins), and looked at everyone differently, less upfront, more from the side.

As many of us know, Nimoy had an excellent ability to use a raised eyebrow as communication, and Torv adopted it as well as she could. Some people can raise an eyebrow, and some people can't. However, Bell possessing Olivia's body would only have been able to do what Olivia could do, so even that felt right.

The only thing that didn't feel right was the tremor in her voice. As Nimoy has aged, his voice has developed a tremor, and it was a definite part of William Bell. Torv has adopted the tremor, under the presumption that if Bell had it, he would have it in Olivia as well. However, just as Bell wouldn't be able to raise an eyebrow if Olivia couldn't, he would have the voice that she had, which was remarkable in its lack of tremor. However, you could argue that Bell was so used to speaking with a tremor that he forces it in his conversations in Olivia's body. An unconvincing argument, but an argument all the same.

It was fun watching Bell interact with those who know Olivia so well. Walter, as expected, was delighted, and the two scientists quickly reverted to their old relationship as old friends who had worked together for years. They smoked pot together, joked about inserting Bell's consciousness in the cow, and solved a math problem.

Peter was justifiably horrified to find Bell in Olivia, especially considering how Bell slipped the soul-magnet mickey in her tea. Only Peter seemed outraged by Bell's casual dismissal of any moral issues in taking over Olivia's body. However, since no one else seemed all that upset, Peter accepted the situation, if only because he had to.

I'm fairly sure that Astrid is not a fan, after being sexually objectified and harassed by the scientist. I personally understood when she buttoned the top button her blouse. It turns out that William Bell was a pig.

I found Stowaway to be a thoroughly enjoyable episode of Fringe, and am sorry I don't have more time to discuss other aspects of the story, including the mystery of the week centering around the woman who can't die and Lincoln Lee on our side of the universe.

Deadwood fan alert - Paula Malcomson, Trixie on Deadwood, played a woman who learned that being struck by lightning twice prevented her from dying.

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