I got babies on the mind.
What? No, not me. It’s the politics.
Defining rape. And who controls women’s bodies. And whether or not Planned Parenthood is good for our country. (Spoiler alert: I think it is).
So in celebration of today’s referendum on Obama’s historic first term, here’s a post for you on the fate of the nuclear family on Fox’s Fringe. (Spoiler alert: it’s doomed.)
I do not think of Fringe as a cockamamie science fiction show with an ever-changing and preposterous narrative arc.
Though, you know, I could.
Instead, I think of Fringe as one of TV’s more powerful dramatizations of the loss of a child.
The second through fourth seasons were fueled by this loss, which was so full of downward, nuclear energy that it both created and destroyed an entire universe.
John Noble’s magnetic performance as Walter Bishop, in particular, brings gravity to the show’s disparate and incredulous plots. He’s also funny.
The fifth season transposed Walter’s sorrow onto that son he lost and then stole from the other universe and . . . (yeah, i know how it sounds). And Peter Bishop, along with his soulmate and fellow-universe-saver Olivia Dunham, had a baby named Henrietta, raised her till she was 3, and then lost her to the alien apocalypse. Not once. Twice. And the show hid most of this. Etta’s first three years happened during our summer, when we were blithely swimming, camping, and forgetting about the Bishop-Dunhams. When we returned to the grim near-future, we had only a few episodes with adult Etta until her death two episodes ago.
Now, Etta’s death was a shock, sure. But it was also a dramatic disappointment. I was looking forward to watching the show deal with the pressures of having a foxy daughter who’s approximately 5 years younger than her foxy parents: a triptych of sexy unprecedented on television. Not that all-grown’d-up sexytime Oedipality would be the only dramatic tension if this family had been allowed to stay intact.
It’s just that WOWZA! That was a new take on the nuclear family.
But it’s all gone now, replaced by a replication of the world- and marriage-busting grief that Walter went through already.
Because in our culture, the nuclear family’s fragility is our most powerful symbol of our economic and social fragility.
What more potent image of optimism than a smiling chubster in diapers? What better reassurance that our institutions are intact, despite women working outside the home and women controlling their fertility and out gay people fighting our wars and the divorce rate and other countries rivaling us in economic power and technological innovation.
That’s a lot for a little baby to carry. Even a TV baby. So when the nuclear family is threatened, as it is in countless dramas, all the time, we feel that the very structure of our society is in danger. Which is how we feel much of the time.
So don’t expect a nuclear family to survive on a TV drama anytime soon.
Meanwhile, Fringe sees Lost‘s obsession with threatened fertility (remember how Island women couldn’t conceive?) and raises it a gajillion.
The aliens destroying the Fringe universe? They’re men. Not a woman among them. Not only are they oxygen-depleting, joy-preventing, rights-eliminating, feelings-not-having EVIL conformists in 50s suits. They don’t have sex like us, if they have sex at all. They’re either the most evil planet of gay men ever conceived, or they reproduce using technology. I’m assuming that since they don’t understand human feeling, and since they apparently evolved from humans, that they’re not, in fact, the most evil planet of gay men in the universe.
Instead, their evil is symbolized, potently, by their technology-enabled self-reproduction. Cloning, or what have you. Regenerative parts? Endless life through time travel? In any case, it’s as masculine as a society can get.
And with Peter’s choice use his body as a bridge between worlds, again (seriously, don’t ask), Peter seems to be part of this new regime of masculinist techno-reproduction.
As a feminist, I want Olivia to save Peter from this latest disastrous choice he made for himself and save the world better than he will, with his narcissistic self-destruction.
But what I like best about the show, besides its humor (that’s mostly missing this season anyway), is the emotional depth it gives its principle characters. For example, Peter and Olivia have dealt with losing Etta in a variety of ways, with neither one doing it “right.” As if that’s possible. And they’ve both saved the world several times over, separately and together.
With Peter now compromised and Etta gone, and with the alien enemy so completely anti-woman, Olivia’s really the only one left to save the world. As it should be: she’s a woman, mother, wifelike person, and FBI agent. Damn. The complete opposite of the alien colonizers.
So what’re they going to do about all the dead children? About masculinist versus feminine reproduction? About the ideal of the nuclear family? And will this be as strong a narrative theme as (I think) it should be?
Or will Peter’s technological rebirth and its inherent masculinity rule the remaining episodes?