On Fringe

The Malleability of Memory

By Garth Sundem

While Fringe is shot through with the paranormal, its bread and butter is the leading edge of the very normal science of memory—how do we make it, store it, and retrieve it? Walter can’t remember much of anything, Olivia can’t remember her childhood but remembers everything else, and Peter forgets little things like the fact he came from a different universe. And pushing memories around like pucks on a shuffleboard strip drives many of the show’s weekly plots—characters attempt to regain memories, steal them, repress them, and replace them, usually in rather suspenseful, medically explicit, and action-packed ways. While the specifics of these ways step slightly over the line from science to fiction, the show’s theoretical take on what’s possible in the weird and wild world of memory is spot on.

Throughout the seasons and episodes of Fringe, it’s as if creators and writers Abrams, Kurtzman, Orci, and company read psychology journals over their morning coffee and then wondered what if . . . ? What if memory B cells held experiences other than pathogens? What if memories could be physically removed from one mind and inserted into others? What if mind-expansion drugs could make someone eidetic or psychic? Really, that’s how the best sci-fi gets born: What if mosquitoes encased in amber held dinosaur DNA (Jurassic Park)? What if you’d stepped on a prehistoric butterfly (“A Sound of Thunder”)? What would life look like on a planet almost completely devoid of water (Dune) or a planet completely covered by water (Waterworld . . . okay, that  …

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