Fringe: Having Anti-Choice Cake (And Eating It Too)

[Content Note: Anti-Choice Narratives, Forced Birth, Rape]

Welp, I hadn't planned on making a Fringe deconstruction tag, but I guess I'm going to have to because I am now seriously annoyed about last night's episode: Bloodline.

First, a quick recap below the cut.

Fringe deals with our universe (blue) and an alternate universe (red). (The colors are a reference to the colored filters used on the opening episode credits: blue credits mean the episode takes place in "our" universe and red credits means the episode takes place in the alternate universe.) And, yes, there is apparently only one alternate universe, which reminds me of the Futurama episode I Dated A Robot, which has Lucy Liu as a guest star and this is as good a time to mention that there will be another Elementary post this weekend so yay, but also this:

Anyway, there are two Olivias -- blue!Olivia who is blonde and red!Olivia who is a brunette (or possibly a redhead -- it depend on the lighting and which wig they're using that week) and has bangs. Obviously.


Red!Olivia -- also called "Bolivia", "Fauxlivia", and "holy shit this is confusing livia" -- traveled to the blue universe and secretly replaced blue!Olivia as part of an undercover operation to manipulate the blue universe Fringe team and gain information on them. During this time, she fraud-raped protagonist Peter Bishop (by seducing him under her fraudulent identity) got pregnant with his child in the process (accidentally and unexpectedly) and confessed her growing feelings for him before absconding back to the red universe. (Which, holy fuck, it is not cool to fraud-rape someone and then on top of that tell your victim that you love them. And to have the show try to run with that and make Peter "have feelings" for her and be conflicted on which Olivia to "choose" is so horrifying to me as a rape victim.* Not cool.)

* Which is not to say that rape victims can't or shouldn't have feelings for their rapists, because that is a thing (as well as a thing I have experienced). But it is a thing that needs to be explored sensitively and holy shit the writers of Fringe are not doing that. Feelings-For-My-Rapist is not "romantic"; it's (in my experience) "difficult" and "scary" and "painful" and "guilt-ridden" and "in serious need of someone helpful to talk to". None of which is being explored in-show -- they're treating this situation like a bog-standard Love Triangle. ARGH.

Anyway. Last night's episode Bloodline opened with red!Olivia being diagnosed with a fictional version of eclampsia, which is a life-threatening pregnancy complication that took the life of her sister, and deciding to terminate the pregnancy as soon as possible in order to preserve her health. And I will point out that at this point all we know about the pregnancy is that it was (a) unplanned and unwanted (in the sense that red!Olivia didn't proactively want to become pregnant), (b) has only been known to her for about for a week or so, and (b) was the single factor that wrecked red!Olivia's relationship with her red universe boyfriend-slash-fiance who was unaware of Olivia's mission to the blue universe and who proposed to her after she returned from it until he pulled a take-backsies at the revelation that she was pregnant with a child that couldn't have been his.

I will also take a moment here to register how thoroughly annoyed I am with the treatment of red!Olivia's pregnancy. Her boyfriend/fiance harangues her about it and leaves when she refuses to cough up a tidy explanation on the spot, despite the fact that he believes an affair to be entirely out-of-character for Olivia. Her mother needles her about it relentlessly and refuses to accept her story of an anonymous hookup because she believes an affair to be entirely out-of-character for Olivia. Her colleagues discuss her pregnancy behind her back in hushed and judgmental tones (and some of them are irritated that she didn't hook up with them) because they believe an affair to be entirely out-of-character for Olivia. And it's at this point that I'm standing on my feet literally shouting at the television, HAS IT OCCURRED TO ANY OF YOU THAT MAYBE SHE WAS RAPED AND IS STILL WORKING THROUGH THAT?!? Seriously, people, if a woman you know suddenly comes up pregnant and is 100% unwilling to talk about it, maybe give her some privacy to work through that because it's possible that there's more going on than you know.

But moving on. In parallel to Olivia's decision to have an abortion -- or possibly because of it, it hasn't been made clear yet -- powerful series antagonist red!Walter Bishop, who is the child's grandfather, has red!Olivia kidnapped and subjected to a process which accelerates the pregnancy and causes her to give birth to a healthy baby boy a few short hours after being diagnosed with the eclampsia in the first place. The series ends with her restored to her friends and family, lovingly cradling her new baby in her arms, and calling it a miracle baby since the "acceleration" of the pregnancy magically dodged the eclampsia bullet since the fictional "viral-propagated eclampsia" wasn't able to replicate at the same speed as the baby and therefore didn't take.

I'm genre-savvy enough to understand that this plot was largely created in order to speed up the pregnancy so that New Baby can be used for plot points in a way that 8-Week Long Pregnancy couldn't. I'm sure there will be a scene wherein Peter has to gaze lovingly at his infant son and make a tough decision or whatever heart-string-tugging bullshit the writers decide to wad up and throw at us. Whatever, I don't care. My larger issue is with how this episode was a huge bundle of anti-choice cake being crammed down our gullets.

The A-word isn't used. I could be wrong about this, but I was listening hard (and watching the subtitles) and I'm pretty sure the word "abortion" isn't used once in this episode. Nor is "terminating the pregnancy". Instead, the doctor makes an oblique reference to "scheduling the procedure". In a culture where abortion is highly stigmatized, this is important: if network television can't or won't say the word "abortion" even in the context of saving a woman's life, what does that say about cultural acceptance of the word and concept?

The deadly health condition is conveniently fictional. There are genuine medical conditions out there that make pregnancy life-threatening to women. The "viral-propagated eclampsia" referred to in this episode is fictional so that it can be easily defeated with bullshit science-fiction medicine, and yet co-opts a real term that describes a real condition that really does kill women. The takeaway seems to be that women who get life-saving abortions just aren't trying hard enough -- add a dash of futuristic medicine and some can-do spirit and a bit of pushing and voila!

Olivia is ready to die for her baby. Olivia has been aware of this pregnancy for all of about one week, not to mention it was unexpected and unwanted, ruined a relationship that brought her stability and joy, and has threatened her life and career. So naturally she ends up giving birth in the five minutes before the ambulances arrive -- ambulances never make it in time for television birth scenes, which are always only five minutes long (unless it's a period drama) -- and of course she begs her friend-and-colleague Lincoln to make sure that the baby is saved, with the implication being that Olivia accepts that her life is forfeit but she wants them to fight for the life of the baby.

NO. JUST NO. I am so fucking sick of this. I gave it a semi-pass in Breaking Dawn** not because I agree with or enjoy the proliferation of woman-dying-for-baby media, especially in the context of the constant hostility against reproductive choice in my culture, but because at least Bella Swan's battle for her baby was predicated on (a) her Choice and (b) her having a plan that would, both theoretically and in actual practice, end in her having a baby and being an immortal vampire, and that was supposed to be win-win for her.

Even those flimsy justifications aren't present here: Olivia has been given no choice in this process, and in fact her choice has been overriden. And she has no survival plan through all this -- she is honestly expecting to die for this baby that she didn't want and has known about for all of a week. But rather than using what little agency she has left to prioritize her own survival -- "If the ambulance gets here in time, tell them to save me over the baby." -- she's giving up her life. Not because that's in any way in-character for Strong Female Character Olivia who survives tough situations and who, as far as we know, hasn't even particularly wanted a child up to this point, but apparently just because she's a good person and that's what Good People do: they die for baybees.

** And how much do I love that properties which are written by and for women -- "girl fantasy" -- are called out for this trope, but properties which are largely written by and for men -- in this case, a science fiction show -- are given a pass even when they do this trope even more badly than the girl-fantasy property? But I'm sure that all those people who criticized Breaking Dawn for not ending in abortion just aren't aware of the existence of Fringe.

The birth scene doesn't center Olivia. The frame immediately before the one pictured above has Nice Guy Lincoln -- who has been privately pining for Olivia throughout her relationship with her previous fiance, and who was the one who expressed frustration that Olivia would cheat on her fiance with someone other than himself -- confessing his love for her. They aren't dating or in any kind of romantic relationship at this time, and he is additionally her boss who she has to work with. And he's using her death to center his unrequited feelings for her. I will here quote Husband: "Dude! Not cool!"

The consent override is presented as a good thing. No, we're not supposed to agree with red!Walter for his methods -- he shouldn't have kidnapped Olivia and done this procedure to her against her will. But we are supposed to agree with the result: there's now a cute little baby in the show who wouldn't otherwise have existed. And the writers certainly appreciate Walter's act since now they don't have to fast-forward nine story months in order to get that baby out of Olivia's uterus. It needs to be said that you can't deconstruct rape when it's being presented as a lovey-dovey thing and you can't deconstruct hostility to reproductive choice when it's being presented as a swiffy process that results in adorable miracle babies.

This episode won critical acclaim. So it's a shitty episode wherein privilege-blinkered writers wrote a horrifying anti-choice narrative without realizing that's what they'd done, but it was all in service to propelling the stupid plot forward and I'm overreacting by focusing on it, right? Except that, in a show that is ostensibly about a Strong Female Protagonist kicking butt and saving the world, it was this episode -- where she is kidnapped and laid up on her back for most of the episode so that she can push out a cuddly baby in a five-minute largely-painless birth scene that centers a Baybee and a Nice Guy over her as nothing more than a baby-making machine and love-receptacle -- that won "positive reviews from television critics" and was submitted for consideration for an Emmy award.

Along with, I will freely note, a handful of other episodes, but my larger point is this: this isn't just a stinker episode that wants to have its anti-choice cake and eat it too. It also was considered, by enough people involved in the submission process, to be good enough to qualify for an award.

Update: After writing this post yesterday, I went and had a conversation on Twitter about it, and the point was brought up in the process that red!Olivia's forced pregnancy may well be "narrative redemption" for her rape of Peter: she made him suffer, but now she has suffered, and everyone can "get over" the rape and like her as a character. If that's the case, I can only say: EW WHAT THE HELL YUCK. That is not a good trope and redemption doesn't work that way.


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