In this series (hopefully) of posts, I’ll be using Primetime Adventures to analyze and dissect the various episodes of the third season of Fringe. I’ll start with the pilot episode of season 3, “Olivia”.
I think it may be most useful to our purposes to consider the first three scenes, which form the Prologue, as a single “scene” for PtA purposes.
Focus: This is purely a plot advancement scene. Indeed, it doesn’t even really advance the plot per se as much as establish the plot; it’s an establishing scene. This is what this episode will be about. It almost literally has an “As you know, Bob” speech.
Agenda: (“…should explain what the likely conflict is.”) Secretary Bishop at his cronies are trying to implant a new personality into Olivia, who is trying to keep her current personality.
Location: Technically the three scenes each have their own location, but it’s not too much of a stretch to consider them all taking place, more or less, at the Liberty Island Prison.
Cast: Again, the cast varies slightly between the three scenes, but it’s substantially the same throughout the prologue. In total, we have Olivia, Secretary Bishop, Brandon, Doctor Anderson, and various soldiers.
I think it might be useful to consider Secretary Bishop as the only ‘real’ character other than Olivia, although Brandon comes pretty close too. The others — Doctor Anderson, the soldiers — are essentially just proxies or puppets of the Secretary. It’s sort of an interesting technique — compare this use of proxies to Walter Bishop, who is generally doing things himself and getting his hands dirty.
So that might be a handy tip to keep in the PtA toolbox — a character can be “present” in a scene without personally being there, by using a proxy minor character.
Practically, it would also be sort of clever to let the players handle both their ‘real world’ character and their ‘alternate universe’ version. They’re never on screen at the same time, so that wouldn’t be a problem.
Conflict: First of all, this is a fairly nice example of conflict escalation. The Secretary wants to imprint memories on Olivia, it isn’t working, so he escalates his actions. Olivia wants to go home, but she hasn’t been able to, so she escalates her actions.
So we have the stakes:
Olivia: Can I escape the prison?
Secretary Bishop: Can I imprint new memories onto Olivia?
Olivia has a whole lot of screen presence, and the producer is not inclined to spend a lot of budget at this early point. It’s a little strange that, according to PtA, both conflicts must be against the same difficulty. Possibly there’s a bit of room for a hack here.
Anyway, we go to the cards, and both Olivia and Secretary Bishop win their stakes. Olivia is narrated to have escaped the prison right away.
For the Secretary’s stakes, though… I think the narrator has decided to delay gratification, which I think is legal, if wildly-underutilized, by the PtA rules as written. It’s an interesting technique; I’ll be keeping it in the back of my mind for future reference, to see if it comes up in other episodes.
And that about wraps up the Prologue. Cut to commercial!
The ‘main’ scene here is the one in the cab, with Olivia and Henry. We occasionally cut away to different scenes, which PtA explicitly recommends.
Focus: This is a character development scene. It mostly involves the characters’ opinions of other characters. But it’s intercut with a plot advancement scene, which is a pretty good way to do it.
Agenda: Olivia jumps into Henry’s cab and tells him to drive.
Location: This all happens inside the cab, which probably counts as a personal set for Henry.
Cast: We’ve got Olivia again, and a new character, Henry the cab driver. He’s not a major character in the series as a whole, but he’s the other main character in this particular episode. Peter’s player has little to do this episode; maybe he’s running the character.
Conflict: We’re treading pretty close to player-versus-player conflict here, but I think we can avoid it.
This was a bit of a tricky one to analyze, and I can imagine some PtA players wrecking the scene in a variety of ways. I suspect the key here is to focus on The Issue, as usual.
Which means I should probably get around to The Issue, which I’ve been avoiding up until now, as I’m sure the astute reader will have noticed. As I see it, the Issue for Olivia is this: “Who am I?”
Specific to this episode, the Issue is expressed as: “Am I the person that everyone thinks I am, which is the sane answer, or am I the person I believe I am, which seems totally insane?”
Interestingly enough, I think this idea of ‘the search for identity’ is also essentially the Issue for both Peter and Walter. It might be something to try in a PtA game — give everyone in the series the same Issue, more or less, and see how they each tackle it.
To bring us back to the scene, we have two people trying to form and exert their individual opinion on the matter:
Olivia: I am She Who Must Be Obeyed; if you don’t do as I say, bad things will happen to you.
Henry: That lady is crazy. Crazy! Isn’t she?
Some specific lines underscore this idea:
“What I need you to do right now is I need you to drive.”
“You’re not in any trouble, Henry… As long as you do exactly as I say.”
“If you alert anyone, Henry, I assure you trouble will find you.”
“Well, I’m not insane. I’m not who they say I am.”
“I’m gonna need you to Show Me. You know I can’t put this cab into drive without your I.D.”
“Why are you wearing a hospital gown? Are you sick?”
“Nice ink [tattoo]. What’s it mean?”
This can be a bit tricky because many other RPGs treat “Player X tries to change Player Y’s mind” as a direct, opposed conflict. The trick here with PtA is to make sure each player has his own, unique opinion that he’s trying to impose.
Olivia is trying to convince Henry… of what? That’s she’s sane? Not really. I mean, she does claim she’s not insane, but that’s not most of what she says. Most of what she says involves threatening Henry. Indeed, it’s hardly detrimental to her threats if Henry believes she’s crazy.
Henry is trying to convince Olivia… of what? That he doesn’t need to do what she says? He offers up only the most feeble resistance. Most of what he says involves trying to convince himself, and incidentally Olivia, that she’s crazy.
If we consider the matrix of success and failure, we can see that all the outcomes are potentially interesting.
The actual outcome is that Olivia succeeds (again) while Henry fails. Olivia probably lost narration here, though, because she succeeds in getting to the opera house only to find it encased in amber. Man, that narrator is a jerk.
Also note the use of one of Olivia’s Edges — “Photographic Memory.” Not easy to work that into a threat; nice work by the player.
The intercut scene involves the other characters getting their search for Olivia underway. The Focus, as mentioned earlier, is plot advancement. The Agenda is essentially “hey gang let’s start looking for Olivia.” Most of the action happens in a hospital, which is one of those sets that keeps showing up in the series.
The cast consists of Colonel Broyles, Secretary Bishop, Agent Francis, Lincoln Lee, and an extra named Melissa.
There really isn’t any conflict here. Nothing good comes from “My stakes are whether Lincoln Lee stays in bed for the rest of the episode.”
It’s a bit of foreshadowing, a bit of plot advancement; an interstitial scene. It probably could have been cut without any ill effects.
This contains a couple of scenes that are probably best viewed as continuations of the scenes of Act I.
The intercut scene of “we’re looking for Olivia” continues on into the first part of this Act. Again, stakes like “do we find out where Olivia is?” probably don’t work very well.
The main scene, in the taxi, carries on to its logical conclusion.
Now we’re cooking with some real new scenes. The main scene here is at the gas station; it technically starts just a little earlier, with Lincoln’s appearance.
The Focus here is essentially character development. You can tell it’s not plot advancement because the state of the plot — “Olivia’s on the run; the rest of Fringe is trying to find her” — doesn’t change between the start of the scene and the end.
The Agenda is Lincoln confronting Olivia. For the cast, we have Olivia, Lincoln Lee, Henry, and Agent Francis. Well, sort of Agent Francis. He’s got two whole lines in this scene: “Liv!” and “Hey!” So he hardly counts.
Conflict: For a short scene, this has quite a bit going on. We’ve got three players who all have their own stakes.
Lincoln, like Henry before him, is trying to convince Olivia that she’s crazy and needs to come in.
Henry, having decided in an earlier scene that Olivia isn’t crazy, has yet to really help her of his own free will. His stakes here are: Do I voluntarily help Olivia escape?
For Olivia, it’s tempting to make her stakes something like “Do I escape or not?” But there’s good dramatic and gameplay reasons not to do that. If she’s simply captured again, we’re more or less back at where we started at the beginning of this episode. And if she succeeds in escaping but fails to win narration, there’s a pretty good chance that jerk narrator would make her shoot Lincoln in the head. It’s what I’d do as narrator.
Taking another look at Olivia’s Issue, we can see her stakes here are: “Am I a cold-blooded killer?”
Again, it’s worth thinking about all the various combinations of success and failure. Maybe Olivia shoots Lincoln, and that’s what convinces her that she’s gone insane. Maybe Lincoln talks Olivia into coming in, but Henry decides to drive off with her anyways, convinced she’s more sane than the people chasing her. Maybe there’s a gunfight and Henry runs for the hills.
The really interesting thing here is that Olivia’s player decides to use one of her alternate-universe-version’s Edges — Olympic Sharpshooter. That’s a great way to mechanically give some weight to the false memories taking hold. I bet she got some sweet fanmail for that.
The cards come out and Olivia wins, Henry wins, and Lincoln loses. And Agent Francis gets to yell a bit.
The next scene here isn’t a PtA ‘scene’ at all — it’s that belated narration of Secretary Bishop’s success, way way back from the Prologue. Pretty neat, eh.
Again, essentially two scenes here. The first, Mixing Memories, is back in Henry’s personal set, the cab.
The focus is still character development; cast is still Olivia and Henry. Henry really doesn’t have any stakes here; he’s pretty much done with wrestling with his decisions this episode.
Olivia’s stakes here are “Do I think of somewhere to go that’s safe from my pursuers?” The producer still has a fat wad of budget to spend, and it’s time for him to start burning it. Olivia’s still got a trick up her sleeve, though — she brings in a Connection from her alternate-universe-version. Which continues to be a pretty slick manouever and is still probably worth some sweet fanmail.
These stakes are a little subtle; they’re basically determining whether the place she goes, wherever it may be, will have Fringe agents all over it. It’s not simply an issue of “Do I decide to hide in a gutter, or in Secretary Bishop’s garden shed?”
She fails the draw pretty badly, and happily heads off to her mom’s house — or, at least, her alternate-version-mom’s house.
The intercut scene here is basically driven by the main scene — the usual gang chasing her is allowed, by the stakes of the main scene, to figure out that the mom’s house is the place to go. And poor old Frank, dead for many an episode, gets to make an appearance.
One last little bit of narration sneaks into the end of the main scene. Henry finally gets a chance to explain how and why he tagged his Connection: Jasmine, My Wife way back when he was trying to decide if Olivia was crazy or not:
“You know, a few years ago, I was in a bad way. Couldn’t pull myself out. Inside, I knew I was somebody else. There’s only one person who believed that… Jasmine. She saw the man I knew I was. But she was the only one.”
That’s a nice bit of long-delayed justification for bringing a Connection into a conflict which, at the time, might have seemed pretty sketchy. But Henry’s player set it up fair-and-square, by mentioning the picture of his family in his cab quite early on. For another example, see the very early mention of alternate-Olivia’s gold medal in marksmanship, which came up as an Edge quite a bit later on in the episode.
The lesson here: figure out some way to bring your Connections and Edges into the narrative of a scene, even if it’s obliquely. They may well come in handy. And the other lesson: trust your fellow players if they draw a card for a Connection or an Edge that might not seem justified at the time. They probably know what they’re doing. They’ll explain it eventually.
There’s one last ‘real’ scene here, and a few small wrapping-up plot sccenes.
The main scene is at mom’s house. The Focus is character advancement. The Agenda is, much like previous scenes, “Marilyn the mom tries to convince Olivia she’s really the alternate version.”
Olivia has one last chance to win her “I’m not the alternate-universe version of me!” stakes. But the deck is stacked against her, especially with the Edge and Connection that she’s brought in. Technically I don’t think there’s any way for a Producer to use an Edge or Connection “against” a character, but it might not be a bad house rule.
It’s still not a foregone conclusion; if Olivia wins her stakes somehow, it might mean that she’s managed to hold onto the truth but can fake it well enough to fool everyone else.
But she doesn’t win. She loses, and her assimilation is complete. Her little chat with Agent Francis later on is essentially a bit more narration from this scene.
A few notes about the remaining plot-wrapping-up scenes:
“Liberty Island – Memory Implant”: finally, *finally*, the narrator who won Secretary Bishop’s stakes way way way back in the Prologue gets to finish his narration. His patience adds a nice touch.
“Fringe Division – Pressing for Details”: This is both a bit of plot-wrapup for this episode, and some foreshadowing for conflict yet-to-come in future episodes. It certainly works fine as a “Next time on Fringe…” teaser.
“Congressional Building – Personal Testimony”: I’m not really sure why this scene is here. Maybe Peter is contractually-obligated to appear in every episode. Anyway, nothing to see here.
“Congressional Grounds – Budding Romance”: This is pretty much pure foreshadowing.
So… that’s the episode analysis. As a bit of trivia, the episode had 257 lines of dialogue; here’s how they broke down:
Olivia: 80 lines, or 31 percent.
Agent Francis: 18
This analysis was 2600 words long; thanks for reading. Next time on PTAing Fringe, I’ll be looking at episode 302: The Box. Stay tuned!