It's no secret that J. J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci are fans of anything having to do with time. Abrams is the mastermind behind the hit ABC series, Lost, that has spent the last five seasons zipping through time via flashbacks and flash forwards before introducing actual time travel – and all signs point to more time travel and even imaginary timelines (or alternate realities) in the final season starting February 2010.
With Kurtzman and Orci, the trio's new Star Trek movie this past summer literally re-created the franchise utilizing an alternate reality from which they catapulted the rebirth. They've re-launched an old science fiction staple and done with it something rarely seen – turned it into a mainstream commodity. That people are talking of time travel and time jumps within their favorite series not as some clichéd way around problems, but as a curious and interesting way to push forward through the boundaries of storytelling is not only an exemplary achievement, it's exciting.
Last season, the trio launched the FOX series Fringe, centered on FBI agent Olivia Dunham and her team's experiences with what the show has called "The Pattern" – a series of paranormal events culminating towards something massive. That something, it's been debated within the show, is the battle of two alternate realities over the right to exist. Who wins, and how, remains to be seen, but in all this there are a group of men who've been seemingly given the task of watching these events unfold.
One of these men, called 'Observers', has been photographed at various "Pattern" related incidents, and up until now their involvement has been minimal and mostly through the eyes of Walter Bishop. Many years ago, on a drive with his son Peter, they got into a car accident, from which they were pulled (or at least Walter was) from certain death by an Observer. This past week's episode 'August' began with a different Observer watching over a woman in a park before abducting her. His actions were the first time an Observer has been seen on the show actively participating in his surroundings, as opposed to just watching, so it begs the question: Why now? Why this girl?
The Observers themselves are oblivious as well and the rules are laid out – they observe time as it exists, like watching a movie, and only step in and act to course correct something that, through their observations, they've altered somehow (as with Peter's death). It would seem they are keepers of time, ensuring that the events in their history remain in their history, which implies that – at least in the Fringe world – the history of a world can be changed. Of course, with this ideology comes all the thoughts that predate Fringe through the other realms of Abrams and co, particularly Lost.
Are the Observers simply the end-result of our status quo? From a future world where one of the alternate realities has already won the battle? Or will their changes alter the course of history, leaving them marooned to a different future.
It stands to reason that the future winner of this reality show-down is not ours. Why send observers into the past of the reality that won? Those histories are written in books and taught to school children. The lost history, the history of the civilization that perished, would be far more interesting. What events in our universe were different from theirs; what chain of events lead to our universe ending while theirs continued?
It's obvious that The Pattern is an important chain of events, and for each important chain of events there seems to be an assigned observer. A man (so far) with amplified senses and advanced motor skills who lacks an emotional connection to anyone around them. Similar to the soldiers in Walter's manifesto, possibly the solders that eventually resulted from Walter's manifesto, taken by William Bell to the other side, the Observers can read minds and move at incredible speeds, yet, are incapable of love.
Except that they are. The random kidnapping of Christine becomes far less random once we realize that this particular Observer, named August, has been following the young women from the time she was a girl. Her parents died in a bridge collapse and August – when he realizes that she will die on a flight to Italy – can't let her die twenty years later because he feels something for her. He loves her.
Of course, her life would be an inconsistency in the history, the possibility of a different outcome and the other Observers require that she die to correct it unless, Walter warns, August can find a way to make her important. The complexity of her importance – that she is the reason for the death of an Observer, is understated. It isn't the girl herself, but the feelings she elicits in August, that cause his death. He is compelled not simply to observe, but to act by sacrificing himself, because of his love for Christine (the play on the sacrifice of Christ should not be lost on the audience).
August has observed, and because of him the others have observed to a lesser extent, humanity – something seemingly lost in them – and this humanity will be the path towards a new future. Christine is not the first anomaly. The fact that they have a hired hitman on call implies that the Observers are keen to the fact that they ARE changing something – because it is impossible to observe something without leaving your own mark on it.
Twenty plus years ago Walter got into a car accident – caused by an Observer – that resulted in his son's death. Through some deal made with the Observer sent to observe him and The Pattern, the Peter from an alternate reality was eventually brought into our reality ultimately changing the course of all history. Or did the Observer allow this trade because he knew it was always part of the plan.
Only time will tell.