The Man who Sold the World

Fringe is finally ending, and in the year that I’ve been watching it it’s become probably my favorite show ever on television. The episode I saw this morning, “Five-Twenty-Ten,” was another great one. In the fifth and final season, The Observers, a group of pale, bald men in Fedoras who have been assisting our heroes throughout the show’s run, have suddenly become evil and taken over the world. Peter Bishop decides to fight back by killing an Observer and implanting his tech inside his own head. This episode largely dealt with the ramifications of that decision, as Walter Bishop (John Noble, aka Denethor) worries that he’s regressing into his evil, old self, and Peter begins losing huge clumps of his hair.

It all came together perfectly in the final three and a half minutes, in a sad but understated montage set to Walter’s recording of the David Bowie classic, “The Man who Sold the World.” (You can watch it in the link at the top of the page.)

I was still thinking about that final scene this afternoon when Teryn replied to my post from earlier today, reminding me not to become hateful and judgmental like the people I’m always complaining about. Peter’s story arc in this season of Fringe is a powerful reminder of the ever-present danger of taking the war too far, and losing our humanity in the process. Zack Handlen capably summarized Fringe’s central conflict in a review of a previous episode: “You can either accept that loss is a part of loving, that caring for someone means you can and will be hurt, or worse—or you can try and break the world that broke your heart.” Sometimes breaking the world seems like it would be the easier and safer choice.

Yesterday morning I was sitting in the prayer room forcing myself to read The Final Quest because I need to explain how Tyler (and by extension the prayer group) was influenced by Rick Joyner’s visions of heaven, and I had just gotten to the scene in the throne room where Joyner is talking to C. S. Lewis and Martin Luther and they acknowledge that they were both failures in life—and I just physically lost it. I started shaking uncontrollably and had to leave the prayer room. I crawled into bed, and I was very cold. I made my way to the bathroom, where I threw up. I couldn’t believe I was having to read this book again. I hated it, I hated everything about it. I hate Joyner’s apostolic posturing and his claims to be writing on a higher level of authority than the apostle Paul, I hate his depiction of the Church as being ridden by demons and urinated and defecated on by vultures of depression and condemnation, I hate his obvious disdain for the life of the mind and his built-in defenses against anyone who would challenge him. I hate what it did to my friends, and I wonder where we would be if we had never read this book. Would Tyler have ever decided he was an end-times apostle? He began making that claim not three weeks after he first read it. He fabricated his delusional visions based on a scene in the first chapter. I’m not blaming Tyler, in fact; I think in some ways he was as much a victim as anyone else. I think these apostles destroyed him. I think they drove him mad.

And that’s why I was kneeling on the floor of my bathroom throwing up yesterday. And I wish I didn’t have to read these books, and sometimes I think Teryn is right, sometimes I think I forget what it’s like to have fun and be a normal person. I forget all too easily. There’s a pivotal moment in Moby-Dick where Ahab throws his pipe into the ocean—his last earthly pleasure. “This smoking no longer soothes. Oh, my pipe! Hard must it go with me if thy charm be gone!” That would have been the mid-nineteenth-century equivalent of Peter installing Observer tech in the back of his neck. From that point on, an essential piece of him has been lost, and can never be recovered.

I obviously don’t plan on giving up my research, or my writing. But at the same time, I don’t want to become a soldier. I don’t want my opponents to become demons, unchangeable, inhuman. I wish the grief and the pain of this didn’t have to hurt so much. I wish I didn’t share in the all-too-human propensity to become a monster to avoid being broken by the monster. This heart is so fragile, it can be so easily shattered. But if it were to become hardened—that would be the only thing that could really destroy it. And, in the end, the only person who can really destroy it is me.

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2 thoughts on “The Man who Sold the World

  1. “the ever-present danger of taking the war too far, and losing our humanity in the process”- I know that fight well. It’s funny, I’ve been re-reading my journal from last year, and noted today that it was mid-March I began to really “feel” again, to enjoy beauty and actually be moved by it like I had before India. It was, I think April 4 that I wrote, “I just realized I’m happy. Not okay, but really happy.” That was over a year after I had left India. What you wrote here reminds me what it was that had stolen my joy and sucked life from me. I’m thankful for that because I know I’m surrounded by injustice and oppression that will bring me face to face with this “ever present danger” again. I

  2. Pingback: My 100 Favorite Songs | thetalkingllama

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