If any recently launched genre show learned the true lesson of “Lost” (“It’s the characters, stupid!”), it’s “Fringe.” While its individual episodes can be hit or miss, it has at its core the type of unorthodox family that’s necessary to hold an audience’s interest even if The Pattern doesn’t. Tonight, in “Peter,” we saw the start of The Pattern, itself derived from an easily understood starting point: a father’s grief over a lost child. In fact, the mythology of “Fringe” was summed up nicely tonight by Carla, Walter’s assistant in 1985: “For the sake of one life, you will destroy the world.” Much more eloquent than my previous version: “Two worlds. One door. WHO YA GOT?”
[Full recap of Thursday's (April 1) "Fringe" after the break...]
For many people, myself included, “Fringe” went from “good” to “great” with Season 1’s “The Equation,” in which Walter went back into St. Claire’s and John Noble truly started to make Walter Bishop one of the most compelling characters on any show today. Tonight’s Walter-centric episode reconfirmed Noble’s greatness in an episode that showed the first crack between the two realities.
Told largely in flashback, “Peter” sought to illuminate the reason behind Alterna-Peter’s arrival in our universe. Some aspects were straightforward and all but confirmed before tonight’s episode. But in one key aspect, tonight’s episode surprised. For at least as long as we suspected Walter Bishop abducted Peter, we assumed a determined, if not downright malevolent, intent behind the kidnapping. An understandable action, but an extremely selfish one all the same. The old Walter, revealed in “Grey Matters” via Newton’s experiments, only seemed to confirm this less amenable, pre-St. Claire’s version of him.
But tonight, we learned that his first foray into the other universe was in fact selfless and benevolent: to aid his other self (or “Walternate,” as he amusingly calls him) in doing what he could not: save Peter from a genetic, fatal illness. As we learn in the cold open, the other world is similar yet technologically more advanced than our own. They were rocking digital cell phones while we were flipping out over the Walkman. As such, the Walternate has Walter’s mind, but more available technology as his disposal. Luckily, Walter has a little bit of technology at his side as well: a window into the other world.
In some ways, it’s tempting to look at tonight’s episode as a statement about the frustration of the common television viewer. After all, how many times have we sat on our couch, looking at something approximately the size of Walter and William Bell’s window, and wished we could help those that we are watching? Walter tells his government backers that viewing is all one can do, but Carla later reveals that’s a falsehood: it’s scientifically possible, but theoretically catastrophic. But when an ill-timef visit from the Observer known as September interferes at the very moment the Walternate could have discovered the cure for his son, Walter decides to risk everything in order to not lose this other version of Peter.
After all, the image one sees through that window is seductive. It’s the “Fringe” version of The Mirror of Erised from the first “Harry Potter” novel: showing the heart’s desire of both Walter and his wife, Elizabeth by showing a frail yet alive version of their son. That “Potter” comparison only makes sense: Harry was the boy who lived; Peter is the boy who HAS to live. That’s what September insists, for reasons which are still unclear. (I smell a season finale reveal coming!) But in observing the moment of Walternate’s cure, September in fact changed that moment. Just another example of quantum theory in an episode that dropped phrases like “Casimir effect” all over the place, daring us to try and make sense of it all. But I was too busy trying to rectify the story of Peter’s near drowning first told in Season 1’s “The Arrival,” in which Walter told Peter that September had saved them after a car accident. But I guess I shouldn’t think too hard: obviously Walter’s not terrifically interested in telling the truth about Peter’s true origin.
In many ways, one can now understand Walter’s reticence to reveal Peter’s true nature as one not of pride but shame. When he set out to simply cure and not kidnap, I believed him. When he brought Peter back because Nina Sharp tussled with him at the newly created wormhole destroyed the cure, I believed he intended to return him. Why? Because I believe that HE believed it. The 1985 Walter Bishop wasn’t, as I had assumed, a man driven by an insatiable rage to replace that which had been lost. If anything, his wife Elizabeth had much more to do with him keeping Peter around on a permanent basis, not the mere “weeks” he told her doppelganger in their cabin by the lake.
That’s not to say he didn’t grow accustomed to it. But at first, he found it odd that the image in his window was now flesh in his laboratory. But once he saw the look in Elizabeth’s eyes when holding The Boy Who Needs to Live, Walter truly saw at least part of the giant problem he had created. What do they say about the road to hell, again?
Having mentioned Nina Sharp: I’m not sure I needed to know the circumstances under which she lost part of her arm, but it’s utterly fascinating to know that she’s realized who Peter truly is all this time. There have been hints of this knowledge since Season 1’s “The Cure,” so perhaps she understands his overall importance in the war between the two universes. In that vein, I couldn’t help think of William Bell’s “fundraising” trips to Berlin as a potential seeding for the group eventually known as the ZFT, with Nina functioning as the middle ground between Bell’s networking and Bishop’s tinkering.
All this leaves Olivia will a moral quandary: stay the course with her makeshift, potentially world-saving team, or tell Peter the truth about his origins? Armed with the information of Walter’s actions and Peter’s importance, she has to perform quite the balancing act from here on out. After all, if Peter found out about the Walternate, well, that might suddenly swing the tide way over to that universe’s side, wouldn’t it?
A few more tidbits on tonight’s episode:
*** It seems almost too obvious to point out John Noble’s greatness, but I’ll do it anyways. He was great. Better than great. Magnificent. And props to the practical/special makeup effects that de-aged him convincingly for the 1985 sequences.
*** Perhaps just as awesome as Noble? The alterna-opening credits, which felt like the love child of those from “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!” and “Doogie Howser, MD.” I wouldn’t mind have those being the opening credits every week, personally.
*** Loved the “Back to the Future,” sequence, not only for the Siskel & Ebert of Observers commenting on it afterwards (“They are not theories. They are entertainment.”), but also for the shout-out to the original Marty McFly, Eric Stolz. Just think: in that universe, Michael J. Fox might be setting fire to his Cylon daughter as we speak!
*** It’s interesting to note just HOW similar the two universes are, especially considering the rather seismic changes we’ve witness to date between the two worlds. Then again, it’s possible that until 1985, they were just a bit ahead of us technologically, with everyone pretty much acting the same, doing the same things, and literally living in the same places. This isn’t like on “Lost” where Sawyer’s suddenly a cop and Jack suddenly has a kid: it’s a world in which the phrase, “I need you not to doubt me,” still works, no matter which version of Elizabeth Bishop hears it.
Excited to have “Fringe” back on? Did Walter’s backstory surprise you or merely confirm your theories? And what is the likelihood of Peter joining up with his real father to bring this world down once he figures out what’s going on? Leave your thoughts below!