“It’s not our place to adjust the universe,” Walter Bishop tells fellow grieving man of science, Alistair Peck. “I have traveled through madness to figure this out, and you will too.” While not the most subtle of episodes, this week’s “Fringe” did an excellent job of constructing its weekly foray into pseudoscience around Walter’s increasing sense of guilt over his abduction of Peter. Plus? Peter Weller, aka “RoboCop,” played Alistair! Not only did he get to play another half-man, half-machine, but this cyborg could move through time. Heck, let’s just call him what he is: RoboTimeCop! And let’s get to the recap, starting off with a little story about a certain astrophysicist.
[Full recap of Thursday's (April 15) "Fringe" after the break...]
Alistair Peck. A scientist bordering on (and perhaps teetering over) genius. A professor at a famous university in Cambridge, MA, replete with a lab that by all means should no long exist. A man willing to defy the very laws of nature itself in order to reclaim that which he lost, exploiting vast amounts of energy for untold human cost. If he had a hunkering for sweets and a taste for hallucinogens, he could be Walter Bishop’s twin. Instead, he’s simply his shadow: the dark reflection of what Walter Bishop perceives himself to be.
Rather than create a portal between worlds, Alistair seeks to create a wormhole through time in order to save his fiancée from dying in a car crash ten months earlier. To do so, he uses his body as a testing ground for what Walter Bishop describes as “Faraday mesh.” The “Lost” fan in me perked up at hearing that name, and I wondered if Desmond Hume was going to be the one that killed Alistair’s fiancée on May 18, 2009. Sadly, by episode’s end, Walter doesn’t remember calling Alistair’s invention Faraday mesh, because each time Alistair jumps back in time (roughly twelve hours), everything resets. And plays out similarly. Though not exactly.
The hook of tonight’s episode lay in its structure: repeating time frames in which Olivia and The Bishop Boys trying to nab Alistair, and each iteration producing a similar yet subtly different outcome. Interestingly, the only person who gets any sense of multiple go-arounds is Olivia. Guess cortixephan allows you to sense manipulation of the spacetime continuum. Peter notes that the déjà vu she’s experiencing indicates destiny confirming that she’s on the right path. For his part, Peter’s never experienced that feeling, and that statement serves as a dagger in Walter’s heart, furthering the wedge that’s been driven between the two since their trip to Jacksonville.
While not possessing memories of their full set of interactions, Walter nevertheless recognizes a kindred spirit in Alistair. As such, Walter confronts him face-to-face, not only to stop the potential catastrophic loss of life that a 10-month jump might create, but also as a way of unburdening his soul. The Walter Bishop seen in flashbacks in “Peter” frowned upon Carla Warren’s religious beliefs, feeling then antithetical and counterproductive to scientific breakthroughs. However, present-day Walter confesses to Alistair that he believes God has punished him every day since Peter’s abduction.
It’s a stark and surprising claim, one that might have rang false to certain “Fringe” viewers, but worked for me personally. The man who used to have a world-view both scientific and objectivist realized in the wake of his mid-1980s action that he wasn’t the be all and end all in the universe after all. Walter’s reticence in telling Peter about his origins also ties into Walter’s fear that he offended God with his hubristic kidnapping: he confides to Alistair that he’s asked God to send a sign of forgiveness in the form of a white tulip. Once Walter sees that, then he’ll know that forgiveness from Peter is equally possible.
Realizing that his constant bending of time is growing increasingly hazardous both to himself and to others, Alistair finally does make the leap back to 2009, but he brings back with him a letter to be mailed to Walter on the very day in which this loop has been occurring. With Alistair now dying in the car with his fiancée, the day spent hunting him down now longer happens for Fringe Division. So Walter’s letter to Peter doesn’t end up almost being discovered on the floor of a train car, but lands in the Bishops’ roaring fire.
But another letter appears that day, technically written before it arrives. (God, my brain hurts trying to write about time travel.) Inside the envelope? A drawing of a white tulip, provided by a man who said, like Walter once did himself, that science was God enough for him. And once Peter learns the truth? God help us all.
Some more thoughts about tonight’s episode…
*** Of COURSE a J.J. Abrams show had to mention a giant red ball. If The Island in “Lost” turns out to be a giant, tree-covered red ball, I won’t be the least bit surprised by this point.
*** The show slightly faked me out: in its “Run, Lola, Run”-esque structure, I thought we’d see at LEAST one iteration in which Peter learns the truth and reacts to it before the narrative device wiped that reaction from existence. I’m not saying that would have been a good idea, but I’m still impressed the show managed to avoid the temptation of inserting that into the episodes.
*** Even by “Fringe” standards, the shots of RoboTimeCop inserting a metal template behind his nipple was straight-up disgusting.
*** The tulip is accepted as a sign, but written as a joke. Ultimately, Alistair is at once a pragmatist, a nihilist, and also a coward. His self-mutilation strips himself of his self, which literally dehumanizes him in the process. Walter went mad from the ensuing grief; Alistair decides to experience the moment of joy without any of the regret. But he makes sure to continue Walter’s sufferings (and possibly increase it a thousand fold) through the sending of that letter. Not sure if that was his intent, but it’s almost certainly the outcome.
*** Ironically, since revealing Peter’s true nature to Olivia, the show’s largely sidelined him. Neither Olivia nor Walter can truly deal with him, so the heart of the show (its odd family dynamic) has suffered due to imbalance. I realize that the imbalance is necessary and a temporary state of tension leading up to Peter’s eventual and inevitable discovery of his origins. But that unfortunately means that for a little while, the emotional heart of the show is weakened. But I suppose “weakened” is better than “completely squashed” for the time being. Though, as we learned tonight, time can be a fragile thing.
What did you think of Alistair’s letter to Walter: a cruel joke or a message of hope? Did the time travel rules established in the show make you giddy or just made you mad? And did Walter’s sudden religious outlook surprise you in a good or bad way? Leave your thoughts below!