Only in Fringe would two beacons, a silent bald kid, a toxin that hideously melts flesh, and another one that horrifically closes all orifices all have in common the future of humanity. In this, the seventh episode of the fifth and final season of the award-winning show, we continue following Walter, Olivia, Peter and Astrid as they search for the missing pieces to Walter’s plan for defeating the Observers.
Our dream team is still following Walter’s clues, recorded on video cassettes, retrieving parts needed to assemble yet another machine. And while the basic plot is simple, countless layers are added in the development of two of the show’s characters: Peter and Walter. This character development has been fascinating, leaving me disheartened only because of the lack of time and attention given to Olivia.
The return of both characters and technology from the first season has not only served to propel the plot forward and tie some loose ends, but also underlines the fact that this is, indeed, the show’s final season. The nostalgic moments in the last couple of episodes were surpassed by what was, in my opinion, the strongest return to Season 1 yet.
In “The Bullet that Saved the World”, the team used the toxin from Season 1’s fourteenth episode “Ability”. In “The Looking Glass, and What Walter Found There”, the team found the silent bald kid it has saved back in the first season’s fifteenth episode, “Inner Child”; and this week, on top of the return of the famous lock combination “5-20-10” in the plot and the title of the episode, we are back to the event that started it all: the flesh eating contagion that killed all the passengers aboard Flight 627.
And so, I still believe that Fringe can still end on a high note, if and only if the writers urgently address one major point: Olivia. She has been relegated, throughout this season, to a secondary role. It is the most frustrating experience, as a fan and as a woman, to see her becoming, in my friend Allan’s words, a wallflower. Olivia from the first through the fourth season, the Olivia that crossed universes for Peter, would not have taken his change in character without doing something other than asking a few tentative questions. I do not expect her to remain untouched by the latest in the series of unfortunate events, namely, Etta’s death. But to portray her as broken and passive implies that she was never much more than that in the first place, that her strength was an exterior veneer hiding her inner weakness.
There is, thankfully, an indication that the old Olivia just might be back as soon as next episode. Near the end of “Five-Twenty-Ten”, right after Peter hands her one of the retrieved beacons and tells her that it is only logical that they take separate cars, her face noticeably tightens, and one can see clearly shining through the old Olivia. Could Peter’s confession regarding the implant be the trigger that will finally shake her back to her real self? Whatever happens, the trust between Peter and Olivia is broken, one of the meanings behind the glyphs spelling T-R-U-S-T.
What would give Fringe extra props would be Astrid finally being given the space to step up to the plate. She is, after all, Olivia’s friend; the latter’s candid openness about her marriage indicates that Astrid is anything but just a lab tech. In a way, she is Walter’s niece, at the very least, if not the under-appreciated, dependable daughter. Despite this, even Hasting does not respect her!
But let not let this airing of my frustrations undermine my appreciation for the many great things in this episode. Peter’s continuing transformation, reflected in his mannerisms, his actions and in his opinions, is fantastic. The disturbing poetic justice of his creepy statement that “our first Fringe experience was their last” gave me chills both the first time around and the second time I watched it. Joshua Jackson was incredible in this episode; the attention to detail he put into his character gave the scene when Peter is telling Olivia the truth, so simple in its setting and its dialog, the extra punch that drew the oxygen out of the room.
Who is this Peter currently gracing our screens? Because of the implant, he is cut off from his emotions, and working only on the basis of his intellect, which we know is keen (to say the least). We are witnessing the imbalance created by the use of intellect without the help of a moral compass, the extremes to which science, unbalanced by spirituality, can take us. Through Peter’s transformation, we also can see how the Observers’ society is governed in a way we have not seen before. More terrifying perhaps is that we now know how decent humans like Peter can so easily go down the same road. The supreme irony of him becoming the very thing Etta died fighting against makes his transformation from human to intellect-without-moral-compass all the more poignant.
The implant does not seem to have detached Peter from all of his feelings and emotions; rather, it seems like it has made him determined to stay in his current course of action, however illogical it might be. Using pure logic, is Peter doing the right thing for the resistance movement? Are his actions logical, really? Resorting to acts of terror out of a desire to hurt the Observers is ultimately not going to solve anything.
Peter is wasting time and energy treating the symptoms, and not the cause. He might have killed the top lieutenants and might succeed in killing Windmark, but others will no doubt rise up in their stead. In his drive to win the war against the Observers, Peter is acting like a rogue agent, wasting time, energy and resources without addressing the root cause. Even worse, because all Peter wants is revenge, his actions can be equated to what the Observers are doing, again highly ironic as it is to revenge Etta, who died fighting the Observers because of what they were doing.
Which leads me to wonder, is this what the Observer was warning Peter about in “Through the Looking Glass and What Walter Found There”? Because he has been implanted with the tech without any form of supervision or preparation, or perhaps even at this advanced an age, could it be that Peter has become, in a way, a super villain, controlled by his base impulses but convinced that he is controlled only by logic? This is an even more terrifying thought than Peter becoming “just” an Observer.
Similarities with The Matrix abound; in sharp contrast to the care with which Neo was prepared and trained to use his never-before-used body in the real world, Peter is being thrown into a new world without any sort of preparation. What are the effects of this tech, inserted without any other consideration or training or preparation, on Peter’s brain? We are already seeing some consequences: Peter’s bleeding ear and the “episode’” in the car; is there going to be an overload of his brain? Will it alter and become like an Observers’? Furthermore, what mistakes is Peter going to make? Not having been trained to use this technology, he is a like a little boy, playing with adult toys; what mess is he going to create?
What a parallel to what Walter is going through! Based on a plethora of false premises, the son is consciously losing his humanity, while the father is struggling to keep his. How sad that Peter forgot about being “a better man than [his] father”! How sad that Walter was not able to turn his mistake into a learning moment for Peter! What will the consequences on the timeline be, if the boy who should not have lived becomes an Observer?
I can’t help but wonder if the reason why Walter was unable to help Peter is because ultimately, he himself hasn’t really changed. Sure, his actions are different, but what about his intentions?
Let it not be thought that I am heartless! I was touched by Walter’s terror at the thoughts of becoming the man he used to be. The struggle was heartbreaking at times, enhanced by John Noble’s acting skills. The choices that Walter is currently making are very different now. This was underlined in this episode when, after finding her picture in Bell’s safe, Walter insisted on returning to see Nina to apologize for his harsh words. I highly doubt the old Walter would have ever admitted being sorry, let alone scared.
In this episode however, it hit me that while Walter’s outer personality has changed significantly, he is, on some level, exactly the man he used to be. One would think that the experience of the son, losing his own child, would propel the father to think solely about Peter for once, letting go of himself and his own needs. Unfortunately, Walter is too busy with his own self to see anything. The focus of his attention should be Peter; instead, it is his own fear. Seeing as how Walter also lost a child, why is he not thinking more about Peter? Because he is too busy thinking about Peter in relation to his own self.
So although Walter is not as arrogant as he was before, he is still just as self-consumed. He was previously consumed, in his own words, by ambition and by hubris, and only cared about walking with the gods. Walter is still just as self-consumed, and as such, is still in his own world. The guiding factor of Walter’s decisions in 1985 was himself; the guiding factor of Walter’s current obsession is, again, himself.
What is the solution? Well on the one hand, it really seems like a good, old friend such as Nina has a huge role to play, which she does magnificently. Her balancing act between emotions and logic when talking to Walter about not being enough to keep Bell out of trouble was one of those conversations that differentiates a real friendship from a superficial one. It also says a lot about the woman she is. On a side note, another sad by product of having a shortened fifth season is that we do not have the time to explore the healthy influence Nina could have had on not only Walter, but also on Peter and Olivia. Alas, alas.
Nina’s reflection regarding not being enough for Bell identifies pretty much what else is needed for Walter to, well, get over himself. In short, although Bell clearly loved Nina, he did not love her enough for him to be able to resist a feeling of omnipotence that satiated his ego. Nothing could have changed Bell but himself. Outer forces shape us while we are children, but usually, after adolescence, as many a worried parent can tell you, the volition to change has to come from the person themselves. Walter seems to have that volition; perhaps Nina, Olivia and Astrid can help bolster him into action without removing the much-needed pieces of his brain.
Which interestingly enough, implies that although he is still as self-consumed as before, he also has changed enough that he now just might have what it takes to not become the man he was before again. The glyphs spell T-R-U-S-T, an indication that Walter needs to trust his inner, noble self (pun oh so intended) to control his arrogant, intellectual self. Like the Cherokee story goes, a fight is going on inside Walter at the moment: “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too. Which wolf will win? The one you feed.”
Some miscellaneous thoughts on the episode: how awesome Nina looks with white hair, and how nice her earrings are. I found it amusing that the assistant she called on was named Hastings, and would like to think that it is after Hercule Poirot’s best friend. Her emotional reunion with her foster daughter was touching. It’s sad that both Blair Brown and Lance Reddick are no longer credited as being season regulars.
There were more Walter moments in this episode than there have been in the last few, including the hilarious moment in Bell’s safe room (I am tempted to call it Bell’s House of Horrors) when Walter figured out that his former colleague had pilfered his record collection. Another great Walter moment was the irony of his comment, directed at Bell: “He had a terrible memory. The LSD, I suppose.”
I am concerned about the fact that Walter, whom a guard at a checkpoint listed as to apprehend in the episode “The Bullet that Saved the World”, is walking the streets so freely. While the Observers are not superhuman, fact is, they are humanoids enhanced by tech, one of which is, well, technology to observe. I don’t think Fringe writers would have been so sloppy as to leave such an obvious plot line open; it leads me to believe that Walter has not been apprehended purposefully, and that he is being watched. For what reason, I don’t know.
It is hard to say what is in store. At the centre of Fringe is the relationship between three people: Olivia, Peter and Walter. While one has, for all intents and purposes, been cast aside (which I hope will be remedied shortly), the relationship between the father and the son is being explored to new levels. It is interesting to see the experience of the son, losing his own child, through the eyes of the father, and sad that the latter is too busy with his own self to see anything. As discussed above, this implies that although he is not as arrogant as before, he is still as self-consumed. Despite a rocky beginning, Peter became a favourite of fans and of Olivia because of his humanity. How much of it will be left, either with or without the implant? He has also been the center of big moments in Fringe, and has managed to survive them all. But ultimately, he was not meant to live; does it make his death inevitable?
This review was first published here on Blogcritics.