Fringe 2.16: "Peter"

I haven’t been enormously pleased with “Fringe” this season. After delivering a solid second half to the first season, with a near-perfect blend of episodic and serialized plot and character elements, it felt like the show took a step backwards this season with too many stand-alone episodes. Given the urgency of Olivia’s mandate to stop operatives from Alt-Fringe from opening a doorway between universes again, the slow pace feels at odds with the plot.

Of course, there has been one consistent subplot throughout: the slow but steady build towards the truth about Peter’s origins. Anyone paying attention during the first season finale knows that Peter is not Walter’s original son, but rather, Alt-Peter. I’ve often speculated that Walter’s decision to take Alt-Peter as a replacement for his own son was the beginning of the current crisis. That theory has been verified, but not without significant and heart-rending new details.

This episode plays out like a classic flashback episode, but coming from the same production lineage as “Lost”, there is a brilliant style to the storytelling. This is not the clunky flashback exposition of “Heroes”. The stage is set by a framing coda to “Jacksonville”, in which Olivia is still reeling from the realization that Peter is from Alt-Fringe. She wants answers from Walter, and for once, Walter seems to have the necessary degree of clarity to tell his story.

It’s almost impossible to convey the power of the narrative; it’s best just to let the story speak for itself. In many ways, this is the “Fringe” response to the jaw-dropping “Lost” episode “Ab Aeterno”, which aired a couple weeks earlier. Both episodes took one pivotal character, and one pivotal set of events, and played them out with pathos to spare. Walter’s loss of a son, and his subsequent decision to abduct Alt-Peter, are at the heart of the “Fringe” story. The implications are staggering, and while that is never directly addressed beyond a couple of portentous comments at the end, the context is never far from one’s mind.

It always seemed like Walter’s current part in Fringe Division was all about redemption. He’s been trying to correct the unintended consequences of his previous actions. While that has worked on a granular level, with each new scenario and bizarre experiment gone awry, it now stands as the underpinning of the big picture. Walter Bishop started the crisis; he needs to be the one to help find a solution.

It’s not particularly shocking, but it’s interesting to see how Walter was once a lot more balanced in his psychological state. He was still working on cutting edge technology with William Bell, but one gets the sense that the turn towards amoralism hadn’t quite begun yet. In fact, even as Walter starts down that slippery slope with his obsession to save Alt-Peter, he decries William’s cold, calculated self-interest.

For all that, Walter was always complicated. He was complicit with the Jacksonville experiments and all those mind-bending trials at the Harvard lab, but he also seemed to retain some level of doubt in the methods employed. Bell was always depicted as the one who believed the end justified the means. But how much of that was a growing responsibility to stop what Walter had started? Bell seems to be more personable with Olivia, but he’s still using her.

Two very important things were reinforced in this episode. It’s been said here and there, but Walter himself noted that the technology in Alt-Fringe was years, if not decades, ahead of the technology in Fringe Prime. Add to that the confirmation that “Walternate” has an equally personal reason to strike out at Fringe Prime, and it’s a fair bet that Walternate is the one leading the charge. This will probably end up being a “huge reveal” at some point (hopefully not in the season finale, given how predictable it is).

One unexpected element is the revelation that Walter’s wife was key to his decision to keep Alt-Peter. Walter was willing to abduct Alt-Peter to save his life, but he was also willing to take him back. If that had happened, would the war against Fringe Prime have begun? It’s a lot less likely. Under even better circumstances, one can even imagine the two Walters working together. That’s part of the overwhelming tragedy of the whole thing.

Then there are the Observers. I’ve been on the fence regarding their origins, particularly in terms of their connection to Alt-Fringe. This episode seems to confirm that the Observers are visitors to both realities, and that they can move between worlds without much difficulty. Their interest in Olivia and Peter is also notable. What is it that makes them important? And especially Alt-Peter, since the Observers were keen on keeping him alive, not Peter Prime.

This could be an important clue. If the intersection of Fringe Prime and Alt-Fringe would destroy at least one of them, if not both and beyond, then the Observers seem rather calm about it. The Observers expected Peter Prime to die and Alt-Peter to live. Should that happen, there is no war between universes. The Observers were willing to allow Walter to abduct Alt-Peter to ensure the boy lived. It’s clear that the Observers will intervene in unusual circumstances, so why not in the larger context of the possible destruction of Fringe Prime?

There is even another layer to the episode that makes it all the better: the unreliable nature of the narrator. In this case, Walter is supposed to be telling Olivia the story of what happened back in 1985. But there are scenes and circumstances, here and there, that he could not possibly have known about, then or now. And there is also the not-so-small matter of the memories intentionally removed from his brain by William Bell. This likely explains why the story glossed over Walter’s creation of the door between universes, but it also makes it very possible that Walter is filling in the gaps in his memory with assumption and creative license.

Usually, when an episode has more than one or two writers, the end result is a mess. While it’s true that most television episodes are the result of extensive collaboration and story-breaking from the entire writers’ room, there is usually one person or a duo with the responsibility of taking all that work and putting it into a final form. (Yes, this is an over-simplification of the typical process, but it illustrates the point.) This time, the usual pitfalls were avoided, and the end result was a game-changing episode that should hopefully jump-start the final leg of the season.


1 comment

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Apr 7, 2010 3:55AM EDT

I'm loving Fringe at the moment. It's intense and makes you think. This episode was brilliant. Let's hope they don't just drop all reference to it as programmes sometimes do when they move on.

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