Fringe 2.18: "White Tulip"

I’ve said before that the biggest problem with the first half of this season was the abundant lack of context within the stand-alone episodes. They were largely consistent in terms of quality of storytelling, but there didn’t seem to be much of a point. In retrospect, there was certainly a lot of hints that the Peter story was going to break, and there was groundwork on bringing Fringe Division together on a personal level, but there was little forward momentum.

Ever since “Jacksonville”, that hasn’t been much of a problem. The season arc is now progressing steadily, even if the matter of Mr. Newton and the attempt to destroy Fringe Prime is still stubbornly on the back burner. One can only assume that the matter of Peter’s true origins will have an impact on that other major plot thread.

I’ve become a bit jaded on these “Groundhog Day” scenarios over the years. Nearly every science fiction or fantasy show eventually has to pull something like this out of their hat. It’s become as much a tradition as the inevitable zombie episode. So it now comes down to execution: can the writers make the variations meaningful?

In this case, the answer is a definitive yes. Dr. Peck was a brilliant reflection of Walter, right down to the questionable use of advanced scientific knowledge and the self-destructive desire to save a loved one. And the fact that the writers designed this scenario and Dr. Peck as a mechanism to explore Walter’s wounded psyche, while hardly subtle, was elegant.

The last two episodes have both focused on what the characters stand to lose should the truth come out and Peter react badly. In previous episodes, it was clear that many of the tensions between Peter and Walter were beginning to heal, especially compared to the first season. Walter was pushing Peter and Olivia towards one another, after all. The old wounds persist, of course; no one would suggest otherwise. But recent experiences have given Peter and Walter especially a reason to find common ground.

It all comes down to trust, and that’s where the Peter revelation is going to hurt the most. Peter has been able to trust in his father’s current good intentions and genuine effort. Peter himself admits that he has never been in the same place this long; it’s as much a matter of duty and responsibility as it is a comfort level that he has never truly known. Olivia couldn’t be the one to tell him the truth; it has to come from Walter.

In other words, it’s not that the truth about Peter is going to unravel a well-constructed family unit that has gotten over all the wounds of the past. It’s that the truth could devastate the fragile state of trust that has been building between the three principal characters since day one. It could break the delicate balance between Walter and Peter, and depending on Peter’s bitterness, he could definitely accuse Olivia of betraying his trust by holding back on something this important.

But in many ways, it’s a no-win situation. There is no perfect solution. The damage was done a long, long time ago, and now it’s all about managing the consequences. If Olivia had been the one to tell Peter the truth, the damage would have been even more severe in terms of the Peter/Walter relationship. And Olivia would have broken her promise to Walter, souring that bond. It comes down to the path of least resistance; Walter must be the one to tell the truth, and the rest must appeal to and rest on Peter’s sense of reason.

Walter recognizes the same calamitous choices in Dr. Peck’s scenario. The choices all seem justified when the goal is in sight, for some, no choice is too immoral in the face of saving a loved one, when the means are at hand. Yet it is the consequence that weighs on the soul. Yet that exposes the one key difference between the extreme choices of Dr. Bishop and Dr. Peck. Walter acted so that his loved one might live, and then that they might live together. Dr. Peck acted so that he could die with his loved one. (That may not have been his original intent, but it was the final choice.)

I still firmly believe that Peter will decide to leave the team for a while, if only to come to grips with this life-altering secret, once it is exposed. I still believe this will factor into the season finale, and that this will be the mechanism by which Walternate’s role in the war against Fringe Prime will be revealed. And I also believe that Peter will ultimately return to the Fringe Division fold, because when all is said and done, it’s really the only place he belongs.


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