Fringe 2.21: "Northwest Passage"

To be honest, I was a bit surprised to discover that a lot more people agreed with my assessment of “Brown Betty” than disagreed. I received plenty of responses in sympathy with my extreme disappointment with the “musical episode”, and very little in the way of defense. Seems like a lot of fans felt as I did: that the format-busting interlude actually sabotaged the strong momentum that has been building since “Jacksonville”.

The writers attempt to bounce back with this Peter-centric tale, and for the most part, it gets the story back on track. While Peter tries to find himself, with decidedly mixed results, Fringe Division reels from Walter’s steady regression back to his early first season persona. It’s always been clear that Walter’s growing sense of confidence was proportional to Peter’s increasing goodwill, so this is not unexpected.

To focus on Walter for a moment, this crisis could be a good thing in the long term. It’s never a good thing to depend on a single person for one’s psychological and emotional well-being, after all. Walter’s realization that Olivia and Astrid are willing to step into the void left by Peter’s departure may give him the necessary foundation to restore his own sense of self-control. Or, if nothing else, it could lead Walter to understand the simple value of asking for help.

In the meantime, Peter finds himself in the middle of a case that is an homage to “Twin Peaks”. There are tons of direct and indirect references to the show in this episode, and half the fun was hunting them down over the course of the story. That does beg the question, however: how good could the story be, if at least some of the audience was busy with an Easter egg hunt?

In fact, Peter’s tale had its strengths and weaknesses. Most of all, this was about Peter trying to figure out who he is and where he belongs. In essence, it is Peter protesting far too much about being Peter Bishop from Boston. No matter how many alias he might throw out, or how many times he wants to stay removed from Fringe Division and his work with the FBI, it keeps coming down to that identity. And by the end, even Peter finds it hard to believe that it’s not all about him and his specific circumstances.

There is a definite underlying intent of showing Peter as someone who has found a place in the world, regardless of his preferences to the contrary. It would be very easy to assume that Peter is still the person with no attachments to the world around him, but one nice aspect of “Fringe” is the lack of characters with stunted growth. Characters aren’t static; they have evolved, even if it may not be as profound as one would like.

But there are signs throughout the episode that Peter has a fundamental connection to the world around him. He cares that a woman he barely knows is killed. He cares that Sheriff Mathis may have lost the man she loves to Newton. And looking at it from a wider perspective, Peter’s concern for Newton’s apparent victims was a result of his strengthened moral compass.

After all, it’s easy to forget that Peter wasn’t simply disconnected from the world as a whole; he was largely disconnected from the ethical considerations of the world. Peter was so unlikeable in the pilot that many people thought he should be killed off at the first opportunity. This episode makes the point that Peter is no longer as mercenary and unfeeling as he once was. Regardless of his own personal tragedy, he cannot ignore the lives of the people around him in Fringe Prime.

Which is a necessary building block going into the finale, because as long predicted, Peter has been tracked down by Walternate, who is revealed as a key figure in the plot to destroy Fringe Prime. It’s unclear if Newton and Walternate were using Craig Shoen to achieve their own ends, or simply realized that it would be the kind of case that Peter couldn’t ignore. That was one of the weaknesses of the story: the truth behind the killings was a bit too confusing. But there is no doubt that Walternate has come for Peter in anticipation of Newton’s successful opening of a door between the two worlds.

There was little doubt of this development, so it was a bit anticlimactic. But now the case has been made for Peter to reject the notion that destroying Fringe Prime is reasonable response to the crime committed by Walter. I’m not even sure that Peter would agree that Walter deserves to be punished anymore. He certainly wouldn’t want to see Olivia killed.

Some would make the argument that Peter could simply choose to be with the version of Olivia in Alt-Fringe, thus casting aside considerations of Fringe Prime altogether. Even ignoring this episode’s purpose, that’s not a logical assumption. It’s already clear that people in Alt-Fringe are not the same, and there’s no reason to think that Alt-Olivia would be similar in personality to Olivia Prime. What little has been seen and told of Alt-Fringe suggests a much harder life.

By the end of the episode, a case has been made for Peter to reject the kind of “by any means necessary” rationalization that Walternate is likely to offer for his war on Fringe Prime. Despite his origins and his lifelong search for a home and purpose, it’s too large a leap to suggest that Peter would switch allegiances and accept the destruction of Fringe Prime.


1 comment

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May 11, 2010 12:19AM EDT

can you not use 'Fringe' instead of earth or reality?also dont make up a the Walternate.... other then that and the weird 00/80 symbols i keep seeing (maybe its just me) whenever you use the ''' symbol, good review.
Olivia definitely wouldnt be the same, she would not have had that testing done on her.

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