The episode “Alone in the World”, the third of Fringe’s fourth season, is mostly a study on this timeline’s Walter, bringing out aspects of his personality previously explored in both of the previous timelines’ universes (wow, all these timelines and universes are really complicating things!). But, typical of this show, light is shed very differently on these same aspects. However, I still had a bit of a rough time reviewing this episode, and I don’t quite know why. It made for very good television, but perhaps it was the rehashing of the same concepts that left me a little at a loss on how to review it, using this new format, without repeating myself.
There are, of course, some things in this episode that were never seen before. For example, the demeanor of this timeline’s Walter screams of vulnerability, much sharper than the vulnerability of the Walter from the previous timeline. Interestingly enough, this timeline’s Walter also displays a certain strength that the previous timeline’s Walter did not have. Particularly striking is the ability of this Walter to control himself. He seems to be able to have normal social interactions, even with people who scare him (Dr. Sumner) or people who do things that bother him (Aaron touching Peter’s toy).
Is his ability to control himself a sign of maturity the grief of losing Peter twice in this timeline has given him? Whatever it is, somehow, in this timeline, Walter is able to think logically about ways to keep his ‘insane’ side under control, like when he is talking to Dr. Sumner, or when he apologizes to Aaron for shouting at him.
There is also a certain humility to this Walter that I greatly appreciate, having been frazzled for far too long about the arrogance of both Walters in the previous timeline. But, interestingly enough, this humility seems connected with insecurity in his ability to do great things, such as, in this episode, saving Aaron. While the Walter of the first timeline was arrogant and that made him use his genius in a way dangerous to the greater good, the Walter of this timeline is to a certain extent incapacitated by his insecurity. It’s interesting how moderation plays such an important role in ensuring that the capacities of both Walters can attain their full potential.
Another interesting thing is the difference between the way this timeline’s and the other timeline’s Walter deal with children the way. This timeline’s Walter is a lot less comfortable, but just as cute and loving – probably yet another of the consequences of losing two sons at a relatively young age.
Aaron’s story was very sad and added to the poignancy of Walter’s solitude. It also framed another interesting topic explored in the show, that of seeking solace in places that lead us to more darkness. This topic was most spectacularly seen in Season 1’s “The No-Brainer” (episode 12), in which a man sought solace from injustice in a personal crusade against those who thwarted him. Obviously there is also there is the previous timeline’s Walternate, finding meaning in his son’s disappearance by pursuing his own destructive vigilante justice. Which begs the question: how is this timeline’s Walternate seeking solace?
The case in itself also lends to another recurrent conversation: what is the meaning of being alive, and what is consciousness? Most dramatically, this question was raised in last season’s ninth episode, “Marionnette”, in which a dead young woman was brought back to some form of life by a man in love with her. This man realized, after looking into her eyes, that it wasn’t the same woman anymore – because bringing the pieces of her body back together was not enough to bring her back to life. Is the fungus, cutely named Gus by Walter, alive? Does it have consciousness? It can communicate and defend itself, and has a form of self awareness – is that enough to say that something is alive?
It reminds me of Morpheus’ explanation to Neo in the movie The Matrix: “If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” Taking this argument and flipping it completely another way, could it be said that Walter preferring a lobotomy to going back to Ste-Claire’s a way of avoiding the ‘death’ of his consciousness? Certainly a brilliant mind such as Walters’ cannot bear to be returned into such a tight box.
Walter was well equipped for the lobotomy, which makes me wonder how long he had been thinking about it and how long he had been planning for it. The fact that he is so desperate to not go back to Ste-Claire’s is heartbreaking, and makes me wonder if the way we as a society are dealing with the issue of patients suffering from psychiatric disorders are doing things completely wrong. If someone is losing their mind, as Walter thinks he is, putting them in a stifling place like Ste-Claire’s does not seem to be conducive to making him find his mind, or at the very least, control it to an extent that makes one able to function.
In this episode, one important question is answered: we find out how Peter died, and what September’s intervention was. This also allows us to understand some of the basis for the differences between the two timelines’ Walters. For in this timeline, Walter lost Peter twice in the span of a couple of weeks, which would definitely make one feel less than apt as a father and even as a man, thus creating the basis for his vulnerability and lack of confidence in his capabilities. In the other timeline, Walter was dealing with intense feelings of guilt each time he would see Peter.
In this timeline, while Walter does feel guilt because of the consequences of the tear in the fabric of the universes that he created, his grief at the loss of his son seems to numb absolutely everything else, including his arrogance, his guilt and his genius.
There are many recurrent themes that were again touched upon in this episode which add layers to conversations Fringe fans have been having throughout the last three years. On the one hand, one can’t help but be excited at the chance to delve more into these complex themes, but on the other, one can’t help but wish that more was added to the conversation. Thankfully, the episode also managed to answer an important question about this timeline, that is, what September’s ‘intervention’ was.
Of course the most exciting thing about this episode is the fact that Olivia has also been seeing Peter recently, albeit in her dreams. Walter and Olivia now know they are sharing the same visions, and are going on a quest to find Peter – it shouldn’t be so long before we are going to see him again.
Or is it? Once again, we are left hanging, filled with questions and eagerly anticipating the next episode of Fringe.
Article first published as TV Review: Fringe – “Alone in the World” on Blogcritics.