Fringe, TV Review

TV Review: Fringe, Season 2, Episode 16: Peter – part I

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Oh, how this show just keeps getting better and better. While it might somewhat be related to the feverish anticipation of the last couple of days, fanned by an eight-week hiatus and a Twitter #Fringe movement, the topmost reasons why this episode instantly became a fan favourite are fourfold. First, the amazing storytelling made the hour go by in what felt like 10 minutes; second, John Noble’s amazing performance; third, the preparation was carefully and meticulously done in the last year and a half; and fourth, while so many questions were finally answered, there are yet still so many more that remain to be answered.

I see now what you did there, JJ Abrams, and I like it.

There are so many things we can cover about this episode; the most intriguing one – and perhaps the most important one – is that of the character of Walter Bishop, as perceived before “Peter” and after. And so for the sake of relative brevity, this review will only cover that aspect of the episode; other aspects are going to make an appearance in a follow-up article.

While there were no huge surprises during this episode – heck, we kind of knew most of what was coming up, what with all the theorizing, the promos, the stills and the previews! – many moments felt like little pinpricks of conceptual adjustment.

The first one came within the first few seconds, when we hear 1985!Walter addressing what looks like important military personnel. He sounds confident; he sounds in control; he sounds extremely coherent and commands attention. We had already gleaned that this was the Walter pre-‘brain surgery’ and pre-St. Claire’s, but it still was a ‘pinprick of conceptual adjustment’ to see it come to life.

But it’s a good thing that 1985!Walter is so confident; after all, hard as it is to explain to someone in 2010 about the alternate universe, it is much more difficult to do so back in 1985. The mobile telephone was a brilliant touch that clearly demonstrates to viewers in 2010 the discrepancy of the technological advancement between our world and the alternate-universe. The best part is that for those of us who don’t remember, there is a subtle yet potent moment where the contrast between the two technologies is highlighted (check out the screencap below). Needless to say, it was a beautiful stroke of storytelling genius.

The opening sequence was, as promised, straight out of the 1980s (complete with synthesizer music and electric guitar) and it made me squeal with delight. Now that I look back, it was also, indirectly, a celebration of all the things that have come to be since 1985, as the theories mentioned in it (personal computing, cold fusion, cloning, DNA profiling, nanotechnology amongst others) are now reality.

Makes you wonder when, not if, the theories from the usual Fringe opening sequence will come to be.

However much I am plagued with doubt as to the accuracy of the story – it does come, after all, from Walter – one thing I don’t doubt is the pain Walter went through in 1985. Peter 1.0’s death scene was horrifyingly touching, so much so that, according to the tweets coming from the live Fringe Twitter Movement, an ocean of tears was shed by fans from all over the world. Which brings me to Walter’s relationship with Peter.

It has become clear to me that we the fans have totally underestimated Walter’s love for Peter. All this time, fan talk has been around how it seemed like the removal of the brain tissue, as shown to us in “Grey Matters” (2×10), was probably a good thing, as it made a seemingly arrogant Walter become the loving father he has been in the last year and a half.

We are going to have to seriously reconsider our rhetoric, guys, for 1985!Walter’s relationship with Peter is clearly healthy, that of a loving and involved father with a child who loves and respects him, as many signs in this episode alone point to. Foremost is, of course, Walter’s determination and focus in saving Peter (“After Peter got sick, nothing mattered anymore”).

Alone, this doesn’t mean much, as it could have been the result of the arrogance of a scientist whose professional veneer would be seriously damaged by the fact that he could not save his own child.

But then we are faced with Walter’s patience while teaching Peter, probably for the umpteenth time, how to move a coin across his fingers (something I’m fairly certain all Fringe fans have taken up to after this episode). This is all the more obvious by the fact that Peter seems to appreciate his father and looks forward to his presence: “Wake me for dinner. I don’t want to miss it.” This reminded me of the story Adult 2.0 Peter told his father in “There’s More than One of Everything” (1×20) at how happy he would be when he would wake up on weekends at their summer house to the smell of pancakes Walter would be making for him in the shape of whales.

A father who was merely fulfilling a paternal obligation to make a weekend appearance at the family summer home certainly wouldn’t take the time to make custom-shaped pancakes, would he?

Then there is the fact that Peter 1.0 gave his favourite lucky silver dollar to his father, and, finally, that he wasn’t scared of dying. A child with that level of maturity has had a great support system, and Elizabeth made it clear that the only support system Peter 1.0 had were his parents.

Which brings me to my next point: since, in my opinion, the best parents are not the ones who are perfect (those don’t even exist) but rather the ones who try hard to be as good as they can be, the self-recrimination Walter and Elizabeth put themselves through after Peter’s funeral was quite telling:

Elizabeth: He practically never got out of the house!
Walter: He was always too sick.
Elizabeth: He didn’t go to a proper school, he didn’t have any proper friends, he had no family but us. We kept him so well, we never let anyone else get to know him.
Walter: We did the best we could. We dealt with what we were given. He knew he was loved. Didn’t he?

Be still, my heart.

Then there is the fact that Walter’s love for Peter 1.0 spilled over to Peter 2.0; he kept an eye on Walternate to make sure Peter 2.0 would be cured, and when that didn’t happen, Walter risked his life by going through a previously untested portal to the alternate universe with a vial of the cure. If that’s not fatherly love, I don’t know what is. If it was only scientific pride, Walter would have demonstrated a sense of satisfaction that Walternate had come so close to saving Peter 2.0, but in the end, it was he, Walter, from the less technologically advanced universe, who actually managed to save Peter 2.0. But there is no sign of such arrogance, only a deep desperation and a race against time. By the same token, Walter’s desperate tears when, having made it to the alternate universe, he realised the vial of the cure had broken in his fall, clearly shows a man devoted to the survival of the alternate version of his child.

Realising all of this made Peter 1.0’s death scene and funeral all the harder to watch. Oh dear me, that death scene – it unleashed wave after wave of teary tweets. The strong emotional connection Fringe writers have cleverly woven during the last year and a half between viewers and Walter made the pain visibly etched on his face all the harder to get over (seriously, an Emmy for John Noble already!).

The caring that 1985!Walter shows for his son extends as well to his wife. Knowing she was going to need something to help her deal with her grief, he showed her Peter 2.0 through the window to the alter-universe. He tells her, “Elizabeth. I’m telling you this because I want you to know that somewhere, Peter will grow up, somewhere he will lead a proper life, somewhere he will be happy, but just not here. And we must take comfort in this. And we must begin to move on.”
It was a sweet moment, one that only a man capable of great caring could share with his wife, especially in a moment where a side of him, i.e. the scientific side, has had its ego so severely bruised by not being able to save his only son. Rest in peace, old conceptions of Walter.

So the question remains: what happened that made Walter the evil husband and father Peter so hated at the beginning of season one? By the same token, how did Walter become so broken in the span of 25 years? The contrast between 1985!Walter right before the retro, ’80s-style opening and 2010!Walter right after is all the more jarring when, after seeing a confident 1985!Walter, we are faced with a hesitant, emotional, and shifty-eyed Walter holding the window.

And so, the puzzle that is Dr. Walter Bishop continues to elude fans. Ever since the beginning of Fringe, I have been puzzled time and again by the fact that Walter seems nothing like the terrible father Peter first implied him to be. This episode reinforced my scepticism.

While some of the answer is related to Walter’s Phineas Gage-like change in personality (à la “Grey Matters”) and his subsequent sojourn in St. Claire’s, the other part of the answer might be found in the fact that Peter’s negative memories are not related to Walter, but rather to Walternate.

It is implied in this episode that Walternate’s relationship with Peter 2.0 isn’t as strong as that of Walter with Peter 1.0. In another demonstration of amazing storytelling skills, Peter 2.0 gives his lucky coin to alter-Elizabeth (Eliznate?) the same way Peter 1.0 gave his lucky coin to Walter. The scene, down to the very words spoken, was exactly the same in the two universes except for two little yet important details: alter-Elizabeth was in the place of Walter, and the scene was mirrored from one universe to the other; while Walter sat on Peter’s left, alternate-Elizabeth sat on his right.

Interestingly enough, both Peter 1.0 and little Peter 2.0 flipped the coin with their left had, while in the opening sequence, adult Peter 2.0 is seen doing it with his right hand. Does it mean anything? I don’t know yet.

In any case, the symmetry was so well performed that at the end, I found myself telling — okay, no, I was shrieking — alter-Elizabeth not to hug Peter 2.0 for fear that he was going to die, too. I know; a totally illogical fear since obviously Peter 2.0 is still alive in 2010. What can I say, I got caught in the moment!

However, Peter 2.0 giving his lucky silver dollar to his mother implies only that his relationship is much tighter with his mother than his father; it doesn’t mean that Walternate doesn’t care for his son. As 2010!Walter puts it: “If the alternate Peter was also sick over there, then wouldn’t his father be equally motivated to find a cure? He was. God help me, he was.”

As for the talk in fan forums of a possible abusive relationship, Peter 2.0’s reaction at seeing Walter in his room showed that he isn’t scared of his father: he didn’t cry out, stiffen, pull away or become silenced by his presence. And when Walter, in another tear-inducing moment, kissed his son’s hand, Peter didn’t seem particularly surprised, implying that Walternate might have bestowed similar gestures of affection on him, too.

It’s interesting that Peter 2.0 asked Walter if he was his father after they had been walking towards Reiden Lake for awhile. I want to believe that it’s because he wasn’t used to the extreme kindness and love being showered on his by Walter, but truth be told, it’s just a demonstration of Peter’s intelligence, that through his fever he is able to think outside of the box, identifying the oddities of the situation he was in and coming up with the correct conclusion.

Which brings me to the simple fact that fans (myself included) want to believe that Walternate wasn’t as good of a father as Walter, which would make us feel more comfortable with the fact that our favourite mad scientist didn’t take Peter 2.0 back to his real parents; this desire to see only the good in Walter by making Walternate the evil one put a veil over and skews our perception of reality. Because the fact of the matter is that if Walternate was a bad father, Peter 2.0 would not have reacted as comfortably when Walter appeared in his room at the lake house.

This is not to say that Walternate and Walter are not different – that, they definitely are. For example, alter-Elizabeth was a little surprised at what Walter was wearing; when she asked him “What are you wearing?” it didn’t sound like she was puzzled, but rather as if she was slightly mocking him. By the same token, Walternate is wearing, under his lab coat, a suit and tie. And, in the pictures given to The Observer in the episode “Fracture” (2×03), Walternate is wearing a black suit in one picture and a beige sport jacket in another over a light-coloured, plaid shirt – nothing like what we have been seeing Walter wear over the last year and a half. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that Walter spent 17 years in St. Claire’s and his fashion sense has been a little affected, or perhaps it has to do with the difference in taste between the two men – we can’t really establish that yet.

What we do know is that in this episode, alter-Elizabeth is dressed pretty chic, as opposed to Elizabeth, who was dressed more casually. By the same token, Elizabeth seems to be more emotional and less strong that alter-Elizabeth.

However, it doesn’t mean that Walternate is the evil man we want him to be, to excuse the fact that Walter made two enormous mistakes. I feel like we fans have failed at the simple test of perceiving who Walter really was, rather than falling for who we were given the impression of being. And if this is the case, how much more are we missing out on?

And it would make sense that our perception is being tested, since one of the recurrent themes in Fringe is that of perception, the main ability that Olivia has to learn to tap into to become the soldier our universe needs in the upcoming confrontation with the alternate universe.

Fact of the matter is that the show is constantly testing our perception; at first, it did it in superficial and obvious ways, starting with the very obvious glyphs, then with the Spotting the Observer. Then it got more interesting, what with the hidden messages in Walter’s notes (bring those back, FOX!) and the Easter eggs scattered throughout each episode. But it now looks like is might be a lot deeper than previously imagined, and that perhaps a lot of things we have been taking for granted lately just might have been perceived in the wrong way.

Not that it’s easy, even now that we know the entire story, to adjust our perception. I still want Walter to be good and nice, and I am still tempted to gloss over the fact that he did two things wrong: opening the breach in the first place and not taking Peter 2.0 back to his parents.

And so, I am grasping at the fact that there were two breaking points that made 1985!Walter makes these two terrible choices: the first one was him witnessing Walternate missing the cure, and the second one was Elizabeth seeing Peter 2.0.

While the title of the episode focused on, well, Peter, it’s clear that its main focus is Walter. And after a stellar performance by John Noble, I’m seriously tempted to start an Emmy campaign for him. Three Emmys, actually: one for his portrayal of 2010!Walter, one for his portrayal of 1985!Walter and one for his portrayal of Walternate.

My perception of Walter hasn’t changed too much after this episode. And I have to admit that, having grown attached to this character, I’m quite relieved; knowing the whole story has shown that, however much he is to blame for what happened, Walter’s motivation was good; and while the road to hell might be paved with good intentions, I feel comfortable in saying that once Peter cools down, he can’t but appreciate those intentions. He has proven in the last year and a half that despite his anger, he is able to see what a great father Walter is. Why wouldn’t he be able to understand the pain and motivation of the events of 1985?

Plus the fact remains that, had Walter not done what he had done, Peter 2.0 would have died, since September interrupted him from discovering the cure. Certainly, eventually, Walternate can come to accept that, no?

This was an episode that answered so many other non-Peter related questions, and yet left so many open. For example, what is the nature of the relationship between Walter and Nina? The body language indicates something more than mere colleagues; however, I doubt Walter would ever cheat on his wife, and so I highly doubt a romantic relationship, at least on Walter’s part. Another related question is why does Peter mean so much to Nina? Is it because she is friends with the Bishops and has a natural attachment to a boy she thinks of as a nephew of sorts, or is it something more?

And the biggest question of all, the one that has been driving me up the wall: what is the nature of the relationship between Bell and, well, everyone else? Why wasn’t he there during Walter’s most difficult moments?

And so, while this episode was truly great for these many reasons, there is only one that really takes the cake: the questions. We’ve been teased for a year and a half and now, we finally realise how it came to be. But – and this is key – we now have even more questions that hopefully are going to be answered within the next couple of months.

Tease away, Abrams, but make sure to continue coming through (eventually). Until then, let the theorizing continue!

To get your fill of Fringe throughout the week, check out The Fringe Insider, read The Fringe Report’s blog, tune in to The Fringe Podcast on Sunday, and top it off by joining the ever-expanding community in the chatroom of The Fringe Report’s live podcast for on Wednesday night.

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