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Grave Intentions: Stepping Through the Cracks on "Fringe"

"There is only one God in this lab and it is not yours." - Walter Bishop

I said a lot of what I had to say about this week's remarkable episode of Fringe ("Peter"), in my advance review from earlier this week, but I can't pass up an opportunity to again throw my support behind a get-John-Noble-an-Emmy-straightaway campaign, particularly with regard to his staggeringly powerful performance in last night's episode.

How Noble has been passed over in the past for a supporting actor nod is absolutely beyond me, but his deft and evocative turn in "Peter" is one for the history books, as he offered not one, but three, very different incarnations of Walter Bishop over the course of a single episode. No mean feat, especially when Noble managed to more or less carry the installment on his shoulders as the only series regular to appear in more than a handful of scenes. (In fact, he's in every scene, save one or two.)

Last night's episode of Fringe offered the television equivalent of a swift kick to the gut, delivering an episode that not only peeled back the layers of mythology to reveal some plot twists and intriguing reveals but also to deliver emotionally wrenching hour of television about the ache of loss and the fact that good intentions can quite literally lead one right to hell.

"Peter" was a risky episode but it proves the unpredictability of Fringe as a series itself. Set almost entirely in the past, the episode recounts the struggles of Walter as he comes to grips with the death of his son and the near-shattering of his marriage as a result. Maddened with a sense of grief, he sets out to right the wrong, to save Peter in the only way he knows how.

We see a very different Walter Bishop here: a devoted father and husband who is still the partner of William Bell and still very much in possession of his sanity. But loss can change a person in unseen ways. Using the window he created (and demonstrated to the US military earlier in the episode with associate Dr. Carla Warren) to peer into the other reality, Walter watches in horror as his double--or "Walternate" as he calls him--nearly finds a cure for his own ailing son, but is distracted by the appearance of The Observer.

There is no greater misery than a parent's loss. Walter cannot and will not stand by idly and watch as Peter dies again. The only thing that is keeping him going right now--as he tells his wife Elizabeth (the always fantastic Orla Brady)--is the fact that somewhere, Peter will get better, will grow older, will live a happy life. Even if they can't share in that life, there's comfort to know that he's out there somewhere.

But that other Peter's existence is in jeopardy. Acting against the warnings of Carla Warren (Big Love's Jenni Blong) and Nina Sharp, Walter opens a gateway to the alternate reality, breaking all manner of theoretical and physical laws of nature (and leading to the war in which two world are now enmeshed), in order to save Peter. Which is significant in and of itself. We had always incorrectly assumed that Walter traveled to the other world to take Peter, to kidnap him, and bring him back here, in order to serve as a replacement for his own dead child.

Not so, and that's perhaps the most heartbreaking aspect of this story. Walter rips open a wormhole between dimensions in order to save someone else's child. He prepares the compound that he believes will save Other Peter's life and sets out to restore his health before he returns to his own world.

But Walter didn't take certain factors into account, most notably the arrival at Reiden Lake of Nina and Carla. Nina believes that William Bell would not want Walter doing this, would not want him breaking through the dimensional barrier that separates the two worlds and she attempts to stop him, even though she hasn't spoken to Bell in quite some time. Nor did he anticipate that Nina would physically attempt to prevent him from crossing through that gateway; in the struggle, the vial containing the chemical compound is shattered, leaving Walter on the other side without the one thing he needed.

(The struggle also causes the loss of Nina's arm, the resolution to a dangling plot thread that has existed since the series' pilot, and this episode also reveals the identity of the doomed lab assistant whom Walter will inadvertently kill in Carla Warren, which itself leads to Walter's incarceration at St. Clare's. Poor Dr. Warren.)

Walter's original intention was altruistic. So too was his decision to take Other Peter back to his world and then return him once he was better. But be made a cardinal error: he couldn't lose his son a second time. The look on Elizabeth's face as he "reunites" her with Peter speaks volumes: there was no going back for them. The cracks that Walter caused weren't just between the worlds but in their relationship and in Peter. Something broken cannot be fixed and lines crossed cannot so easily be uncrossed. Walter may have saved Peter's life but the cost was tremendous: he lost his soul and caused the wall between the worlds to be forever broken.

Intriguingly, it's the Other Peter, not Walter, who is important. So important that The Observer risked being seen in order to witness the compound being created and he crosses worlds in order to save the lives of Walter and Peter beneath the lake after they fall through the ice. "The boy is important, he has to live," he tells Walter later. But why exactly? Because he's the child of Walternate? Because he is the reason why the war begins? Because he's the cause of the cracks in the wall? Hmmm...

All in all, a simply fantastic episode of Fringe that brought the humorous (the title sequence, the zeppelins, Eric Stolz starring in Back to the Future) and the gut-wrenching as we finally see an accurate portrait of Walter Bishop: the man he was and the man he is now. One need not have a window to another world to see that the cracks in his personality were ones stemming from that precise moment he made his fateful decision. But the true cost of his actions remains to be seen. He may have made his confession to Olivia but the true test will come once Peter learns of his true identity... and the lengths Walter Bishop went through to save his life.

Next week on Fringe ("Olivia. In the Lab. With the Revolver."), a perfectly healthy woman is found dead from a disease she never had, leading the Fringe team to investigate the origin of this inexplicably fatal condition before it claims victims that are more innocent; Olivia struggles to keep Walter's secret from Peter, and her loyalty to Peter is tested as time goes on.


rockauteur said…
You didn't mention the "reveal" of "how much" Peter has meant to Nina... What exactly is the nature of their relationship? Why does Peter mean so much to her?

Could be a crazy conspiracy theory but could Nina be Peter's biological mom? Could her eggs have been implanted into Peter's mom? Could Peter be a clone of William Bell of some sort? This goes beyond Peter just being the son of Walter and Nina being a friend or associate.

Great reveal on how Nina lost her hand. She is such an underused part of the cast. But the thing is - why did that happen to her hand? It wasn't like her hand got cut off and Walter found it on the other side. Interesting.

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