If someone gave you an assignment to pretend you were Dr. Walter Bishop telling a fictional
story to Olivia Dunham's eight year-old niece, Ella, what would you include in Walter's story?
Food and candy? The current 'Peter' situation? Interesting factoids about the human body? Corpses? Humor? Drama? Mystery? Observers? Suspicions regarding certain people and places? Sibling rivalry? A romantically-linked Peter and Olivia? A happy ever after ending? Walter's story contains all but the last. Young Ella adds that in to conform Walter's tale to her own story-telling paradigm.
'Brown Betty' is a gem of an episode. You have to watch it more than once to really appreciate all that is packed into it. The episode starts out smooth and I immediately suspected it was written by Pinkner and Wyman, who have written some other brilliant episodes in Seasons 1 and 2(I was not at all surprised to see their writing credit at the bottom of the screen a few short minutes later. Although with Akiva Goldsman contributing to the writing of 'Brown Betty,' I expected the episode to be even more bittersweet at times, than it was.)
Picking a 1940's film noir setting for 'Brown Betty' was a smart move, and the accompanying music, which is usually very good by the accomplished Michael Giacchino and Chris Tilton, seems even better here(the muted sax when Peter and Olivia meet makes you shiver). Since this episode was written to fit in with the FOX ROCKS musical promotional theme handed down by the higher-ups, there is a cornucopia of good tunes, a gift we don't usually receive on 'Fringe.'
Musically most notable were the performances(too short) by Lance Reddick and Jasika Nicole. And honestly, Anna Torv's breakout into "For Once In My Life" by Stevie Wonder, once I got over the pleasant shock of Olivia singing into Peter's face, was not great, but not too bad.
'Brown Betty' is a decidedly Walter-centric episode. However, there is a large dose of Detective Olivia Dunham meets Conman Peter Bishop thrown in for good measure, as they are near and dear to Walter's heart. If you are one of those 'Fringe' fans who does not see the unresloved sexual tension(UST) between Peter and Olivia that has been there since the pilot and still think of them as a brother and sister unit, you are not going to like this episode. 'Brown Betty' is a garden party for Polivia shippers, but the supporting cast is well-represented as well.
Akiva Goldsman definitely left his mark on this one as there are several extremely bittersweet scenes, such as when Narrator Walter tells us that Detective Olivia was going to "pack it in because there was one mystery she could not solve-how to mend a broken heart" as she stares at a framed picture of her ex-lover John Scott(real life ex, Mark Valley) and then throws it in a box. That is a scene that gets you in the gut. Also notable is when Ella asks Walter if he told Peter stories and Walter chokes out that he was too busy with his work to tell Peter stories.
Sadder still is the second to last scene where Olivia returns from chasing leads on Peter and delivers the bad news. The melancholy hanging over Astrid, Walter, and Olivia is thick enough to cut.
Like all good drama there is notable humor in 'Brown Betty as well. The scene where Rachel NoName's mouth opens as she talks of true love and out comes an off-key Walter Bishop rendition of Tears For Fears "Head Over Heels," is one of many wonderfully laughable moments of this episode. Also fun is Ella's objection when Walter states fictional Rachel's love is Peter Bishop. Walter's singing corpses that he shows off to Olivia as his latest lab project would make the Monty Python troupe proud. Olivia and Peter smacking the Observers(or 'Watchers' as they are called here) is fun too. And the opening scene with Walter Bishop enjoying his 'Brown Betty' laden waterpipe to the smooth riffs of Yes's "Roundabout" are likely to put a smile on your face.
There are several themes in this episode, and one big metaphor. The biggest theme I see is perception, which was brought out in the series way back in episode 1.09 and pops up frequently. In 'Brown Betty' Ella interrupts Walter's narration to point out that her mother, Rachel, doesn't love Peter. Walter responds by telling Ella, "As in all good detective stories, things are not as they seem," which is a bigger commentary on the whole of the series.
Another theme in 'Brown Betty' is stolen hearts/love. Apparently smoking marijuana turns Walter's thoughts into the metaphorical. He says Peter Bishop stole his heart, and shows Olivia that the space in his chest cavity is truly vacant. Later Peter Bishop says to Olivia, reagrding Walter, "He says I stole his heart?" minutes before we find Nina's 'Watchers' have stolen Peter's.
The double meanings are fun, and very Walter. It is interesting to note that the word "heart" is said 23 times in this episode. (Twenty-three is also a LOST number.) And Walter has been on a love kick ever since the wedding crime scene in episode 2.14, "The Bishop Revival," so it's no surprise there's alot of talk of love in this episode. And apparently true love and happiness are important to young Ella as well, as she changes the ending to Walter's story so that everyone does good and lives happily ever after.
One more notable theme in 'Brown Betty' is death, and there could be foreshadowing here of events to come in Season 3 of 'Fringe' and beyond. Rachel NoName is killed off, ending the sibling rivalry of the Dunham sisters over Peter Bishop(Thank you, Walter! If only it could be true.) In his lab, Walter Bishop tells Olivia "If I don't get my heart back I'll die." Later in the episode Peter saves Walter by sharing his heart with him. Sitting on his kitchen floor, Peter Bishop tells Olivia that he is dying, and she saves him by replacing his power source. Hmm.
So what is this mysterious power source we may come across in the future, and who will be dying? Who will save the dying? Typical 'Fringe' speculative questions that lead to more questions. And while we're talking about foreshadowing, if you want to be ahead of the game, check out your DVR and have another look at Dr. Walter Bishop's collection of creations. I have a feeling one of them on the pages will show up again.
Another theme of 'Brown Betty' is fright. After Walter tells Ella that PI Dunham takes the case to prove to herself whether or not true love really exists, he says, "This is where things get a bit frightening," which I think is a commentary on Walter's personality and the general storytelling nature of 'Fringe' as a whole.
There are little pieces of the popular Fringe mythology sprinkled in this episode, such as when fictional Peter uses a fingerprint scanner to open the high-tech suitcase containing his special posession, the glass heart. Play that back a few times and you'll see several green dots appear above his finger, but sadly not the green-green-green-red pattern you were probably looking for. There is a constant juxtapositioning of old and new tech in this one, like old rotarty telephones and computers on the same supposedly 1940's desk. If you've read any commentary from Jeff Pinkner and Joel Wyman in the last few months you know that they love mixing old technology with new in the series, and they do a fine job of it here. Another notable scene here is Nina Sharp talking to William Bell on Walter's window to the Alternate Universe in her 1940's style living room.
In typical 'Fringe' fashion there are also disturbing things here. Dunham meets fictional Nina Sharp, head of Massive Dynamic to get information. She's dressed to the nines, in black, of course. Sharp tells Olivia that Peter Bishop is bad, bad, bad and deserves more than what probably happened to him. And here we get one of the few lines of the episode I find disturbing and possibly foreshadowing events to come involving Peter in Season 3. Nina tells Olivia, "But I can tell you one thing. If he's pretending to love this woman, he must be using her somehow." Hmm. I also find Walter's narcissism in telling Ella he created "All the wonderful things in the world," disturbing. Peter's revelation that Walter Bishop stole the dreams of 147 children and replaced them with nightmares, is very disturbing. Heck, even the thought of Nina Sharp in a romantic relationship with William Bell is disturbing.
I want to leave you with some questions that 'Brown Betty' has left in my head. Why? So I don't have to obsess over them alone.
Why was Walter Bishop in a wheelchair?
Why was Rachel in Chicago? Is this significant?
Is Peter Bishop really 'using' Olivia and/or Rachel Dunham?
Will Nina Sharp turn out to be badder than bad? Do any of the Observers work for her?
Do the Observers work for 'Walternate'? Or William Bell?
Was there a Walter/William/Nina love triangle?
Overall, I give 'Brown Betty' a 9. It was too dark. No, not the content, but the lighting.
I could barely see where Rachel's heart had been removed on re-watching on my DVR.
But, 'Fringe' is a dark show...