“I think this is the better way, so you can learn about loss.”
Alternative realities and what-if flash-forwards create a powerful, visceral reaction. We experience these unreal episodes as a sort of cathartic carnivalesque. Carnivalesque, because they are governed by the topsy-turvy misrule of could-be and might-have-been. Cathartic, because we experience the gleeful terror of watching favorite characters dispatched while knowing that their deaths aren’t happening now and might not ever happen.
The future of our universe is grim, bloody, depressing, and full of lovely moments of hope and faith. The marriage of Peter and Olivia is stable, although the lack of children seems to be something of a sticking point. The way they discussed their possible plans also told us how secure they are together: no shouting or blame. Just a reasonable discussion tinged with chagrin. That Olivia’s death should inspire Peter to re-write the past fifteen years speaks to the lengths his character has come since his early days as a grifting loner with a chip on his shoulder.
Walter’s future mirrors that of the world: trapped, sad, and yet still able to maintain a flicker of hope. He’s been fingered as public enemy number one, thanks to a past public disclosure by Walternate—and, it seems, thanks to Walter’s own willingness to throw himself on the proverbial sword. Prison has been hard on him (stroke), but he’s never lost his sense of the majesty of discovery, inquiry, invention—and love for family. Peter said, “No matter who’s at fault, you’re my dad.” The most reviled man in the universe has the one thing he’s wanted for so long: his son’s unconditional love.
The plot of the week, the End-of-Dayers’ attempt to hasten the apocalypse, turned out be a distraction orchestrated by Walternate to punish Peter’s betrayal by killing the one person he loves most. Whereas Walter’s character has continued to grow into a kind man in the unseen 15 years, Walternate has become even more bitter, vengeful, and vindictive: revenge at any cost is hard to sympathize with, especially when we see our heroes fighting so valiantly to save their world, and when we know that no one meant for this to happen.
All of that, of course, is just a possible future. Walter and Peter discovered a way to change the past unseen 15 years: create a paradox loop in which they send the First People stuff back to long-ago, and use a consciousness shift to help 2011-Peter understand what happens if he makes a choice for Olivia in the machine. I was over the moon when Walter and Peter were revealed to have created the First-People construct: I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea of pre-dinosaur all-knowing beings. I really cannot imagine a “solution” to the question of the First People that would satisfy me more.
The consciousness shift is fascinating, although its ramifications are less satisfactory and more OMFG. 2011-Peter’s glimpse of the possible future negates the possible future, as it determines his choice: not in favor of here or Over There, but to create a bridge between worlds for trans-reality diplomatic relations to orchestrate what I assume will be a very uneasy peace.
That choice kept everyone in existence (as far as we can know)…except Peter himself. He blooped out of existence as soon as he had completed the task he didn’t know he was fated to complete. Obviously, this raises enormous questions: if Peter didn’t exist, why did Walter cross over in the first place? If Peter didn’t exist, how did the bridge between worlds get built? How did Olivia and Walter pair up? Was Walter crazy? Did Walternate orchestrate Peter’s grief in order to create a causality loop that would lead to the bridge between worlds? Those questions could go on and on, and we won’t know the answers until fall, at least.
The big, big question is: Is Joshua Jackson done with Fringe? We’ve all heard the casting news, and it seems unlikely that the writers would kill someone so integral to the show’s rhythms. On the other hand, I suspect the adorable Mr. Lincoln Lee might be a (temporary?) replacement in Olivia’s heart in this new Peterless world. That is the only guess I have for next season.
I Haven’t the Foggiest:
• Brad Dourif was in Lord of the Rings with John Noble. (Although I cannot recall if they had any scenes together; I don’t think so.)
• Broyles' false eye: between that and Olivia’s burial, is anyone thinking Ragnarok? Anyone besides me? Anyone…
• Olivia has learned to control her telekinesis. (Thanks to the reader who noticed my error.)
• Was Peter giving Walternate a choice between custody (handcuffs) and suicide (gun)?
• Walter: “Theropods!”
• Walter: “I didn’t realize how much I missed swivel chairs. I’ve also missed swiveling.”
• Walter: “I don’t mind saying, it’s something I would have liked to have invented. For peaceful purposes, of course. Mining, maybe.”
• Walter: “For all I know, it could be happening already.” I love time-travel dialogue.
• Peter: “Imagine the repercussions.”
• Walternate: “You shattered my universe. Have you any idea how many deaths you’ve caused?”
Walter: “That was an accident! What you’ve tried to do you’ve done on purpose.”
Fringe, like its characters, has come so very far in the past three years. It has moved from plots-of-the-week to a full-fledged mythology with fascinating characters who have both interesting mythological relevance and interesting interior lives. Above all, Fringe has proved to be a show that is willing to take risks, which makes the viewing experience one of thoughtful questioning interspersed with yelping, jumping up from the couch, and scaring the dickens out of the cats. This episode, because it is set in a future that was negated and provided the cathartic thrills of destruction, raised fascinating questions about what is coming next. Above all, it took our characters to an unknown place: Walter without Peter is inconceivable. Olivia without Peter is troubling. Fringe without Joshua Jackson is just weird. Thank the First People above that we got a fourth season.
Four out of four swiveling chairs.
(Got some spare time this summer? Check out the alternate reality of billiedoux.com and our reviews of Fringe, Vampire Diaries, Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, Supernatural, and more.