Fringe Summer Rewatch: #210 "Grey Matters" ~ Fringe Television - Fan Site for the FOX TV Series Fringe

Fringe Summer Rewatch: #210 "Grey Matters"

      Email Post       8/16/2011 12:25:00 AM      

Join us for our Fringe Summer re-watch, where we review every episode of Fringe during the summer hiatus. Comments are welcome as we dig into the connections made over three seasons.

Walter’s Remedy for Insanity

Those familiar with Shakespeare know how Walter’s journey is similar to that of King Lear. Much like the play’s monarch, Walter made a decision which he would live to regret, one that would cause a descent into madness, and to a major, unbearable loss. This episode signaled that Walter’s storm was coming.

Walter was still uncomfortable with mental institutions. It makes his fate in The Day We Died so much more heartbreaking. Walter remarked to Peter that he did not have any visitors the whole time that he was in St. Claire’s, and Peter was ashamed. In TDWD, Peter could not visit Walter, as much as he wanted to, without congressional involvement.

Walter remarked that he had thought long and hard about a remedy for insanity. We know that Bell told him that Walter asked for part of his brain to removed because he was afraid of what “he was becoming.” But this is the very process that made him insane? Walter was in Saint Claire’s for 17 years. Paris (Bell) performed the operations after Walter had already been sent there.

A foreshadowing exchange between Astrid and Walter:

Astrid: Why would someone do that, Walter -- make someone crazy?

Walter: Any number of reasons. It would make them insusceptible to interrogation.

Walter received that interrogation in what I consider one of the most powerful scenes in the series.

At the time this episode aired, there was still some murkiness about exactly what was the deal with Peter. Walter’s tears at remembering Peter’s death told of an untold story.

The information concerning the doorway that Newton sought would later explain the tale of how one Walter Bishop, with the best intentions, tried to save the life of a boy, only to have everything go wrong. This event was always the blame for the damage in the other universe. Peter heavily felt that burden. However, at the end of The Day We Died, Peter blinked out of the equation, and the universes were still at war.

Walter’s concern for Peter’s safety in season three led him to the belief that Walternate was his intellectual superior. He wanted to undo the damage done to his brain so that he could protect Peter. But a damaged Walter seemed just as capable because his motivation was love, not revenge.

Once again, the theme of memory association is discussed. Peter knew how to find kidnapped Walter:

Memory is all about -- it's all about context, all about association. Every time Walter asks for a piece of food or music or art, he's trying to recreate a moment in time to help him remember.

I feel that physical objects in several episodes show this, such as Christine Hollis’ teddy bear in August or Peter’s silver coin through several episodes throughout the series.

In Season Four, will a physical object, such as a silver coin, act as a trigger for Walter to know that someone is missing from his life?

When Walter was reconnected with the missing pieces from his brain, he became belligerent and taunting, very unlike himself. When Walternate was fully introduced in Over There, it showed just how similar both men could have been, but their paths were different.

After seeing this episode the first time, I was pretty sure that Peter was not from our world. So the Jacksonville reveal wasn’t that surprising, but the way it occurred broke my heart.

The Man Who Fell to Earth

I sometimes hate to admit it, but I love the character of Thomas Jerome Newton. He is a "gentleman" villain, much like David Robert Jones. In this episode, he was very apologetic to Mr. Slater when he was forced to leave without closing up the man’s skull. He could have just killed him. But at other times, Newton was very cold to innocents. For example, he had AltLivia kill the deaf man in The Box. He also had no problem in giving the wave sink box to the homeless man at the train station, knowing that the temptation to open it would be too great.

I suppose that one might think that in Slater’s case, the shape-shifter was simply showing mercy. But all of these examples show a cold, calculating brute. Newton talked like he was concerned in order to put people at ease. He left Slater alive because he wanted the Fringe team to investigate. He purposely looked at the camera as he left the hospital. He wanted to test Altlivia’s mettle by having her kill the man in The Box. Newton wanted to get Peter interested in the machine.

Olivia's Weakness is a Strength

Frustration developed for Olivia because she was having a hard time in understanding the motivations behind Newton and his group. Part of the reason for this was Walter’s garbled memory. Walter knew some things, such as Peter’s origin, but not enough to connect that fact with everything else. In Subject 13, he expressed that he knew “they’d” come for Peter someday.

Peter told Olivia in the SUV:

Olivia, I know you think you're alone in this. Maybe that's because of what Bell told you. Maybe that's just your personality. But this isn't just your fight.

Bell confirmed this when he told Olivia in Momentum Deferred:

Remember this -- Einai kalytero... Anthropo apo toy... Patera toy. Tell that to Peter. You're going to need him by your side. Tell it to him. He'll know what it means

Olivia did have a lot of information from Bell when she met him, but she seemed shook-up by Peter’s statement that he was in this with her. I’ve previously mentioned that it seems that Olivia needs Peter by her side in order to use her telepathic abilities, and nothing illustrated this more than their cooperative deactivation/activation of the machine in The Last Sam Weiss.

Olivia was upset because she allowed emotions to cloud her professional judgment. However, when she tried to save John Scott’s life, her main motivation was emotional. At this point, Olivia seemed scared of becoming attached to Walter and Peter. And with good reason. Newton’s taunt “Now I know how weak you are” may be bigger than it initially sounded. I’ve always wondered that if part of Walternate’s reasons for talking Peter into coming back to the other side was because he knew Olivia would come to rescue him -that maybe Walternate wanted our Olivia just as much as Peter.

I feel that Olivia’s willingness to do what it takes for the people that she cares about is her greatest strength. It is what made me love the character in the pilot, and it is what I continue to admire the most about her. The fact that Peter was on the same wavelength in this matter is also endearing. Peter would go all out to save the person who deserved it the most - Olivia.

Peter Cares for Walter

Peter showed his concern for Walter by calming him down at the hospital as Walter waited to start MRI scans. Peter has always had a gift for making people relaxed. Maybe this is why he was a conman for awhile. I still wonder that if he were able to sit in a room with Walternate, and not with a hologram like in TDWD, that he’d be able to possibly talk some sense into him.

Peter told Olivia that he thought about if Walter wondered what it would be like to “turn back the clock before he want crazy.” In the fourth season, will Walter still go through madness, and not have Peter to help him weather the storm?

I absolutely love how this episode showed the progression of Peter and Walter’s relationship. Peter’s concern for Walter’s well-being is such a powerful change, that I still cry a bit at the scene when Peter thought Walter was dying, and he begged Olivia to help him.

One interesting exchange that may lead to something:

Peter: I should have visited you, Walter, While you were in St. Claire's.

Walter: Oh, that's okay, Peter. If you had, I probably wouldn't have remembered anyway.
If Walter somehow is in the institution in season four, I wonder if he’ll have “visits” from Peter? Like Roscoe Joyce received visits from his son Bobby in The Firefly, and Olivia saw projections of Peter while trapped Over There.

I just hope that at the end of the series, that we do not get the King Lear ending which signifies that love only leads to insanity, chaos and death. I hope that love conquers all.

Small Matters

Is it just me, or did the pen that Newton and his associate used to close the incisions look like the Observer's pen-laser using in Brown Betty?

This episode is the first in which the band Violet Sedan Chair was mentioned. A former band member, Roscoe Joyce, would play a pivotal role in the third season episode, The Firefly. As a creation of J.J. Abrams, there was promotional pressing of the album with copies sent to independent record stores. It is said that the songs contain spoilers, and many of the songs seem relative to the Fringe characters.

Unanswered Questions

Newton is different from the other shape-shifters. Why did he have to be retrieved in order to extract information from Walter? What is so “special” about him?

Walter recognized Newton. He asked him about the other side. How does Walter know Newton?

How did Newton know about the brain pieces? Bell told Walter that what he accomplished was too dangerous. He assured Walter that he’d store the brain pieces only where he could find them. We know that Bell designed the shape-shifters. But I can’t make sense of why Bell might have told Walternate about his knowledge.

If Peter Bishop Did Not Exist?

Would “Dr. Paris” still remove parts of Walter’s brain at some point?

Would Newton still have needed to obtain the information from Walter about opening a door to the other side?

Would Olivia have chosen to save Walter’s life?


cortexifan said...

-How did Newton know where to look for the pieces of Walter’s brain if Bell was the only one who knew where it was hidden?
-Favorite line: “And you’re Dr. Bishop?” Walter: “Yes, and I’m perfectly sane.”
-Olivia’s license plate reads: 1C3PO1, Star Wars reference again. Later in 2.18 The Man From The Other Side the license plate reads 1R2D21.
-Olivia says the results would be less than desirable… global destruction… Biblical proportions. In 3.20 6:02 AM EST are locusts like a plague.
-Simon Paris: Nimoy’s character in “Mission Impossible” TV Series was named Paris.
-I want Walter’s mug. The handle is a kangaroo.
-The picture hanging on the wall over the chalkboard as Peter and Olivia talk with Mrs. Crampton (fringefiles 237 for this episode) and on the wall over Peter after he checked her head, is the same as in 3.21 The Last Sam Weiss as Peter walks through the hospital (fringefiles 235 in 3.21).
-Casablanca: the movie is mentioned a few times throughout. Most notable Peter and Fauxlivia watching it at the end of 3.07 The Abducted.
-Olivia says: “You know, all my life I've been able to understand what drives people -- their emotions, like greed or envy or revenge. But Newton -- these people we're up against... how can I fight what I can't understand? It’s interesting she lists greed, envy or revenge. Is that all she has seen in her life? Where are the positive things in her life?
-Love how Peter and Olivia have the same pose as Walter explains the brain at the lab.
-Ha, Walter calls Mr. Gordon “Mr. Gandalf”.
-I love the scene between Olivia and Peter after Walter went home. Again Olivia is very patient and gets a glimpse into Peter’s life.
-Walter wishing he could turn back the clock to before he went crazy. I’m not sure if I want to. Just look at his reaction after Newton activate the device. Walter reminded me of Walternate in that scene. Also Walter says to Ella in 3.22 The Day We Died: “Truly, if I could go back in time and change things, I would. I would give anything to be able to go back and make different choices. So is this sort of the Walter we will get to see in S4?
-I always like when Olivia doesn’t understand something, she asks questions. It’s almost as if she is asking for us.
-I love Violet Sedan Chair!
-Second time Astrid loses Walter, first time in the previous episode.
-Did Walternate give instructions to Newton to find Walter and get information about the door? How much did Walternate tell Newton? Did Newton know about Peter and how much does he know about Olivia?
-For Peter not wanting to be around Walter at the beginning of the series, he sure shows a lot of concern now.
-Walter sounds so desperate when he asks Newton if he’s going to fix him.
-The Blight. Olivia mentions it in 3.20 6:02 AM EST.
-When Peter and Olivia drive to where Newton holds him, Peter’s expression reminds me of when he drives with Broyles in 3.08 Entrada on their way to the pastry shop.
-There is a Massive Dynamic symbol on Newton’s watch. Why?
-Broyles: “But there's only one Walter Bishop... and we'll be needing him before this is over. Don't be so hard on yourself. We're gonna be needing you too.” In 3.21 The Last Sam Weiss Peter says: “There are two of you, aren’t there?’ And we needed Olivia to turn the machine off.

If Peter never existed in this episode…
-would Olivia actually have to do some of the gross stuff herself, like looking for the scars?
-would Olivia still believe she’s alone in this fight?
-would they have made the connection between Walter’s brain and the memory of the door?
-would Walter have died?
-who or would they have made the connection that it was the girl living across from Peter?
-would Olivia have been able to save Walter or would she have killed Newton?

rob559 said...

Clever that Dr "Paris" was leonard Nimoy's character's name when he was on Mission Impossible "Paris"

fringeobsessed said...

"Every time Walter asks for a piece of food or music or art, he's trying to recreate a moment in time to help him remember." Yes!
Don't forget to add Walter's famous strawberry milkshakes to that list. In "August" Walter's favorite ice cream shop has closed and he tells P/O:"They have a secret ingredient. (loading the blender with more ingredients) It's -- It's mundane but it's-- oh, it's sublime. And I am trying to stimulate my olfactory and gustatory senses to try to recreate it." So, it is possible as Aimee says that Walter is not merely trying to recreate his beloved drink! perhaps 'strawberry milkshake' is a metaphor for trying to get his memories back on his own.

cortexifan, "-When Peter and Olivia drive to where Newton holds him, Peter’s expression reminds me of when he drives with Broyles in 3.08 Entrada on their way to the pastry shop."
I caught that also.

One thing I'll always remember about "Grey Matters" is Peter's begging/pleading to Olivia for her help, when Walter is dying. That cuts right to the bone.

birdandbear said...

This episode is so emotionally charged. It's almost as beautifully done as White Tulip.

Walter watching pieces of his brain, his past, die and being sane enough to understand is one of the most tragic things I've ever seen.

And Peter is just completely beside himself at the thought of losing Walter. Kicking in bathroom stall doors, and the bit at the end when he thinks Walter's dead, but then he comes back and Peter's just holding him and sobbing with relief is a very stark illustration of how much Peter's feelings have changed since the beginning.

And I love it when Broyles gives Olivia his stern admonishment to ease up already. Jeez girl, you're human and you protect the ones you love. We all do. Deal with it. ;)

And then there's the introduction to Newton, who's just such a fantastic villain.

Wonderful, wonderful episode.

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