Join us for our Fringe Summer Rewatch, where we review every episode of Fringe during the summer hiatus. Comments are welcome as we dig into the connections made over three seasons.
Before I discuss this landmark episode, "Peter," here are my Fringemunks recapping the show via a parody of "Livin' on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi:
IF PETER NEVER EXISTED
Whereas this "what if" section usually appears at the end of the re-watch write-ups, I will bring this idea to the forefront now.
First off, "never existed" implies that Peter was never born in the first place, in the new reset timeline, and he's neither Here nor There. No funeral. No tombstone. No kidnapping. No coin tricks. The name "Peter" is derived from a word that means "rock" - and Walter has no such rock as his foundation. But whereas the idea of saving Peter was Walter's primary motivation to cross universes, it wasn't the only motivation. The absence of Peter would require Walter to have a fundamentally different primary motivation.
Some of the possible motivations have been implied since "Pilot" - mostly focusing on the brilliant-though-reckless partnership of Bell/Bishop, and in later episodes we heard more about how they proactively explored the idea of an alternate universe.
With the 2011 machine event (depicted in the Season 3 finale, "The Day We Died"), Peter has been cancelled out of time and existence. But the following items could be created independently of Peter, when given a different motivation: the window to the other side, the thingamajig that Walter used to walk between universes in 1985, and even the machine.
If the events in this episode were re-broadcast in a Peter-less environment, then we would see the motivations come to light. We wouldn't hear any Peter discussions, but perhaps we would hear more exposition from Walter's wife, Elizabeth, and even his ill-fated lab assistant, Ms. Warren. There would be no kidnapping, and yet years later, Walternate is still upset at Walter even without Peter factoring into the equation. So in a Peter-less "Peter" episode, Walter will perhaps have had to steal something else from Walternate, even if "that was an accident" (as Walter bluntly proclaimed to Walternate in "The Day We Died").
Let me throw this idea into the mix: the machine event of 2011 seems to be a diversion from the "Peter exists" timeline we're familiar with. But what if Peter himself was the diversion from another timeline? And if so, who planted him in this timeline? Who moved him into the picture, thereby creating a new set of Peter-infused possibilities? Only the Observers have the capability of doing that.
THE OBSERVERS: "THE BOY IS IMPORTANT"
Let's just hypothetically consider the idea that the Observers were the ones who planted Peter into the timeline we're familiar with. That isn't saying that I totally believe this happened, but let's just consider it, in order to consider other impossibilities.
If so, then 1) it is their absolute agenda to save both universes, and 2) they would have needed to "pluck" Peter's being from another time/place, as I don't think they have the power to create a person out of thin air.
As we gaze through the window at Walternate's lab, we see September disrupting his timeline, altering history. September intervenes to save Walter and Peter from drowning. So it is not inconceivable that any of the Observers (September included) would have had the capability of shaking history into their own liking (while still having the time to watch "Back to the Future" in a cinema).
In the Fringe universe, the Observers exist, and yet so does God. Who are the Observers, in relationship with God - are they working for His agenda, or against it? And why?
This brings us to Walter's assistant, Carla Warren, who we are introduced to for the very first time, in this episode. Carla, of course, plays a huge part in the overall mythology of Fringe, as it is her death that leads to Walter being locked a mental institution for 17 years.
Her religious convictions compel her to criticize Walter for wanting to "play God." Logic indicates that her agenda is different from that of the Observers, who want Walter's disruption to happen. And, back to the "if Peter didn't exist" frame of mind, would she still be around today, or would she have died (perhaps killed?) in the same fashion, for the same reason, whatever reason that may be?
"YOU CAN'T IMAGINE WHAT IT'S LIKE TO LOSE A CHILD..."
... and yet, what you can imagine, is this: what it's like to gain a child. Think outside the episode now, and outside of Fringe. Think real life. People around you exist; and yet, there are ideas of people who were never born that you can make-believe. The son you never had. The best friend that exists only in the mind.
What if they were once real? What if they ARE real? How would your life change? How are you worse off, knowing that reality overrides any of those thoughts? Would you be a better person? Would the world be a better place? Is there an alternate side of you that works against you (not in an alter-universe, but within your own mind)?
That is Fringe in a nutshell.
In the final "Peter" scene, Walter wraps up his 1985 story, with a dejected/confused Olivia listening. In a Peter-less timeline, these two people will be having similar conversations, full of anger, remorse, sadness, and regret. Both are at a loss, and out of balance. And even more so, now that they never had a "Peter" in their lives.
And in your own personal lives, think of those around you, perhaps people you may take for granted. They're always around, but no need to get closer, right? Well what if they never existed?
Embrace them, and appreciate them, for they help make you what you are.