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.
Even after all these amazing episodes, I find that White Tulip is still my absolute favorite overall episode of Fringe. To me, it embodies the essence of the show. I make no apologies for the fact that I am a sucker for epic love stories, and Alistair's quest to undo the event that killed his fiancée really struck a chord with me. Looking deeper into this episode, we might even see a blueprint for season four.
The first thing I noticed at the start of the episode is that the digital clock at train station shows 5:48. The transit authority slogan is the aptly named, “Be There in No Time.”
Secondly, there is the boy at the station that tried to guilt people into giving him change. His sign said, “God could be watching.” Most people have an immense sense of shame. Many of us have been raised with the concept of an omnipotent God that has the power to judge our actions, and we are either damned or forgiven of our sins. Many that claim to be agnostic or atheist later in life often still feel the power of this concept from youth. This idea is crucial to the story of this episode.
As this episode played out, I noticed that there are so many variants of the music piece that would eventually morph and become known to fans as “Peter and Olivia’s theme.”
At the end of Olivia. In the Lab. With the Revolver, Olivia found herself in the uncomfortable position of knowing Walter’s story about Peter, but she promised Walter she’d give him time to prepare to tell him. Walter struggled with the secret he was keeping from Peter, and chose to write a letter of confession. Peter noticed Walter acting differently, but usually perceptive Olivia denied that she noticed any differences. Peter looked surprised, but he trusted Olivia, so he didn’t think anymore of it. One could say that he also trusted “Olivia” in episode 3.04 when he questioned the changes he noticed.
Peter bluntly asked Walter in the lab if there was anything bothering him that he might want to talk about. Walter denied and said “everything is fine.” Peter has heard that enough from Olivia by now to have to think that Walter too was also not telling the truth.
The story of Walter's struggle to tell Peter the truth was just so heart-tugging. Walter set out to write Peter an explanatory letter. There were several missed opportunities for Peter to have seen Walter’s letter. Walter reacted terribly to the possibility that Peter might have picked up the letter. I’m not certain if Walter ever intended to give Peter the letter in any of the time-line scenarios that played. Especially since he burned the letter immediately after writing it the last time.
(Since one theme of Fringe is ripples/consequences, maybe never meeting Alistair in the final time-line is what prevented Walter from telling Peter. If he had actually “met” him, maybe he would have given the letter to Peter. But now I’m getting into the constant circle of “maybe” and this is discussed further.)
All the Faith We Need
Fringe has long had a theme of science meshed with questions of religion.
In the first run through in the train, Walter takes a moment to look at a cross necklace around a deceased passenger’s neck.
When he was able to speak with him, Walter explained a secret to Dr. Peck:
Until I took my son from the other side, I had never believed in God. But it occurred to me... that my actions had betrayed him and that everything that had happened to me since was God punishing me. So now I'm looking for a sign of forgiveness. I've asked God for a sign of forgiveness. A specific one, a white tulip.Pretty steep change of heart from the man that told his colleague, Carla Warren, that there was only room for one God in his lab. (Peter.)
The largest change came in 6:02 AM EST after Peter was rejected by the machine and severely injured.
I asked you for a sign, and you sent it to me. A white tulip. And I was so grateful. Since then, in moments of deep despair, I have found solace in believing that you had forgiven me.
I was willing to let him go. I was willing to let Peter die. I've changed. That should matter
God, I know my crimes are unforgivable. So punish me. Do what you want to me. But I beg you, spare our world.Peck reminded Walter that God is science. That science helps to perform miracles every day. Later in Subject 13, we’d see that science can even create white tulips that can grow in places they should not. Elizabeth Bishop told young Peter that that “he used his brain and his imagination to turn the world into what he wanted it to be.”
Walter tried to persuade Peck to not try and go back to save Arlette.
There will be repercussions if you pull Arlette from that car. You don't know how things will be changed by your actions, but they will. It's not our place to adjust the universe.
I admit, I always cry when Alistair chooses to die with Arlette… And of course Alistair leaves the white tulip for Walter, who thinks that another human soul have never heard about his hope for God’s forgiveness - and Peter’s.
It seems that Peter may have a lot in common with Alastair Peck. Peck cast machine parts and embedded them in his body so that he could travel through time and stop events that led to his fiancée’s death.
Peter would become part of a machine, to see through time and use the knowledge obtained in order to save Olivia.
I'm sorry you have to go through this again
For their first encounter with Peck, Olivia found his address via a credit card receipt from a café. This time around the team uses prints to find Dr. Peck’s location. While there this time, Olivia feels - odd.
Olivia: Wow, I'm having déjà vu.
Peter: Yeah, I read that déjà vu is fate's way of telling you that you're exactly where you're supposed to be. That's why you feel like you've been there before. You are right in line with you're own destiny.
Olivia: Well, do you believe that?
Peter: Mmm... no. It's a bit mystical for my taste. I never get them, myself. Maybe that's 'cause I'm not on track with my own destiny.
Walter’s knowing look at Peter’s joking remarks is just so… painful.
I find a parallel that probably has nothing to do with the overall mythology of the series, but nice regardless. Peter found a photo album belonging to Dr. Peck’s fiancée, Arlette. He also pointed out a photo album to Olivia in Concentrate and Ask Again. Once again, pictures are important in Fringe, reminding us that “soon, there will be nothing left but pictures.” (The Bishop Revival)
Walter read Alistair’s work and made adjustments to his equations. In the past, we were told about Walter’s time travel device, the Dis-e-re. I wonder if Walter used his prior knowledge, coupled with Peck’s work, and some additional research to create the machine? He said:
In another twenty years, with the assistance of some other great minds, I will have absorbed this information.
Olivia: What if Alistair Peck is going back to save her?
Peter looks contemplative.
Walter: Grief can drive people to extraordinary lengths.
Walter said that Peck’s 10 month jump might have killed hundreds of people. However, Walter risked the world for Peter. Peter destroyed the other universe when forced to use the machine, because he loved Olivia and Walter.
Peck’s conversation with Walter about his situation carries great emotional weight regarding what-ifs. He told Walter:
If I'd have simply done what she asked me, if I'd have said, 'sure, I'll go with you', I know it wouldn't have happened.
In The Day We Died, there is a scene in which Peter found the lake-house key, left there as a calling card by Walternate. Peter chose to keep this fact secret from Olivia, and he visited the lake-house alone. Fooled by Walternate’s hologram, Peter left Olivia vulnerable. Walternate was able to shoot and kill her. Over the course of his mourning, I’m sure he told himself that she would be alive if only…
Olivia may have once questioned herself and wondered …“If only” she had told Peter about the secret, he may have never ended up going Over There.
The “if only” can go on and on, never stopping. That’s the point of this entire episode and maybe even the series. Actions have unforeseeable consequences. We can’t beat ourselves up over every choice that we make that goes wrong. But it’s hard, especially for Walter.
Yet, Walter assumed that taking Peter was the root cause of all the terrible things in his life. But the Cortexiphan trials would still occur without Peter. And it may be the case in season four as well. Walter crossed into the universe anyway, as seen at the end of The Day We Died. Did Walter go mad as well? The action of taking Peter has been attributed to the damage done Over There, for Peter’s mother’s suicide, and for Walter’s insanity. This is the danger of what-ifs. Things may happen anyway, no matter what we think may have caused them.
Even the Observer, September, knew this. In The Firefly he told Walter:
There are things that I know. But there are things that I do not. Various possible futures are happening simultaneously. I can tell you all of them, but I cannot tell you which one of them will come to pass. Because every action causes ripples, consequences both obvious and... unforeseen.
As We Head into Season Four…
The game of “what-if” may be deadly to play since saving Olivia was Peter’s noble goal. Will she die anyway? After all, we still have “the man who is going to kill her” from Lysergic Acid Diethylamide at large…
How far would you go to save someone you love? Cross realities into a hostile alternate universe? Enter one’s thoughts in a daring risk to pull their consciousness back?
What if the choice involved the possible death of many others?
Olivia: What did you do to the people on that train? Twelve innocent people.
Alistair: Those people aren't dead, Miss. Not permanently.
Olivia: Of course they're dead.
Alistair: But they soon won't be. Although, others soon will be, I'm afraid.
Or the choice had repercussions that can not be foretold?
Walter told Peter in The Day We Died:
Walter: Peter, I was wrong. It's not too late. You can save both worlds. We can do it all over again. This time, you -- you simply need to make a different choice, and should something go wrong, then Olivia will be our fail-safe.
Peter: Walter, stop. Olivia is dead.
Walter: But she won't be... Not then.
Walter: We can fix everything. We can cheat the rules of time.
Peter: Imagine the repercussions.
Walter: There's no way of telling what the cost might be. But it can't be worse than this.
In a world without Peter, Bishop, there are many gaping holes that can not even begin to be explained by what-ifs.
Could White Tulip actually be bigger than we thought with all the talk about mitochondria as cell batteries just giving out? Is the Blight Over There possibly caused by the chloroplasts in plant cells not being able to make energy?
When plants die off, it causes issues with oxygen, because it is a bi-product of photosynthesis. So that may be why the other side has issues. The trees dead = reduced oxygen. We need oxygen to use glucose and form ATP energy in the mitochondria.
The song playing in Alastair’s MIT lab is Are "Friends" Electric? by Gary Numan and Tubeway Army. Gary Numan was one of the late seventies androgynous stars, almost new wave in sound with heavy synthesizer use. It was surprising to find out that the album (Replicas) and song are both tributes to Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and the Bladerunner film adaptation. (Source)
Peck told Walter that he had read his work in New Frontiers In Genetic Hybridization. What work was Walter doing in that field?
Why did Walter specifically want a white tulip as his sign of God’s forgiveness?
If Peter Bishop was removed from the equation
Walter would have never had a heart-to-heart talk with Alistair because he would not have shared the same experience of immense loss.