Fringe 403 Review: Alone in the World ~ Fringe Television - Fan Site for the FOX TV Series Fringe

Fringe 403 Review: Alone in the World

      Email Post       10/09/2011 02:24:00 AM      

“I need more time!”

It is interesting to consider the development of television narrative devices. I maintain that TV today is a place of subtle, radical developments in traditional narrative structure, just as much as Victorian novels (particularly the sensational ones) often addressed the grim realities hiding under petticoats and behind cravats. Those wildly popular novels incorporated radical critiques of law and tradition into suspenseful narrative; in the same way, TV today takes radical storytelling risks, trusting the viewer to follow multiple timelines, alternate realities, astonishing improbabilities, and deeply entrenched metaphors amid chase scenes, unrequited love, and everyday travails as experienced by telegenic people.

We—us genre fans—are so used to doing the work of interpretation that we often forget to pat ourselves on the back for taking the time to think through what whole swaths of people dismiss as nothing more than an hour’s entertainment in the evening. The Victorian novels of yesteryear are now considered, en masse, some of the most interesting and complicated novels in the genre’s tradition, even though they were dismissed for decades as just not worth serious consideration. They’re picked apart, dissected, and theorized within an inch of their lives in classrooms throughout the world. 150 years from now, I like to think that the literary critics of the future—I assume they will be robots—will look back on shows like Fringe and treat them with the same interpretive respect.

Those professorial robots will likely use an episode like this to teach their droidling students about a common television narrative device: The Stand-Alone With Emotional Relevance (the SAWER: that’s what they’ll call it). Fringe does a wonderful job with the SAWER mini-genre, and this episode is no exception. Walter’s mind is slowly cracking under the weight of his hallucinations, and when his mind cracks, he can’t help but reflect on the loss of his son—as his slip-of-tongue near the end revealed. What Walter doesn’t realize is that he should be thinking of his lost child: that lost child is now the mystery man he sees in reflective surfaces.

Just as Walter’s mind slips nearly over the cliffs of insanity, though, two events bring him back: Aaron survives, providing Walter with the closure-by-transference he was never able to achieve with the death of both Peters. The second event is Olivia disclosing that she, too, has seen the mystery man. Suddenly, Walter’s insanity turns into a problem to solve—with something other than an icepick and a copy of Lobotomies for Dummies. Olivia would have never revealed her dreams if Walter had not been pushed to the brink; Aaron-as-Peter served his narrative purpose. The SAWER accomplished its jobs.

The thing is, I don’t really like SAWERs. I mentioned last week that Fringe can’t “fix” the problem of the missing son too quickly, or else it will feel like there were no real stakes in his disappearance. While Fringe has done a good job, until this week, of giving us episodes that we can still sink our teeth into, this SAWER (mixed metaphor alert!) didn’t have much bite. Psychic fungus is all well and good, but I’m getting antsy for Peter, mythology, even some Over-There goodness. Fringe may need more time (see opening quote for reference), but I don’t.

I’m not sure we needed this reminder that Walter without Peter is a sad Walter. Or, if we did need that, it would have been interesting to see a really bizarre episode, rather like Brown Betty, to reveal it. Maybe “A Day in the Life” of Astrid, or Lincoln Lee, or Broyles. Maybe another Over There/Over Here encounter. Those are always fun. It’s hard to go wrong with penny farthings and zeppelins.

But all of those criticisms are about this episode not being what I wanted it to be, not what it actually is. This is a very solid SAWER, with great performances from John Noble and the boy who played Aaron, and nice relationship-building between Lincoln and Olivia. I’m just ready for more.

Please, sir, I want some more.

I’m Thinking Flamethrowers:

• Walter: “For all I know, it could be viral. Or the mutation of a flesh-eating bacteria. Or some kind of aaaallliiieeennn parasite. Or: Bigfoot! Bigfoot, that’s it! Take a look around for massive fecal droppings…”

• Aaron: “And…you don’t think you belong in a mental institution?”

• I loved the awkwardness of Olivia reaching out to Lincoln, and the way he used the “Do you want to talk about it?” to create a genuine bond between them at the end of the episode. How will Peter’s eventual return be thrown off by the newbie on the team?

• Was Lincoln Lee wearing a polo shirt?!

• The tinfoil hats came back!

• This episode was written by David Fury. I hope he is enjoying a mustard-free life these days, and is enjoying many hours of quality edutainment.

Two and a half out of four Guses. Or is that Gi?

(Horribly angry at that low rating? Bring your flamethrower to burn all of my favorite Dickens novels--or just visit me at, where I review the Vampire Diaries and Game of Thrones.)


Xindilini said...

The funny thing was, I didn't really notice the last scene, because of the Aaron story worked so well for me.

Anonymous said...

I strongly disagree with this review. We had "Over There" just last week. What we've been lacking is substantial Walter face-time, and this episode did an outstanding job showing us the stakes for Walter in regards to Peter's absence. I suspect the next episode will show us Olivia's side of Peter's absence.

Also, the embedded parallelism continues, with Broyles' quote about not being able to sacrifice countless other lives to save one boy. In this episode, we see Walter trying to do just that, even if it's not his own son. The episode was instructive about Walter's love for Peter even if Peter wasn't in the episode.

milostanfield said...

"I mentioned last week that Fringe can’t “fix” the problem of the missing son too quickly, or else it will feel like there were no real stakes in his disappearance."

There also has to be some ongoing consequence of Peter's disappearance from/return to existence. It will have to feed into whatever the next direction is, like the "Over There" to "Entrada" arc fed into the aftermath/machine episodes of Season 3. Otherwise, if we just go back to Season 3 right before Peter disappeared, then what was the point of the detour?

It will be interesting to see how the "where is Peter" arc affects whatever the ongoing larger story will be, as well as the characters personally. Hopefully the larger story and the personal stories will be tied together as perfectly as they were in the "Over There" arc.

I'm guessing the larger story will involve the Observers in a major way. Seems to be a rift brewing in the baldie ranks. How will Peter fit into this? Their ally?. Antagonist? And then there's the Shapeshifter 2.0's. Someone posted here that they may be allies or creations of Peter. Or they may bring Sec. Bishop back into the mix (miss him). I suspect the new SS's have their own agenda.

Walter will obviously be affected deeply by Peter's return. W & O have just barely started to figure out WHAT Peter is, but not yet WHO. Will Walter be like he was in "Stowaway", when Bell "returned", only on steroids? Still feel guilt for losing him twice?

Olivia will not know him at all, but there will still be a special connection between them. I'm thinking of the romance like we all are, but there's also the brain wave drawing from "Last Sam Weiss" that connects them in the larger story as well.

And what of Peter himself? How will he fit into this new timeline? Will he come back just as he was, or newly omniscient, or a tabula rasa? And what will happen when he meets the other Olivia? He sure sounded like the Peter of old when Walter heard him in "One Night…". I just hope his sarcastic wisecracks are intact. I've missed those most of all.

Christoph said...

I agree with what Anonymous said. I strongly disagree with this review. This episode was a major story build for our lack of knowledge for Peter's absence in peoples lives.
We learnt more about the situation where Walter went 'over there' to get peter and save him like normal, minus the observer. now we know what happened back then, Walter still ripped apart the universes and crossed, but he killed peter, which is why we have this conflict. Now we know about the tension between universes and where it has come from, we can understand why Walternate HATES Walter so much...he didn't kidnap his child, he killed him.
Also now that we know that Olivia has been having peter-sodes just like Walter has been, we know Walter doesnt think himself crazy, and olivia has an answer to a question...who is the man in her dreams...which leads to another question....

milostanfield said...

I can see both sides here. I agree with Kafka that this ep was a bit sub par for Fringe, but that is mostly because of Gus and the Lincoln-Olivia part (see Old Darth's review), but NOT because of the Walter-Aaron scenes. When you watch it again, realizing that the only reason Gus exists is to have Walter free Aaron from the psychic link, and you concentrate more on Walter and Aaron, it gets better. And like Christoph said, we know a lot more backstory now. Just wish they had come up with a better way to put Aaron in peril than something that looked like a set dressing from classic Doctor Who.

We've had Walter centric eps before, but this is the first one without Peter. Peter has always been the one who has had quality alone time with each of the other two mains. Walter & Olivia do care for each other but we've only seen them really close a few times. Nowhere near as close as Peter is to each of them.

I think we WILL see more of the effect of Peter's absence on Olivia but I think that will be AFTER Peter returns.

2 things I liked about the Walter-Aaron scenes:

1)how Aaron being possessed by Gus was similar to Walter being possessed by his Peter visions. And that Walter rescued Aaron from a peril that he himself was in.

2)how Walter jumped up and gracefully sprinted for the phone to call Olivia once he realized what was happening to Aaron. Before this we saw Walter walking around like a gimpy Groucho Marx trying to avoid the lines on the floor. But when it came time to "save the boy" he was up like a cat.

Fringe has always been great at using child actors in adult drama, something that amazes me. With the exception of the little girl in "Jacksonville", the guest kids have been great. And Walter has a way with kids. Remember his funky neural stimulator dance he did in 1.15 "Inner Child" to get the kid to put it on? One of my fave Walter moments.

FringeFrogee said...

I'm missing the subtlety of the usual Fringey style. The emotional comparisons are all highlighted in neon just in case you miss the hint. I think I expected a more subtle, drawn out approach to his absence. We know he is not there, we feel it, we didn't need this fairly heavy handed display.

Maybe too much emphasis has been placed on keeping the Peter fans happy? Before you complain, I really miss Peter, especially his interaction with Walter! – he is vital to the chemistry and I look forward to his return and the chaos that will cause.

Anonymous said...

Im there with you FringeFrogee. I thought a lot of it was like "here you go, don't you notice this is wrong", but I think could also be them attempting to pander to newer viewers. Also, I really miss Peter's wit!!!


trent said...

"Maybe too much emphasis has been placed on keeping the Peter fans happy? Before you complain, I really miss Peter, especially his interaction with Walter! – he is vital to the chemistry and I look forward to his return and the chaos that will cause."

They did the opposite of keeping the Peter fans happy. They didn't show why Peter is important to the story, every single change due to his absence has been positive, except for Walter. Instead they referred to him in heavy-handed abstracts that have no meaning.

I have to disagree with you on the subtlety of Fringe. I always found it lacking in that area, but I got used to it.

Lincoln said...

Great review, Josie! I loved the referenced parallels between Aaron and Peter. The writers of Fringe do weave wonderfully complex stories encapsulated within single episodes.

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