“The world’s not going to save itself.”
The legend of Faust tells of a man who sells his soul to the devil for knowledge, experience, and power. All the pleasure that brings him is not enough, though. In Marlowe’s version, Faustus attempts to re-negotiate his contract, screaming “I’ll burn my books!” as he is dragged in to hell. Faced with the spiritual knowledge of his own eternal damnation, Faustus realizes that his intellectual knowledge was not a fair trade, and for the first time understands that the simplest fact—of divine love and salvation—passed him by all those years ago.
Walter and Peter have both faced a Faustian dilemma this season. With his brain-bits restored, Walter has more intellectual horsepower, but less moral control: he has become increasingly Walternative. (That’s my new adjective, and I like it.) Unlike Faust, Walter knows the simplest fact—Peter’s love for him and his love for Peter—but he does not know if it is enough to keep him from returning to his old self. And so he is faced with a choice: less brain-power means less chance the revolution will succeed, but it also means he can win his own personal revolution, avoiding the personal tyranny of calculated coldness that he has come to hate about himself.
While it seems clear that Walter either will or already did (by the end of the episode) choose love over knowledge, Peter’s choice took him in another direction. With the tech inserted, Peter has become increasingly Observeter. (That’s my new noun, and I like it less.) As the episode progressed, his speech became increasingly stilted, his delivery more wooden, his head-tilts more creepy. He came clean to Olivia not because he realized that honesty is necessary to maintain a strong marriage, but because he no longer cared about his marriage. He is too calculated and cold.
And he is so cold, so distant, that he doesn’t know—or doesn’t care—that he has become that way. Faustus had enough moral awareness left that he knew the cost of what he’d given up, and so did Walter all those years ago, when he had parts of his brain removed to avoid becoming completely cold. But Peter might have crossed over the line of possibility in this episode: does he have the moral awareness to realize the emotional vitality he has left behind? Would he even care if someone reminded him that he had finally betrayed his mother’s desire, and become a worse man than his father?
Peter has sold his soul for knowledge, and he wants to use that knowledge for vengeance. That sad irony is that it seems to be necessary to defeat the Observers. The opening scene of Peter seeing the likely events (in blue) and their actualization (in regular colors) showed just how powerful his new power is. And it contrasted with the following scene, in which Team Fringe debated uncertainties, possibilities, and the vagaries of memory in the lab. Our heroes can’t win without Peter’s tech, but I’m not sure they can really win—really save themselves as well as the world—with it. He may be too far gone.
(It is not a coincidence that the glowy cylinder made its first Fringe appearance in “The Arrival,” which was when we began to learn the truth about Peter’s “death” in childhood; now he is dying a different sort of death.)
The final minutes of the episode were among the strongest in Fringe’s history. The Bowie song is about a “man who sold the world,” though—is that the same thing as a man who sells his soul? Fringe says yes: both Walter and Peter must choose between the greater world, which needs a revolution, and their personal worlds of family and loved ones. Walter came face to face with a man who might sell his soul (and everyone’s) for more knowledge, and he choose love over intellect. Peter, however, can no longer come face to face with himself: he is too distant from his humanity for that. Instead, we’re forced to confront, through a see-through blackboard that symbolizes the distance between Peter and everyone else, that sometimes a man must save the whole world, at the price of his soul.
Too Much LSD:
• Astrid: “That’s from the movie Marathon Man.”
• Nice to see Nina again, in her snazzy gray wig.
• Fun shout-out to the first Fringe episode, huh?
• When I am an ambiguous hero/villain, I too shall have a see-through big board.
Four out of four glowy cylinders. Because Fringe is firing on all of them. (See what I did there?)
Josie Kafka reviews Fringe, The Vampire Diaries and Game of Thrones for billiedoux.com.