By Josie Kafka 11/12/2012 03:19:00 AM Categories: Review, Season 5, Through the Looking Glass and What Walter Found There
“You will notice that things work differently here.”
Have you read House of Leaves? If you have, this episode likely made your head spin. (If you haven’t, I’ll bet you enjoyed it anyway.) House of Leaves is a complicated book about a photographer who moves into a house that gives him access to…a place…sorta…and then there’s different sized fonts and various unreliable narrators whose timelines don’t match up. There are diary entries, transcribed videos, and more. It is thoughtfully postmodern, but also surreal enough to evoke a thrill. And so was “Through the Looking Glass…”
I like to think of this as Fringe’s haunted-house episode. The pocket universe and its unreliable physics placed me firmly on the edge of my seat and kept me there for the entire episode. I loved the upside-down shots, the dead end that wasn’t, the way time and light worked differently. Wonderland it wasn’t. Purgatory, neither.
The pocket universe was more of a limbo, a place of waiting without hope—as Virgil says of Hell in Dante’s Inferno, “without hope, we live in desire.” That’s how Olivia and Peter are living now, desirous of Etta’s impossible return. Olivia’s grief wasn’t the focus of this episode, and that almost made it more tangible: she continues to push through, just as she did after John Scott’s (supposed) death in the series premiere. It was perfectly appropriate that Walter was seeking a child, even if he didn’t know it. Not just any child, but the young Observer that Olivia felt such empathy with in “Inner Child.” He is gone, but, unlike Etta, he might still be recovered.
That is not to suggest that House of Leaves, Purgatory, limbo, Dante, children, and Wonderland all add up to some secret code that gives us the “answer” to the show. Rather, the characters’ emotions and actions, the show’s complex allusions and even-more-complicated mythology, and the episode’s various plots twine together, giving a poetic depth to every moment and every scene. Five years in, all of Fringe is fraught with background and importance. For an episode that took place almost entirely in a broken building in a pocket universe, its reach was remarkable.
And I haven’t even gotten to the big reveal: having hijacked the Observer’s tech in the previous episode, Peter is now…Well, he’s different. Is he turning into an Observer, or just able to access some of their power? Was he seeing things differently over the course of the entire episode, or did it take a while to kick in? And how cool is it that he can bloop in and out of space-time?!
Cool and horrible, of course. Cool because, hey, superhero! Horrible because Peter has once again sacrificed some part of himself to “fix” things; in Season Three, it was to bring peace to the two dueling universes. Now, in an attempt to avenge Etta’s death, he has become something other than what he was. And he has kept it from Olivia. From shame? From fear? Or has the tech altered him just enough that he feels like he can’t talk to his wife, so that he and Walter are both becoming different men?
Those questions will be answered soon. In the meantime, let’s take a minute—maybe even two or three—to praise John Noble. At some point in this episode, I said to myself, “Wait! Could this be Walternate? He’s just a bit sharper, somehow.” And I don’t mean smarter, although that might be part of it. I mean he has more angles and is more piercing. It wasn’t Walternate, of course, but it was a different version of Walter: more decisive, more cruel. And, in a cruel Flowers for Algernon twist, Walter had the same realization, and was crushed by it. John Noble manages to play variations on the same complicated character with beautiful precision.
A Series of Unfortunate Event:
• I got so caught up in re-watching the episode that I didn’t have time to track any of the quotes. Add your own in the comments!
What a great episode.
Four out of four pocket universes
Josie Kafka reviews Fringe, The Vampire Diaries, and Game of Thrones for billiedoux.com.