Fringe tends to depress the accelerator all the way to the floor once they hit the final stretch. Last season’s final few episodes found the two universes intermingling with characters from both sides and stakes higher than we’d ever seen them before. Those last few episodes were filled with images and moments which still stand out even with all of the great episodes and moments we’ve been given in the time between. This season looks to be shaping up the same way: Tonight was a teaser-y hour of sound and vision where more was hinted at than seen—the ominous sounds of The Machine warming up and the off-screen flashes denoting destructive vortexes swallowing entire swaths of our universe are all foreboding hints of the chaos to be unleashed these last few episodes. That’s not to say that nothing happened tonight; it was, in fact, an incredibly dense and eventful episode. It’s just that Fringe has raised the stakes so high that they can stuff an episode full of revelations and game-changers and still leave us at the end of the episode pulling our hair out and shouting “Dear GOD, I can’t wait for next week!” Not that I actually do that, because I have some dignity, but I know you people—you’re crazy.
Maybe I do it a little bit. Anyway, you can’t say much negative about an episode of Fringe in which Walternate regretfully but decisively informs us that “Now I am become death. The destroyer of worlds…We’ll destroy their world to save ours. May God have mercy on all of us.” Walternate has become an oddly sympathetic character as we’ve gotten to know him this season; he’s been both cruel and pitiable, highly moral and seemingly indifferent. Tonight though his regret is quite clear in the afore-mentioned speech, and in case that isn’t enough, he bluntly tells Fauxlivia that he gave up his son so that she wouldn’t have to give up hers. It’s a statement that reveals a lot of bitterness on his part (and who can fault him for it?), but also provides interesting food for thought regarding the choices he has made this season. We’ve already seen his unwillingness to put children in harm’s way through experimentation, but he’s had no trouble performing operations on a pregnant woman in an attempt to take the child (or at least take something from it). Now we have it on his own authority that the loss of his son is something he has resigned himself to in the manner of a God-like figure: “My son will die so that you all may live”. It doesn’t quite seem like martyrdom as he explains it to Fauxlivia, but it certainly isn’t a conclusion he has come to easily.
It also provides a fascinating parallel both structurally and symbolically for our own Walter and the same son, Peter: Walter also seems willing to reluctantly sacrifice Peter for the greater good, though he at least has the reassurance that Peter is a willing participant. As an allegory, we hardly need to rehash the manner in which both versions of Walter “played God” early in their lives, and so the sacrifice of their son to save humanity is imperfect but fascinating. Consider too that Walter visits a place he isn’t comfortable in—a chapel—and begs the real God to punish him for his sins (which he calls “unforgivable”) but begs for their world to be spared. Besides being an interesting turning to faith by a man of science, it’s a very provocative moment in the development of Walter in that he makes no mention of sparing Peter—he seems to understand and accept that Peter is part of the deal, part of the “penance” he will have to pay in order for the world to be spared.
Setting aside deeper readings of the episode (Peter didn’t take on a crucifixion pose in the machine or anything, after all, so maybe my observations are premature), the engagement of the machine using the half-Peter blood of Fauxlivia’s child has set into motion the destruction of our universe. The cost so far is the loss of a herd of perfectly good sheep (their wool is a renewable resource, dammit!), several other locations where “all organic life is dead and desiccated in a matter of hours”, and Peter being knocked into a coma-like (they stress pretty clearly it’s not a coma) state when he attempts to shut the machine off. The unraveling of our universe is as fascinating as it is horrifying thus far; we only get a moment’s image of an unnatural sky to satisfy our curiosity tonight, but the surreal vision is ominous enough to convince us that even if the good guys are successful, it may come at a great cost to our world. Let’s put it this way: The incidents which occur are enough to drag Sam Weiss out of his bowling alley when all the spheres in the vicinity (bowling balls and those clickety-clackety metronome balls) start bonking into each other like really lazy Mexican jumping beans. Seeing Weiss wearing a look of concern should be more than contagious—this is the guy who assured Nina that if Peter and Olivia ended up together then everything would be fine. We can guess at why that prophecy is unfulfilled—Peter sent a little bit of himself back with Fauxlivia which created a little bit of a potential hangup in their long term relationship plans. He has a son by
another woman the alternate version of the same woman in another universe. As Liz Lemon would say “That’s a deal breaker.” At any rate, seeing Sam using one of those odd instruments to look at the unstable sky is enough to make your heart sink.
And yet it’s really a much more minor image of trouble and setback when compared to the triumphant-moment-gone-awry of Peter stepping up to the machine only to be violently blasted clear of it by a massive burst of energy as soon as he touches it. The culmination of Peter’s destiny with the machine was handled in a particularly interesting manner tonight. Peter clearly looks disappointed when Nina informs them that the machine activated without him—as horrifying as the possibilities might be for its purpose, Peter had clearly embraced the idea that he played some pivotal role in deciding the fates of the two Earths. It’s also an interesting (and I think really fun) choice by the Fringe team to play Peter’s moments preparing to approach the machine much like a comic book superhero “moment of destiny”. Peter’s outfit is somewhat reminiscent of the costumes from the “X-Men” films, but more so reminiscent of old 50’s and 60’s type heroes wearing body-hugging one-piece costumes with vertical collars. His stance just before the machine rejects him is even wonderfully evocative of comic book imagery—he stands legs slightly apart shoulders back, fists clenched in a powerful, confident pose as the camera looks up at him from an empowering low angle. But then, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. never got destroyed by a jolt from an inanimate machine, so maybe I’m way off (or maybe they did—I never really read comic books).
All things considered, tonight’s episode leaves us in a predictably bad place (predictable in the sense that things are supposed to be bad a few episodes before the finale) by way of a series of rather unpredicted and, to some extent, unfathomable developments. Of gravest concern would seem to be Peter’s unconscious state and Fauxlivia’s imprisonment. The latter, though, is somewhat bittersweet, given that her presence there is due to the fact that she attempted to form an alliance with Peter to stop the destruction of our world at the expense of theirs. Meanwhile, Walter seems at a loss for what to do about anything anymore (in his helplessness regarding his son’s fate, he even refers to Broyles by his first name—a wonderfully vulnerable moment played perfectly by Noble), and even the unshakable Nina is in a panic when she hears the machine whirring to life. But take heart, the mysterious Sam Weiss is standing out in a field somewhere looking at the vortexes with some machine that, I presume, tells him some stuff that, I presume, will be helpful later on. And what’s more, Walter recalls that the events at least begin to unfold in the manner instructed by The Observers: “Give him the keys and save the girl” seems to have more than one meaning. Those guys wouldn’t double cross Walter…would they?
Overall Rating: 9.5/10
Great Lines, Interesting Moments, Whatnot, and Occasionally What-Have-You:
Is a “Faraday cage” a real thing or a Lost nod?
Walter walking out naked in front of Olivia in only bear foot slippers is the night’s funniest moment. Especially coupled with his unintentional (I think) euphemism about breakfast: he’s popping a mushroom furtata into the oven filled with mushrooms with “the biggest caps you’ve ever seen.” Wiener jokes always work when Walter says them.
“Your father is walking around the house naked.”
“Oh yeah, it’s Tuesday.”
Olivia’s speech about the world being full of promise at dawn is a bit cheesy. I get that it works neatly later in the episode, but it felt weird in the moment.