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TV Review: Fringe – “Subject 13” Part II

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Although we have long ago guessed it and even described it (sometimes at length…), it’s interesting to finally see how Walter’s guilt developed and where it stemmed from. By the same token, it’s interesting to see where Walternate’s current determination and drive stem from.

While Season 2’s episode “Peter” showed Walter’s real intentions – i.e. to heal Peter 2.0, not kidnap him – this episode showed the real reasons why Peter was never taken back: although he tried, Walter couldn’t figure out how to take Peter back to the Other Side.  This makes the ongoing discussion of good and evil in Fringe all the more interesting, as it makes Walter seem even less ‘evil’ than he seemed initially in Season 1.

This subplot underlines a related interesting concept in that often, lies that in Walter’s words, are “supposed to be a temporary measure” can easily become a way of life, causing immeasurable suffering and harm. When you “consider that the worst of qualities and most odious of attributes, which is the foundation of all evil, is lying”, then one can understand how Walter went from the loving father in the episode “Peter” to the father he was described by Peter as having been, back in Season 1. Once again we realise just how the road to hell really is paved with good intentions.

Then again, perhaps Walter couldn’t find a solution to the problem because deep down, he didn’t really want to return Peter 2.0 to the other side. If this is the case, then subconsciously he might have spent many years self-sabotaging his work so as not to solve the problem of travelling to the other side, until he performed the ultimate act of self-sabotage: the fire that killed the lab assistant and sent him to St-Claire’s.

This episode helps clarify some of the complex reasons why Elizabeth started drinking. It was partly to numb the burden of the guilt at the lie she had to tell Peter, and partly to numb the pain of making him suffer because of said lie. We can only imagine what Elizabeth went through before she finally committed suicide; imagine how unnerving it must have been for her to look into the eyes of the boy that looks exactly like her dead son and lie to him throughout all these years, and to withhold the words “You’re from another Universe” which could have alleviated so much of his pain.

I’m waxing philosophical for this review, but the episode really lends itself to it; just think of how unnerving it must have been for Peter to look into the eyes of a woman who looks exactly like his mother and, although knowing she isn’t his real mother, to call her that and try to accept it.

While Elizabeth does have a point, in that “Sometimes the world we have is not the world that we want”, the process of becoming content about the world that we do have is a hard one, and involves honesty – something Peter lacked because of her. And so, watching Peter feeling out of place his entire life but not understanding why, watching him become more and more angry and withdrawn, going from the adorable little boy he was in “Peter” and even in “Subject 13” to become the Peter Bishop we met in Season 1 – how can any mother not feel the anguish of knowing their part in this unravelling of a life?

Another reason why it is actually good to see what happened to Elizabeth is that it will push to storytelling forward, most of all in relation to AlterElizabeth. For I don’t think it is much of a stretch that the woman who opinion of the situation is: “I spend every waking moment imagining where he is, what he’s doing, and I pray that wherever he is, he’s safe, that someone’s taking good care of him and that someday, by some miracle, I will get to see him again”, that this woman might become a unifying force, bringing Walter and Walternate together in solving the situation rather than fighting it out.

Another one of the many interesting parallels between our universe and the alternate one is the Bishops’ marriages. In our universe, Elizabeth is an emotionally fragile woman who breaks slowly apart after adopting the alternate version of her son before finally killing herself out of grief, guilt and the weight of the lie, not having the support of a husband who brought this situation upon her and who deals with his guilt by burying himself in his work.  

In the Alternate Universe, AlterElizabeth is a strong woman who remains married, be it in name only, to a man who isn’t her husband anymore but rather a companion, if at all. In both universes, the marriages are in their own way destroyed by Peter’s crossover, and in both universes, the father immerses himself into his work, absent from the home, one avoiding Peter’s presence and the other, Peter’s absence.

The combination of both Walter’s avoidance by burying himself into his work and Elizabeth’s unravelling also seem to be at the root of Peter’s anger towards Walter as expressed in Season 1, when one considers Peter’s comment to Elizabeth: “He makes you say that, doesn’t he” as a potential seed being sown. It only makes sense that, seeing, year and after year, Elizabeth’s suffering, and barely seeing Walter around the house, that Peter would have directed the bulk of his anger and displacement issues toward him.

And this is why we come back for more: because as oft mentioned, Fringe is a show about relationships. The ongoing, careful exploration of the various relationships that define the show adds new depths and layers to each character as well as to the overall plot. This episode particularly deepened the complexity of the character of Olivia, as well as her relationship with Walter. It also deepened the relationship of Walter with Polivia; after all, if Walter still remembers those tender moments between a young Peter and a young Olivia, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to see why, on top of everything else, he has been the penultimate Polivia fan.

It does seem that the episode might only be about character development, as it doesn’t seem to add to the overall mythology. However, it is extremely satisfying for long time fans to see what they have been theorising about for so long. “Subject 13” was, typical of Fringe, about confirming what fans had mostly correctly guessed. However, there is the fact that in previous seasons, episodes such as this one which clarified theories of the past were composed of information vital for paving the way for the rest of the season. In a way, it’s as if, although before we could theorize, the Fringe production team knows that fans have to know the truth for the plot to continue. And just like with the Season 2 episode “Peter”, we had already guessed big parts of what happened in “Subject 13” and now are free to start theorising about other things.

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