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TV Review: Fringe – “Through The Looking Glass And What Walter Found There”

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The sixth episode of the fifth and last season of Fringe seems to mark a return to the show’s roots. We were treated to an episode that seemed to finish only mere minutes after it began, a distinct sign of a great hour of storytelling. In sharp contrast to the previous episodes, there was not much action in this one; however, the hand-to-hand combat scene between Peter and the Observer, while short, was very telling. Another return to Fringe’s roots was seen in the “weird factor” of the pocket universe created by Walter and the return of a character from Season 1 I was hoping to find out more about: the quiet, bald kid from Season 1’s episode “Inner Child”.

The title of this episode, of course, refers to the sequel to the book Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll published in 1871, “Wonderland” being the pocket episode that Walter created, in which up is down, and left is right. I do hope this is the only similarity between the book and Fringe, as the book ended with the realization that Alice’s adventures were all but a dream. Maybe it means that this Etta-less, Peter-Observer future will not come to be, quite the twist befitting a show by the creator of Lost.

After last episode’s shocking ending, the tech’s influence on Peter appeared in the emergence of Observer-like abilities, and we got the slow surfacing I was expecting. I felt like a voyeur at times, both horrified and fascinated, watching for signs of their appearance. At the beginning of the episode, there seemed to be nothing different in Peter, and I have to confess, I was both relieved and disappointed. And at every moment of the last quarter of the episode when an ability would pop up, I would, again, be both fascinated and horrified; it felt like I was watching a horrible but visually amazing crash and not being able to look away.

It has been confirmed that the Observer abilities are slowly coming to Peter. It not only made more sense than a sudden appearance, but also made for great storytelling. For example, the moment when he could see the doorway to the pocket universe although at first, he didn’t see it, was a great first step followed by a stride when Peter, at the end of the episode, was seeing everything as a blue matrix of sorts. Speaking of which, is this a Fringe homage to The Matrix movie? It feels like Olivia shooting the Observer through the doorway might have been, reminding me of Trinity’s crash through a window and down a flight of stairs, ending with her guns drawn and waiting for one of the agents to come crashing after her.

I can’t help but wonder yet again about the consequences of Peter’s decision. In the short term, however it pains me to admit it, the enhancement of his natural abilities with the tech will probably help the resistance. But what if they win, what happens next? In an Observer-less world, what price will Peter have paid to exact revenge on them for Etta’s death? His decision seems to be even more rash, if we are to believe the rather ominous statements by the Observer that “you have no idea what you have done to yourself”, as well as his reiteration that “you have made a grave mistake. You do not know what is happening to you”. This might be one of the few times I am grateful we have a set number of episodes left, at the end of which we will hopefully have answers.

One thing I do wonder about is the nature of the changes in Peter. Will the tech change him into someone completely different from the Peter we know? Or will it only strip Peter of his emotions, leaving behind the shell of the Peter we once knew? Although it is still early to tell what the final result will be, it seems like this is what is happening – for now. Peter is watching the holographic message left by Etta, which shows that he still has an emotional attachment to her – but he is more angry than sad. It reminded me so much of the Peter from the beginning of the show, the angry man that Olivia found in Iraq. Another interesting moment was when Peter called Walter “dad”. At first, I found this to be quite a touching moment. Then I started wondering: what if it the Observer-tech allowed him to let go of his emotions, and to call Walter by his “title”: his dad.

Just like Peter seems to be going back to the person he was at the beginning of the series, Walter’s domineering and arrogant personality seems to be returning and he himself is scared of the implications. Particularly, his callous way of considering Cecil a collateral damage came as a shock. But in sharp contrast to the man he was before, he is now able to reflect back on what he did: “I’m not safe. It’s my mind. Ever since the pieces of my brain were implanted, it’s been changing me back into the man I was before. Bit by bit… I’m losing myself, Peter. I’m losing the man that you helped me become.” What will the implication of Peter’s decision to implant the Observer-tech be on Walter? Will Peter be able to continue keeping Walter on the straight path simply because of his logic? Or will the lack of emotion in his son unleash in Walter the person he used to be? Will Olivia and Astrid be able to step in and help keep Walter on track, seeing as he is now, at least, aware that he does not want to be the person he was before?

These conundrums of the Bishop men seem to be the reason why the glyphs in this episode spell S-P-L-I-T. Walter’s personality seems split between what it used to be before the pieces of his brain were removed by Bell and what it has become thanks to his life experiences. And it seems that Peter’s personality is becoming split as the tech continues acting on him, separating his emotions from his logic.

We are left with quite a few questions. I have not touched upon the scientific aspects of Fringe episodes in quite some time, but one in this episode I feel is worth mentioning. If time inside the pocket universe is slower, at a ratio of the five days that Cecil thinks he was in there to the twenty years he was actually there, should Astrid not have been waiting for them for a couple of days, at the very least?

“Through the Looking Glass” is yet another Bishop-centric episode in which Olivia is again swept to the side, and we are left wondering what is going on in her mind. I still want to know what is going on with her abilities. They cannot have completely disappeared, even if the Cortexiphan has completely been burnt off. After all, Olivia has always displayed some form of ability; shouldn’t they still be present, perhaps to a more limited extent, even if the drug has completely disappeared?

While the Fringe team did not find the quiet, bald boy from Season 1 in the pocket universe where he was last left, they did find a hint as to where he is. What will they hear at the frequency the radio they found in lieu of the boy, and what will it reveal? Who is the quiet bald boy – is he, as so many people seem to think he is, September?

Once again, we are left wondering: who is Donald? What was his role in all of this?

The lab looks like a dream with all the amber and now, the various tunnels (it only needs a bit of Gene to be perfect!), but I have to admit, I do find it a little unsettling that the team is staying there so easily, what with the Observers so close by. I also find unsettling the hints that we might be headed the way of the original book that inspired the title of this episode; between it, the Observer’s comment about Peter not realizing what is going on, and the fact that because of love, Peter was brought back to this timeline although he was not meant to be, the stage seems to be set for something bigger than anything we have seen yet happen in Fringe. Perhaps the love Peter and Olivia have for Etta is going to somehow cause a ‘glitch’ in the timeline just like the love of Olivia and Walter for Peter created a ‘glitch’ that brought Peter back? And perhaps this coming ‘glitch’ is the reason why there were a couple of The Matrix moments in this episode?  We are only seven episodes away before finding out.

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