Stephen Root and Romy Rosemont, real-life spouses, star as on-screen husband and wife Raymond and Kate in the sixth episode of Fringe’s fourth season, very reminiscent of last season’s 14th episode, “6B”. In both episodes, a grieving spouse is reaching out to their other half, mindless of the consequences of their actions, intent on reestablishing a lost connection. And while the cases are quite different (one is about time loops and finding a cure, and the other, communicating with the dead), both episodes parallel Peter and Olivia’s story at that time. The former is just like Raymond: both of them are dealing with the pain of having before them the shell of the woman they love. Even worse is the fact that both women have forgotten about them: Olivia does not remember Peter, just like Kate does not remember Raymond albeit for different reasons.
This episode puts an interesting twist on time-travelling, presenting it very differently than in “White Tulip” (Season 2, Episode 18). In “And Those We’ve Left Behind,” only the Greens’ house and the space immediately surrounding it travels through time for short periods of time. This space-confined time-traveling brings about unusual consequences at ever increasing distances from the house, the numerical value of which follows the Fibonacci sequence. In “White Tulip,” time travel is presented in a more familiar way, that is, as the travel of one man returning through time with no one around him realizing what happened and consequences remaining in the realm of paradoxes.
“And Those We’ve Left Behind” is not only unique in the way time-travelling is presented, but also in the consequences incurred. These consequences, ranging from slips in time (déjà vu to time loops) to reversals in cause and effect, were somewhat reminiscent of the events related to the infamous pattern we have seen in the last couple of seasons, albeit more limited in both time (they happen very fast) and space (the damage is contained to a relatively small area). The team finally figures out that however different, all of these this time-related phenomena are a form of time displacement in specific locations at distances from a loci, the length of which follow the famed Fibonacci sequence (which we have of course seen many times before).
There is another type of drama unfolding in the central loci–the house of the Green couple–of the aforementioned event, inside the time bubble created by Raymond’s machine. His wife, Kate, was an incredibly intelligent and talented scientist, whose theoretical work on time travelling was cutting edge until early onset aggressive Alzheimer’s took that from her. In a bid to cure his wife, Raymond uses her incomplete research to create a time loop within the bubble of their house, allowing him to go back in time, when Kate was not afflicted yet, and encourage her to complete her work.
But, as Kate tells Raymond in the last lucid moment she shares with him, some things are only meant to stay theoretical, and with the destruction that occurred with each time loop Raymond created, many would agree. Kate’s integrity was so strong that instead of finishing her work, which she was close to, she heavily censored it, thereby destroying any chance Raymond had to travel through time. And in a final act of love, a still lucid Kate asked for immunity for her grieving husband.
Kate and Raymond’s story reflects in a not very subtle way that of Peter and Olivia. The Olivia in this timeline is not the Olivia that Peter fell in love with; how far is he willing to go to get back to her, and at what cost? Will he risk use science that should, as Kate puts it, remain only theoretical? If this happened, the most complete, ironical loop would occur: that out of love, Peter would be willing to cross the same line Walter crossed in 1985, a line that the former judged the latter so harshly for crossing. But just like with Walter, we cannot judge Peter too harshly if he does cross that line, for, as underlined in the opening sequence of this episode, the man is in quite an uncomfortable position (to say the least) which brings him deep emotional pain.
Interestingly enough, this dream also underlines a topic central to the show, that of perception. In it, Peter is called the problem. And, in a way, he is not only that – he is the anomaly, or, as referred to in the last episode, the paradox. In this timeline, he is the one ruining whatever perfect day the others could have been having, when for example one thinks of Olivia wanting to ask Lincoln out, discomfited by the knowledge that Peter is in love with a version of her.
However, as mentioned in my review of the first episode of this season, although they might not know it, Peter had, in the previous timeline, a positive effect on the lives of Walter, Olivia, and Astrid. It is quite possible that he also had a positive effect on the lives of others, such as Nina and Broyles, and even on the lives strangers we have yet to meet (if ever). It needs to be said that perhaps Peter’s existence had a negative effect on the lives of other characters we are not aware of; but for the sake of argument, we will only refer to the lives of the first three characters.
It is a matter of perception and relativity, what constitutes a problem or not. When taken in the context of the lives they have had, the balance Olivia, Walter, and Astrid have achieved in this timeline is threatened by Peter’s presence, and so, he is a problem that needs to be solved. However, at some level, Olivia does feel the absence of something in her life, as demonstrated by her attempts to explain to Astrid that emptiness. But it would take someone strong and able to take a step back to see that a life with Peter, while it might have its own drawback, was overall better for our trio.
And thankfully, we do have Olivia.
It might seem that Peter’s presence made Walter’s life better in the previous timeline, since he was out of Ste-Claire’s and a relatively more functional member of Fringe Division. However, when it comes to his moral framework, it might be that Peter’s absence had a more positive effect on Walter’s life. As mentioned in my previous review, even Nina pointed out that Walter was a completely changed man since 1985. While his guilt, expressed in self-hate, does cripple his genius, it also gives him a certain sense of humility which makes Walter a lot safer to others then he was in the previous timeline. The choice of which Walter’s fate is better depends, of course, on one’s conception of life. If one believes in life after death and being judged by a fair, compassionate God, then it could be argued that this Walter, guilt-ridden, is standing to be in a much better state than the Walter from the previous timeline.
The one thing that makes me yearn for the previous timeline is, of course, Peter’s place in it. I am also puzzled by the fact that what bothers me the most is the current state of the relationship between Peter and Walter in this new timeline. I thought I would be so much more bothered by that of Peter and Olivia. Perhaps it’s because the dynamics between Peter and Walter hit so much closer to home, in that, while everyone might not be in love, everyone has a father, and everyone can connect with the pain of one’s father not recognizing him/her.
One of the best things about this season is the third way we are seeing the effects of guilt play out on the same character. The different ways that the lives of Walter, Walternate, and Walter from this timeline were affected by what happened in 1985 are a wonderful reflection that things really are not black and white in life; there are many factors that affect the course of life, some more obvious than others. I hope we get the chance to meet this timeline’s Walternate and see how things played out for him.