Fringe fans, settle into your favourite couch; it looks like, yet again, the writers are going to take their time developing the storyline, delving into each characters’ psyche and exploring the differences in them created by Peter’s absence. While some might not like the slower pace, this lends to resolving the main question at hand (i.e. where is the man). I love the care and attention given yet again to exploring the human side of the show.
The talent of the cast and crew continues to shine through. With the meeting of the two universes, the production crew is taking full advantage of showing both versions of the same character in the same shot. One scene that particularly impressed me in this episode was the shot of both Olivias and John McClennan in the street outside of Alternate-John’s house. Similarly, the plot provided Anna Torv with an opportunity to yet again demonstrate what an amazing actress she is, portraying, in the same shot, two different people while wearing the exact same thing. Despite the fact that the two characters are identical, viewers know exactly which one is which within nanoseconds, underlining Torv’s talent.
The effect of Peter’s absence is felt in many ways. Some of them are obvious, such as said effect on Walter and Olivia. However, there are other changes in this timeline that are rather surprising. Most intriguing is the change in Astrid. She is still intelligent, professional and caring, but she is a lot less patient and a lot less of a pushover than she is in the other timeline. One only needs to think of the difference between this Astrid and the one with whom, in 2026, people feel comfortable enough to leave their trash on her desk (Season 3, Episode 22, “The Day We Died”).
Is there a way of explaining this change in her character through a past, unknown encounter with Peter? Or could the explanation be much simpler and yet, at the same time, more complex: that, just as the batting of a butterflies wings on side of the world can cause a storm on the other side (the Butterfly Effect), the presence of Peter in the previous timeline affected Astrid even if they had not met until three years ago. It makes you wonder how much of an effect you are having right now on people you might never even meet.
The greatest void created by Peter’s absence is, of course, in Olivia and Walter’s lives. This is underlined many times, such as when Astrid asks Olivia if she thinks her type just might not exist. While his current location remains a mystery, an interesting theme emerges: can someone exist only through memories, however vague and dim they might be? Can it be said that through Walter’s visual and auditory hallucinations and the emptiness Olivia feels, Peter still somehow exists? What implications would such an understanding of the meaning of existing have on our day to day lives and the decisions we make, knowing that physically, our time in this world is limited?
One major decision that John made with the help of Marjory was to not look into the darkness within him. Granted, it’s no easy feat and it takes a lot of work, but it gives hope for all of us to defeat the darkness that, to a certain extent, we all have. Similarly, it gives hope to Olivia to defeat the darkness that is within her. Helen Keller said it well: “Keep your face to the sun and you will never see the shadows.” The question remains: Olivia seems to have not been able to rid herself of that darkness without Peter in her life; will John be able to cling to the lessons Marjory taught him without remembering where he learned it from?
The fact that John from our universe wanted so desperately to tell his alternate that things do not have to be that way reminds me of the website Dear Teen Me, where adults write letters to themselves as teenagers they wish they had received during those turbulent times. It really underlines the importance of having deep friendships not only with people who are of the same age as ourselves, but with people of various ages and experiences. None of us will have the chance to reach back to our teenage selves, and none of us will be contacted by our alternates and be told that it doesn’t have to be this way; but perhaps, just like Peter did with Olivia, we can reach out to others (and allow others to reach out to us) and help each other avoid the darkness. This seems to be a powerful, underlying message in this episode.
Two other characters in Fringe have a lot of darkness within themselves: Walter and Walternate. Both of these extremely intelligent scientists have made in the past the choice to explore science that can destroy as well as science that can create. Various circumstances helped Walter avoid, for the most part, the darkness; however, under these same circumstances, Walternate has succumbed to the darkness. It makes me wonder if there is going to be any hope for Walternate to ever conquer the darkness within him and contribute to saving both universes.
While as always, there were numerous themes addressed in this episode, the main one continues to be the concept of self-reflection both in a figurative as well as a literal way. As Nadine mentioned in her review (here), alternate universes have never been used in such a unique way before; I really hope that Fringe will continue to push the boundaries with this unique setting to underline the differences between each character and their alternates, as well as the effect that a single person, i.e. Peter, can have on a timeline.
The most fascinating study in alternate characters remains, of course, that of Olivia reflected in the eyes of her alternate, Altivia. Once again, these two are going to have to learn to understand each other. Unfortunately, it seems like it is going to be a lot harder without Peter around, as Olivia has even more trust issues than before, and Altivia seems to have more attitude than before.
It does seem that, with the revelation that in this timeline, Olivia killed her abusive stepfather, a kernel of an empathic bond of sorts might have started between the two. After all, Altivia now knows where the trust issues stem from; however her attitude might rub some (like me) the wrong way, she isn’t cruel, and can’t ignore the fact that Olivia’s trust issues come from a very dark place. And it underlines the interesting fact that, more often than not, we tend to be harsh in our assessment of others despite knowing that certain aspects of their character might have come from a dark place; but instead of giving other the benefit of the doubt, we judge them, until we are faced with the sometimes shocking truth. Again, it brings us back to reaching to one another with a higher level of understanding. Perhaps Altivia and Olivia will be able to reach out to one another even without Peter’s presence. After all, they have it within them, and they have the help of both versions of Lincoln Lee.
Speaking of which, there is another potential parallel between the two timelines which, were it to happen, would be yet another fascinating study in human relationships. Imagine if Astrid’s attempt to get Olivia and Lincoln Lee to date would work. The parallel between that situation and the fact that Peter dated Altivia thinking it was Olivia would probably blow the minds of many a Fringe fan. How would Peter react? Would he blame Olivia for not remembering him? Or would he be more understanding than she was, seeing as he doesn’t have the same trust issues?
The exploration of the many layers composing any one person’s life as well as the interconnectedness between people has been deftly pursued throughout the last three seasons and seems to be continuing for a fourth season. I look forward to the many insights that are certain to follow.