Tuesday , September 29 2020
Fringe returns with Walter trying to recuperate his mental acuity and the Observers trying to set things straight.

TV Review: Fringe – “The Firefly”

The return of Fringe after the Christmas hiatus was much anticipated, as not only the two universes seem to be bound on a collision course, but the fate of star struck lovers Peter and Olivia… OK, fine, they are not quite the star struck lovers, nor are they really lovers at this point, but whatever the case may be, their fate is something that many a Fringe dedicated forum has hashed and rehashed in the last couple of weeks.

This episode seems to be yet another glimpse into who the Observers are, as a way to delve further into the mythology of the show. It makes me wonder jus how much September is going to have to fix, and/or how much Walter is going to have to do to mop up the undesirable consequences of what he did back in 1985.

Add to the two points above the fact that Christopher Lloyd guest stars in this episode, and you have the perfect ingredients for a fantastic post-hiatus premiere.

This complex episode opens up in the middle of the night with Walter trying to recover some of the intellect he lost years ago with the removal of brain tissue so as to be able to face Walternate and, ultimately, save Peter. Despite the point the latter makes that the former had undergone that procedure willingly because Walter was afraid of who he was becoming, he still injects himself with the homemade concoction.

Meanwhile, Roscoe Joyce, a resident of Parklane Senior Care, gets up in the middle of the night and is seen on the security cameras speaking with his son, who passed away around 25 years ago. We then see the son, Bobby, join The Observer, and reassures him that he told his father what he was supposed to tell him, and the two leave.

Interviewed by Walter, Roscoe admits that while he remembers seeing his son, he doesn’t remember what he told him. Reassured that Bobby was not a ghost, and having seen the security tape, the Fringe team realises that the Observer probably travelled through time with Bobby. The question remains as to why. And so, Walter takes the opportunity to get to know a member of his favourite band, and offers to put him under hypnotherapy at his lab. While Roscoe doesn’t remember the entire conversation, he does remember that his son mentioned Walter by name.

We soon figure out that September has been working behind the scenes the entire time, creating a situation in which Walter had to make a choice: obey the Observer by giving the keys to Peter and risk losing him, or disobey the Observer with potentially disastrous consequences and save Peter from harm. Walter makes what seems to be the ‘right’ decision – he gives the keys to Peter. Thankfully everything works out.

The dust seemingly settling after a heart-pounding afternoon, Peter and Olivia return to the lab, the former with a pounding headache. He washes an aspirin down with some milk in the fridge – the same milk Walter was using as part of his quest to increase his mental acuity. Peter collapses but is saved by Olivia, who, with Walter on the phone, administers an antidote.

Walter is relieved; he now sees that the entire episode was about him, and not Peter; the Observer’s plan, according to Walter, was to save his life by giving Peter a headache, so he’d need to take the milk and thus kept Walter from ingesting the serum, which he would not have survived.

But we then cut to a scene between September and December. The latter admits that Walter has in fact changed, that he was willing to let his son die, to which the former cryptically states: “And now we know, when the time comes, he will be willing to do it again”.

The glyphs in this episode spell out “Unites”, which lead to these questions: who or what unites who or what? Could it be that the theme of the episode, i.e. Walter’s potential sacrifice of Peter, is going to be the essential ingredient to uniting the two universes?

Of course the Observer was all over the place in this episode, but this lack of mystery was compounded by another, as JJ Abrams and the entire Fringe team continue to play with our befuddled minds by bringing back, with a vengeance, Violet Sedan Chair, the fictional band whose album was requested by Walter in “Grey Matters” to come down his Valium high. The next time we heard about this band was in “Northwest Passage”, when Walter played their album Seven Suns and plays a song called “She’s doing fine”. In this episode, Walter meets the band’s keyboard player, Roscoe Joyce, who tells Walter the band broke up after his son died in a car accident that was caused indirectly by Peter. I don’t know much else about this band, but I’m certain Lola and the boys from The Fringe Report do.

Once again, the interconnectedness of basically everything is underlined in this episode, making it the first recurring theme I’ll touch upon. It is a direct link to Season 3’s “The Plateau” (episode 3), when Milo was able to demonstrate the intricacies of this inherent interconnectedness. Of course in Milo’s case, he was a genius whose sense of morality was immature and who thus took advantage of his deep understanding of the interconnectedness to get revenge. Is this what could potentially happen to Walter?

The interconnectedness is also referred to, of course, in the title of the episode; referring to the firefly that Peter caught as a child, after having been saved, that caused, through a chain of events, for Roscoe’s son to be killed in a traffic accident, is parallel to the butterfly effect, which states that the flapping of the wings of a butterfly on one side of the planet can cause a tornado on the other side of the earth.

Which brings me to the second recurrent theme of the episode: Walter’s mental acuity. His self disgust at his sub par mental acuity, compared to before his brain surgery, has become such a liability in his eyes (“I’m not the equal of my equal. Walternate.”) that Walter has started testing on himself:

Peter: What are you doing, Walter?
Walter
: I’m making myself smarter.

This theme is interesting on many levels. The most obvious to me is the fact that Walter considers his intellect diminished compared to what it was years earlier, yet it is still higher than that of perhaps 99.9% of the population. One should not compare oneself to others; Walter knows his own potential, and he is striving to achieve it, albeit in rather unorthodox ways.

Then is the fact that just because his intellect is less than before, doesn’t mean necessarily that Walter is in fact less brilliant than he used to be, especially given the level and depth of understanding he has achieved in the last three years in delving into the humanity behind the science. After all, Walter took out pieces of his brain because, as Peter puts it, he was “afraid of what he was becoming”. Maybe his IQ and memory are less than before, but the way he uses them are in fact much more beneficial to humanity, since he now takes into consideration ethical questions, too.

Which bodes the question each one of us should ask ourselves: are those of us who take the time to, say, pray and reflect on the consequences of our actions, and thus spend less time studying and memorizing, less smart? And isn’t today’s focus on grades, with a side note on ethics in perhaps one class in a four year program, creating people who might be number smart, but not humanely so?

The fact that Peter brought up this touchy topic at the very beginning, as well as the way he brought it up is the latest development in the third recurring theme of this episode: Walter and Peter’s unique relationship. More and more then son is becoming the father, while the father is becoming the son:

Peter: Walter?
Walter
: Peter! You’re up early.
Peter
: Oh no, I’m still upstairs, asleep in my bed. You’re just talking to an astral projection of me.
Walter
: You’re just saying that to see if I am high.

Another recurring these is that of good intentions going awry, with Walter’s attempt at becoming smarter almost killing the very person he wanted to protect through his increased mental acuity, i.e. Peter. Closely related to that is the concept of second chances. As Roscoe himself states, he wasn’t supposed to see his son again, and yet he did.

A recurrent science theme is that of time travelling. I don’t know how many of you thought this, but when the son first appeared, I was thrilled by the idea that it could be a ghost story. I love those! But it very soon became apparent that it was yet another time-travelling story. Now I am no expert in time-travelling theory, but I would be very interested to know if what happened in this episode can actually fit in the theory of the branching of parallel universes, which was mentioned in the movie Back to the Future and would also fit the concept of parallel universes as developed in the universe of Fringe. I would also be interested in seeing how the conception of time-travelling in this episode fits well into that of the episode “White Tulip”.

The storyline regarding Olivia and Peter’s relationship continues throughout the episode. Olivia receives a package–a book, with a message from Peter in it, a message obviously intended for Altivia. Olivia returns the book to Peter, who tells her flat-out that while he bought the book because Altivia asked for it, it was intended for Olivia, the woman he spent the last few years of his life with. Awww!

It’s again going to be quite interesting to see how things are going to pan out, with regards to Peter and Walter, with regards to Peter in himself, and with regards to Peter and Olivia. Of course the three are probably quite closely related, but the way things are going to play out are a major part of the fun. I find that once again, the writers of Fringe are basically putting down pieces that will come together in the last 4 to 5 episodes of the season, hence the relative shortness of this review. I find myself starting to have ideas and theories, but not wanting to crystallize them yet, as they have way too many missing pieces.

And so, I raise my glass (of really yummy mango juice) to the upcoming race to the end of Season 3 to which we are bound to be treated.

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