Sometimes, we see what we want to see. Sometimes, we won’t acknowledge what’s clearly visible. Sometimes, we don’t know what we don’t know. For proof of these assertions, one needs to look no further than… my recaps of Fringe. (Or Lost. Or American Horror Story.) Another, more relevant case study: Peter Bishop, a man who spent a lot of time looking in mirrors in “An Origin Story,” but refused to see what Walter, Olivia, and Astrid could see as plain as day: That grief over Etta’s death was turning him into something dark and terrifying. The closing moments of the episode suggested a shocking possibility: Peter Bishop is not the hero of his life’s story – nay, the entire Fringeverse – but the villain.
Unless, of course, I’m just seeing things again.
We found Peter in Etta’s bedroom, going through his dead daughter’s things. He found her Fringe division photo ID, stroked the image with his thumb, and compared her visage to Olivia, who was sleeping in Etta’s bed. So similar. He opened a drawer, saw a tin of Bluebell Soap. He noticed something else – a button, hidden with the drawer’s housing. He pushed, and a framed print of a parade balloon (a pilgrim, although I first thought it was Pinocchio) detached from the wall, revealing a hidden compartment filled with guns and anti-matter batons. “That’s my girl,” he said. It was a line that echoed forward, when we saw Peter torture and then kill an Observer, and then back to the season’s second episode, when Etta tortured a Loyalist for intel and then spared his life — a choice she made as a result of her mother’s influence. The ironies and lessons not learned.
Olivia awoke, wishing she hadn’t. “I keep waking up, thinking that I’m dreaming this terrible thing, and then I realize it’s not a dream,” she told Peter, who felt the same way. “Why did we get her back, just to lose her again?” They sought comfort for their shared grief by embracing. From this point forward, they pursued different paths for coping, for better and worse.
Walter presented Olivia with an opportunity to directly confront the loss when he discovered a videotape in his Harvard office. No, not another part of his master plan to beat and banish The Observers. It was a recording of Etta’s first birthday. Walter encouraged her to take the tape and watch it with Peter, no matter how painful. In fact, feeling the pain was the point. “The pain is her legacy to you both. It’s proof she was here. I’ve had experience with this sort of pain. You can’t escape it by building walls around your heart. Or by breaking the universe. Or by vengeance,” said Walter, who clearly had learned the lessons of his own hard history (see: the death of Peter, the big bang of the Fringeverse)… and absorbed the lessons of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. “You lost each other once. But you have another chance.” Walter was asking Olivia to recast Etta’s loss as an origin story – an inspiring, true myth. (“We need myths to get by. We need story; otherwise the tremendous randomness of experience overwhelms us. Story is what penetrates.” – Robert Coover, The Public Burning.) It would take some time for Olivia to recognize the wisdom of this course of action – but she would.
Peter would not. His darker path presented itself when Resistance leader Anil brought word of an opportunity to delivery a blow to The Observers. The baldies were importing machinery from the future via wormholes – components for the air degradation system that they were building in New York’s Central Park. Once this pollution factory was complete, The Observers would be able to fully smogify Earth 2036 into a carbon monoxide-saturated Planet Greenhouse – a toxic ecosystem identical to their environmentally-wrecked far future home. It would also doom everyone else on Earth to a lifespan of just 45 years. Anil told the team they had recently captured an Observer who most likely knew when and where the next shipment from the future would arrive, as this Observer possessed a kit of wormhole-making tech and a ledger. Anil wanted to extract intel from The Observer and subvert future imports.
But Peter wanted to hit The Observers harder. And during a visit to the site of a recent shipment, he believed they could. The wormhole had scorched the street. Ash everywhere, like snow. “Look at the destruction it causes,” Peter said of the veritable wasteland. “That’s a tremendous amount of energy.” He wondered: What if the team could find a way to use the wormhole tech against The Observers and inflict major damage in the present and future? Walter, Olivia and Anil were wary of Peter’s ambition, as it was way more ambitious than necessary, and therefore more risky. They also saw that his desire was fueled by Dead Etta rage, and they were afraid his emotions were clouding his judgment. (Anil, quoting Confucius: “Before you go on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”) But in an ominously symbolic moment, Peter turned his back and declared “I’ve made up my mind.” It was clear to all that Peter was slipping into a hard, graceless place. It was also clear they didn’t know what, if anything, could be done to stop that slide.
By the way: Did you catch the graffiti in the background of this scene? “GO ASK ALICE.” A reference to the Jefferson Airplane psychedelic rock classic “White Rabbit,” an ode/cautionary tale about what happens when you fill your body with exotic, consciousness-altering substances… or read too much Alice In Wonderland. The haunting final line: Remember what the dormouse said/Feed your head!/FEED YOUR HEAD!
NEXT: Black Hole Son