Image Credit: Liane Hentscher/FoxIt may be a down week for Fringe, but Fox is trying its best to make sure we don’t forget about its Friday night sci-fi saga. The network’s promo department — which has been turning out cool, clever work for the buzz-y, but ratings-challenged, cult fave all season long — has produced another must-see 90-second spot, this one an atmospheric summing up of the season’s War of the Parallel Worlds story that points to a cataclysmic climax. I’m convinced the commercial also contains a few Easter Eggs. At least one is easy to see: Hurley! Yep, Lost alum and Face of Weezer Jorge Garcia — who has been cast in a new J.J. Abrams-produced series called Alcatraz — will be making a cameo in next week’s episode, playing (SPOILER ALERT!) a Massive Dynamic employee. The spot also includes quotes from certain critics who’ve praised Fringe’s fine third season, as well as one nutty media person known for being a crazed fan of the Bad Robot brand of cryptotainment. Behold:
With no new Fringe to preview or ponder this, let’s process last week’s outing, “Subject 13,” which contained major revelations about Walter Bishop’s backstory and begged some big questions. How come Olivia and Peter can’t remember their childhood encounter in the tulip field after she went all Firestarter? And given how tight Olivia and Walter were during her days at The Bishop School For Gifted Youngsters (despite all that cruel, frightening, Paranormal Activity-esque testing), how come the Cortexiphan-enhanced world-hopper doesn’t have greater recall of her mad scientist father figure, who tried to make her troubled homelife a little better by bullying her abusive stepfather into good behavior? Here’s my current theory: Remember how William Bell extracted memories out of Walter’s head? I think Bell performed similar mnemonic lobotomies on Olivia and Peter, as well. The clue: That video footage of Walter trying to trigger Olivia’s latent abilities. Do you remember for whom Walter was making those videos? William Bell. We heard Bishop ask his former partner if he would review the tapes and look for things in Olivia he might missing. I think Bell did see something, something he could needed to utilize or exploit, be it for righteous or self-serving purposes, and doing so required mind-wiping Olivia and Peter.
I thought “Subject 13” was extremely significant to the larger Fringe saga in another respect: It seemed engineered to help bring the series to an end should Fox ultimately decide to not renew the show. For me, the big picture Fringe story is about two things: 1. Walter and Peter repairing their fraught father-son relationship; and 2. Olivia and Peter making sense of their peculiar connections to multiple worlds of Fringe-y weirdness so they can move into the future as fully-realized individuals, and possibly together as a couple. I think Fringe can effectively accomplish both narrative missions in the remaining episodes of the season — especially in the wake of “Subject 13.”
Before last week’s episode, Walter possessed a moral ambiguity that was tough for Olivia and Peter (and us) to forgive. As recently as the Feb. 4 episode “Concentrate and Ask Again,” Peter was guilt-tripping Walter for the human wreckage caused by his Cortexiphan testing. But now we know that Peter and Olivia don’t know — or for some reason can’t recollect — the whole story of their shared past, as well as Walter’s motives and heart. We used to think Walter wanted to keep Peter for himself and his wife after saving the boy’s life in order to replace the son he lost. Now we know that Walter was desperately trying to return Peter to his home world and his true parents, and that Walter was trying to cultivate Olivia’s powers not to make her into some kind of super-soldier for a future war, but to re-open the portal between worlds and send Peter home. Yes, Walter and his wife deceived Peter about his origins, but we learned they did so in large part to help Alterna-Pete stay both sane and breathing. Given Peter’s dangerous angst over feeling so profoundly alienated from his fake family and fraudulent Green Lantern/Los Angeles Dodgers culture (do you think he was prepared to die if his plunge into “the world at the bottom of the lake” didn’t work?), Walter and his wife felt their only recourse was to basically browbeat him into believing a lie. And they paid a dear price for that.
I really enjoyed “Subject 13.” And it was a great showcase for John Noble, who deserves serious consideration from Emmy voters. I’m going out of my way to emphasize my love for the episode because I fear what I’m about to say may sound like a criticism. It’s not — it’s just an observation. As I saw it, “Subject 13” effectively reduced the tricky, defining tensions of Fringe into one big horrible misunderstanding — one that has produced profound, destiny-shaping pain for many people that can’t be easily forgotten, but becomes easier to forgive once everyone knows what we know. Especially Peter and Walternate. If Peter knew that back in the day, Walter was doing all he could to give him back the life he was supposed to have — a life that he would have lost, anyway, if Walter hadn’t saved him — then I have to think Peter’s frosty regard for a man he refuses to call “Dad” would finally, permanently thaw. As for Walternate, we must now wonder if this “over there” Javert would reconsider prosecuting his miserable war against the “over here” world if he understood the mitigating circumstances of Walter’s motives. He won’t, of course — at least, not until his master plan has proceeded past the proverbial Point Of No Return.
Regardless, in the battle between endearingly misunderstood father figure Walter and toxically bitter wife-neglecting Walternate, “Subject 13” made it easier for us to pick a side — and easier for Fringe to resolve its grand epic, if need be, with a concluding sweep of episodes in which secrets will be revealed and sins will be forgiven, culminating with a series finale that will give us what was inevitable from the beginning: A heroic, redemptive, sacrificial death for Walter Bishop.
But I hope I’m wrong.