In which Fringe Division learns that you can't turn back time. Not unless you want to wreck Boston with quantum world catastrophe. Sorry, Cher.

By Jeff Jensen
November 12, 2011 at 03:26 PM EST
Liane Hentscher/Fox
S4 E6
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Lost time. Frozen time. Time jumps. Time slips. Time reversals. The clockwork of reality went cuckoo in last night ‘s episode of Fringe. A young girl blinked back into a baby for just a moment. A thundering train from four years ago jumped the rails of history and nearly collided with a car carrying party teens on their way to see a big time-bound band called Aluminum Rain. Anomalies abounded like jumping beans throughout the greater Boston area, chaotic consequences of an imperfect time machine, created by a heartbroken man desperate to regain the life he once had with the woman he loved. No, it wasn’t Peter Bishop, but the stranger in the strange timeline was at the unstable center of it all. So was Olivia Dunham, the new model edition of the woman Peter once loved but no longer was. “And Those We’ve Left Behind” was high grade Fringe, in my opinion, heartfelt and heady, a fraternal twin to the season 2 classic “White Tulip,” about the time-traveling scientist trying to save his wife, even at the expense of his own humanity and other lives.

The Powers That Be within Fringe Division believed their new houseguest/house-prisoner might be able to help them with this case, just as he had assisted them last week with their latest shape-shifter problem. Peter Bishop was claiming to be a refugee from another timeline. He probably knew a thing or two about perilous time paradoxes. Was he actually the cause? It was hard to know, especially since Walter Bishop refused to examine the terrifying idea-made-flesh that just three episodes ago was a figment of his imagination. But after an apartment building got scored from a flash-fire caused by yet another anomalous time slip flare, Broyles got tough and ordered Walter to get over it, already. Peter was a one-man Fringe event. He needed to be investigated. Walter had no choice in the matter… except, perhaps, to return to the mental institution. The scrambled egghead examined Peter, but he refused to be happy about it, and he refused to acknowledge Peter by name, or even as a human being. “The subject can lower his arms. The subject does not have an elevated radiation level nor does it have any trace of chemical signatures,” Walter said, clinical and petulant. He gave Peter a hard poke to the abdomen. “The subject appears to be slid and not phasing in and out of existence,” the pissy doctor told Olivia. “You can tell Agent Broyles I have competed the examination and I can prove this subject is not the cause of the time-related phenomenon.” (Or was he?!!)

In another moment, Walter emerged from the sanctum of his living quarters, walked up to Olivia and Peter, and asked only Olivia if she would like him to make her a bologna sandwich. He refused to help any further in the case until “my lab [was] available to me again” – i.e., purged of Peter’s demonic occupation. The younger Bishop was stung yet understanding – the same complicated set of feelings, perhaps, that the Walter of old felt when Peter would only call him “Walter” instead of “father” or “dad.” Peter was equally bothered by Walter’s plight, especially when he learned Walter lived in the lab, not in the house they shared together in the old timeline. “It’s the only place he feels safe,” Olivia explained. What did Peter feel as he let that sink in? Guilt, perhaps, that this version of his father had suffered so much by Peter’s subtraction from the timeline. And it wasn’t like Peter could make it up to him, either. It killed him that his presence was destabilizing his already unstable his father – that he was too much of a chaotic “variable” for an unbalanced human equation short on “constants,” to borrow some (Lost) language from this math-heavy episode. A recurring dream kept telling Peter that he didn’t belong. He was enjoying a “perfect day” in the park. Olivia at his side on the grass, warm and beaming, his father on a swing, exulting in “Newtonian mechanics.” Then Olivia went and made him feel like a crazy, crazy-making quark. “You can’t ignore the problem, Peter,” Olivia said. Peter asked her what was wrong. “You, Peter,” she said. “You’re the problem.”

NEXT: Listen: Peter Bishop has come unstuck in time.

For all the melancholy poignancy, “All Those We’ve Left Behind” founds ways to have trippy fun. I loved the scene when Olivia, Lincoln Lee, and Peter went out to the train tracks to investigate the corroded, time-warped car carrying those “Aluminum Rain” fans. While Olivia and Lee experienced this sequence in linear time, Peter went non-linear, experiencing the moments out-of-order, à la Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse Five. The second time it happened, Peter just shook his head. “This is going to start getting annoying,” he deadpanned. The storytelling, editing, and acting worked together marvelously to create a clever, clear, and funny passage. Kudos to Joshua Jackson for recognizing and nailing the wry comedy of it all.

With Walter on strike, Peter took it upon himself to find an underlying pattern for the time distortions. He tried to crunch the math. He tried to pull ideas from Walter’s science. (My favorite line of the night: “Does he still keep all his notes on wormholes in the bathroom?”) But Peter couldn’t make sense of the madness. Just when things seemed bleak, Walter decided to stop pouting and start participating. He took off his earphones (the song: “Too Much Time On My Hands” by Styx from the album Paradise Theater) and announced: “I am ready to present a theory!” He showed them that the flashpoints were linked on the map via the nautilus-shell shape of Fibonacci’s Golden Spiral. Walter speculated that the source of the man-made neutron pulse that was causing the anomalies could be found at the center of the spiral.

He was right. Ground zero: The home of Raymond and Kate Reed, played by real-life husband and wife Stephen Root and Romy Rosemont, both ace character actors. He was an electrical engineer; she was a brilliant theoretical physicist. She was his rock. She took care of him better than he took care of himself. Roughly three years ago, Kate was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. Slowly, surely, sadly, Kate lost her sense of space, time, and identity to the disease. In the process, Raymond lost his world. Still, Raymond found a way to prolong their time together, and better, experience her as she once was. Before Kate’s mental faculties began to erode, she had designed mechanism that could literally turn back time within a localized sphere of space. Under the dome of their bubble world, life could be the way it was in the fall of 2007, when the Boston Red Sox won the World Series and before Alzheimer’s began to claim her mind. It took years for Raymond to get Kate’s tech to work even a little bit. In fact, it didn’t at all until just three days earlier – the day Peter splashed down in Reiden Lake. After three days of fiddling, Raymond had managed to boost the bubble world’s life span to just 47 minutes — roughly the amount of time of a Fringe episode, minus commercials. When the bubble popped, Kate would revert back to her Alzheimer’s addled 2011 condition. But he could always make another bubble, and so he did, not realizing was that in the process, he was producing the time displacements that were wreaking havoc on Boston.

To rectify the situation, someone needed to knock on the Reeds’ door and say: “Stop blowing time bubbles, yo!” Problem: To get to Raymond’s porch, you had to pass through the perimeter of the bubble. But if you did that: ZAP. Neutron energy incineration. Peter theorized that safe passage through the bubble was possible via Faraday Cage. Walter knew that Peter was correct. he was impressed  — and jealous that he himself didn’t think of that first. It fell to Walter to actually build the contraption, which he did begrudgingly. “Walter calls this the Walter Bishop Faraday Harness,” Astrid said when she delivered the get-up to the agents. “He wanted me to tell you that.” (I liked the moment when Walter twirled his licorice stick and relished the violent thought of Peter turning into “confetti” if the harness malfunctioned. Still, by the end, I got the sense that Peter had earned Walter’s respect with his ideas and bravery.)

NEXT: “Some things are supposed to remain theories.”

With the FBI massing outside his house, Raymond finally enlightened Kate to the truth of her time-toggling yo-yo existence, as well as her Alzheimer’s. Kate was flabbergasted, and devastated, and deeply alarmed that Raymond had actually built her ethically dubious “time chamber.” Ray wanted her to continue working on her equation, so the machine could work for longer, and forever. Kate adamantly disagreed: “Some things are supposed to remain theories!” (This principled genius would never get a job at Massive Dynamic.) Yet when Peter entered the house clad in his electromagnetic exoskeleton and told the couple about the anomalies, including one that was about to collapse Melville Tunnel, Kate promised that they’d shut it down – as long as Ray was given immunity from prosecution for the destruction (and one death) caused by his bubble making. Raymond got the deal. But because he couldn’t bare the thought of moving on with life and moving forward into the future without his wife, Raymond made Kate promise that they’d rebuild the bubbler in a remote locale, where they wouldn’t have to worry about destroying anything or killing anyone. Kate agreed. In fact, she told Ray that she had finished the equation that could make lasting time bubbles. Ray sat Kate down to transcribe the math, and and then shut down the tech, dreaming of the happily ever after to come. Yet as the FBI departed and with Kate back in Alzheimer’s mode, Raymond discovered that Kate had deceived him, albeit for his own good. She hadn’t transcribed the math — she had crossed it all out, redacted the equations with thick black pen. Some things are supposed to remain theories. Kate had left him a note: “Raymond, I love you. How you repay me… Just love me and live your life.” And with that, Raymond’s final bubble burst.

As Raymond began to realize he would have to move on and into the future alone, Peter was having a similar, sobering epiphany. “Initially I thought it was the timeline that had to be reset. Now I’m thinking it’s me. Clearly I’m in the wrong place,” Peter told Broyles. “All the people I know and love are somewhere else. I just have to figure out how to get home.” Broyles rewarded Peter for his work and heroics by moving him into a more comfy kind of cell: Walter’s unused home on the Harvard campus, the same house Peter shared with his father in the old timeline. “Déjà vu,” Peter muttered, pulling the dusty sheets off the furniture. Ironic: In the early days, Peter (and the show itself) struggled to figure out his role on the team. Here, in the new timeline/storytelling paradigm, Peter can immediately distinguish himself as an extraordinary asset, a brainy, kick-ass synthesis of Walter and Olivia. (It would be premature to say after two Peter-centric episodes that Lincoln Lee has suffered from Peter’s return. Still, I’m not sure if the show knows how Lincoln fits into the current formulation of the show.)

Then, a moment of hope for the ‘shippers. “I was important to you, wasn’t I? I mean, the other version of me,” Olivia said with a sweet, gracious smile, not at all threatened by or uncomfortable with the implications of what she was speculating. “Because I can see the way you look at me when you think I’m not aware.” Peter laughed and nodded. “Yeah, she was. She is,” he said. Olivia said, “Well, I hope you get back to her.” And they left it at that. For now.

Other Observations:

*The Ray/Kate drama was engaging, but sometimes I didn’t understand how time worked within their house. Was Kate the only element under the dome that was time-warped? Were Raymond and the tech basement the only elements not affected? I watched the episode again early on Saturday and realized that the story allowed for this kind of inconsistency: “There may not be any rules to [this],” Peter explained early in the tale. Olivia glommed onto an example: The 5-year-old child in the apartment fire reverted to her 1-year-old self, but her mother didn’t switch quantum position at all. I wished the episode had placed these explanatory lines a little later in the story, when we were in the thick of the Ray/Kate stuff.

*By episode’s end, Peter still wondered if his anomalous presence in the timeline had made all the other anomalies possible. After all, Ray couldn’t get Kate’s science to work until the day Peter arrived in this world. That reminded me of last week’s time loop weirdness with the blue file folders. In my recap, I theorized that the moment could have been an sign that the new timeline is a fraudulent, corrupt, and corroding construct like The Matrix, created by some TBD villain. Many of you disagreed, and argued that it was more akin to the effect-before-cause phenomenon that Olivia experienced prior to Peter’s materialization, and a proof of what Peter speculated about himself in this week’s episode: That his presence is causing damage to the space-time continuum. So… I retract my Matrix theory!

*Peter told Olivia that he wasn’t aware of haunting her dreams prior to his incarnation, nor does he recall appearing or speaking to Walter, either. How did you interpret that revelation? It made me wonder if we’re heading toward a big twist – a different, unexpected explanation for Peter’s presence in this world. The show has been encouraging us to think Peter was a disembodied entity from the original timeline that was trying to become incarnate the new timeline. (Maybe I’m not nailing it, but I think that’s pretty accurate.) Now I wonder if Fringe was feeding us red herrings. Maybe those Massive  Dynamic nanobots that Nina Sharp talked about two episodes ago have something to do with Peter. A theory: “Peter” is an A.I. replica of Peter, living within a nanobot construct. His creator: Walternate. Would you accept that idea? Or should some theories remain only theories?

Your turn. Thoughts? Reactions? Crazy conjectures? And how creepy-cool did that promo for next week’s episode look!? The message boards are yours.

Twitter: @EWDocJensen

 

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Joshua Jackson, Anna Torv, and John Noble star in J.J. Abrams’ sci-fi drama
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