Also: Water or Walternate? Over here or over there? Big choices loom for Peter Bishop as he tries to escape Planet Reboot
Credit: Liane Hentscher/Fox
Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv)
S4 E8
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For Peter Bishop, sleep offers little rest, only dreams full of painful yearning. And breakfast. Like “And Those We’ve Left Behind” (maybe the season’s best episode so far), “Back To Where You’ve Never Been” – the first episode of Fringe since “Wallflower” on November 18 – began with a dream of bliss, this time set to the psychedelic pop of “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James and the Shondells. There was Walter wearing only a green apron and bear claw slippers cooking up some chocolate chip and banana pancakes. Olivia – dressed in crystal blue PJs — bounced into the kitchen, buoyant as spring. She greeted Peter with a kiss. She gave one to Walter, too. Peter beamed with happiness – and looked surprised he could feel such joy.

The sun is a’rising/Most definitely

A new day is coming/People are changing

Ain’t it beautiful…

Olivia asked about the waffles. Pancakes were fine, but Peter had wanted waffles. He had been looking forward to waffles so much. Wither the waffles? Had he waffled on the question of waffles? Peter explained what Walter had explained to him, that the waffle iron was busted. But that was okay: He could not only live with the pancakes Walter had made – the replacement for what he had wanted, but could not have – but he could enjoy them, relish them, take delight in them, too. And anyway, the food was so beside the point. “It’s okay,” Peter said. “This is fine. Being back with the two of you – this is very, very fine.”

Ah. So not the dream of a stranger in a strange land, finding contentment amid new circumstances. It was the dream of a prodigal, glad to be home. No matter. Only a dream. Walter showed him the broken waffle maker. Walter promised to fix it. Fear crowded into Peter’s eyes. Walter’s grip loosened. The waffle iron fell to the ground. And then Peter woke up.

From there, it was all downhill tumbling into another frozen pond of chilly disappointment for The Bishop Boy From Another Timeline. Peter awoke from his taunting dream with a light bulb over his head: He would ask Walter to re-engineer The Doomsday Machine The Salvation Machine the magical electromagnetic waffle iron so that it could help him get back to where he once belonged. After all, his Walter, in the future, had made the damn thing. Surely this Walter, even now, was smart enough to crack its secrets and reconfigure its matrix. Walter – busy conducting experiments with tinfoil and peacock-colored pinwheels — turned him down, despite a bribe of pastries. He didn’t give Peter the usual “You’re a quantum anomaly that’s bad for my shaky mental health and I want nothing to do with you” reason. No, Walter said no because he was done fooling around with somebody else’s Peter. So to speak. John Noble tenderly rocked Walter’s mournful, guilt-wracked recollection of his wife’s suicide – obsessed with saving alterna-Peter, Walter all but abandoned Elizabeth to suffer her inconsolable grief alone — but I still didn’t buy it. I wanted to make like Cher in Moonstruck and yell “Snap out of it!” with a slap across Walter’s craggy mug. (Note: This is the only time in my life I have ever wanted to make like Cher.)

More seriously: Walter’s reticence to help Peter turn back time was pure contrivance, a necessary condition for the story that Fringe wanted to tell. Later, in the “Over There” world, Peter would appeal to Walter’s allegedly dastardly doppelgänger by saying: “If you want to get rid of me, just help me.” Why didn’t Peter think to use that same line on Walter? I think the addled Bishop would have been compelled by the argument. Or am I missing something here?

NEXT: What “Back To Where You’ve Never Been” shoulda/coulda been.

Rejected by Walter, Peter resolved to beg aid from the next thing to Walter, which, of course, was Walternate. But how to get to him? Peter sought solutions from Olivia, who was on personal leave due to those debilitating migraines caused by Nina Sharp’s secret gassing. (Apparently Peter has completely won over Broyles and the rest of Fringe Division, because he visited Olivia’s apartment without being accompanied by his babysitter/watchdog, Timmy/Tommy/Whatever.) Agent Dunham was sympathetic, even supportive, but she reminded Peter that Team “Over Here” viewed the “Over There” secretary of defense as “an untrustworthy son of a bitch” suspected of seeding their world with subversive shape-shifter. Broyles was never going to let Peter near The Bridge. But what extraordinary luck! As it just so happened, Olivia was in the process of filling out the forms needed to retrieve the old home-made portal that Walter devised and used at Reiden Lake decades earlier to save/swipe “Over There” Peter. Why? So she could go to the other side and do some unsanctioned, off-the-books investigation into the shape-shifters. (Peter let slip that the former Cortexiphan wunderkind had the ability to execute the toggle sans machinery. When she went all “Say what?!” on him, he dropped it and let it go.) Olivia’s partner and possible suitor Lincoln Lee showed up with chicken soup for Olivia (cue: nervous-jealous glance at gentleman-caller Peter), and he got recruited into this gambit, and blah blah (Nissan product placement) blah later, we were back at that soft spot between worlds, The Orpheum opera house in New York, and sliding into Earth 2, where people read The Manhattan Courier, not The New York Times, and vending machines sell natural tea, not soda.

I was frustrated by all of this. My instant reaction was to say “This feels so contrived!” Now, I think the show simply could have done a better job at setting up some of the genuinely cool ideas that were introduced in this episode, including: 1. Black Ops Olivia. There should have been an episode previous to “Back To Where You’ve Never Been” that brought Olivia through an adventure that resulted in a decision to pursue some off-grid cloak and dagger. (That said: I do find myself wondering if Olivia got this notion through Nina’s nocturnal meddling. Is the Massive Dynamic diva pumping ideas into Agent Dunham’s head as well as drugs and migraines? Is she warping her foster daughter into a Manchurian Candidate/brainwashed sleeper agent?) 2. Neutral Peter. I found it fascinating thatPeter had zero problem asking allegedly wicked Walternate for help. After all, this wasn’t his history, wasn’t his world(s), wasn’t his Walter(s). The crisis between these parallel earths? “Not my fight,” Peter said, over and over, unwilling to judge or pick a side, unless said side can give him what he wants: The best chance at getting home. The implications of his waffling indifference are provocative. Peter – exiled from his reality; unwilling to attach himself to this new one – has become profoundly, maybe frighteningly ambivalent about these alien incarnations of his friends and family. The people in this reality? Merely means to an end. One wonders how far he’ll go with this line of thinking. If Peter was to learn the only way home was to destroy the reboot universe… would he? Do we want him too? Are we that beholden to the way things once were? Might season 4 be about these very questions? I say: Neat. I also say: The whole “Not my fight” thing deserved an episode unto itself. Like Black Ops Olivia, I think it would have been cool to have seen a story that showed us Peter’s evolution toward and adoption of that worldview.

But back to the story we got instead. Olivia and Lincoln promised Peter that they would table their anti-Walternate activities during this incursion into the over their world, lest their work subvert Peter’s bid to earn Walternate’s trust. The scheme they hatched was pure Star Wars. Lincoln would play the role of his parallel world alter-ego (the Stormtrooper), charged with bringing a VIP prisoner (Peter, playing the Chewbacca role) directly to Walternate on Liberty Island. They cleared one security checkpoint, but Lincoln’s lie about losing his ID was exposed. Busted. (Lee was fibbing about something else, too: He was planning to snoop for incriminating files that could link Walternate to the shape-shifter conspiracy while Peter was playing pleading Dorothy to Walternate’s wizard. Peter was pretty pissed when Lincoln copped to the truth.) Yet when an “Over There” Fringe Division agent — a rogue operative employed by the real man behind the curtain – tried attempted to kill the pair (epic fail), Peter took control. He left Lincoln behind to keep Bolivia and Blincoln busy while he tried to get to Walternate via the Secretary’s wife, Elizabeth Bishop.

NEXT: The fiend with the David Bowie name returns.

In this world and this timeline, Elizabeth didn’t smog herself to death after young Peter’s death, and she was overjoyed — not terrified — to encounter an all-grown-up alternate universe replica of her boy, whom she recognized on sight, instinctively. She explained that she had found solace during her Peter-grieving by hoping that somewhere in the multiverse, some version of her son still lived. Peter was living proof that her faith was not unfounded. Maybe The Grinch replaced my heart with a lump of coal over the holidays, but I found myself scoffing, not sympathizing. I get how a parent who has lost a child might find comfort in the prospect of Heaven. After all, such faith allows for the possibility of reunion. But Hugh Everett’s Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics seems like a poor, less satisfying substitute. Anyway, as Peter told her: “I’m not the Peter you think I am.” It was sweet of Peter to allow the woman this catharsis, but I was feeling awkward-crunchy for him the whole time he let her stroke and cup his face. It was also kinda cruel of him, too. After all: He was totally taking advantage of his symbolic value to her to get what he wanted. How cunning, and so very convenient…

And so it went that Elizabeth brought Peter to Walternate personally. The Secretary feigned the same golly-gee-wonderful reaction to Peter that Elizabeth genuinely felt, and when the two Bishop men were finally alone, Peter called Walternate out on his fakery. It turned out that Walternate has known of Peter’s existence since history-displaced Bishop became manifest in this rendering of reality. (I wondered if he, too, had suffered visions of Peter the way Walter had prior to “Subject 9.”) It also turned out that Walternate had nothing to do – or claimed he had nothing to do – with the new breed of shape-shifters. Using a weapon reverse-engineered from tech that he had excavated from the corpse of one such morphing menace, Walternate zapped and killed his chief scientist, Dr. Fayette, who was actually a shape-shifter. Walternate told Peter that he believed these rogues had infiltrated every corridor of power within the “Over There” world. There was no one he could trust anymore – no one, that is, except Peter. “You have no alliances,” Walternate intoned, “to our side, or theirs.” Walternate’s proposal: He would help Peter recalibrate the magical electromagnetic waffle iron if Peter would vouch for Walternate’s innocence in the “Over Here” world. Will Peter take the offer? Should he? Can Walternate be trusted — or is Peter being tempted by a devil in disguise? To be continued.

“Back To Where You’ve Never Been” did end with two very strong beats. The first: The long-awaited return of season 1 foe David Robert Jones (Mad Men’s Jared Harris), or at least the reboot reality version of the character. The episode foreshadowed the extreme science terrorist with Peter’s quip about the potential dangers of Walter’s portal — “It’ll cut you in half. I killed a guy like that once. Don’t worry. He was a bad guy” — a nod to Jones’ famous death in the season 1 finale. In his brief appearance tonight, Reboot Jones — hiding out in a secret lab somewhere in Manhattan’s Flatiron District — was revealed to be the true mastermind behind the shape-shifters. As we left him, his other man on the inside of Fringe Division, Col. Broyles, was alerting him that Bolivia and Blincoln were about to pay him a visit. “Excellent,” Jones purred. “We’ll be waiting for them.” Is Broyles a shape-shifter, too? If so, does Jones intend to kill Bolivia and Blincoln and replace them with sinister synthetics, as well? I look forward to getting more of Jones’ story next week.

And then there was the business between Olivia and The Observer –their first official meeting in this version of history. She was camped out inside The Orpheum protecting the portal when September scared her awake. The bald, impassive watcher blessed her with his signature surreal salutation, which is to say, he repeated everything she said, as she said it. “Who are you? Show me your hands! How did you — stop doing that! Who the hell are you?!” Olivia noticed that the peculiar intruder was weak and bleeding — the result of a gunshot wound to the heart. September said the words that I suspect will haunt Olivia (and us) for the rest of the season: “I have come to tell you that I have looked at all possible futures, and in every one, the result is the same: You have to die.” When he was done relaying this ominous prophecy, The Observer gasped a sick-sounding breath. He needed to get to a hospital. Olivia turned to grab her coat and phone — and when she turned back to him, September was gone. My theory? Time travel. September had come from the future — and he had just put himself in the path of a bullet meant for Olivia, hoping to save her from that inevitable death. Regardless: I think we just got our first sneak preview at Fringe’s season 4 finale.

One final thought: I do wonder if the dream sequence that opened the episode was also a portent of things to come. Peter’s breakfast table revelation struck me as a metaphor for what could be his final destination, which is this: Making peace with living life in Rebootlandia; learning to love the pancakes instead of the waffles. It’s the Fringe articulation of that classic Frodo/Gandalf exchange in The Fellowship of the Ring. Frodo: “I wish none of this had happened.” Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” The resolution of this tension, then, isn’t to detach and run away. The answer is to engage and redeem. Or, to paraphrase Stephen Stills: “If you can’t be with the timeline you love/Love the timeline you’re in.” But we shall see.

Fringe fans, what did you of “Back To Where You’ve Never Been”? Was it worth the wait? And what theories do you have about the return of David Robert Jones and September’s warning for Olivia? The message board is yours.

Twitter: @EWDocJensen

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