Fringe recap: Topsy-Turvy
“Through The Looking Glass And What Walter Found There” was a journey into the unknown that left the heroes of Fringe disoriented and disappointed. Viewers might have felt the same way. It was a decidedly odd episode, the kind of decidedly odd that Fringe infamously gives us around the 19th episode of each season. But of course, there will be no 19th episode this year. Or ever again. (Sniffle) I’m still puzzling through this puzzling installment, and my continued head-scracthing is a big reason why you won’t be getting a full recap from me this week. The bigger reason: It’s been one of those weeks, a topsy-turvy brain drain that has me feeling out of sorts, just like Walter at the end of the episode, and I just need time to reflect and reconnect and re-energize before moving forward, just like Walter at the end of the episode, and WAITAMINUTE. HOLD UP! DID I JUST BUMBLE INTO THE POINT OF IT ALL?! Maybe. Maybe not. But I do suspect that all the ways in which “Through The Looking Glass…” doesn’t make sense to me now will make more sense upon further review, or better, by talking it out with you. And there again: Bumble? Because I think this is part of it, too, this idea that meaning is created in retrospect, by looking back and taking stock, by sussing and hashing s–t out. But this is not activity to be deferred to later; it should be active and ongoing. And it should be done collaboratively. So maybe “Through The Looking Glass…” was some riff on Sartre-esque Existentialism – Fringe gets Nausea. Maybe. Maybe not. I need more time.
The whole thing felt rather Meta, like Fringe was talking to itself or about itself, with us or about us. It was a story about characters acting out of character, searching for missing character and characters, and being very knowing about it. Walter was working in the lab, burning another videotape out of amber. Instead of waiting to watch it with Peter and Olivia and Astrid, Walter went rogue and solo, for reasons that seemed to make perfect sense to him, but baffled everyone else, including us. The episode took him to 167 Cedar Street, apartment 413. He had to bully past a threshold guardian, a sleepy-cranky one-eye old woman with a wasp in her wig about unexpected visitors. He navigated treacherous stairs to the locked room, where he stepped out a pattern one the floor, like executing the paces of a pirate’s treasure map, and then walked through an invisible portal into a pocket universe that had its own unique laws of physics.
We would come to learn that Walter created this urban black lodge back in 2016 to hide someone very important: The bald-headed boy empath from the season 1 episode “Inner Child,” a kid that might or might not have been a young Observer. Walter executed this mission with the mystery man named Donald. We were again denied a shot of his face, and so his identity remains unknown. Walter 2036 didn’t know any of this when he stepped into the twilight zone. The videotape he watched cut off (or seemed to cut off) after Walter 2016 executed the final move of the high strange hokey pokey. Entering this looking-glass realm anew as a brain-fried amnesiac, Walter had no clue what he was supposed to be looking for and find. (This week’s episode was teased by the graffiti in last week’s episode that read “GO ASK ALICE.” The reference was to the Jefferson Airplane song “White Rabbit,” which was a reference to chapter 11 of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, in which The Hatter, not Alice, is asked to recall what The Dormouse said. And what The Dormouse said wasn’t “FEED YOUR HEAD! FEED YOUR HEAD!” but rather this: “That I can’t remember.”)
(This bit of crazy trivia seemed much more interesting and relevant when I researched it.)
As Walter explored the gloomy-screwy corridors of this wrinkle in space-time, he encountered a man named Cecil, a man out of space-time, a victim of a series of unfortunate events. He was a thief who had been ransacking a nearby apartment when The Observers blasted the building, causing Cecil to tumble into Walter’s vile vortice. Cecil said he thought he had died and went to Purgatory. He said he had been living off drips of water and searching for an exit for five days. Walter informed him – brusquely – that he had been marooned within this Sideways universe for 20 years. Most likely, everyone who knew Cecil, including the man’s wife, was dead. Cecil felt more Lost than ever. As the episode progressed, Castaway Cecil became increasing superfluous — a sort of Nikki or Paulo or Neil Frogurt, a background player suddenly brought to the foreground, weirdly so; a Red Shirt or Sock, someone for the story to kill.
Personally, I would like to think that Cecil was a reference to Cecil The Sea Serpent.
NEXT: Altered States
Back at the lab, Peter and Olivia and Astrid realized that Walter had found a tape and gone solo. WTH? They watched the recording and found themselves deeply amused by the spectacle of Walter being Walter. At one point, they saw Papa Bishop urgently speak of staying focused and following the directions to the letter — and then get distracted by a street vendor selling pastries.
To find Walter in the present, Peter and Olivia and Astrid followed the White Rabbit of Walter from the past… although I continue to suspect that all of these videotapes were actually produced in the future, or with knowledge of the future. They entered the pocket universe, navigated its MC Escher/Wonka Factory twists and turns, and found Walter and Cecil. Peter was relieved, and yet there was no catharsis of warm and fuzzy re-connection. Walter greeted them coldly, and from this point forward, the spatial disorientation was mirrored in the relationships among the characters. Our beloved Fringe family was coming undone, falling apart.
More and more, the episode struck me as a self-aware metaphor for the creative process of storytelling. It also felt like a game. Inside the pocket universe, Peter and Olivia and Astrid realized there was more on the videotape than they realized. By going next level, they unlocked secret content. By taking the journey, they path forward became revealed. And so they came to a corridor of doors marked with Fringe glyphs. They found the room where Walter had stashed the Observer child – the door, denoted with an Apple — but the Observer child was not there. Showrunner Walter went ballistic, hating himself for losing his way, castigating himself for the folly of making a master plan, especially in such haphazard fashion. But eagle eye Olivia realized there was something in the room to be found: A transistor radio. A communication device, linking producer to consumer, artist to fan. It didn’t work inside Walter’s increasingly convoluted insular realm. Would it work in the world outside the pocket? Would interaction with reality catch a signal, clarify matters, provide direction? They had to find out…
But first, they had to elude The Observers, who had tracked them down and followed them into the pocket universe. Cecil was shot and killed. In the chase, the heroes seemed to get lost, but Peter found the exit, as if by instinct, or rather, by working some newly found bit of extrasensory perception, courtesy of the Observer chip he inserted into his head last week. (He walked through the doorway first, leaving Olivia to fight an Observer alone. I guess chivalry is the first thing that goes when you become a transhuman superman.) Peter drew upon those newfound abilities during his own solo clash with an Observer. He wanted to go alone — yes, to help his family get away, but also to take his mechanical animal upgrade for a test drive. He went Neo on the Smithy little Baldie, landing brutal blows that drew blood. “You do not realize what is happening to you,” said The Observer. Peter responded by teleporting behind him and breaking his neck.
From a distance, Captain Windmark watched, and something like a satisfied smirk twitched on his cold dead face.
On the monorail, Olivia examined the transistor radio. It was stuck on one channel. And it wasn’t receiving a signal – at least, not yet, Olivia noted. And so our team waits for further instructions; for feedback; or for more experience to show them more of the path forward. She looked at the man she loved, sitting a few seats away. The distance between them felt bigger, and expanding by the minute. Peter was administering to Walter, who was worried that he was losing his grip. Again. The conversation was about Walter, but it was equally about the change happening in Peter. Walter credited his aberrant behavior in this episode to the re-insertion of his old brain tissue, way back in “Letters of Transit.” He worried he was reverting to the man he used to be, arrogant and driven, cold and removed, prone to doing rash, brash, dangerous things that had universe-shattering consequences. He didn’t want to be that man again. He wanted to remain the good man, the good father that Peter had helped him become. “Don’t let me go.” Peter held his father, promised he wouldn’t, and for the first time in a long time, he called him “Dad.” They seemed bonded… but they couldn’t be further away, psychically speaking. Peter looked up, and saw the world with different eyes. Observer eyes. A matrix of electric blue.
Peter Bishop: Posthuman. Hardwired. Disassociative. This drug likes him very, very much.
And in this way, the son has become the father, and the son who saved the father now needs saving by the father. How might Walter accomplish this redemptive work? My theory is we’re watching it unfold before our very eyes. I think Walter made these tapes with knowledge of what Peter was destined to become (September told him), and that the missions are about accumulating experience, not objects, that will hopefully change Peter’s fate, and the fate of the world. It will come down to a defining moment, when Peter will have to look back, recollect, and decide the meaning he wants for his life, the person he wants to be. And so what was most important about the moment on the monorail between Walter and Peter was that they had made another moment – a moment to be remembered, at a moment when Peter and the Fringeverse will need it the most. Until then: Nausea.
That’s my take. But like I said: I feel like I’m still making sense of “Though The Looking Glass and What Walter Found There.” How about you? What did you see with your Observering eyes? How did you feel about it? The message board is yours.