Fringe recap: Cold Tripping
LSD turns Walter Bishop's life into a hallucinatory flying circus of crazy, fear and revelation in 'Black Blotter'
“Black Blotter” took the audience on more than a few trips into the boondocks of Fringe’s far-out world, none more entertaining than Walter Bishop’s epic LSD-induced hallucination, which I think could make for a pretty intense attraction at the Fringe theme park that really, really needs to be built. Walter Bishop’s Wild Ride would be a ghost train journey into the mind of the mad scientist, populated with animatronic green (absinthe) fairies, lab coated femme fatales and acid-serving waiters in tuxes. The wintry, wiggy narrative would begin in the Harvard lab, wind through a damp forest filled with creepy interactive set pieces (you, too, can rifle through the wallet of a desiccated Sam Weiss inside an old RV!) and a virtual Emerald City on Thimble Island occupied by threshold guardians, and end back where it started, in the Black Lodge of Walter’s workshop, with a terrifying encounter with your own customized malevolent doppelgänger. Look, I didn’t say it would be a fun ride. (But there will be gonzo Monty Python cartoons. Better?)
I liked this episode very much. I only wish I hadn’t experienced the hour through the grog of an intense head cold… although I will admit that my medicine head might have actually enhanced the enjoyment of this particular, peculiar outing. (If you wish to give it a try, stop by my house and I will sneeze on you.)* That said, I make no promises for factual accuracy in the recapping to follow. (But is that so unusual?)
The story’s call to adventure wasn’t another Master Plan videotape extracted from amber. It was the one-track transistor radio that the team brought back from the pocket dimension in “Through The Looking Glass and What Walter Found There.” In the final moments of that odd and not entirely successful outing, Walter activated the device and mounted it atop his cabinet of scavenger hunt treasures. He then reclined and listened to David Bowie sing “The Man Who Sold The World” while sweating the prospect of once again becoming The Walter That Was, the proud and foolish egghead Shiva-Oppenheimer, savior-destroyer of worlds.
Both loose ends – the radio and Walter’s internal crisis – were addressed in “Black Blotter.” The receiver suddenly came to life. Contact! But who was broadcasting? And why? Peter and Olivia – quickly, tenderly reconnecting after the former’s Observer daze (“I’m more than a little embarrassed,” he told Liv, whom he affirmed as his love and grounding) – trekked into the Connecticut woods on a chilly day to track the source of the short wave signal. Instead, they found an amplifier that was boosting the frequency. The antennae was mounted in a tree, located near the remains of a firefight waged decades earlier. Examining the evidence (and the skeletons), Peter and Olivia concluded that the battle’s participants included Observers, Loyalists and old friend Sam Weiss (last seen in Season Three) – except he was only an old friend to Peter and Olivia, as they’re the only characters currently on the show who can recall the timeline that existed prior to the Season Four reboot. It was jarring to hear them speak of The Fringe That Was. I kinda got the feeling that the storytelling this year has wanted us to forget that the reboot thing ever happened. The conspicuous reminder of a world informed by similar yet separate and fractured strands of continuity could be an indication that the show’s schizoid history is important to the endgame. Or maybe Fringe just wanted to tie off the loose end of Sam Weiss before it shut down forever. So if you were among the millions wondering what happened to Olivia’s bowling alley Yoda in this timeline, well, now you know. THEORY! What if we’re headed toward a time travel twist (as we’ve been speculating for most of the season) that will take us back in time 20 years, and we’ll get an adventure in which we’ll see this firefight between Weiss and the Observers and Loyalists take place?
*Never stop by my house.
NEXT: Old Black Blotter, Keep On Rollin’
While Peter and Olivia were hunting for the signal and bonding anew, Walter was back at HQ tripping on LSD and slowly unraveling. The addled genius – increasingly anxious about backsliding into the arrogant arse he used to be – was desperate to complete the Master Plan so he could reap the reward he wanted for himself: A lobotomy to remove the old brain bits that were allegedly causing his regression. Hence, the LSD, a batch of “Black Blotter” he had stashed in the lab long ago: He hoped he could jar loose the buried memory of the Master Plan by altering his consciousness. What it did instead was produce a hallucination that turned his Wicked Walter angst into surreal psychodrama. Playing a devilish femme fatale tempting Walter to surrender to the dark side and sell out to the Observers: Dr. Carla Warren, Walter’s old lab assistant and a physicist with religious beliefs, who back in the day (specifically, the episode “Peter”) opposed Walter’s ambition to play God and do things like create customized modal realities and poke wormholes into parallel universes. (Dr. Warren subsequently perished in a fire at the lab during an experiment gone awry.) As the guardian angel trying to keep Walter from breaking bad: Nina Sharp. (I loved the bizarre, never-explained set piece that Walter’s imagination placed in the center of the lab: a frozen-in-time tableau of Nina chasing after Walter as he entered the Reiden Lake portal into the “over there” world.)
Did exposure to the signal contribute to Walter’s mental agitation? Did it mess with him in such a way that he sought escape by self-medicating with acid? The thought came to mind during the sequence in which Peter, Olivia and Walter traveled to Thimble Island, the true source of the transmission. There, they met the kindly and reclusive Richard and Carolyn, allies to The Resistance, who had become the Ma and Pa Kent to the strange superboy we’ve been calling The Observer Child. We learned in “Through The Looking Glass…” that Walter built the pocket dimension to hide The Observer Child, as the bald and pasty skinned lad was significant to the Master Plan. But at some point, Walter’s still-unseen mystery associate, Donald, entrusted the boy to Richard and Carolyn. They named him Michael, and they raised him (and loved him) as their son, although “raised” is slightly misleading: The boy hadn’t aged a day in 20 years. The couple had always known that someone (they didn’t know who) would eventually come to take Michael so that he could fulfill his part in the Master Plan. But that certain someone had to know the password in order to claim him. Olivia didn’t know the password. Peter didn’t know the password. Astrid didn’t know the password. And Walter didn’t know the password… at least, not until he psychically assayed a whimsical hero’s journey rendered with paper cut-out animation in which Walter slayed an evil knight (Walter’s face was behind the mask; very Luke + Darth in Dagobah) and acquired the magical boon that was the password: “Black Umbrella.” How did he know this? I think the signal triggered something in his brain, a post-hypnotic plant that contained the password (and perhaps even more information that will soon be useful to the season).
FUN FACTS! (Believe me. You will LOVE this. Arguably the best tangent I’ve ever forced upon you.) Black Umbrella happens to be the name of a New York-based firm that specializes in creating “emergency/safety plans” for families and companies so they can better survive catastrophes like hurricanes, earthquakes, terrorist attacks, and, presumably, Observageddon. (Maybe Walter bought his Master Plan from them?) Black Umbrella is also the name of the fourth album by a progressive rock band whose name – Thought Industry — is a great way to summarize the mental process that brainstorms hallucinations, password epiphanies, and elaborate scavenger hunts. Now, Fringe has produced five seasons, and Thought Industry has recorded five studio albums, and the fifth has a title that pretty much hits this episode right on the nose: Short Wave On A Cold Day. I’ll give this album a listen and report back any Fringe-related content.)
Were you wondering how Walter could recall memories from history (specifically, the episode “Peter”) that was chronicled in the pre-reboot seasons of Fringe? I wasn’t. In Rebootlandia, the events of “Peter” still happened, but the outcome was different. Isn’t the idea that Rebootlandia Peter either drowned in Reiden Lake or died from his illness? I believe it’s one of those two options. This deviation — Peter’s death — produced a new timeline with some notable deviations for some characters (like Nina adopting Olivia), but Rebootlandia Walter’s post-“Peter” history remained/remains largely the same. Yes? Or am I wrong? Regardless: In the same way Olivia recovered her original recipe self because she was a Cortexiphan Kid, perhaps Walter can, too. Keep taking that LSD, Walter!
By episode’s end, Olivia and Peter were effective parents again: I loved the sweet scene in which Olivia served Michael some cocoa, the “best in the world,” she claimed. Perhaps caring for him will help them through their lingering Etta grief. Meanwhile, Walter thought he had triumphed over his darker impulses by burning a binder containing designs for his old projects, dangerously god-like and otherwise. The Fringe Anarchist Cookbook, if you will. But this, too, was a trick of the mind. There was no binder. There was only him, and within him, the possibility of becoming The Walter That Was. His final hallucination was a vision of that monstrous man, his doppelganger, like a reflection in a mirror staring back at him. “You’ve been him longer than you’ve been you,” said “Dr. Warren” ominously. And then he was gone. For now.
Time to take some more medicine for the head cold, and then a nap. But please stick around and do two things: 1. Check out our sneak peek at the Fringe series finale (no major spoilers, promise), with commentary by exec producer J.H. Wyman; and 2. Talk to me. Did “Black Blotter” rock your brain? Go!