As if giant twist at the end of the second-to-last episode weren’t enough of a mind-blower, ‘Fringe’ wrapped up its third season on Friday with a finale that pulled out all the stops. I wouldn’t say that the episode was entirely successful (or quite made logical sense), but it certainly managed to subvert any expectations I may have had for how the season would end.
‘The Day We Died’ takes place almost entirely in the year 2026. After stepping into the doomsday machine, Peter’s consciousness was propelled forward into the body of his future self… for a moment. That seems to have worn off, and now we’re dealing with 47-year-old future Peter. He has all the memories and experiences of the fifteen years following his activation of the machine.
Here’s what we know: Peter destroyed the alternate universe, although not immediately. Unfortunately, the two universes were inextricably connected. The loss of one has caused our own universe to start collapsing. Major vortex rifts plague the globe, and many believe this to be the end of times. Fringe Division is now militarized, much as it was in the alternate universe. Olivia’s niece Ella is a new recruit (and sadly a terrible, terrible actress). Broyles is a Senator, and has a weird eye. Peter and Olivia are married. Oh, and Astrid has a new haircut.
Once word got out that Walter was the architect of the plan to destroy the alternate universe – which means that he was directly responsible for the genocide of billions of people and caused our own universe to fall apart – the public turned on him. He’s spent years in prison, and mostly used that time to grow a Unabomber beard. This is one of the plot threads that makes little sense to me. Walter clearly had no way of knowing what the outcome of his actions would be, and (along with everyone else) believed them to be a defensive measure during a time of war. In fact, as far as he was aware, Peter was trying to turn off the machine when he got into it, not destroy the other universe.
Sometime before the alternate universe completely vanished, Walternate crossed over to plead with our world to help his. Now he’s stuck here, but is not a fugitive. He even spoke to Walter’s defense at his trial. (Why wasn’t he put on trial for trying to destroy our universe?)
A terrorist group called the End of Dayers led by a man named Moreau (Brad Dourif) has been trying to hasten the apocalypse so as to trigger the Rapture or something. They have a pipe bomb-style weapon that causes vortex rifts, and the technology seems to be much more advanced than anything the world has seen. Walter is released on furlough to help solve this case. In his investigation, Peter figures out that Walternate has been supplying the tech to Moreau. As his revenge for the destruction of his universe, he’s going to destroy ours.
Peter tries to arrest Walternate, only to find that he’s been talking to a hologram projection. (Don’t you hate it when that happens?) From his secret location, Walternate promises to take away everything Peter loves, one piece at a time. He starts by sneaking up on Olivia and shooting her in the head.
After Olivia’s funeral, Walter starts putting the pieces of this puzzle together. He now realizes that the machine was, in part, a time machine. It was built by Walter and Massive Dynamic, and sent back into the prehistoric past to be hidden in pieces that their circa-2010 selves would be able to discover. (Absolutely no part of this plan makes any sense at all to me.)
Walter believes that 2011 Peter’s consciousness was brought forward in time to get a glimpse of the apocalyptic future. Now Walter wants to send Peter back to 2011 with this information. As he explains: “It’s a paradox. I can’t change what happens, because it’s already happened. But you can make a different choice within what happened.” In other words, by making a different choice when he’s in the machine, Peter can create an all new alternate timeline in which the two universes aren’t going to be destroyed. Or, more succinctly: “We could cheat the rules of time.”
OK, I sort of follow this, although I don’t know what happened to 2011 Peter’s consciousness after he caught a glimpse of the future. Is that still hanging around in the back of 2026 Peter’s mind, and that’s what Walter wants to send back? Or does Walter want to send all of 2026 Peter back? This isn’t clear at all.
Anyway, back to 2011, Peter wakes up inside the machine. Instead of destroying the alternate universe, he does something that brings Walternate, Fauxlivia and crew over to our world for a parlay. He says that he understands the purpose of the machine now, and that they all have to work together to solve the problem of the collapsing universe. Then Peter just sort of vanishes in mid-air, which strangely no one so much as acknowledges. The two Walters and the two Olivias face off to determine their next step.
Outside the Statue of Liberty compound, a group of Observers stand and watch. One explains to another that nobody remembers Peter because he never existed. “He served his purpose.”
Errrrr… I’m lost again. How would Peter making this decision to bring the universes together in 2011 mean that he never existed? What happened to the previous 30-some-odd years? If Peter never existed, wouldn’t that mean that Walter never crossed over to save him, and thus never caused the alternate universe to start collapsing, and thus never caused the war, and thus would never lead to the moment where these two groups of people are standing and facing each other next to the machine?
These are questions that will need to be answered in Season 4, I suppose. Unfortunately, I fear that the writers have actually created an unanswerable conundrum just for the sake of ending the year with a “Ha! We got you!” mind-fuck. We’ll see what they come up with next year.