‘Fringe’ took a trip back in time in this past Friday’s episode, a 1980s flashback complete with totally radical retro-style opening credits. This is the second time the show has done this (the last was in the second season episode ‘Peter’), but the concept is still pretty awesome.
Depending on how it was listed in your cable guide, the new episode was either titled ‘Six Months Later’ or ‘Subject 13’. I think the latter is the one most likely to stick. Events pick up not long after (six months later, it would seem) Walter kidnapped young Peter from the alternate universe. This takes place long before Walter had pieces of his brain removed, so all of his faculties are fully intact.
The boy knows that something is wrong and that Walter and his wife aren’t his real parents. He complains that the Red Lantern in his comic book shouldn’t be green, and that all the details of the world are mixed up. Walter and his wife have been lying to the boy, insisting that he’s just confused because he was very sick for a long time. But the kid’s not buying it, and even almost kills himself in an attempt to return home, which he believes can be reached under the ice of the frozen lake. He thinks this because he remembers being pulled out of the lake when he crossed the first time.
(Incidentally, where do they live that the lake is frozen for six solid months? Shouldn’t it be summer?)
We learn something very interesting in this episode. Walter genuinely tried to return Peter to his original home. His intent wasn’t to selfishly keep the boy. He wanted to send him back. Unfortunately, he knew that opening a portal the same way he did the last time would have dire consequences to the fabric of one or the other universe. (He doesn’t know yet just what damage he’s already caused the other side.) As such, he’s been testing Cortexiphan on children (including young Olivia) in the hope that they can cross over on their own, and bring Peter with them.
Olivia shows the most promise in the tests, and even jumps over for a brief time. Walter eventually makes the connection that the ability to cross is triggered by strong emotions. He puts her through a series of various emotional states, until learning that her fear of her abusive stepfather is the key. Not just fear alone will do it, but “the unique combination of love and terror.” This presents an awkward moral dilemma. Is it right to return her to a home where he knows she’s being abused if it means being able to send Peter back? Is it worth sacrificing one child for another? But if he doesn’t do it, he already fears retaliation from his counterpart on the other side. Could the fate of billions of people in his own world rest on this decision?
We flash over to the other side for a chunk of the episode. Walternate is despondent over the loss of his son. He’s been drinking heavily and his marriage is strained. His best theory for what happened is that someone had plastic surgery to impersonate him. (In this universe, Walternate is already the country’s “Safety Czar” and the inventor of a fully operational Star Wars missile defense system – so he’s an important man who might have enemies.) His mind wanders when he goes to work at his firm, Bishop Dynamic (which begs the question of why there doesn’t seem to be an alternate William Bell over there).
Back in our world, Peter and Olivia eventually meet and make a connection that’s meant to tie into their feelings for each other for adults. What I don’t understand is why neither of them remembers meeting as children? In any case, this helps Peter come to terms with the fact that he can’t go home. He basically decides to stay with his new parents and accept this new life.
The episode has a bit of a mind-blowing finale. Young Olivia runs into Walter’s office, begging him to protect her from her stepfather. In doing so, she also gives him some drawings that are like her journal of her experiences, and blurts out what she saw in the other universe. But then… Walter walks into the room behind her, asking who she’s speaking to. She turns back and there’s no one in front of her. Without realizing it, she had flashed over and spoken to Walternate. Not only that, she’s the one who told Walternate about the existence of parallel universes, which clued him in to what happened to his son and set him on the path to the war between the two worlds!
Walter does not know any of this. When her stepfather comes to pick her up, Walter sort of does the right thing by Olivia. Although he lets the stepfather take her home, he warns the man not to touch her again, or his friends in the government will make his life very difficult. This essentially means that he’s given up his best chance at sending Peter home, just after Olivia unintentionally set in motion the wheels of that retribution he feared.
This is a pretty great episode. Just two things kind of bugged me. First, young Peter looks an awfully lot like a young Elijah Wood – so much so that I found it distracting at times. Worse than that, however, is that much of the episode appears to have been photographed out of focus. Not just in soft focus, mind you. Out of focus. Way out of focus. Was this some misguided attempt to give the flashback a hazy nostalgic soft focus look that went horribly, horribly wrong? I can’t say, but it gave me a headache.
I’m glad I wasn’t the only one that thought the episode was out of focus. A couple of times I actually went and cleaned my glasses thinking I must have a smudge somewhere. It waas *really* bad … must have been intentional, but if it was – I don’t think it had the desired effect!!
and btw, I’m with on you wondering why Peter/Olivia don’t remember meeting as children. It seems like that was a pretty significant event in both their lives. I wonder if Walter somehow “selectively” erased their memories sometime after this. (As Peter seemed pretty surprised when he learned – as an adult – that he was from the other side).