Fringe Thinking: Borrowed Time


The fifth and final season of Fringe reached its midpoint last night with...




And so it's fitting that the episode hearkens back to the start of of Season One.

"Our first Fringe experience would be their last," said a vengeful Peter Bishop to Olivia Dunham, sharing with her that he'd used the jaw-dropping bioweapon from Episode 1.1 on three high-ranking Observers.

But "Five-Twenty-Ten" may have referred in a much more oblique way to the end of Season Two as well, and therefore given us yet another oh-so-tangential allusion to the parallel universe that occupies an essential place in Fringe lore. I'm no Jeff Jensen, but I had to wonder if the title to 5.07 — which turned out to be a safe combination used by Walter Bishop in one of William Bell's old laboratories — had any other significance. Sure enough, I hit paydirt with the first try: 05-20-10 is the American numerical rendering of May 20th, 2010, which turns out to be the original US air date of Episode 2.21, "Over There (Part 2)". This is a purely meta-level piece of information, of course, nothing to do with the characters within the show; it may however be a clue that the Other Side will yet figure into Season Five after all. I have a thought as to how, to be shared later in the post.




It's a little hard to believe that, by most reckonings, we're now just over halfway done with Season Five. There will be thirteen hour-long episodes, of which "Five-Twenty-Ten" was the seventh, but the last two episodes will air back-to-back; last week's "Through the Looking Glass and What Walter Found There" actually marked six down, six to go if you're counting purely by Friday nights with new Fringe on Fox — which might be the most Fringeophiliac way to count given that one of the glyphs is a hand with a half-dozen fingers. We're still not quite halfway done with the season in terms of overall elapsed time, though, since we've had just one skip week so far and there are four more coming up (mostly in the proximity of holidays): Fringe is off next Friday and the Friday after that, returning on Dec. 7th. It's off again the last Friday in 2012 and the first Friday in 2013, returning on Jan. 11th, 2013. The series ends with the two-hour finale on Jan. 18th.

Joshua Jackson has always delivered his lines in an odd way, very restrained and deliberate, but it's worked for me on Fringe — I've never seen The Mighty Ducks movies or Felicity or anything else in which he had a significant role — because Peter is by some combination of choice and necessity a restrained and deliberate person, always looking at the angles. Those would seem to be the ideal qualities for an Observer, in fact, if you were building one from scratch, which in a way Peter is — or Capt. Windmark is, I suppose, if he's been orchestrating the transformation; certain past moments and a snippet from the coming attractions do suggest this. Yet Peter is clearly an emotional man, too, and for me at least the passion under the almost preternaturally calm surface, something that Peter has in common with Olivia, has been well played by both Jackson and Anna Torv. Jackson is pitch-perfect as Peter slides into Observitude in the latter half of "Five-Twenty-Ten".

Most of the main cast has played more than one version of their character, thanks to the parallel universes and, to a lesser extent, the Peterless timeline reboot. Torv got to ham it up a bit as Fauxlivia (the Olivia from the Other Side, an added challenge when she was pretending to be the "regular" Olivia) and Bellivia (William Bell's spirit in Olivia's body). I saw both John Noble and our familiar, mentally and emotionally damaged Walter in a whole new light after Noble introduced his capable counterpart, Walternate. Jasika Nicole turned in a fascinating performance as the autistic Over There incarnation of Astrid Farnsworth. Now Jackson, whose Peter is the only living Peter on either Side, gets to stretch similarly.




Blair Brown returned as Nina Sharp for the first and perhaps only time this season. Like Phillip Broyles' Lance Reddick, it was billed as a "special appearance" by the former regular. I'm not sure if we're supposed to think that Windmark and the Observers in general have been smart in keeping such friends of the Fringe Four as Nina, Broyles, and Bell close or if the Observers' failure to understand emotional connections gives them a massive blind spot. Bell supposedly collaborated with them after the Invasion, and his 2012-2015 (or 2012-2036) story remains to be told. Broyles still heads up Fringe Division, however, while Nina runs the Ministry of Science and Etta Bishop, for crying out loud, was a Fringe agent as well. Etta, Broyles, and presumably Nina all learned how to shield their thoughts from the Observers, but we've been told that the trick is a long time in the teaching and it surely can't eliminate all suspicion.

Nina and William Bell's romance, a photographic remnant of which is found in Bell's safe, is an undercurrent of the episode that resonates with Walter's fear that he is becoming more like Bell, more ruthless, more like the man that he used to be, a man who not so much doesn't but can't concern himself with others. My special alternate Lennon subtitle for this plotline: "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" — although, come to think of it, it works not just for Bell's tucked-away memento but for the care that Walter fears is slipping away and that Peter's Observer tech is sublimating or overwriting on his internal hard drive.

Just how resonant, then, is the haunting David Bowie track that Walter plays at the end of the episode, "The Man Who Sold the World"? And who is that man in Fringe? It's just a song — one of my favorites, Bowie at his super-creepy best — but surely Walter can't help but think of both himself and his old friend-turned-adversary Belly. And like the title of "Five-Twenty-Ten" it has extra meaning for viewers who are watching the show play out with greater (but not at all complete) omniscience; it could refer to Windmark and, we fear, Peter as well.




The concerns that Walter speaks to Nina — akin to those he spoke to Peter at the end of the previous episode — bring me back to a point teased above, a hypothesis that I've hardly embraced entirely but which I can't help but entertain.

When Fringe began, Walter Bishop was in a mental hospital due in part to the fact that he'd had brain tissue removed. The pieces were apparently replaced after the Season Four episode "Letters of Transit", our introduction to the future setting of Season Five, and Walter now fears becoming the man that he was before the initial surgery. He speaks of that Walter having hubris, wanting to walk with the gods. He says that Peter tempered all that, but is concerned that with a mission before him and with his brain whole again even the balance that Peter (and, presumably, the extended family that has been created with Olivia and Astrid too) has brought to his life may not be enough to save him.

Now, I'm pretty sure that we're supposed to be thinking back to Walter's evolving relationship with Peter over the course of the show, or — the more continuity-minded among us — at least thinking back to the end of Season Four and extrapolating how the Peterless-timeline Walter grew to love this adult Peter after finally accepting him.

The way he spoke kept nagging at me, though. He described a Walter who sounded a lot more like the Walter of Over There than the one we've known from Over Here. What if that's the man he dreads? What if to fool the Observers the Fringe team carried out a grand bait-and-switch by thinking outside the box, beyond the playing field that the Observers control so well due to following expected patterns? What if he's not referring to the brain surgery that we know William Bell performed on Walter but another operation?

What if this Walter is actually Walternate?

This episode's glyphs spell out the word "trust".


Images © 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment, courtesy Fox Broadcasting Company.

Previously in 'Fringe Thinking': There's a Place (Episode 5.06)
Next in 'Fringe Thinking': Watching the Wheels (Episode 5.08)

15 comments:

Batcabbage said...

Wow, Blam. That's a hell of a theory. I've been digesting it for a couple of days, actually.

So I loved Peter's further slide into Pete-serverdom. I especially liked the variable he didn't take into account when tracking Whatsisname, and how that foreshadows the other variable he hasn't taken into account - the fact that Windmark knows he's Pete-servering himself. I also loved the little Spock-ism Peter spouted when they split up after getting the space-traffic cones.

Thankfully, the one thing that was shitting me in this (and the previous) episode was cleared up by episode's end. I don't think I could have stood another of Olivia's 'There's something wrong with Peter' looks without her actually saying something to him. It just seemed so out of character for her. Thank Thor that Peter took the need for her to ask away at the end of the episode, which brings me to something else that was incredibly cool about this episode - the Doctor Who references. There was one in this sequence, when Peter speaks the same words at the same time as Olivia ("Midnight", Dr Who season 4) and another when we enter Bell's lab. There's someone's face in a jar. Quite subtle, but as an avid Doctor Who fan, The Face of Boe fairly jumped straight out at me. Most cool.

So now, back to your theory, Blam. I have to say, it's an interesting one, and something that Olivia said in the previous episode may lend credence to it. Remember when Walter couldn't recall the Observer boy? Olivia said to Peter "Maybe he remembers that case differently than we do." Or something like that. Maybe he doesn't remember it at all, because HE WAS IN THE SECOND UNIVERSE THE WHOLE TIME!!! Sorry, got carried away. I don't think I believe it though, especially since Walter is still essentially the Walter we know, with little elements of a Walternate-like Walter starting to show up. Not to mention the hassle of getting Walternate, and sort of, I don't know, brainwashing him into being our Walter. But what if, instead of the Walter we see now being in actuality Walternate, the parts of Walter's brain that were re-integrated were from Walternate's brain? That might account for the 'our' Walterness and the creeping Walternate-ness. You know, in a tv-show, not actually scientifically possible kinda way. No? Yes? Ah, screw it. It's still a great show. :)

Great write up, Blam! Quick as, too, I totally wasn't it expecting it up yet, thanks!

Arben said...

So we just caught up on Fringe last night, finally. Lemme see if I can do the same with your posts... I'm really glad to see you've kept up with blogging it.

Arben said...

Ha... With this post at the top of your blog it looks like Joshua Jackson is staring over at the Spider-Man DVD in the sidebar thinking, "Shoulda been me instead of Maguire!"

Do you read Jeff Jensen's writeups? You sounded a lot like him (in a good way, both with the insights and the flights of fancy) with this one.

Of course a show that straddles 2012 and 2013 would have both 12 and 13 episodes.

5-20-10 was also the safe combination in the Episode 2.15 "Jacksonville".

I would love to see Leonard Nimoy as William Bell one more time.

Arben said...

What if this Walter is actually Walternate?

That's a great thought and one that I haven't seen elsewhere per se. Some comments at EW have pointed out that the closed captions on either the Betamax tapes or the voiceover of Walter's that ran describing the Observers' takeover in 2015 — I forget which and I'm too lazy/tired to look right now — say "Walternate". Having Walternate be the one on the tapes but not the Walter we're seeing in 2036 doesn't really make sense, though, because he's even more like familiar distracted Walter on the tapes. So he's either both, as you suggest, or neither, as one would presume by default. I really would like to see the parallel universe figure into the climax somehow, and it would be an interesting way to redeem Walternate further, but then I'd probably feel funny realizing that we hadn't actually seen "our" Walter this season so far.

Arben said...

You're totally right on about how awesome Peter's Observification is going, Batcabbage, and also about how the show couldn't have let Olivia be in the dark about it any longer. The "logical" bit was great, too, making me realize that the Observers are kind-of like the Borg crossed with Vulcans crossed with (to leap from Star Trek to the Marvel U) the Watchers.

Blam said...


@Batcabbage: the one thing that was shitting me

Is that a thing in Australian English, "shitting" for "bothering" or "sticking in [one's] craw"? Here in America the only off-book use of the phrase that I know — other than, like "You're shitting all over my idea," as a figurative rather than literal use of the word but still its primary meaning — is "You're shitting me" as "You're putting me on" or "You're pulling my leg".

Anyway, I agree that it's good that Olivia wandered into Peter's little makeshift secret lair of transparent dry-erase boards rather than the show letting her worries fester any further.

I thought that Joshua Jackson did an excellent job with the transition, too. But while I won't discount a Doctor Who shout-out, a topic on which I plead ignorance (not having seen any Who since the Tom Baker years, although the revival is certainly in my long queue of stuff to watch), I'm pretty sure that the simultaneous-speak is something that the Observers have done to our Fringe team before and that this was primarily a callback to that.

Blam said...


I'm not completely convinced of my theory myself, guys. Just wanna throw that out there...

@Batcabbage: Remember when Walter couldn't recall the Observer boy? Olivia said to Peter "Maybe he remembers that case differently than we do."

That
I took to be a reference to the differences between Peter's and Olivia's memories of how things played out in the original timeline vs. Walter's (and everyone else's) memories of the rewritten Peterless timeline. On one hand I was glad to see the show refer to that for continuity's sake. On the other hand I'd kind-of been hoping for a revelation that the timelines had reconciled somehow before the 2015 Observer invasion because it's just so unwieldy — although perhaps not as unwieldy as it would be to have to explain in the short Season Five how Season Four played out in a reconciled/restored/re-rewritten timeline as opposed to what we saw. My fervent hope is that if and when there's a reboot at the end of this season we return to a timeline much like the one in which Peter and Olivia enjoyed that blissful day in the park with little Etta but which stems from the original timeline and incorporates little Henry, Peter and Fauxlivia's son (and Henrietta's bleed-through namesake, I think), too.

@Batcabbage: Walter is still essentially the Walter we know, with little elements of a Walternate-like Walter starting to show up. Not to mention the hassle of getting Walternate, and sort of, I don't know, brainwashing him into being our Walter.

They wouldn't have had to brainwash him, though. My point is that the removal of parts of Walternate's brain would affect him just as it did Walter, as they are in essence the same person. The only real hole (no pun intended) in that part of the theory is that Walter had much longer to become the dotty fellow we know, although how long exactly that took is backstory I don't think we have.

I'm right on the border of this being a theory simply for the sake of having a wild theory, but I still think that there's enough evidence for it that it's not pulled completely out of my — What do you Aussies call it? — arse? bum? kiwi? 8^)

@Batcabbage: Great write up, Blam!

Great comments, pal! And thanks again for stopping by!

Batcabbage said...

Oops. Yes, sorry, random Australianism there. In that context I did mean 'bothering' me. Sorry about that. Please forgive me my trans-Pacific idiosyncrasies. Luckily I didn't say it 'gave me the shits', another of our Australianisms for 'it's making me angry', otherwise you'd be wondering about what I was eating during that episode. :)

@Arben: Borg crossed with Vulcans crossed with the Watcher? Brilliant. Logically, resistance is futile. Also, we can see you! OK, that was lame, but I love the image of that particular cross-universe chimaera.

Blam said...


@Arben: With this post at the top of your blog it looks like Joshua Jackson is staring over at the Spider-Man DVD in the sidebar thinking, "Shoulda been me instead of Maguire!"

That's hilarious.

@Arben: Do you read Jeff Jensen's writeups?

I'm pretty consistently behind on them in part because I don't want to do any outside research if I can help it before writing my own analyses. I'll be catching up over the 2-week hiatus, however, and possibly mentioning good stuff that I find there (and other places) in an interim post. I appreciate the compliment and must say that I did feel a bit like him over the past couple of posts going off on certain tangents as well as throwing out my big sloppy Walternate theory.

Walter being so "Walter" on the tapes is to me the biggest argument against it being Walternate.

@Arben: The "logical" bit was great, too, making me realize that the Observers are kind-of like the Borg crossed with Vulcans crossed with (to leap from Star Trek to the Marvel U) the Watchers.

Spot-on, my brother!

Blam said...


@Batcabbage: random Australianism there

No apology necessary... I wouldn't hesitate to use an Americanism (or Philadelphiism) leaving a comment on your (hypothetical) blog, largely because I probably wouldn't know when I was doing so. (It is hypothetical, right? You still don't have a blog as far as I know.)

Batcabbage said...

@Blam: I'm not completely convinced of my theory myself, guys. Just wanna throw that out there...

I completely understand, and took it as such. Still fun to tease out and stretch the imagination a little, no?

That I took to be a reference to the differences between Peter's and Olivia's memories of how things played out in the original timeline vs. Walter's (and everyone else's) memories of the rewritten Peterless timeline.

I also thought this, but conveniently forgot that I had when I saw that it might support The Walternate Theory (you should trademark that now, Blam!). Of course, it must be the difference between the two versions of 'our universe'. And I agree, it's great that they acknowledge that kind of thing.

Also, yes, it's arse, or bum, or bottom. But mostly arse. :)

Batcabbage said...

@Blam: Nope, no blog yet. Although I might get into it yet, but I'm having more fun commenting on other peoples' blogs at the moment. Like this one!

Also,

Walter being so "Walter" on the tapes is to me the biggest argument against it being Walternate

That random moment in the video where Walter is mid-sentence and then his face lights up and he's hassling some woman about raspberry pastries... Classic Walter. Laugh? I nearly went to Ethiopia. (if you get that reference, I shall be most impressed. :)

Blam said...


@Batcabbage: The Walternate Theory

I think I'll go with "The Walternotion". Now that I can trademark. 8^)

So do you folks take pride in being located at the arse of the world? Or is that euphemism reserved for Antarctica? Or do you think that the rest of us have things upside-down and you're actually on top?

Batcabbage said...

C'mon baby, do the Walternotion!

Yep, copyright that sucker right now! Kylie Minogue could release the tie-in single.

As for'the arse-end of the world', I think I can some it up thusly: IF the arse-end is this beautiful, who needs the rest? :)

Arben said...

"The Walternotion" = awesome!