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)