Peter Bishop took a pivotal step at the end of...
If you thought that with a title like that the episode would be providing more background on the Observers, now known as the Invaders, well, you thought wrong.
Same goes for background on Etta Bishop's life under Invader rule after she was separated from her parents 20 years ago. Ditto hitherto unrevealed secret connections among the members of our familiar former Fringe Division team.
This origin story was Peter's. And it wasn't a flashback to previously unspooled history. It was the first look at the next chapter of his journey. Etta's death pushed Peter over the edge — or at least an edge; there are certainly still darker places to go. He's using his enemies' own devices against them, but it remains to be seen to what extent he will become the very thing he's fighting.
Let me backtrack just a bit, although as always I assume that you've seen the episode before reading this and won't be recapping the whole plot:
The Invaders, who marched en masse into our heroes' world in 2015, are in 2036 transporting the final volley of machines from their native far-future time that will make 21st-century Earth more hospitable to their bodies — further polluting an atmosphere that is too oxygen-rich for their blood. After learning that the Resistance has captured an Invader and one of the cubes that serves as a beacon for the wormholes between time periods, Peter suggests that the cube be used to co-opt and sabotage a transfer. By detonating an antimatter bomb inside the wormhole he hopes to seal off the 2036 aperture and create a singularity at the other end, wreaking havoc.
Peter successfully assembles the parts to the Resistance's stolen cube, he believes, with the involuntary help of the Observer in custody.
I believe that he does, too.
But since our heroes arrive at the point of the next temporal cargo transfer, use their cube to wrest control of the process from the Invaders, shoot their Trojan-horse antimatter missile into the gaping maw of spacetime circumvention, and gum up the works only to have the proper transfer resume moments after they've congratulated themselves, Peter figures that something went wrong.
Why? How do we know what's happening on the other end? Who says they recovered right away? The Observers/Invaders at the launch point of the shipment could've taken hours or days or weeks or even longer to fix the problem and still resumed their operation mere seconds following the apparent snafu from the perspective of the 2036 side of things. Observers are patient, so there's little question that no matter how bad things got back at home base they would regroup.
The fact that a red light blinked on as Peter seemed to complete the cube, before a green light, did strike me as an "uh-oh" moment. However, Peter had said that if the pieces weren't put in place in precisely the proper order all through the process the whole thing would go kablooey. So I rationalized the red light as a sort of pause while the cube got itself in order before the green light signaled its readiness.
It's possible that Peter's trick works and that the Invaders at the other end are prepared for it. Back when the "present day" of the series' main action was more-or-less the present day for viewers, from Seasons One through Four, the Observers' whole deal was that they had eyes everywhere, recorded everything, and were privy to not just how things were but how things might have been, how things also were in variant timelines, and indeed how things were "supposed to be". Yet certain events have surprised them, such as Peter's reemergence into the timeline that resulted from his activation of the universe-harmonizing device and subsequent erasure from history at the end of Season Three, and perhaps what stemmed from that was key in their decision to establish a beachhead in this time period.
For a group of time-traveling, mind-reading, population-enslaving Big Brother types, I must say, the Observers/Invaders have certainly been doing a terrible job of tracking down our heroes since their release from amber. How were Peter and Olivia able to gather mementos and weaponry from Etta's apartment following her death, let alone spend a night (or at least take a nap) there? What's up with the complete absence of Invaders and Loyalists in the transfer area immediately after the fact? Nice job with surveillance, "Observers"!
Anyway, Peter and Walter both assume that their plan failed when they see a new wormhole appear — despite the gravity-suck on the 2036 end of things before the first wormhole blipped out — even though at least one of them has to have seen Back to the Future or Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure if not read Kang the Conqueror's classic battles with the Avengers (Marvel Comics superhero team and now global blockbuster movie stars, not the hip UK television spies). I'm just saying that there's no shortage of stories in which all sorts of stuff happens between mere seconds of relative time in the plot's anchor era.
The captured Invader may be telling the truth or he may simply be playing into Peter's frustration and confusion when he says that Peter was not reading involuntary tells at all. Peter believed that no matter how biologically advanced and cybernetically enhanced the Invader was, his physical reactions were still at a certain level human; the reconstruction of the cube began with Peter's educated guesses — he is after all a wunderkind at this sort of thing — and were guided by the dilation or contraction of the Invader's pupils. His lab-rat prisoner counters that those motor responses were due to focusing on a literal fly on the wall across the room.
"You are nothing but tech," Peter lashes out. "I would be ten times what you are if I had that tech in my head." So an idea is born. Peter removes a small, apparently somewhat symbiotic chip from the top of the Invader's spine and, after making an incision in his own neck, implants it in himself.
This is the origin's money shot, the moment that not by accident but by design he imbues himself with great power under the weight of great responsibility. He wants to free the people of the world from the yoke of the Invaders' oppression on the merits of the act but also in the name of his daughter's sacrifice. One can't help thinking that Peter is headed for a tragic end after literally absorbing the essence of his adversaries, that he will become as emotionally, morally compromised as physically — if he hasn't already. Peter was a rogue when we met him in Episode 1.01; he was a grifter, a black-market trader and con-man jack-of-all-trades, living a fugitive existence when FBI agent Olivia Dunham tracked him down to get access to his father. He went against everyone's expectations, most of all his own, when he put down roots again in the not-exactly-nuclear (more like electromagnetic) family that grew out of his deal with Dunham. Now he's made a virtual deal with the Devil, starting down a likely road to Hell strewn with plenty of literary and cinematic antecedents.
"Most people couldn't handle this, I know," he'll be saying soon, "but I got it. I'll control the power; I won't let it control me. I promise."
I'd opine that you don't have to be an Observer to know where this is going, but then — when it comes to Peter, most especially — the Observers have been surprised before.
This episode's glyphs spell out the word "fight".
Previously in 'Fringe Thinking': Happiness Is a Warm Gun (Episode 5.04)
Next in 'Fringe Thinking': There's a Place (Episode 5.06)