Now we're talkin'!
... was a great episode, probably the best since the Season Five opener. I'm sorry that I didn't get this post up sooner, but once I realized it wouldn't be within a couple of days after airing I decided to wait until the day of the next episode to maximize some semblance of relevance. The way we justify or rationalize things to ourselves, as fortune would have it, is also very relevant to what Peter's doing.
One of the reasons why the hour grabbed me, no doubt, was its integration of premises past and present. Fringe began as a case-of-the-week series not unlike The X-Files, albeit one with a bigger picture to be revealed. Soon enough the mythology came to the fore with a vengeance. The Observers and William Bell and Massive Dynamic and the Cortexiphan trials and David Robert Jones and the First People and what I called the Two-Worlds War between alternate universes all lay before us. The parallel Earth that came to figure so prominently in the show was only evoked in 5.06 by proxy — on which more in a few paragraphs — but as was the case with the previous week's installment the kind of scientific anomalies that our Fringe Division team was built around served to inform and enhance this brave new future world.
I'm also a sucker for Alice references, so that helped.
Digression: Not long ago, I was rarely aware of even a favorite TV series' episode titles. Most shows don't run them with the opening credits. They're something that fandom has latched onto, however, and you'd find them in episode guides. These days they're not only used in blogposts and wiki entries on a show but in links to watch episodes on Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, or a channel's own website as well as through your cable/etc. provider's On Demand service or, heck, just DVR listings.
So I knew before viewing it that this episode was titled "Through the Looking Glass and What Walter Found There" — an echo of the sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. If you haven't actually read the 1871 volume, you may think that you're less familiar with its elements than with those of its 1865 predecessor, and to a certain extent you're probably right. But you might also be surprised, since the animated Disney feature Alice in Wonderland — by extension, too, other popular culture using that interpretation of the books as a touchstone (as much as if not more than using the books themselves) — actually conflates certain sequences in the second book with the first. The poem "Jabberwocky" is in Looking-Glass, for instance, and the Red Queen of Looking-Glass is often merged in riffs or adaptations with Wonderland's Queen of Hearts. [Just so other Alice fans, who can be an entirely appropriately exacting lot, don't charge me with oversimplification, I should mention that the 1951 Disney film was not the first nor the last film or stage production to merge elements of the two books.] Among my Alice posts, should the curious care to look, are a general one singing the books' praises and a review of the 2010 Tim Burton film smacking it down.
Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass begins with Alice traveling via a mirror to a realm very like (yet not exactly) the one she visited, or perhaps dreamt, in Wonderland. On the other side she finds that the drawing room she has entered is, unsurprisingly, the mirror image of the drawing room from whence she came, at least as far as she could tell when peering into the mirror from home; as she travels beyond that room, however, things become odder. Walter discovers much the same when he enters the "pocket universe" that he helped create — despite having no memory of doing so — although the quirks are less Lewis Carroll and more M.C. Escher, bending the known laws of physics yet not as cartoonishly bizarre as in Alice.
The way in which the hidden dimension is accessed echoes the episode's namesake as well, as the deliberate steps Walter takes reminded me of the way knight moves in chess — I admit, not an association I would necessarily have made without knowing the title. In contrast to the Queen of Hearts, who reigns over a court of playing cards, Through the Looking-Glass's Red Queen commands a chess game, and indeed on a supermacroscopic level Alice moves through the landscape of the book as if a pawn on a chessboard.
It's unavoidable that the terms "pocket universe" and "the other side" remind us of the alternate universe with which Olivia, Peter, Walter, Astrid, and the rest of Fringe Division at first did battle and then united during the meat of the series. Also called Over There, in contrast to Over Here (the show's version of the world we know, home to our primary cast), that universe was referred to as the Other Side. This pocket universe, however, is said to exist in "interdimensional space" — presumably adjacent to or between the proper universes, for lack of a better phrase, easier to access and less dangerous to exist in confluence with This Side than the Other Side.
I'm extremely curious about how Walter and the mysterious Donald — previously mentioned in "The Recordist"; heard and partly seen on videotape in this episode — created the pocket universe, which Walter describes as having designed rather than discovered. Cecil, the man thrown into the pocket universe and trapped after an assault on the apartment building, has never found a way out of the otherdimensional incarnation of the building; I believe Walter says that there isn't one. I doubt we'll revisit the place with so little time left in the series, but I'm also quite curious, curioser even, to see if that's true.
I'll devote the rest of this post to various scattershot observations (an unintentionally fraught choice of words if ever there was one).
Peter and Olivia, maybe the most wanted fugitives in the world, are still somehow able to hang out at Etta's New York City apartment without being found. Even given Capt. Windmark's satisfied smile at the end of the episode after he sees Peter exercise his new abilities, I'm not sure that this makes sense; Windmark might be happy with that turn of events, but it sure hasn't seemed like he's wanted our heroes to have free reign up to this point.
I wonder if Peter is all the more emotional looking at the holographic image of Etta because he fears that the Observer chip he implanted himself with will leave him unable to access his feelings.
Of course we got follow-up to what Peter did in the previous episode, a callback to 5.03 through the enigmatic Donald, and a continuation of Season Five's overall macguffin — which is actually a string of macguffins — in the latest videotape excavated from amber. We also got a revival of a classic Fringe case in the form of the (suspected, now confirmed) Observer boy, however, first seen in Season One's "Inner Child".
And the biggest nod of all to Fringe history might be the appearance of the glyphs that have been part of the show's commercial breaks from the beginning on the doors of the pocket-universe building. For some reason this delighted me in the extreme. I linked to an early attempt to decode the glyphs in my first post on Fringe, and while I've neglected to include translations of each episode's sequence of glyphs in my writeups so far I might rectify that. Even more intriguing than those translations, which tend to reflect an episode's plot or theme without actually revealing anything new, is the thought that the sequence in which we see the glyphs in the doors within the story of 5.06, particularly after Walter makes note of them, might spell out something useful; that just occurred to me, and I don't have time to play back the episode now to see if the theory pans out, but it would be way cool.
I'm not sure whether there was an issue of time distortion that needs to be addressed in terms of a discrepancy between the time Walter, Olivia, and Peter spend in the pocket universe and the time that elapses outside — or more properly a lack of a discrepancy, which itself would be the discrepancy. A few conflicting arguments come to mind, so we can leave that one to hash out in the comments section if anyone's interested.
During one shot of Peter with his hair mussed up — more specifically, fluffed out a bit — as he fought the Observer towards the end of the episode, I had two particular thoughts: One was that he quite resembled Walter, not only a nod to good casting but a reminder that, early on in Fringe, when we knew that something strange was up with Peter but not what, I suspected that he was a cloning experiment. The other was the question of whether he was going to lose his hair as his Observer-chip abilities progressed.
Walter is afraid that he's becoming like Walternate, the Walter Bishop of the Other Side, more ruthless and less human. Peter can't help but be ruefully bemused at this fear because he is literally becoming less human as the Observer tech he implanted in himself takes over his perceptions. The irony is that Walter's more benign nature is ascribed to his personality having been altered when parts of his brain were removed; now that they've been reintegrated — and that he has a mission that requires single-minded pursuit — he feels that he's losing the man that Peter helped him become, emotionally if not intellectually and physically. Peter has by contrast added to his brain and is becoming a new man because of that.
Clearly the Walter seen on the videotapes being recovered has a certainty of purpose if not actually a certainty of outcome. I've heard it suggested that he may actually be Walter from the future, Walter after the Walter that we're seeing in 2036 following the clues that he left for himself in 2015, closing the loop that allowed for this scavenger hunt to defeat the Observers-cum-Invaders by transporting himself or at least the tapes back 20 years. Donald may have some part in that. I'm not convinced by this, because a lot of preparation clearly has to have taken place in 2015, although I'm always up for that kind of twist. More compelling to me is the idea that despite the concern we're clearly supposed to have over Peter losing his humanity, sacrificing himself in the name of the mission, his plan works and, once it does, either he or Walter travel back to and/or communicate with their past selves to ensure that these events play out. If the Observers have always been the adversaries of our heroes that they turned out to be in this run of episodes, they may have wanted Peter eliminated from the timeline for their own benefit rather than due to, as was suggested at the end of Season Three, a kind of preservation of overall multiversal purity.
I've been remiss about crediting the writers and directors this season, but this week their names stood out more than most when they appeared on screen. Writer David Fury is well known to acolytes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel — mostly behind the scenes, although he had a couple of memorable moments in front of the camera as well; he also wrote some of the most significant episodes of Lost's first season. Director Jon Cassar was a driving force behind 24, and directed over a dozen episodes of the cult-favorite La Femme Nikita series including the pilot.
This episode's glyphs spell out the word "split".
Previously in 'Fringe Thinking': Gimme Some Truth (Episode 5.05)
Next in 'Fringe Thinking': Borrowed Time (Episode 5.07)