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Fringe: White Tulip

“God is science.”

Our Theme of the Week is turning things on their heads, reversing what we think we know, playing with our sense of what is happening. The mad professor did it to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, and Fringe did it to both the standard stand-alone and some of the show’s own mythology. The first third of this episode reminded me—a lot—of the series premiere: a train is now a plane, and instead of lying John Scott we have lying Olivia and Walter. And instead of hunting down mad professor Walter, we hunted mad Dr. Robocop. Like Lacan’s reading of Poe’s “Purloined Letter,” it’s all about a limited number of pieces occupying a limited number of spots on the board—you can shift the pieces around, but it’s always the same game.

Walter said that he and Peck had something in common, but it’s more than that: Walter has yet another double. Counting William Bell and Walternate, that’s now three doubles—it must be a new record for television. And, speaking of too many doubles, two plus two doesn’t always equal four, but it always should. When we move pieces beyond the scope of their board, like shifting Peter from one world to another, or Peck draining energy to travel through time so he can repeat and re-do the past, the consequences can be catastrophic.

Those catastrophic consequences aren’t always gigantic, though. Sometimes they’re just the despair and madness of one man, hoping for a sign that he might be forgiven by the universe and by his son. Walter’s conversation with Peck was beautifully written and beautifully acted. Yes, there was some character exposition, but it fit: Walter feels so alone in his despair that he needed to explain himself to someone, perhaps just to give himself a sense of what it is he’s hoping for.

Is God science, on this show? As the promos say, it’s all about the “endless impossibilities” of fringe science. But, for Walter, it’s all about the limited possibilities of maintaining a relationship with his son. Science may rule the universes on Fringe, but something more meaningful motivates the characters to use that science—no matter whether it’s God or love or something we shouldn’t put a name to. Walter got his white tulip. He got it through science. It meant so much more. Damn, this was good.

Well, I was actually pretty bored by the first third of this episode. I was plotting out what to say in my review, searching for decent screencaps, y’know: stuff. But the temporal-pocket-mini-time-travel thing popped me out of my stupor for the freak science stuff. (This is definitely an episode that bears re-watching to catch the small differences between the timelines.) The incredible—just downright incredible, I say!—acting in the last third really made this something special.

If I’m right about this episode mirroring the premiere, is this a sign that things are really about to change for the show? Only four episodes left to the end of the season: we’ll find out soon enough.

The Good:

• Peter Weller, the Bad Professor, played RoboCop in the famous 1980s movie. I had a very brief conversation with him once. But I have never seen his films.

• Peter talking to Walter through the answering machine.

• Walter: “My initial theory of heart failure is probably incorrect.”

• Walter and Astrid, synced. Is that a sign they’d lived through this case multiple times?

• Walter: “Mr. Peck was dealing with tremendous energy to do…well, whatever it is he’s doing.” So there’s some stuff that Walter doesn’t know all about. Talk about turning things on their head.

• The train advertisement said: “Be there in no time.”

• Peter: “I read that déjà vu is fate’s way of telling you that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. That’s why you feel like you’ve been there before. You are right in line with your own destiny.” Oh, dramatic irony! Peter’s not anywhere near where he’s supposed to be.

• Olivia: “I happen to know someone who is fluent in gobbledy-gook.”

• Walter: “Maybe, it’s in the realm of possibility that my son possibly may be able to forgive me.” I really like the repetition of this line. It must have looked awful on the page, but the uncertainty is exactly what Walter is feeling.

Something’s Wrong Here:

• I got the feeling that Olivia was preying on the waitress’s lack of knowledge about much of anything when she finagled the credit card receipt out of her.

• “Arlette Turing” (the name of the person that Alistair Peck wants to save) is a shout out to Alan Turing, the inventor of the first “computer,” and a character in Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon.

• Walter: “Wait! I am not a threat. I am an ambassador.” What?! So weird.

• What’s up with these places where two plus two doesn’t equal four? Are they on mystical islands in the South Pacific?

• I came up with the “Purloined Letter” comparison that I mentioned above before getting to the end of this episode, which is all about letters, who possesses them, and what power and awful responsibility that possession brings. Weird. If this episode weren’t so haunting and lovely, I’d bring out Doc Josie to explain the significance.

• I’ve been late with the past few reviews: work and family commitments have swallowed my life. But I’m out of the belly of the leviathan now, so please look for the rest of my reviews for the season on time.

Five out of Four Mystical Places Where Higher Math Lets Us Rate Episodes That Way

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)


  1. Agree completely, a wonderful episode with some fantastic acting by John Noble and Peter Weller.

  2. I know of some spaces where 2+2 does not equal 4, but then again i'm a math student. Such madness comes with the territory. ;)

  3. What a wonderful, wonderful episode. It was so much more than a gimmick time loop. It made me cry. John Noble is a treasure.

  4. Another Fringe classic. Visual disturbing and strange, and yet incredibly poignant. As you say, Josie, the final third of this episode was gold. Walter's confession to Peck was spellbinding, and the final reveal of the white tulip drawing was so moving. It can't be said enough: John Noble is simply amazing in this role.

  5. Now that this show is done, I wanted to re-watch this episode, as it was rated as the best episode of the entire series, by pretty much anyone who watched the show, and I have to say, I agree. I hadn't seen this episode since it first aired, and watching again - well, it was really powerful. Terrific job by John Noble - I hope to see him on a new show soon, but I will always look at him as Dr. Walter Bishop, no matter what he does from now on. A great, great episode - and again, I'm going to miss this show so much!


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