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Fringe: The Firefly

Roscoe: “Are you sure you don’t know what I’m supposed to do for you?”
Walter: “No idea.”

What a delightful episode. I had been a bit worried that Fringe would start to lose its shine now that Bolivia is back in her Bearth. (See what I did there?) But this episode managed to neatly balance on the fine line between mystery of the week and high-powered mythology.

Our mystery…well, at first I didn’t realize it was a mystery. I was just goin’ along with the Observer’s actions and enjoying the first good episode of TV in a long while. But this episode, with delightful subtlety and Christopher Lloyd, managed to resolve a tension I had forgotten about: the Observer’s meddling influence in our universe and its repercussions for our heroes and humanity at large. And it all hinged, like some kind of science fiction Agatha Christie novel, on the tried-and-true mystery technique of putting a vital clue (the inhaler) in plain sight and letting us forget about it.

The Observer set himself two tasks: to test Walter (to see if he would give up his son), and to manipulate events so that Walter would be willing to give up his son—to manipulate events, in other words, so that Walter would pass the test. Over the course of the episode, Walter began to realize the persistent, deeply personal consequences of his actions: not the bombastic insanity of Earth-2’s and Walternate’s anger, but one father’s grief. As Walter gradually pieced together that, in bringing Peter back, he had induced a firefly-effect chain reaction that lead to the death of Roscoe Joyce’s son, he began to understand that he cannot control all events, because sometimes the universe must maintain its own control.

Walter’s willingness to accept the universe’s order is a long time coming. He has fought so diligently against ceding control that the Observer had to manipulate a chain of events to create both a catastrophe (the car accident) and a new frame of mind for Walter. Fascinatingly, he still had to intercede to make the catastrophe truly feel catastrophic: Walter only knew that the line about the keys and the girl was important because the Observer had mentioned it. Otherwise, he would not have realized that it was a watershed moment; because he did, he was spurred into adapting his own philosophy to take course-correction into account.

Of course, course correction and the butterfly (or firefly) effect work both ways. Peter’s return may have led to the death of Roscoe’s son, but Walter had no way of knowing that would happen. It could have been that, if Walter hadn’t brought Peter back, the Cold War would have ended in scorched earth. (Or something.) There are consequences to everything, and we can never know what they are. Whether or not we have free will, we don’t have the foreknowledge to see our will in the universal context, to know which consequences are supposed to happen and which aren’t. The Observers, however, can see those consequences, because they have a bird’s eye view of time. They can see it all at once, zooming in on specific moments at will. (The difference between our heroes’ perspective and the Observers’ is like the difference between us watching the episodes, and the point of view we have when they’re done, or when the series is complete.)

In other news: how cool was Christopher Lloyd? And how great is John Noble? It’s so easy for me to forget that he’s acting, but when I remind myself that he is not, in fact, Walter, I’m astonished by the incredible rapport he develops with each individual actor that he works with, from Kelly Astrid Jasika Nichols to this week’s guest star. Bravo to the writers, too, for showing us paternal grief that differs from Walter’s: Roscoe said that when his son died, nothing seemed to matter. For Walter, when Peter died, nothing seemed to matter except Peter.

Hmm. Wild:

• Bed-head Peter: “You’re just talking to an astral projection of me.”
Walter: “You’re just saying that to see if I’m high.”

• Peter: “The book wasn’t meant for her. It was meant for the Olivia Dunham that I’ve spent that last couple of years of my life with. Because I wanted you to read it. You’re the person I wanted to share it with.” Did anyone else tear up?

• The Observer caught bullets. Awesome!

• Dr. Jacoby from Washington State is Walter’s friend. Best shout-out ever.

• The Observer walked into the lab right as Walter was about to drink the Milk of Wisdom. Hmmm…

• I suspect the magic air gun and the Milk of Wisdom might have consequences down the line.

• What do you make of the Observer’s line that it must be difficult to be a father? Is he just referring to Walter and Roscoe, or someone else?

Four out of un-four-seen consequences.

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


  1. Lovely episode. Regarding that last question, I'm thinking Bolivia didn't travel back home alone.

  2. I'm not sure Walter is really willing to let Peter take his own risks. Peter had to do a lot of fast talking (plus face-touch) to get him to hand over the keys.

    Thanks again for the effort you put into these reviews. Hopefully the ratings will stay strong and you will have them to do for years to come!

  3. Best show currently on TV! Love your reviews Josie.

  4. First, I just wanted to mention that Fringe successfully kept its audience despite the move to Friday, scoring numbers consistent with its previous Thursday slot. This is phenomenal news for the show, since ratings on Friday tend to be considerably lower, which means Fringe may at last have found a comfortable home, where it won't get its butt kicked by tired series about whiny doctors in love and supermodel cops who say they're scientists all the time but violate every law of physics.

    Second, lovely review as always, Josie. I agree the Milk of Wisdom (great moniker) is sure to have longer lasting consequences than the writers are letting on. However, I'm fairly certain that was just a magic stun gun the Observer used on Peter. Anything more and he'd be violating the #1 rule of Sight Club: always keep at least two degrees of separation between your actions and their consequences, meaning he can give Peter a super brain if he wants to, but all the ingredients have to come from other people and events he manipulates.

    Oh, and I have a sneaking suspicion the father line was in reference to all the Walters of the multiverse.

  5. Doctor Jacoby was a reference to Twin Peaks character of the same name and the glasses sure looked like identical to those he had.

  6. Lovely butterfly effect episode. Hate the implications, though.

  7. Billie, firefly effect. ;) Also wonderful that the first episode on a friday is called Firefly, nice shoutout, but not the only one. A place of serenity was mentioned as Walter was hypnotizing Christopher Lloyd.

  8. Another strong episode. Walter's realization that his decision to bring Peter back had inadvertently killed his hero's son was a devastating moment (and, of course, was so well played by John Noble). But I still feared that September was wrong about him and that he hadn't changed. When the moment with the keys came, I was bracing for the worst, but hoping for the best. I'm so glad that Walter has grown and accepted some of the responsibility for his actions. Even better was him setting aside his efforts to remap his brain in an effort to become the equal of Walternate.

    I also quite liked Peter and Olivia's back and forth over the book. I still feel rather betrayed on Olivia's behalf, but I can accept her being slowly won over again. His insistence that the book *was* for her was quite touching, indeed.

    Random side note: I like it much better when the opening theme music drops us right into the next scene (like this week), as opposed to when it cuts to black. It feels much more mysterious and portentous that way.


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