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Fringe: The Day We Died

“I think this is the better way, so you can learn about loss.”

Alternative realities and what-if flash-forwards create a powerful, visceral reaction. We experience these unreal episodes as a sort of cathartic carnivalesque. Carnivalesque, because they are governed by the topsy-turvy misrule of could-be and might-have-been. Cathartic, because we experience the gleeful terror of watching favorite characters dispatched while knowing that their deaths aren’t happening now and might not ever happen.

The future of our universe is grim, bloody, depressing, and full of lovely moments of hope and faith. The marriage of Peter and Olivia is stable, although the lack of children seems to be something of a sticking point. The way they discussed their possible plans also told us how secure they are together: no shouting or blame. Just a reasonable discussion tinged with chagrin. That Olivia’s death should inspire Peter to re-write the past fifteen years speaks to the lengths his character has come since his early days as a grifting loner with a chip on his shoulder.

Walter’s future mirrors that of the world: trapped, sad, and yet still able to maintain a flicker of hope. He’s been fingered as public enemy number one, thanks to a past public disclosure by Walternate—and, it seems, thanks to Walter’s own willingness to throw himself on the proverbial sword. Prison has been hard on him (stroke), but he’s never lost his sense of the majesty of discovery, inquiry, invention—and love for family. Peter said, “No matter who’s at fault, you’re my dad.” The most reviled man in the universe has the one thing he’s wanted for so long: his son’s unconditional love.

The plot of the week, the End-of-Dayers’ attempt to hasten the apocalypse, turned out be a distraction orchestrated by Walternate to punish Peter’s betrayal by killing the one person he loves most. Whereas Walter’s character has continued to grow into a kind man in the unseen 15 years, Walternate has become even more bitter, vengeful, and vindictive: revenge at any cost is hard to sympathize with, especially when we see our heroes fighting so valiantly to save their world, and when we know that no one meant for this to happen.

All of that, of course, is just a possible future. Walter and Peter discovered a way to change the past unseen 15 years: create a paradox loop in which they send the First People stuff back to long-ago, and use a consciousness shift to help 2011-Peter understand what happens if he makes a choice for Olivia in the machine. I was over the moon when Walter and Peter were revealed to have created the First-People construct: I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea of pre-dinosaur all-knowing beings. I really cannot imagine a “solution” to the question of the First People that would satisfy me more.

The consciousness shift is fascinating, although its ramifications are less satisfactory and more OMFG. 2011-Peter’s glimpse of the possible future negates the possible future, as it determines his choice: not in favor of here or Over There, but to create a bridge between worlds for trans-reality diplomatic relations to orchestrate what I assume will be a very uneasy peace.

That choice kept everyone in existence (as far as we can know)…except Peter himself. He blooped out of existence as soon as he had completed the task he didn’t know he was fated to complete. Obviously, this raises enormous questions: if Peter didn’t exist, why did Walter cross over in the first place? If Peter didn’t exist, how did the bridge between worlds get built? How did Olivia and Walter pair up? Was Walter crazy? Did Walternate orchestrate Peter’s grief in order to create a causality loop that would lead to the bridge between worlds? Those questions could go on and on, and we won’t know the answers until fall, at least.

The big, big question is: Is Joshua Jackson done with Fringe? We’ve all heard the casting news, and it seems unlikely that the writers would kill someone so integral to the show’s rhythms. On the other hand, I suspect the adorable Mr. Lincoln Lee might be a (temporary?) replacement in Olivia’s heart in this new Peterless world. That is the only guess I have for next season.

I Haven’t the Foggiest:

• Brad Dourif was in Lord of the Rings with John Noble. (Although I cannot recall if they had any scenes together; I don’t think so.)

• Broyles' false eye: between that and Olivia’s burial, is anyone thinking Ragnarok? Anyone besides me? Anyone...

• Olivia has learned to control her telekinesis.

• Was Peter giving Walternate a choice between custody (handcuffs) and suicide (gun)?

• Walter: “Theropods!”

• Walter: “I didn’t realize how much I missed swivel chairs. I’ve also missed swiveling.”

• Walter: “I don’t mind saying, it’s something I would have liked to have invented. For peaceful purposes, of course. Mining, maybe.”

• Walter: “For all I know, it could be happening already.” I love time-travel dialogue.

• Peter: “Imagine the repercussions.”

• Walternate: “You shattered my universe. Have you any idea how many deaths you’ve caused?”
Walter: “That was an accident! What you’ve tried to do you’ve done on purpose.”

Fringe, like its characters, has come so very far in the past three years. It has moved from plots-of-the-week to a full-fledged mythology with fascinating characters who have both interesting mythological relevance and interesting interior lives. Above all, Fringe has proved to be a show that is willing to take risks, which makes the viewing experience one of thoughtful questioning interspersed with yelping, jumping up from the couch, and scaring the dickens out of the cats. This episode, because it is set in a future that was negated and provided the cathartic thrills of destruction, raised fascinating questions about what is coming next. Above all, it took our characters to an unknown place: Walter without Peter is inconceivable. Olivia without Peter is troubling. Fringe without Joshua Jackson is just weird. Thank the First People above that we got a fourth season.

Four out of four swiveling chairs.

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

20 comments:

  1. I'm with you on preferring this origin for the First People. I suppose a one-way trip to a quiet but lonely past was better than living through the apocalypse.

    Peter had better return! Somehow, Olivia will remember him.

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  2. You're right, Brad Dourif and John Noble had no scenes together in LotR.

    More questions - If Peter never existed,

    - Does baby Henry exist?
    - Is the other Broyles still alive?
    - If there was no Peter and Walter never crossed over, would there even BE a Fringe Division?
    - If there IS a Fringe Division, what happened in a no-Peter universe that necessitated a Fringe Division?

    *sigh*

    It was a great episode, but it's gonna be a loooong wait for the season four premiere.

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  3. A great woman once said "The who whatting how with huh?". That pretty much sums up my feelings about the final moments of the season finale. I did enjoy it even if I didn't full understand every single aspect of it.

    I wasn't thinking about Ragnarok before but I am now. It is somewhat fitting comparison considering that Ragnarok is a cycle of both destruction and rebirth. Which is exactly what Walter and Peter did. They used the ending of the world as a means to save it by creating a whole new world via an altered timeline. Or, at least, that's my shaky understanding of it. As for Peter's sudden non-existence, I haven't got the foggiest what that's all about.

    As always, great review, Josie.

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  4. Joshua Jackson carried this episode so well!!

    I wish that there was a tad more focus on ending the season rather than launching the nextbone, but it was just lovely.

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  5. Wow, wow, wow and W.O.W.

    Wasn't it wonderful seeing a happy and relaxed Peter? Even in the midst of all that chaos? Marriage agrees with him. Or, it did anyway.

    I had all the same questions at the end regarding "If there was no Peter, then..??" guess we'll have to wait and see! And a long wait it will be.

    GREAT review and recap, Josie! You caught several points I missed (the First People answer, being the major one!), so thanks!

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  6. Your last paragraph was perfectly stated, Josie. That's exactly what Fringe has become; that's exactly how feel about it.

    Walter saying that the cost couldn't be worse that the onw they had reminded me of Giles in "The Wish". He didn't know what our original timeline was like, but it had to be better than that.

    And I proclaim Season 3 of Fringe a perfect season. Not a single bad episode; not even an average one. Easily my favorite series on air.

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  7. I might have to watch this one again, the fact no one aged in 15 years was an annoying distraction. Fringe is always pretty good when it comes to makeup so the the fact that 15 years didn't cause so much as a wrinkle on any of the characters really took me out of the story. What made it worse was the fact that I never felt like the jump forward was permanent, negating any of the stories impact. Season 3 was so good, with so much buildup regarding the machine and the fate of the two universes, I couldn't help but feel disappointed.

    Why is Ella's last name Dunham, she wouldn't be trying to use her relationship to Olivia to get special treatment.

    The scene with Olivia and Peter talking about kids finally made me see them as a couple. (They really have no chemistry) Of course now Peter doesn't exist, so...

    Regardless I'm still happy we get a fourth season, there are still alot of questions that need answering, like what was the point behind Agent Jessup.

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  8. You mean telekinesis, not telepathy. Telepathy is speech between minds and/or reading them, telekinesis is controlling objects with the mind. :)

    Good episode but PETER D: I hope he won't be leaving the show for too long. Come back to us, Peter!

    I'm entirely too happy to see Peter and Olivia together, even if only for a while. I've been shipping them since the very first episode. :D

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  9. Great recap Josie! I've been staying away from it since I was out last week and only just caught up on the last two episodes. Avoiding spoilers has been a massive undertaking!

    These final two episodes: WOW!!!

    I was so happy seeing Peter and Olivia together... then shocked at Walternate's actions. He's gone beyond what I thought him capable of... ;o( Thank heavens for parallel timelines!!!

    @Gus Brunetti: "Walter saying that the cost couldn't be worse that the onw they had reminded me of Giles in "The Wish". He didn't know what our original timeline was like, but it had to be better than that." ME TOO!!! I mean, what could be worse than the end of the world and the death of a loved one, right?!

    Peter can't be gone... he just can't! Why-o-WHY do we have to wait 4 bloody months to see where they're going to take us with this?!?!?!?! grrrrr

    I haven't seen a time-travel paradox so well applied in a while... I forgot how much I used to enjoy them before Star Trek tired me out by over-using them. ;o)
    Perfect solution to the First People mystery!!!

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  10. @Felipe: I'm guessing she's using her own mother's last name so that makes her a Dunham! I'd have to back to the references to the two of them to find out what happened to the Dad...

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  11. I'm not 100% sure the timeline actually changed. I think the Observers may have meant that no one REMEMBERS Peter, not that he was never there. Sort of the opposite of what happened in the fifth season of Buffy - the past wasn't actually changed in that case, it's just that everyone falsely remembered Buffy having a sister for fifteen years.

    So Peter was still there and integral to the events that we saw over three seasons, it's just that everyone has a mental block about the fact that he ever existed.

    The alternative is that the timeline did indeed change and Peter never existed at all. I guess it will be pretty clear when the next season begins (or will it?)

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  12. "We've all heard the casting news"

    Aside me then :P I only read stuff about casting for the finale and some couple for next season. Is there any more?

    Thanks for the awesome reviews Josie!

    I'd hate it if Joshua really was done :(

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  13. Hi Aly,

    We're probably thinking of the same news.

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  14. Ohh, okay. thanks for answering :)
    I thought you drew some sort of conclusion from the cast news, I was oblivious to, lol. But apparantly not.

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  15. It's so sad. We got a horrible future but a happy and well-adjusted Peter married to a happy Olivia -- and then we got no Peter at all. I'm also really curious about how they're going to handle Peter's nonexistence, because as everyone has already pointed out, Walter caused all this because of Peter, and he'll leave a really huge plot hole. And Fringe without Peter is unthinkable.

    I'm really glad I started watching Fringe, because while season one was truly awful, seasons two and three just kept getting better and better. The depth of the story, the complexity of the characters, the storytelling risks they keep taking -- I hope they can keep it up in season four.

    Thanks for getting me to watch this show, Josie. I never would have tried it again if you hadn't stuck with it. And that's exactly what I said about Vampire Diaries.

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  16. And just in time for the show's return tomorrow, I'm caught up!

    Except for those final moments, this was a very satisfying finale that could have easily served as a series finale, if it had needed to. Peter learning that the worlds were inextricably linked and that each needed the other to survive, thus leading him to create the bridge really could have closed things out in a very gratifying way. Of course, him blinking out of existence would have been a pretty terrible final act, so I'm really glad that this was merely a season finale.

    I, too, was very pleased by the First People revelation. It moves us right back to the realm of the "very personal" for why all this is happening. I wouldn't say Walter created a loop though. It is more of a Many Worlds situation. So that future that Peter glimpsed exists as a parallel universe, it just doesn't have to be the path that he and his loved ones experience if he makes a different choice.

    Of course, now we've seemingly shifted into some parallel existence in which Peter doesn't exist. I wonder if we are seeing a new reality, akin to the Red and Blue Worlds, only this just happens to be the course of events with no Peter. Hmmm ...

    Thanks for encouraging me to get on board with this show, guys! I know I'm very late to the party, but it was certainly worth joining. Very compelling characters and mythology, with an emotional honesty that I very much appreciate. Can't wait to see where it goes from here.

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  17. Jess, that's assuming there isn't some new sporting emergency. I have to say, following both yourself and Billie discovering the show for the first time has been really quite gratifying; especially since you both seem to like the show. Now we can all be cool together.

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  18. Great finale, but do they really have to dissapear main characters in the end like a certain sci-fi show?

    At least it's not a series finale.

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