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Fringe: Through the Looking Glass and What Walter Found There

“You will notice that things work differently here.”

Have you read House of Leaves? If you have, this episode likely made your head spin. (If you haven’t, I’ll bet you enjoyed it anyway.) House of Leaves is a complicated book about a photographer who moves into a house that gives him access to…a place…sorta…and then there’s different sized fonts and various unreliable narrators whose timelines don’t match up. There are diary entries, transcribed videos, and more. It is thoughtfully postmodern, but also surreal enough to evoke a thrill. And so was “Through the Looking Glass…”

I like to think of this as Fringe’s haunted-house episode. The pocket universe and its unreliable physics placed me firmly on the edge of my seat and kept me there for the entire episode. I loved the upside-down shots, the dead end that wasn’t, the way time and light worked differently. Wonderland it wasn’t. Purgatory, neither.

The pocket universe was more of a limbo, a place of waiting without hope—as Virgil says of Hell in Dante’s Inferno, “without hope, we live in desire.” That’s how Olivia and Peter are living now, desirous of Etta’s impossible return. Olivia’s grief wasn’t the focus of this episode, and that almost made it more tangible: she continues to push through, just as she did after John Scott’s (supposed) death in the series premiere. It was perfectly appropriate that Walter was seeking a child, even if he didn’t know it. Not just any child, but the young Observer that Olivia felt such empathy with in “Inner Child.” He is gone, but, unlike Etta, he might still be recovered.

That is not to suggest that House of Leaves, Purgatory, limbo, Dante, children, and Wonderland all add up to some secret code that gives us the “answer” to the show. Rather, the characters’ emotions and actions, the show’s complex allusions and even-more-complicated mythology, and the episode’s various plots twine together, giving a poetic depth to every moment and every scene. Five years in, all of Fringe is fraught with background and importance. For an episode that took place almost entirely in a broken building in a pocket universe, its reach was remarkable.

And I haven’t even gotten to the big reveal: having hijacked the Observer’s tech in the previous episode, Peter is now…Well, he’s different. Is he turning into an Observer, or just able to access some of their power? Was he seeing things differently over the course of the entire episode, or did it take a while to kick in? And how cool is it that he can bloop in and out of space-time?!

Cool and horrible, of course. Cool because, hey, superhero! Horrible because Peter has once again sacrificed some part of himself to “fix” things; in Season Three, it was to bring peace to the two dueling universes. Now, in an attempt to avenge Etta’s death, he has become something other than what he was. And he has kept it from Olivia. From shame? From fear? Or has the tech altered him just enough that he feels like he can’t talk to his wife, so that he and Walter are both becoming different men?

Those questions will be answered soon. In the meantime, let’s take a minute—maybe even two or three—to praise John Noble. At some point in this episode, I said to myself, “Wait! Could this be Walternate? He’s just a bit sharper, somehow.” And I don’t mean smarter, although that might be part of it. I mean he has more angles and is more piercing. It wasn’t Walternate, of course, but it was a different version of Walter: more decisive, more cruel. And, in a cruel Flowers for Algernon twist, Walter had the same realization, and was crushed by it. John Noble manages to play variations on the same complicated character with beautiful precision.

A Series of Unfortunate Event:

• I got so caught up in re-watching the episode that I didn’t have time to track any of the quotes. Add your own in the comments!

What a great episode.

Four out of four pocket universes

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


  1. SUBLIME !

    This is what I say to myself friday nite at 10h01. It felt like they (finally) developed the technology to film....dreams. (a GOOD thing my dreams are NOT all like this though)

    Putting the Fringe symbols on the doors was a very nice touch. And it was the perfect place for it.

    Quoting you, kinda : yes, I'd love to "bloop in and out of space-time. Things are going to change, but at what price ? What a stellar season so far. (the other show being Dexter; and Castle manages very well) (and we'll talk in February about Community)

    The last scene in the monorail : John Noble's performance was (insert superlative of your choice)...

  2. John Noble's performance just blew me away! I've been noticing little moments here and there where he'd resemble Walternate a bit more than Walter, and was wondering about that piece of brain he reimplanted... but in this episode it was very clear he's been changing!

    Did you notice Widmark's creepy smile when he saw Peter blip away? Anything that makes Widmark smile can't be good! That if nothing else tells me Peter has made a biiiiiig mistake. :o(

  3. This episode has me mesmerized, in a trance unable to look away from the screen. I had it recorded and came home late on Friday night, tired and worn out, and told myself I would just start the episode while I had a midnight snack and finish it tomorrow. 15 minutes in any notion I had of sleeping went away, as the atmosphere and mystery of the episode sucked me in and the hour flew by for me.

    I loved everything about this episode and am glad we got an episode about another universe, even if it was just a "pocket" verse and not over-there (which is where I hopefully thought we were going when Walter stepped through the portal). For me, this felt like a classic Fringe episode, with the gang after Walter in a strange place, trying to get back home while figuring out the mystery. As cool as the mystery of the pocket verse was it was the character moments that really stood out for me - from Walter realizing at the end his transformation caused by his new brain matter (poor Walter! he needs a big hug - I was happy Peter called him dad at the end), to Olivia's subtle fear about loosing Peter after loosing their daughter.

    And I am worried about loosing Peter as well! The way Widmark smiled when he say Peter jump/blip away was unsettling, plus the Observer told Peter that he has made a grave mistake right before he got his neck snapped. I'm glad someone can finally stand up to the Observers and potentially cause them true damage, because really it's about time someone did, but I'm worried about the consequences it will have on Peter. Our gang can't survive another loss, and the changes to Peter are happening quick. He's already seeing blue, what will be next?

  4. Great review, Josie.
    Excellent acting by all actors.
    The set and photography of this ep is outstanding.
    It's cool that bits and pieces in previous eps are being brought back in and seem to represent a part of the big puzzle in solving the Observers problem.
    Remember that Peter really belong to a the Parallel Universe; maybe he is really resilient with the Observer's thingie.
    I just hope that he does not die at the end; Olivia's thread might not be able to take that anymore.
    Gosh, just seven eps to go. :(

  5. I am disappointed that the show has migrated away from Olivia. She is the character who took all the risks. Olivia started off as bland and emotionally closed off. She was damaged and the first 3 or 4 seasons allowed viewers to understand why and watch her progress. As time has passed she grown into a complicated person with wisdom, sensitivity and perspective. While she is not the only strong actor in the ensemble, she is the one whose journey we spent the most time with. Olivia earned her starring role and to make her a bit player in the last season is a shame. It is especially sad because even her appearance (the lines on her face) has matured in a subtle telling way.


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