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Fringe: The Boy Must Live

“I’m optimistic.”

I’m not sure what to say about this, the antepenultimate episode of Fringe. (If I’m reading the Internet correctly, next week will be two episodes aired back-to-back rather than one long episode.) I am past the point of wanting to evaluate the show—to point out its strengths and weaknesses, to quibble or to praise. I’m a fan of Fringe, and I doubt that will change in the next seven days.

I remain fascinated by the empathy/intelligence juxtaposition that Fringe has focused on this season. I wonder how it will color our understanding of the show as a whole, when we re-watch it in six or twelve months. Clearly, empathy is meant to be the hero in the ideological battle we are about to face. Donald, Walter, Peter (post-Observer-tech)—all have, in various ways, chosen the heart over the head.

Michael represents the marriage of intellect and the empathy: his anomalous reproduction includes the intellectual power of the Observers and the emotional power of “real” humanity in its most distilled and potent form. Is that why he gave himself to the Loyalists? Does he know that somehow turning himself in will benefit our heroes and the human race in all its permutations?

And how ironic is it, that Michael—who may be the savior of mankind as we know it—is a product of “intellectual” reproduction, in a Matrix-like pod lab that breeds little bald boy-babies? Fighting for heart may be the harder, more valiant path; but sometimes we must use the intellect to win that fight. Michael’s hybrid nature shows us that.

Walter’s nature is now hybrid, too. Michael gave him memories of Peter’s childhood; Walter now is closer to the Walter we knew in Season 1-3. He isn’t losing his empathy anymore, either. Those memories, combined with his understanding that he must sacrifice himself, have made those extra brain-bits a tool rather than a curse. Walter is no longer faced with the challenge of selling his soul to save the world; he might gain a postmortem redemption in saving the world, instead.

[And if that happens, I want cupcakes as my reward for calling it back in my review of “Anomaly XB-6783746.”]

[Does anyone else wonder if we’re in for a big, crazy reversal? Michael showed Nina something, and she killed herself. Michael showed Walter something, and he plans to sacrifice himself. Is Michael a crazed serial killer bent on forcing our heroes to destroy themselves?]

[That’s crazy, right?]

Michael, Walter, Peter, and Donald/September have all been faced with varying degrees of emotional/intellectual hybridity. It is so fitting that Walter and Donald got a few more moments together, reminiscing about encounters, planning, and generally being friends (which are in short supply in the Fringe-verse). Various call-backs to past episodes, like the white tulip and the scene of saving Peter from drowning, made me wish I’d followed through on my plan to re-watch some key episodes during the hiatus. Doing so was almost unnecessary, though: John Noble and Michael Cerveris did an incredible job of showing the connection between these two men.

Windmark was equally interesting in this episode—a statement I never thought I’d make, since Windmark has always seemed like a generic representation of Heartless Calculating Evil. (And that’s not a bad thing.) Now, though, he seems to be experiencing some “primitive” emotions of his own: rage, obsession, anger. I wonder if he’ll learn to transcend those emotions and find the better ones: love, kindness, affection for cats.

Donald has (although I’m not sure how he feels about cats). The revelation that Michael is, broadly speaking, Donald’s son, fits into the theme of parents and children that has been so important on Fringe from the very first episode. And Donald even made a joke! Nothing signals humanity like gentle sarcasm and a love of musicals.

And now he wants to send his son on a mission to save the (present) world and re-write the future. Sending Michael to the era in which human development was “bettered” by the removal of emotions is a darn good plan, albeit one that seems to rub uncomfortably against the paradoxes of time-travel. Can Fringe re-set the world one more time? Will Peter and Olivia get Etta back? Will they be whooshed back to 2013, or 2015, or stay where they are in time? Or does Michael’s surrender to the Loyalists mean that the plan we’ve been hoping for all season is now kaput? And…is Donald coming back? His departure seemed vague.


• Olivia: “Are you feeling sufficiently free and open now?”

• Walter: “You never liked public displays of affection. Or going number two in a public restroom.” (Does anyone like that?)

• Walter: “He wanted me to know that I have loved, that I have had incredible moments and connections.”

• Windmark and the other Observer listening to jazz—with toe-tapping—was masterfully shot and acted. I love it when TV shows take their time with wordless scenes.

• Why did Donald’s “biological reversal” not make his brain explode? Wasn’t that part of the risk with Peter leaving the implant in for too long?

• This is me not talking about why, in the quest to rid humans of emotions, somehow women got cut out of the equation. This is also me not talking about why only men on the show are faced with the intellect/empathy conundrum. Those are questions worth talking about, but I don’t want to get all negative when I’m enjoying the show so much.

And. So. That’s my messy, disordered “review” of an episode that was excellent, thought-provoking, and full of interesting echoes of past ideas and hints of what is to come. I am incredibly excited for next week, and I am happy that Fringe has a chance to wrap up its stories.

Having said that: many people like to skip the “next week, on Fringe” promos. Let’s respect their decision to remain in the dark, and avoid talking about the totally 100% awesome OMG cool glimpse we saw of next week’s two, final, episodes.

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


  1. First time poster :) just to answer a pair of questions, if you don't mind me saying.

    I think we will see Donald, but as September (or so I believe as he said he had to do a pair of things -one of which could be one of those Observer devices- before rejoining the crew.

    Second, perhaps they decided to exclude women because aren't they more, I dont know, empathic?

    Anyways, what do people here think of the slight ret-con of Micheal being the Boy Must Live and not Peter as said in the episode "Peter"? I dont find it particularly upsetting as I like to think that the sentence was about Peter because of the Machine in seasons 2-3.

    Cheers to all, by the way :)

  2. Peter looked pretty sanguine about the idea of Etta coming back - could it be because he realized that a world without Observers would be a hell of a lot different:
    - Would David Robert Jones have existed (wasn't he trying to prepare Earth for them at some point?)
    - Would the pattern have existed? Therefore would John Scott still be alive and with Olivia?
    - Would Peter have again drowned in the lake? Or did season 4 basically cut out that problem?

    Or maybe it'll be more Back to the Future style time travel where basically everything stays the same, but people live in different circumstances?

  3. Walter in the tank. Return to the Pilot. Full circle.

    I've said it and I'm repeating this morning : I'm so amazed that they've made this show such an "intimate" drama within a bigger scope. Well, yes, if they had a bigger budget, they would have made (probably) more spectacular scenes, but nonetheless, the dramatic intensity is so concentrated on a few characters. Intense.

    More repeating's : Not only will I miss this show on the 19th but it will become a Cult TV series. Already is.

    Quoting you : "Is Michael a crazed serial killer bent on forcing our heroes to destroy themselves?" WOOOOH ! I prefer that they('re) chose/choosing to self sacrifice...in order to save the greater number. (And any Spiritual literature will tell us that self sacrifice in one of the greatest acts you can do; spirit being immortal, killing the flesh is relative...)

    "[That’s crazy, right?]" Ya ! Re read previous paragraph, thank you ! But I forgive you; you're probably having a Lostian moment.

    White Tulip, BTW, was one of the strongest episodes of this series. Very powerful. Windmark has his reptilian brain waking up. And you have a GREAT point about the absence of women in this Future, Count me out in a World like that (probably no cats either)

    Once again Josie, a great pleasure to read your reviews. Even this not so "disordered" one. GOD I l-o-v-e this site !! (and cats, yes)

  4. I sort of love the metaness of the emotional v. intellectual theme of this show, because I find that I can enjoy it more on an emotional level than an intellectual one. If I think too hard about the plot implications of various happenings, it all starts to fall apart for me. But if I just focus on Donald looking at his son or talking to Walter about the white tulip, I get completely sucked in and find myself tearing up. It just works on an emotional level.

    But ... I'm very troubled by the paradoxes inherent in the Plan. Especially since if were to work, it would likely erase the entire history of the series as we've known it. I seriously doubt it would just reboot back to the start of the invasion. Either this timeline would continue to play out while another one was created, or the current timeline would be completely rewritten.

    Walternate is the one that discovered the cure for Peter. But he didn't notice because September interrupted him. If the Observers are never created, then September never exists, and Walternate saves Peter. Walter never even has to cross into Over There. I suppose it is possible that Olivia and Peter could still meet if Walter continues with the cortexiphan experiments and pushes her to cross over using her mind, but who knows? I guess we'll see.

    Maybe Michael turning himself in will ensure that The Plan never comes to fruition, but he saves the world in another way. I'm bracing myself for an emotionally resonant resolution that is less than intellectually satisfying if you think about it too much. :)

  5. I found myself reacting strongly to Walter saying he had to sacrifice himself to make everything right. It makes perfect sense, and it really upset me. I'm also very, very intrigued by the possibility of a time reset. If it happens, I hope they do it in a way that feels right in the context of the series, and doesn't make us all want to never re-watch Fringe.

    Lovely review, Josie.

  6. Excellent comment Jess.

    My equivalent is what I call the over thinking : trying to find answers to everything. I prefer to feel, live and experience rather than comprehend. Regardless if I'm talking about a TV show or Life itself.

    Oh ! my ! How will it end ??!

    Thank you J.J. for Alias, Fringe, P of I and Lost. I owe you BIG.

  7. Cool interview with Joshua Jackson about the finale:

    No spoilers. Has got me even more psyched about next week's ending! Can't wait! :o)

  8. I just saw the preview for the ending on YouTube: OMG!OMG!OMG!!!

    And here's a similar interview as the previous one with Anna Torv:


  9. And finally John Noble:

  10. Fabulous review Josie!

    I don't want to think right now. I'm too busy FEELING! This episode sure raised a lot of emotions!

    When I start to think... I worry about their PLAN. That would rewrite their entire history! No crossing over, no Peter-Olivia, no Etta... So please oh please let Michael have a better solution!

    And Bravo to the actor playing Donald/September! Wasn't easy recognising him... loved the little "Observer"-like head movements when he was thinking. A reminder of where he came from. He'll be back in the finale for sure!

    And Walter FINALLY gets to remember the alternate timeline!!! I never thought it fair that Olivia should regain her memories of Peter but poor Walter not. It's his salvation. No more worries about "evil" Walter returning! Pity Nina isn't here to witness it...

    Less than a week till it's all over. *sob*

  11. Cris sans H

    J'ai bien aimé ta réaction au petit preview. Moi, ce fut plutôt :

    OH ! WOW ! Ayoye ! (un ouille québécois)

    Dans une semaine, ce sera la fin d'un chapitre dans nos amours télévisuel(le)s...

  12. Version Liégeoise: OUFTI! Nomdidjû! :p

    5 days and counting... *sigh*

  13. Marvelous review, Josie.

    I, too, will be regarding Fringe as one of my all time faves however it ends. :)

    Love the scene in this ep where Olivia looked into Walter inside the tank totally naked.
    Her facial expression was deadpan priceless. :D

  14. I caught up just in time! That's the sort of impetus a huge pile of marking will give you.

    I spent half the episode thinking, why is Peter the only one to realise that if they wipe the Observers from history, he will drown in the lake as a child? (which is how I read his reaction to Olivia's conviction that they'll get Ette back. They won't, because he'll be too dead to father her in the first place). But as Jess points out, it goes further back than that - Peter will end up living his life in the proper universe.

    (If that meant poor little Baby Henry popped back into existence, I would actually be perfectly happy with that!)

    Josie, I love your theory that Micheal is a serial killer and am totally behind it. He can join Bates in a high security prison ;)

    Oh, and, er, did anyone else think non-Obersvery September was really quite attractive? Just me? OK.

  15. Forgot to say - I'm choosing not to comment on the horrific sexism that implies that getting rid of emotion = getting rid of women because it's too depressing. And because Fringe was so good at being all feminist back in the beginning.

  16. Not just you Juliette, I was thinking the same thing about Donald! :o)

    (that and all of the sudden I felt like watching Singing in the Rain again...) :p

    Oh please don't let them reset the timelines and eliminate Peter again! Please oh please! :o(


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