Everybody loves zeppelins!
It’s 1985: Reagan is sworn in for a second term, Gorbachev becomes the leader of the Soviet Union, Back to the Future is the top-grossing movie in theaters, David Lee Roth leaves Van Halen, and at the U.S. Army Research Center in Manhattan, a slightly younger-looking Walter Bishop wears a slightly different hairstyle while showing off a mobile phone to a bunch of Army brass. The mobile phone — it’s a Razr or something, I dunno — is obviously far too advanced for denizens of the year 1985. In 1985, my family was still using a rotary phone. Which we used until 1991. But that’s neither here nor there.
As soon as Walter invents a 3G network, 1985 will really start to rock.
Walter explains that the technology to build the phone, which is plainly labeled “PROTOTYPE”, came from a parallel world, which is about thirty years ahead of us in terms of technological advancements. Per Walter, it’s impossible to cross over to the other world, but he and William Bell have been able to keep an eye on it for the past several years anyway.
To demonstrate, Walter and his sexy blonde coworker, Dr. Carla Warren, lead the army guys out to a high balcony to look over the Manhattan skyline at night. Carla holds up what looks like a metal picture frame. Walter exposits that the frame provides a glimpse into the “other side” by capturing photons, yadda yadda… hey, you know what? Let’s just call it magic, okay? You know in L. Frank Baum’s Oz books how Ozma had her Magic Picture, through which she’d look in on Dorothy in Kansas every day? Same deal here. Walter has a Magic Picture.
The Army guys look through the frame and spot a zeppelin hovering around the Empire State Building. Of course there’s a zeppelin. There are always zeppelins. Visiting a parallel world or an alternate future? Odds are good that sooner or later, someone’s going to show up in a zeppelin. Doctor Who? Zeppelins. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow? Zeppelins. The Golden Compass? Zeppelins.
There’s something you don’t see every day.
Walter reminds the Army brass (and us!) that the top deck of the Empire State Building was originally designed as a docking port for zeppelins. This is: a) totally true, b) kind of sad, when you think about how we could have had a zeppelin-laden Manhattan skyline, and c) a wet dream for steampunk aficionados.
Walter is quick to point out that it’s absolutely, totally, 100% impossible to cross over to the other side, thereby guaranteeing he’ll be cavorting about in the parallel universe before the second commercial break.
Oh, looky here! They changed the opening credit sequence to add some nifty 1980s graphics and some extra synth-heavy chords to the theme music. It’s all too Tron for words, and I love it to pieces.
Heh. Very clever, Fringe.
“Laser surgery”, snerk.
Back to boring old 2010: Walter, toting around his Magic Picture, heads over to Olivia’s apartment to explain why Peter was shimmering up a storm at the end of the last episode. Olivia, who looks weary and exasperated by all things Bishop-related, swills Scotch and informs him she hasn’t yet told Broyles that Walter apparently stole some other Peter from some other universe and has been passing him off as his son. Walter explains: Peter got sick as a child with a savage yet unspecified genetic illness…
Not sure Walter needed to tote along the visual aid.
…And we’re back in 1985: In the Harvard laboratory, Walter and sexy Carla (who is the 1985 version of a bombshell: huge blonde perm and cherry red lipstick. I imagine we’re going to see more of Carla this season — we spend a lot of time with her in this episode, and she seems to figure heavily into Walter’s backstory. I can only assume she’s going to die tragically in some future episode) use the Magic Picture to spy on another version of Walter Bishop in the alternate universe. The other Walter (whom Walter rather brilliantly dubs “Walternate”) has been trying to find a cure for his own Peter, who is also sick.
This is the default expression of all of Walter’s coworkers.
Instead of working independently to find his own cure, our version of Walter is simply observing and copying Walternate’s work. This makes sense. The alternate universe already has Razr phones while we’re still piddling around with rotary phones. They’re way smarter than us. Also: Zeppelins!
It beats actually doing your own damn research.
Walternate is interrupted by a phone call from his wife, Elizabeth, who assures him that Peter is fine, but urges him to come home soon. Walter rushes home to find Peter on his deathbed. Elizabeth has a funny definition of “fine.”
This is our first glimpse of Elizabeth in the series thus far, by the way, and honestly, I’m not all that sold on her. Granted, in this episode, she’s caring for a gravely ill child, so we’re not seeing her at her best and brightest. Still, she comes across as neurotic and fragile and not all that likeable. Considering how awesome both Walter and Peter are, this is kind of a disappointment.
She’s either in deep grief, or she’s distracted by something on Walter’s collar.
Walter visits young Peter, who is lying in bed, apparently dying, even though he looks just fine and dandy, if a little pale.
I shudder to think of Walter’s idea of an appropriate bedtime story.
Peter’s been trying to walk a silver dollar across his knuckles, but can’t quite get the hang of it, so Walter effortlessly shows him how.
“Thanks for the silver dollar, dad, but I’d rather have that cure.”
Peter tells Walter he wants him to have the coin if he dies. Walter hugs him, and wee Peter shuffles off the mortal coil. Walter bursts into tears. I know I’ve poked fun at Walter before for weeping a lot, but I have to say, this time he’s earned himself a good cry.
Sad Walter is sad.
Walter, Carla, Elizabeth, and the fabulous Nina Sharp attend Peter’s funeral.
Virginia Peters? Zinia Rogers? Is this significant?
Nina assures Walter that William Bell wanted to attend, but Nimoy just couldn’t work it into his schedule that week. Apart from a slightly longer hairdo, Nina doesn’t look too terribly different from her present-day self, probably because Blair Brown circa 2010 looks pretty much the same as Blair Brown circa 1985. If this show really wanted to be coy, though, they could’ve given her Brown’s mid-Eighties Days and Nights of Molly Dodd pixie cut.
“Look, you can’t expect Nimoy to drop everything just to go to your kid’s funeral.”
Back at the Bishop house, Elizabeth sniffles that they didn’t give Peter a good life: Due to his illness, he never got out much or had many friends. Walter sobs that at least Peter knew he was loved. Then, as though he’s second-guessing himself, he asks, “Didn’t he?” Man, this episode is a laugh riot. Even though it was a pretty strong installment, albeit a little leisurely, the ratings took a dive last week. Part of that is no doubt due to the long break — viewers got out of the habit of turning to Fringe on Thursday nights. And part of that is probably because it’s an episode about a cute little kid who dies while his parents grieve openly and worry that they didn’t love him enough.
Later, Walter creeps into Elizabeth’s bedroom, wakes her up, and tells her to follow him to Peter’s room. He sets up the Magic Picture in front of Peter’s bed. Through it, Walter and Elizabeth watch Alternate Peter, sick but alive, lying in his bed, safe in the parallel world. Walter gives a heartbreaking little speech about how they can take comfort from this: Somewhere, Peter will grow up and lead a happy life, but not here. Here, Peter’s dead, and they have to move on with their lives. Yes, because nothing says “moving on” like secretly keeping tabs on the alternate-universe version of your dead kid.
This is a perfectly healthy part of the grieving process.
Back in the lab, Walter drinks heavily and watches through the Magic Picture as Walternate works to find a cure for his own version of Peter. Walter carries on a running monologue through all this, describing what Walternate is doing, step by step, and hey, let’s hear it for John Noble, once again revealing himself as the finest actor currently on network television for making this highly unnatural scene work.
In the parallel universe, an Observer — the main Observer, in fact — appears in the laboratory and distracts Walternate.
In some episodes, it’s relatively easy to spot the Observer.
Walternate turns his attention away from his formula to confront him. Thus, he doesn’t see his purple formula briefly turning a pretty shade of blue before fading back to purple. As any qualified chemist knows, blue = good. Walternate found the cure, but because he was distracted by the Observer, he fails to realize this. Thus, Alternate Peter is doomed. Horrified, Walter drunkenly throws stuff around and breaks the Magic Picture.
Yeah, that’s productive.
In the parallel universe — we know this because there are zeppelins hovering overhead — two Observers (the boss Observer and some other Observer) exit a movie theater.
The movie theater is showing Back to the Future, which, as the marquee notes, stars Eric Stoltz. Stoltz, of course, was originally cast as Marty McFly in our universe, but was replaced by Michael J. Fox shortly after filming started. So this is a good joke. It’s such a good joke that the camera lingers on the marquee for waaaaaaay too long, just to make sure all the viewers get the joke. Yup, we got it. Sure did. Sort of ended up diluting the joke there, actually. In comedy, one plus one equals one-half, guys.
Somewhere, Eric Stoltz is quietly weeping.
Anyway, the Observers discuss the movie: “Their theories are fascinating,” one notes. His expression implies that “fascinating” is Observerese for “complete rubbish.” The other Observer points out that it’s not really a theory — Back to the Future is entertainment. And mighty fine entertainment it is, too! Both Observers are slurping down gigantic cherry-red Slurpee-type beverages, it seems important to note.
Observers enjoy a good dose of Red Dye 40 every now and then.
The original Observer approaches them and confesses that he messed up: He accidentally distracted Walter Bishop, and now Peter’s going to die. Thus, the future will be changed. The Observers all fret for a while about how Peter is vastly important, for some unspecified reason. The boss Observer advises him to restore the balance — he’ll have an opportunity to fix what he did and correct the future.
Man, they’re proud of that marquee, aren’t they? Yes, yes, Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly. Very nice joke. We get it. Moving on.
Yep. Joke’s still funny.
In the lab, Walter successfully recreates Walternate’s experiment. He explains to Carla that he’s going to cross over into the parallel world with a vial of the cure to save Alternate Peter. It turns out that, contrary to what they told the army guys, Walter and Carla have known all along that travel betwixt universes is possible — it’s just incredibly dangerous, seeing as it ruptures the fundamental concepts of nature and all. Walter knows the Alternate Bishop family will be traveling to their lake house at this time of year (it’s the dead of winter, by the way. This is an odd time of year to go to a lake house, but the Bishops are an odd family, so I’ll allow it), so he’ll arrange to cross over to the parallel world over there.
Blue is the universal color of scientific progress.
Carla puts her high-heeled foot down at this: She quotes Oppenheimer’s “I am become death, destroyer of worlds” speech at him, which doesn’t go over well with Walter. He sneers and dismisses her views as religious claptrap. “There’s only room for one God in this lab, and it’s not yours,” he tells her, then snippily says he won’t be needing her assistance any further.
Ah, that’s right. Before his long, mellowing stint in the mental institution, Walter was a bit of a butthead. I’d forgotten that. Duly reminded.
Carla runs off to fill Nina in on what Walter is planning. The scene takes place in an imposing corridor somewhere. Is this Massive Dynamic? Did Massive Dynamic exist in 1985? Anyway, what with the mid-Eighties setting, this scene seems very Watchmen, in the best possible way. Honestly, there’s more than a touch of Adrian Veidt about Nina, and I mean that as a compliment. If anyone on this show is secretly plotting to drop a giant telepathic squid on Manhattan, it’s Nina. Well, Broyles too, maybe. Or Astrid.
Nina then takes out her ENORMOUS mobile phone to call William Bell. It’s the size of a demi-baguette. Maybe Walter will bring you back a Razr phone from the other side if you ask him nicely, Nina.
“How’s Walter coming on that cell phone prototype? Because I’m developing tendonitis from lifting this thing.”
At Reiden Lake, Walter drags a tarp-covered contraption across the frozen ice. He sets up a portable generator and two metal shields to form a rough doorway, and if you’re thinking that maybe he shouldn’t be doing this on a frozen lake, give yourself a cookie.
Walter is up to no good.
Carla and Nina arrive to stop him. Nina is wearing what appears to be a large furry ottoman perched atop her head. The ways of Nina are often mysterious, but always awesome.
General rule of thumb: One’s hat should weigh less than one’s head.
Nina claims William Bell wouldn’t want Walter to do this. Walter scoffs and insists that Bell would be totally down with this sort of thing. He’s probably right. Nina then tries the sympathy angle. She says, “You know how much Peter meant to me.” She seems to genuinely mean it, too — in fact, I think she’s blinking back tears — and since Nina’s never been the sentimental type, this seems significant.
Huh. Would it be awesome or disastrous if it turned out Nina is Peter’s mom?
Anyway, Walter shrugs off Nina’s arguments and activates the portal.
As an added bonus, Walter gets great TV reception with that thing.
As he’s stepping through, Nina body-slams him and tackles him to the icy ground. Aw, man. I rotate favorite characters on this show all the time — often it’s Walter, sometimes it’s Olivia — but right now Nina is holding onto that top position for all she’s worth.
Don’t mess with Nina. She’ll tackle you if she has to.
Walter throws her off and staggers through the portal. Nina shouts in pain as it closes after him, leaving her behind in our universe. She holds up her arm, which got caught in the closing portal. It sort of… flickers, or pulses, or something. She yells at Carla to help her. Ooooo. So her story to Olivia in the pilot episode about losing her arm to cancer is a big old lie.
On the plus side, Nina, it’ll be a great story to tell your kids.
How do I feel about this? I think show producers need to proceed with caution whenever they change significant elements of a character’s backstory. I mean, I’m pretty damn sure J.J. Abrams didn’t know, back when he introduced Nina and her cool robotic arm in the first episode, that this was how she had lost it. Usually, it’s safer to stick with the established backstory, or you can very easily end up with a mess of a show. In this case, it works fine. It’s plausible. Nina would have no real compulsion to tell Olivia the truth about how she lost her arm in the pilot, so it doesn’t feel like too much of a cheat. Besides, this makes for a pretty good alternate story.
Safely in the other universe, Walter discovers that his vial of the cure spilled during his brawl with Nina.
This shot could really use a zeppelin in the background.
Alternate Elizabeth visits bedridden Alternate Peter, who tries to walk the damn silver dollar across his knuckles. Once again, he can’t. As Walter did in the original universe, Alternate Elizabeth demonstrates optimal coin-knuckle-walking procedure. The scene would have been more effective had Elizabeth actually been able to walk the coin across her knuckles without fumbling it at the end, but they fudge it enough to make it work, sort of. Alternate Peter, who is fortunately dying slower in this universe, drifts off to sleep, and Elizabeth leaves.
Walter pops into Alternate Peter’s bedroom and wakes him. Elizabeth comes in, surprised to see her husband isn’t still at the Harvard lab. Walter informs them he’s found a cure, but he needs to take the kid back to Cambridge with him.
Science nerdling bedroom alert!
Elizabeth tries to come along with them, but Walter insists she remain behind, claiming she’ll need to save her strength to assist Peter post-recovery. Elizabeth reluctantly agrees. “Bring him back to me,” she tells Walter. “I promise,” Walter lies.
This is probably why present-day Peter mostly wears sensible black.
Walter takes little Peter on a long, cold, snowy walk. Alternate Peter catches on pretty quickly that Walter is not really his father. Walter reassures him, then opens the portal back to our world and walks through it with him.
The heat of the portal and the weight of the generator proves to be too much for the frozen lake. The ice melts, and Walter and Peter crash through into the lake.
There’s a “Walter’s on thin ice” joke waiting to happen.
…Uh, Walter? Did the possibility of this outcome not occur to you? You didn’t have to set up the portal on the ice, did you?
Peter and Walter sink to the bottom. Walter loses consciousness after glimpsing a shadowy figure diving down to retrieve Peter.
Like this kid hasn’t been through enough already.
Walter wakes up in the passenger seat of his station wagon, with Peter bundled up asleep in the back and the Observer at the wheel. The Observer does his whole talking-at-the-same-time-as-Walter shtick for a while, then points out that Peter won’t live much longer. It’s terribly important that Walter get Peter to his lab fast. The Observer pulls over and gets out of the car, and Walter speeds off to Cambridge.
Carjacked by an Observer.
(Observers can cross over between parallel worlds without any muss or fuss. This is good to know. It’s also interesting that Alternate Peter is vitally important to the future, but the Peter from our world isn’t. Wasn’t. Whatever.)
At the Harvard lab, Carla joins Walter as Walter administers the cure to unconscious Peter. Carla, who is no fool, wants to make sure Walter plans to return Peter to his real parents. Walter assures her he will, just as soon as Peter is stabilized. Liar, liar, pants on fire.
Worried that Walter was out all night, Elizabeth shows up at the lab. She sees Peter. Walter tries to explain that he’s not their Peter and he has to take him back, but Elizabeth is clearly not listening.
Show of hands: Who thinks she’s going to agree to give the kid back?
Are Walter and Elizabeth’s actions at all sympathetic? Well, they’re understandable — they’re in deep grief for their dead son, after all. But seeing how they just neatly transferred all that grief over to Walternate and Alternate Elizabeth, their actions seem pretty despicable. This is no doubt going to come back to bite Walter on the ass in future episodes, and it should.
Didn’t think so.
Back in 2010, Walter tells Olivia he realized he could never take Peter back. Crossing between universes caused the first crack in a pattern of cracks between worlds. Walter tells Olivia, “And it’s my fault.” Yep. Hard to argue with that, Walter.
1) Somewhere in an alternate universe, Walternate is going to be monstrously peeved if he ever figures out how his son disappeared.
2) So Alternate Peter was, what, eight or so when he was nabbed by Walter and taken to our universe? Granted, he was sick through much of his childhood, and the episode makes a point of noting that he never got out much, but shouldn’t he remember some of this? Shouldn’t he at least get a strong sense of dÃ©jÃ vu every time he hears something about zeppelins?
Good episode, though, even without Peter (adult Peter, I mean) or Astrid or Broyles. Nice to have Fringe back on the schedule.