Fringe recap: Back To The Future?

'Fringe' sets up its series finale with the promise (or threat) of death, time travel and another reboot in 'The Boy Must Live'
Ep. 11 | Aired Jan 11, 2013

Do you like me better with my hat and pasty pallor or my Ewan McGregor makeover? While we wouldn't want to rob Donald (Michael Cerveris) of his newfound humanity, we do prefer the classic September look.

Fox

Donald’s chronicle of the plan didn’t add up for me. I don’t mean that as a complaint or criticism. But I am convinced he wasn’t telling us everything he knew. Just one reason for my suspicion: Donald made it sound he wasn’t expecting to ever see Walter and company again. So why did he remove The Boy from safe keeping the pocket universe, place him with the kindly couple on Thimble Island, and instruct them to begin broadcasting signals at a specific point in the future?

A later, private conversation between Donald and Walter as they were collecting items for their time travel device heightened my suspicion. Walter revealed that he could now recall one aspect of the plan: He needed to die in order to make it work. But he couldn’t remember why. Donald filled in one blank. He said the Walter of 21 years ago felt that if self-sacrifice was necessary, Walter should be the one to make it, in order to atone for all the collateral damage he had caused from his well-intentioned but often catastrophic mad science. Donald then told Walter that at one point during their work together 21 years earlier, the elder Bishop began to doubt himself and the plan. At that time, Donald gave him a gift to buck him up, an artifact from the original timeline: The white tulip drawing, which, if you can recall (The Greatest Episode of Fringe Ever!), had been sketched and sent to Walter (anonymously) by a fellow genius (heartbroken, tragedy-rocked time traveler Dr. Alistair Peck), who could not accept the bum hand history had dealt him and risked dehumanization to change it. Original Timeline Walter had received that drawing at a low point in his relationship with Peter, and he interpreted it a symbol of God’s providence and forgiveness.

Now, here in Rebootlandia 2036, Walter told Donald he could very much use that white tulip totem… but he didn't know where it was, and neither did Donald. My theory? The white tulip drawing is the last item in the scavenger hunt. And when Walter finds it, he’s going to have an epiphany: The plan is all wrong. I think this is why The Boy restored Walter’s memory of the original timeline. It wasn’t just because he wanted Walter to remember he had been loved in advance of his death. It was to prepare Walter to learn for himself the lesson of so many previous episodes of Fringe, from “White Tulip” to “And Those We Left Behind” and “A Short Story About Love.” To quote and paraphrase from another show dear to my heart: Whatever happened, happened. All of this – the experience of five seasons of formative turmoil -- matters. Our past is important. We need it to create meaning for the present, to build a better future. We need it so we can give and receive the most powerful things we can give another human being, the things we need as a people to do more than survive, but thrive: Forgiveness, redemption, and love. We shouldn't try to escape it, change it, destroy it. (Also see: the entire scavenger hunt storyline, a complex metaphor for the interplay between/interdependency of past and present; a storyline in which the lessons learned/changes produced as a result of arduous, often painful experience has been as vital and important than the stuff acquired, if not more so.)

So sorry Olivia: I do not support your hope to resurrect your dead daughter and your dream of recovering dandelion days in the park via the magic bullet of resetting history. After hearing the plan, she so salivated at the prospect of Etta’s return that she had to excuse herself to Donald’s kitchen and gulp down a glass of water. Peter showed more reserve, either because he didn’t want to get his hopes up – or he knew better. We shall see.

Bottom line: Ret-con is a really, really bad idea.

Which, interestingly, was the explicit point of the episode’s other storyline: Captain Windmark’s trip to the 27th century – a perpetually dark retro dystopia – to investigate the origins of the anomaly and to seek permission from his superiors to travel back in time to a point where he could kill our heroes, thus neutralizing them as a threat. The request was denied for a few reasons. First, Windmark was told that The Powers That Be were not prepared to deal with the historical ripple effects (i.e., a timeline reboot) such an action would produce. He clarified that this was exactly why the Observers invaded when they invaded: This point in history offered a 99.999999% chance of success (i.e., colonizing the past without subverting the future). Second, Windmark was told that The Powers That Be simply didn't view Team Bishop and The Child as meaningful threats, and in fact, they were concerned about Windmark’s fixation with them. “Is there something wrong with you?” asked The Commander. Yes, there was, said Windmark. He was experiencing something he shouldn’t. Emotions. Specifically: Hatred. He wanted to eradicate lowly, beastly humanity from the face of the Earth. His sentiments were truly scary… and yet, I felt badly for him, as Windmark was basically admitting that he was broken. He shouldn’t be feeling anything, because Observers don’t feel.

Now, in my last recap, I theorized that Walter Bishop will save the world from the Observers by saving the Observers themselves. This episode certainly seemed to corroborate that speculation. September's father yearnings, Windmark's hate, and the great scene in Donald's apartment when the Observer tapped his toes to the music on the radio -- all of these bits were meant to demonstrate that the Observers aren't total machine men -- that they can be redeemed. (Tangent: The Observer, infected with music, reminded me of this great essay that traces the evolution of music via viral meme theory.) I still like the idea that the road to salvations goes through fixing, not destroying, the Observers... but I really don't know if I like the idea of accomplishing that fix in such a way that leads to another reboot.

But here's another idea.

If you were a logic-driven being, and you could see that you weren’t operating properly, what would be the logical thing to do? Maybe turn yourself in for repairs? Perhaps even shut down? And what if you were to conclude that your malfunction was due to a design flaw that affects your entire artificially created species? Would you might consider shutting down the rest of your kind, too?

My alternative theory for how our heroes will defeat the Observers: They won’t. Windmark will.

The episode left us with a couple curious cliffhangers. First, Donald disappeared again. He said he needed to do a couple things on his own. I think of one of those things will be to get one of those Observer brain jacks and Observer-ize himself again. Second, The Observer Child did an unexpected thing: He gave himself up to The Loyalists. Reasons? Unknown. My theory? Our “What child is this?” messiah boy with the purple hoody was putting himself in position to make a heroic act, a sacrifice that will help save the day, affirm the themes of Fringe, and replace Walter in the somebody-must-die requirement of the plan.

In other words: The father must live.

The end is nigh. See you at the apocalypse. The message board, for one more week, is yours.

Twitter: @EWDocJensen

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