Fringe series finale recap: The Paradox That Saved The World

Walter Bishop and company say goodbye in a moving, frustrating, ultimately rewarding series finale   
Ep. 12 | Aired Jan 18, 2013

I can't write this caption. It's just going to make me cry.

My about-face began with Walter’s videotape. The mystery of this object captured my imagination, and the emotional power of the scene floored me. Walter -- dressed in a warm wool sweater instead of the white lab coat he has worn in the other scavenger hunt videos – looked into the camera and said:

“Peter. I sent you a letter. It contains something of mine. I imagine you called to ask why I would send such a strange letter. And when you tried to call I wouldn't answer. So you came to find me at the lab but I was not to be found. I was here one moment and then vanished off the face of the earth the next. I want you to know I am fine, living many, many years from now. You will never see me again. You will never see me again to insure the future of humanity. Your future. The future of Olivia. The future of Etta. I don’t want you to be sad. The time together we stole. I cheated fate to be with you. And we shouldn't have had that time together but we did. And I wouldn’t change it for the world. I don't want to say goodbye. But I will say, ‘I love you son.’”

Peter absorbed all of this with shock-faced numbness. Time and again, the younger Bishop had challenged fate and won. Not this time. A big part of the war to come had already been fought and lost long ago. “Does it have to be this way?” he asked his father.

Walter erupted with a spasm of despair, grief, frustration, and what seemed like 19 other things compressed into a single, garbled “Yes!!” He explained that he and The Observer Child would become a paradox that would have to be managed as a consequence of ret-conning the Observers out of existence by showing the 2167 Oslo eggheads a different way to evolve humanity than expanding intelligence by unplugging emotions. “Nature abhors a paradox,” said Walter. “It has to heal itself. It will do so by deleting me and the boy at the moment of invasion. The boy and I will disappear after 2015.” While this initially sounded as if Walter and Michael would also be erased from history, forgotten by all, Peter clarified – and Walter seemed to affirm – that Walter and Michael would merely be stuck in the future. Apparently, self-aware, self-regulating Nature would prevent these anomalies from another history from migrating to the new past they were about to create. (I rationalized this as another example of how J.J. Abrams dealt with time travel in his Star Trek film, i.e. how Original Series Spock traversed the black hole and became marooned in Quinto Spock's alt-timeline.) Bottom line: Rebooting/resetting time from 2036 would yield the same exact effect if Walter and September had successfully executed the plan back in 2016.

“I know in my soul this is what I’m supposed to do,” said Walter, ratcheting up the emotional intensity of the scene (and, for a moment, hushing all of our WTF? like a proverbial Observer Child finger to the lips). “I want you to give Olivia your daughter back. I want to give you your life back. As a father, how could I not do that for you. What I said on the tape, about stealing tome to be with you, I mean it. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.” The Bishop boys embraced. It would be their last hug. “You are my favorite thing, Peter,” said Walter, eyes liquid with tears. “My very favorite thing.”

Peter began to cry. So did the observers at home.

So many things to say about this scene, including what I saw a verbal pun. Two Walters. A pair of grandpas. A pair of doctors. Grandfather Paradox. (Yes, groan.) (Oh, you'll miss this.) The scene cleverly, effectively, affectingly internalized and reflected back our own angst about the looming reboot/reset, as well as our own grief about the cancelation of Fringe. It suddenly hit me, watching this scene, that Fringe's has been about itself and our relationship to it: Stolen time with a show that had survived cancellation for at least a year because of our love for it (see: season 4 Peter); a master plan that leads to the self-termination; anxiety about legacy, and how we’ll remember the show, if we’ll remember it at all; uncertainty of ever seeing it again, in any form, in the future.

“Enemy of Fate” did not specify when Walter recorded this message, but I believe we can assume it was between Etta’s birth in 2012 and when the team went to amber in 2016. If I have been understanding the story properly, Walter and September began working on the master plan before the invasion, which is to say, following the very last moment of season 4, when September visited Walter in the lab and announced, “We have to warn the others. They are coming.” Many are asking: Why  do only Walter and Michael get deleted? I think Fringe was sticking to past precedent. See: Season 3/Season 4, when Peter activated the reset, then got erased. Fringe logic: Your reboot, you get rubbed away.

Regardless, the implication is clear: Walter’s plan to purge The Observers from the continuum would leave all of Fringe history (Rebootlandia edition) prior to 2015 intact. Which was – all at once – a revelation, a relief, and a mystery. How was this possible? Why wouldn't the regenerating ripple of the ret-con wave wash across all of Rebootlandia, or at least just the parts touched by September's 12 sides survey team? That’s just common sense, right?

Well, yes, it is. But that doesn’t mean we're right. It might not even be science. It’s certainly not theoretical fringe science. And most importantly: It's not cool. Here’s something I didn’t know before watching “Enemy of Fate,” something I discovered while writing this recap: In 2010, a scientist named Seth Lloyd made headlines in his field (and to some degree beyond) by solving one of the oldest arguments against time travel, an argument built on everything Walter said about nature abhorring paradox. The argument was known as The Grandfather Paradox. It’s the idea that you can’t go back in time and kill your grandfather before your birth because that would negate your existence as well as your time travel. But Lloyd put forth a theory based on an idea in quantum mechanics called “postselection” that’s basically a new, better riff on something known as the Novikov self-consistency principal. It’s an idea that’s implicit in Walter’s view of “nature,” i.e. that the universe can create novel solutions to paradoxes.

 NEXT: My Last Fringe Theory: About A Boy

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