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Fringe s3e10 review


Roman's back from the dead... and he's not the only one.

Fringe - 'Firefly'

"The Firefly"

You wait an epoch for season three of Fringe to resume, suffer the shift to Friday nights - and all the anxiety that comes with it for the fan of J.J. Abrams' often dazzling SF show - and then you get sick just as everyone wakes up from the new year. Sorry folks. With reviews this late, I reckon I'm talking to myself right now, but since Walter Bishop (the ever-brilliant John Noble) is my favorite character in Fringe, I guess I'm in good company.

What a week for 'Real Walter' fans. Not only do we open with some great domestic comedy-schtick between Walter and long-suffering son Peter, but 'Firefly' takes us to the core of what Fringe has genuinely been about from the start. No retcon grafts, no re-imaginings, no cheating - this show is about a man who missed his dead son so much that he stole an alternate version of him from a parallel universe back in the 1980s, and thereby risked the very fabric and integrity of both universes. It's about putting things right, at a micro and macro level, temporally and emotionally - and about the sacrifices that this may require.

The forces of conscience and consequence come home to Walter in 'Firefly' as he - and we - seem to be in the process of acclimatisation to the death of Peter in a future event involving the reconstruction of the apocalyptic machine that is attuned to Peter himself. The follically-challenged Observer is back, and he's dishing out 'Penitence 101' with a quiet compassion as he brings the long-dead son of one of Walter's favourite musicians forward in time from before his death, for a last chat with his ageing father (brilliantly played by Christopher Lloyd). The whole event is captured on the security monitors, so pretty soon Lance Reddick - now back to earning his third billing with his customary 180 seconds of mission-doling - is sending the Fringe team to see how a guy that's been dead for 25 years can turn up at his father's nursing home.

It transpires that the eponymous insect of this episode was caught by Peter after his rescue by The Observer as a child; analogous to the famous 'Butterfly effect', that simple act of boyish curiosity unwittingly led to the death of Lloyd's son. And thus Walter's inability to accept the loss of his own son in his own universe cost his boyhood hero his life, career and happiness. Is The Observer back to set things right? It seems so, for a while, as he sets up a chain of events that will once again force Walter to choose the greater good over the life of his son. As it transpires, it's just a test for a more important future installment.

This would all be finger-chewing fare as it stands, but Fringe's controversial move to Friday nights and the endless debate about its future lend an added urgency and compulsion to the prophecies of 'Firefly'. Are the producers 'wrapping up' the show's arc in almost certain knowledge that there will be no season four? Are they being forced to twist the show into a shape that gives it the chance to wriggle out of its execution at the last minute under a surprisingly resilient series of ratings results? And is putting us all on tenterhooks like this actually part of the plan to magnify both the drama and the audience figures?

Well, when Fringe is on this kind of form, it's overkill in any case.

This week's set-up was temporally elaborate, with two meanings posited for the actions of The Observer. On the one hand, the entire series of events in 'Firefly' seem manipulated to make Peter take the chemically-poisoned milk that would have killed his more frail dad. On the other hand, The Observer himself, in the kind of intra-office scene that reminds one of the angels chatting in Wim Wenders' Wings Of Desire, confirms that his core intention was actually to see if Walter was capable of doing what will have to be done.

The tragedy of Walter's character is that he really has tried to change for the better, even to the point of having the parts of his brain removed that were making him so damned evil. From another point of view, it's a cowardly kind of character-suicide, in which one could argue that he is trying to abnegate responsibility for the consequences of his past actions. What can you do? If your dog bites the post-worker, the county's not going to sue the dog, and Walter likewise is continuing to pay the price for who he once was.

Walter's continuing relative-estrangement from Peter (who has only ever called him 'dad' once in Fringe, when almost terminally ill) is echoed also in the distance between Peter and Olivia, who is still trying to handle the fact that Peter 'cheated' on him with... err, with her. Or rather with Not Olivia.

This particular theme has less weight that the Walter/Peter dynamic, since we're all pretty sure that Olivia isn't really going to give up Peter as a lifelong romantic prospect in the wake of his unknowing infidelity, but is just taking a predictably long time to get her mind round how much of those happy 'early couple days' she has been robbed of by Not Olivia.

Minor matters. 'Firefly' proved a portentous and moving episode about future loss - echoed by doubts of Fringe's future in the real world. And if that's a cheap trick, it was an effective one this time.


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