TV

Fringe: Season Two: Episode 16

Lesley Smith

As Fringe's focus zooms in on the tension between Walter's paternal and ethical obligations, it skirts the nostalgic fluff that usually consumes the Flashback Episode.


Fringe

Airtime: Thursdays, 9pm ET
Cast: Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Noble, Lance Reddick, Jasika Nicole, Blair Brown
Subtitle: Season Two: Episode 16
Network: Fox
Air date: 2010-04-01
Website
Trailer
Amazon

When, on tonight's episode of Fringe, Special Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) opens her door to Walter (John Noble), desperate to explain "what happened," viewers might worry. Such phrasing usually sets up the Flashback Episode, adorned with anachronistic hairstyles and clothes, improbable coincidences, and psychobabble.

Olivia's encounter might seem especially disconcerting, because the series' preceding episode, which aired way back on 4 February, revealed that Peter (Joshua Jackson) belonged not to our universe, but to that parallel world from which Olivia had returned at the beginning of Series Two. So subtle was the build-up to this reality shift, and so seemingly accidental its trigger, that Walter's desire to unburden himself now seems about as nuanced as a sledge hammer, and just as dangerous.

However, as the focus zooms in on the tension between Walter's paternal and ethical obligations, the episode, titled "Peter," skirts the nostalgic fluff that usually consumes the flashback. In so doing, it plants tiny, provocative slivers of meta-story, the sort that Robert Moore calls the series' "mythology", fundamentally tilting viewers' projections of the future.

Walter's empathy for a fellow researcher attempting to save a dying child soon mutates into a willingness to use his own scientific prowess to impose on another family the tragedy that has devastated his own -- the loss of a child. Yet even as the script positions Walter as quasi-helpless victim of a series of accidents, Noble's subtle performance suggests a more complicated trajectory. Though Walter knows he might easily create a sympathetic, if not legal, justification for his actions, his grappling begins to raise questions about the very concept of "free will".

As events nudge Walter further and further away from his own ideals, Noble gathers his whole body into the telling of each subsequent lie. We know that Walter knows he is committing not a merely human crime, but also a cosmic folly that might devastate all those around him.

While neither Olivia nor the adult Peter appears in the main storyline, the ongoing flickers of attraction between them add further tension to Walter's story. The "Will they, won't they?" plot is certainly familiar, and particularly suited to episodic TV. From Mulder and Scully to Meredith and McDreamy, romantic sparks have propelled series over long stretches of ho-hum plotting. Peter's newly revealed otherworldly origins hint at one further twist to this hoary plotline through which Fringe might expand its questions concerning the human cost of scientific prowess.

Finally, the episode also hints at a coming radical change in the role of the Observer (Michael Serveris). His actions suggest an accumulating urgency around Peter, but they also, troublingly, hint at the kind of religious thread for which lazy plotters reach when science provides unsatisfactory answers. The great science fiction writer Samuel Delaney has noted that many readers want a story in which science acts as God, able to explain away all abnormality. They are unprepared, he says, for stories in which "The anxiety quotient... came from the fact that the scientific institutions which could have afforded explanations... were what had eroded from the landscape."

Through almost two series, Fringe has enacted this high-anxiety landscape, as it counterpoints the proliferation of secret government agencies, of which the Fringe Division is just one, and equally secretive, too powerful corporations like Massive Dynamics. Walter's lost career, his incarceration in a mental hospital, and the ruins of his laboratory, have all led viewers to such questions.

This new episode ups the stakes, suggesting that science itself, through the actions of adherents like Walter, may be contributing to its own marginalization. His moral struggle not only prompts some serious self-examination in viewers, but also reminds us that the capacities of science are outstripping human capacity for moral judgment, and the results are far from clear.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image