In the third episode of the fourth season of Fringe, the Fringe division in our world investigates a fungus that can decompose a body in a matter of minutes while Walter deals with the ever-increasing signs that Peter is trying to communicate with him. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Fringe.
God, THIS SHOW. What a thrilling and emotionally compelling episode of this show’s mythology, one that intertwines both a “monster” and a heartbreaking story for Walter Bishop. As we learn more about the world that’s popped up without Peter, we find out HE ACTUALLY DID EXIST.
And this is what I want to focus most of my discussion on: Peter existed, and now we have found out how the Observers went about “erasing” Peter Bishop. I genuinely don’t see many people talking about this at all and it fascinates me. Did we just get a huge answer that was basically glossed over in just a minute or two? If we think back to “Peter” in season two, the Observer named September was integral in setting into motion everything that happened for our characters past that day in 1985. He saved Peter and Walter from that icy death and said something incredibly specific: Walter must fix Peter because he is important.
We know the Observers can see most, if not all of time and space, so could it at all be possible that they knew the two universes would eventually collide and that Peter needed to be the one to bring them together? Did they also know that if Peter did this, they would then “erase” him by not saving him from that lake? Sure, the timeline is all….well, it’s rather timey-wimey, isn’t it? Is this an alternate timeline we’re actually seeing? If Peter snaps back into place, do things revert back to the old one, or are they forever stuck in this one? Will Peter remember the old timeline or adapt to this one?
I know that’s a lot of questions that won’t be answered now. Hell, we still haven’t even addressed the weird shapeshifter technology found in the season’s premiere yet. But so much of this episode has forced me to look at the past of this show and draw these parallels to what has already happened. At the center of it is Walter Bishop and I was so happy that he was the main star of “Alone in the World.” Let’s just get this out of the way: We need to invent an award for John Noble that somehow encompasses every award that has ever existed, and then we need to hand it to him for his performance not just for the entire run of this show, but for the unbelievably shocking and heartbreaking show in this specific episode. Perhaps it should be called the “All The Awards Award.” Then we can say we gave John Noble All The Awards and it would be factually correct. Because look….you may not have liked this episode. (Which is blasphemy, but I don’t judge blasphemy.) But you cannot deny that John Noble is Walter Bishop, and this was one of the best performances in the four seasons this show has been running.
The parallels between Walter’s predicament with adult Peter and the fungus are undeniable, and praise must be given to David Fury for writing this with such love and care. (Also, dude….you wrote “Walkabout” in season one of LOST. That will forever be one of the greatest hours of television in the history of the universe. I LOVE YOU SIR.) Fury used bullying to show how degrading it makes a person, how alone it makes them feel, and then took that sense of loneliness to show us what life was like for Walter without Peter around. I know I bring it up a trillion times, but this is how you write about abuse and loneliness, not like “Fear Her” did in Doctor Who. (LOL WHO KNEW I WAS GOING TO SAY THAT everyone did.) It’s also not at all surprising that there was a direct parallel between the fungus desperately trying to connect in the world and using a lonely, bullied boy to protect, and the idea that Peter is drifting somewhere, desperately seeking out some sort of psychic, emotional connection with both Walter and Olivia.
The truth is, this episode was heartbreaking to watch after spending three years with Walter Bishop. And I think David Fury knew that and he knew that writing so much of this would be challenging and upsetting, and I’m still glad that he did it. Walter’s journey to accept his own mind has been a long one, and I’m happy that we got to see it over the course of the first three seasons. And while Peter certainly played a part in that, ultimately Walter had to accept himself, and I find that message incredibly powerful, especially as someone who suffers from clinical depression. I don’t know that the show ever addresses it in the most problematic-free way, but I can’t ignore that ultimately, this show is telling us that a mind, no matter how weird or “broken,” is still a beautiful, beautiful thing.
But in terms of Walter’s past, you also can’t ignore that Peter helped his father, and because of him, Astrid and Olivia helped Walter on the road to acceptance as well. Now, Peter is out of the equation. He died in that lake back in 1985, and Walter has never had that moment of epiphany, or that emotional catalyst, to bring him to where he was at the end of season three. The Walter Bishop we see throughout “Alone in the World” is one who is close with Astrid and Olivia, but it looks like it’s never reached the same emotional intensity as before. He is a man who feels, to put it bluntly, alone in the world. We’d been given the idea that he had no “anchor” to bring him back down to reality, and as Peter’s presence becomes more and more intense, Walter starts to accept that perhaps this is true. I mean…sweet christ, that scene when Broyles brings Walter the first body and Peter starts yelling into Walter’s head? UGH THIS SHOW. THIS SHOW.
Yet even with the fantastically relieving and exciting end to “Alone in the World,” I was impressed with how fascinating the story with Aaron was by itself. It felt so much like a classic episode of The X-Files and you know I have absolutely zero complaints about such a thing existing. I think it helped that the monster-of-the-week was so intricately tied to Walter’s story, sure. But that fungus (named Gus, which I can only hope is a Breaking Bad reference) was frightening. David Fury utilizes one thing that makes it so terrifying: speed. It’s scary because an “infection” means death just a few minutes later. Oh, and that gigantic tentacle thing that kills the technician? What the fuck was that? And how great was that special affect???
This is what I want from this show, and “Alone in the World” feels both like a great introduction to someone who is a new viewer and acts as a reward to those of us who have been watching along and paying attention. Half the fun is in the details. It was great to see the parallel to Fauxlivia’s Chinatown birth scene back in season three, only to have the roles reversed between Olivia and Lincoln. Of course, that just made me think WHERE THE FUCK IS BABY HENRY.
But I can’t close this review without talking about that phenomenal final scene. Seeing John Noble exclaim, “I am perfectly sane!” with tears and blood in his eyes, after Olivia stopped him from giving himself a self-lobotomy, is certainly one of the most heartbreaking moments in all of Fringe. The show isn’t telling us that without Peter, people no longer have choices. That’s too simple of an explanation. Without Peter, Walter is alone in the world. He does not have a son to love, and he does not have someone with which to have a deep emotional attachment. It is a powerful statement about how those two characters are attached so deeply and so fully, and it makes me miss Peter Bishop more than ever. I want him back, and I want him rolling his eyes at his father’s absurd theories, or giving Olivia that look (YOU KNOW WHICH ONE), or teaming up with Astrid to tease Walter for another idiosyncrasy of his.
I really do love what this show is doing. And I want Peter Bishop back.