Fringe jumps to a pocket dimension to uncover the next clue to defeat the Observers, but the real question that emerges from ‘Through The Looking Glass…’ is who is Donald?
Let’s bitch it out…Watching the episode reminds me of my childhood love of artist MC Escher, famous for his trippy drawings. Many of Escher’s most famous works feature worlds blending into one another, especially changes in perspective involving staircases. In this way, the pocket world of “Through The Looking Glass…” functions in much the same way, as Walter (John Noble) informs us (via videocasette) that the laws of physics do not apply here.
The burnt out apartment of 167 Crescent street is the site of the latest clue, and while the episode ultimately ends up being a dead end (in the sense that our fringe crew leave empty-handed), the events of the episode are anything but. This is the episode that 5×03 ‘The Recordist’ wishes it had been: a semi-stand alone clue-seeking episode that allows our fringe crew to grab another piece of the puzzle. The difference between that episode and this one is that ‘Through The Looking Glass…’ showcases not only an amazing world (the pocket universe vs the forested world of the recorders) but also further explores the existing relationships of our fringe group.
In this way the fact that Walter, Peter (Joshua Jackson), Olivia (Anna Torv) and Astrid (Jasika Nicole) leave the apartment without the next puzzle piece doesn’t diminish the dramatic impact of what’s occurred there.
Etta (Georgina Haig) is nicely re-visualized in full Princess Leia hologram mode early in the episode. I like that the show hasn’t shied away from exploring the impact of her death. When someone dies, it can’t simply be explored for a week and then dropped. Fringe understands the impact of losing a child and in many ways it’s always been about the relationships between parents and children. It’s rewarding that a character who was only on the show for four-five episodes continues to inform the narrative in significant ways.
Peter and Olivia continue to cope in their own separate ways, though by the end of the episode, it’s clear that Peter is moving away from grief and towards anger. The Observer tech he implanted in his head in 5×05 ‘An Origin Story’ is changing him into something far from human. His new abilities are clearly useful because they allow Walter, Astrid and Olivia to escape when the Observers and Loyalists descend on the building after spotting Walter on surveillance cameras. As the Emmy-worthy final conversation between father and son reveals, the changes that Peter (and Walter) are experiencing are fundamentally altering who they are and not in a good way. As a result, they’re both are in danger of losing themselves as they become something else.
Despite the big reveal regarding Peter’s Observer-enhanced abilities, this is an episode that truly belongs to John Noble (can we please get this man a damn Emmy/Golden Globe already?!). Walter’s decision to embark on the mission solo is rash and irresponsible and his increasing frustration and anger as the episode progresses clearly indicates that something significant is going on with him. This is not the Walter we know and love, especially not his cold treatment of Cecil (Zak Santiago), whom he describes as “collateral damage”. Put this together with the shocking reveal that Walter has abandoned The Child (Spencer List) from 1×15 ‘Inner Child’ in one of the pocket universe’s rooms for 20 years and it’s clear that this Walter is a bit of a monster. In fact he’s much more akin to the brash, irresponsible, devil-may-care Walter from the days before Peter died/was kidnapped.
I’ll be honest and admit that this didn’t really sink in until the final scene on the monorail (I just thought Walter was being jerky). That epic final conversation between Peter and Walter really drives everything home though: Walter’s personality is changing, he’s regressing back to who he was before and he’s scared that all the progress he’s made to become a better man will be lost. Obviously the irony looms large considering that the son he’s asking to help him keep his humanity has already lost his own. If we didn’t know it from Peter’s newfound physical Observer-like abilities (super-speed, supernatural strength, teleportation), then the simple fact that he now sees in cold, clinical blue tells us that Peter has all but gone down the rabbit hole to a brave new world.
On a broader scale, however, these statements can also be seen as a direct conversation with the audience. Fringe has dramatically altered its narrative approach in this final season, and as TVAngie has discussed before, at times Fringe sometimes feels like a completely different show. With this conversation, Walter becomes a proxy for the showrunners: they know who these characters are and the journeys that they’ve been through. Despite the new changes in setting and character, this is still our Fringe (just in case the callbacks to S1 aren’t enough to reassure us that the past four seasons have not been forgotten).
It’s reassuring to know that there’s an acknowledgement that with only seven episodes left in the series (*sob*), Fringe remains as touching, character-driven and fantastic as its ever been.
- Shot of the episode = the moment after Peter becomes Neo from The Matrix and uses his new powers to kill an Observer. There’s a cut to Captain Windmark (Michael Kopsa) watching from the end of the alley, then a slow tilt up from Windmark’s face up the building behind him to the symbol of the resistance, a giant graffiti image of Etta’s face. Windmark is now aware of what Peter can do (and has done), but the implication in the tilt is that Peter is doing more than resisting: he’s assimilating. Is this how the Observers come to pass (regular humans adopt their technology and begin to evolve)? Is Peter where the future begins? The time paradox stuff is a little heady, but it’s an interesting question nonetheless
- I love little details like the reveal that the technology from our world won’t work in the pocket universe. We learn this initially when the videotape reveals additional footage after Peter and Olivia go through the portal, and the information pays off when Olivia is nearly killed by an Observer because her gun doesn’t work. It’ll pay off again when something begins broadcasting on the radio she picks up in The Child’s room.
- As initially stated, the looming question (and narrative link to ‘The Recordist’) is “who is Donald”? We catch a brief glimpse of his body when Walter passes the camera to him in unit 413 before going through the portal, but aside from that he remains an apparition. The implication is that Donald is informed and involved in these videotape clues, but why has he taken The Child and where have they gone? I’m very interested to hear some speculations about who this mystery accomplice is.
- Finally, a recurring annoyance pops up again: why is Astrid once again left out of the action? There is no reason to leave her behind in our world to guard the portal. This is made clear when she is immediately knocked out by Observers once they appear. I simply don’t understand why she’s the third wheel of the group and is constantly left on the sidelines. She’s amazing, so please use her.
What did you think of the trippy episode, folks? Have any theories about what will happen to Peter (the Observer he kills is the second one to tell him that he’s playing with forces he doesn’t understand). What will Captain Windmark do now that he knows what Peter has done? Are you concerned about Peter and Walter’s mental states? And who is Donald and where has he gone? Speculate below in the comments.
Fringe airs Fridays at 9pm EST on FOX