Fringe Solves the Mystery of Walter's Madness

Last night's Fringe resolved a mystery that stretches back to the beginning of the series: the cause of Walter Bishop's mental disorders. All it takes is our team of dimension-hopping enemy supersoldiers and and a boatload of brain surgery.

It's a Bit Drafty Back Here: At long last, we find out what our interdimensional supersoldiers have been up to since their leader (alias Thomas Newton) got his cryogenically frozen head thawed out. Apparently it involves poking around some poor mental patient's brain and yanking out the appropriate chunk. I almost expected them to go all Hannibal Lecter and sautee and feed it to him, but that would be a waste of good grey matter.

They Were Polite, Even: The supersoldiers are sort of the anti-ZFT (Where are those guys, by the way? Are there still disciples of William Bell running around performing acrobatic feats of gruesome science?). They distinctly don't want to call attention to themselves, at least not yet. But they're very capable of slipping up; the Fringe team only caught onto their cerebral theft because the soldiers were nearly caught in the act.

A-Head of the Game: Otherworldly flashbacks aside, Olivia's taken a back seat investigation-wise to Walter, Peter, and even Astrid this season. With the exception of the bowling alley guru subplot (another fellow we haven't seen for a while), she's flown largely under the radar for being arguably the show's main character. But at least she managed to realize that Thomas Newton's frozen head is now walking around on a body without crazy prompting from Walter.

Going Crazy Makes You a Better Father: Once again, I wonder how thoroughly William Bell had this all planned. He orchestrated Walter's madness, his reunion with Olivia — did he also pull the strings on Walter's increasingly heartbreaking reconciliation with his son?

So That's Where I Put Those Memories: Ah, that's why Walter's crazy. I guess I always supposed we'd find out the source of Walter's madness, but I had assumed it was something mundane; maybe a mental breakdown as a result of disgrace combined with heavy drug use. Or maybe he had entered the institution to avoid prosecution and had gone crazy later.

But this being Fringe, I should have expected there was a weird science cause behind Walter's fuzzy brain. He actually had individual memories — in the form of brain tissue — related to the interdimensional gateway removed from his brain and kept alive inside other people's brains. This also helps explain Walter's obsession with psychotropic drugs (although even as a freshman he was sniffing benzene). Like the food and musical triggers, Walter uses them to help jump the damaged connections of his brain. I doubt he'll quit using them now, though.

We're Not Fixing You: Thomas Newton has recovered the wayward pieces of Walter's brain and restored them is using them to try to restore the connections in his brain in hopes of learning the secrets of the door between universes. The problem is, Walter isn't making the proper neural connections, even once the tissue is placed back inside his brain.

How Are Things On Your Side?: We got a nice demonstration earlier in the season from Nina Sharp about the snowglobe universes crashing into one another, and it seems that, absent interference, the other universe might be the one to bite it. A blight has already killed the trees, and the situation is only getting more dire. The supersoldiers aren't evil so much as ruthless; they simply don't want their universe to die. But the folks on the other side are probably more motivated to win the interdimensional war as they've suffered the consequences longer.

Olivia's Weakness: As interdimensional supersoldiers go, Olivia is kind of weak sauce. Maybe Walter is indispensable in the coming war; that would be a good reason to hedge your bets and save him, even if it means letting the First Wave leader go. But according to Olivia, she saved Walter because he's her friend and it would be too painful to lose him. Maybe Olivia has been encoded with some innate loyalty to Walter, but if not, every person she knows and loves is a liability to her universe's survival.

I'll Put Them Where Only I Can Find Them: It's not surprising that William Bell is the one who took Walter's memories and hid them (with Walter's apparent cooperation, no less). But it's suspicious that only he knew where to find Walter's memories. Did he leak this information to the First Wave? Is he playing the two sides against each other? Or did he leak the information just to restore Walter's functions, knowing the First Wave would not succeed.

Astrid Action: We're back to a quieter, more clerical Astrid this episode, but I guess I should be happy she's not getting beaten up or outmaneuvered by Walter.

What Now for Walter?: Since this was a Walter-centric episode, I'm forgoing the Walter of the Week in favor of wondering what's next for our favorite mad scientist. The First Wave wasn't able to reform Walter's neural pathways, but will those pathways reform on their own? Will Walter gradually get back his memories and remember his involvement with ZFT and his history with Olivia? And if being crazy really made Walter a better father, will his increasing sanity make him a worse one?