Last night, Fringe showed us a lot more of the alternate universe, including a somewhat different version of 1985. More importantly, we saw Young Walter, and learned just what kind of tool he was: a complicated, conflicted one. Spoilers ahead!

We already posted a spoiler-free preview of last night's Fringe, "Peter," so this recap will be a bit on the short side. As we wrote before the episode aired, there turned out to be a lot more to 1985 Walter than we'd expected — we'd always thought he was an unalloyed, immoral bastard, but maybe that part came later, or maybe there was always more to the story than we'd imagined. He definitely wasn't just the vile nihilist whom we glimpsed when the missing chunk of his brain got temporarily reinserted a while back.

This Walter was content to observe the alternate universe, instead of trying to interact with it, which could cause unimaginable dangers. (As we've already witnessed.) Even after Walter's son is dying of a rare condition, and he sees his alternate-universe counterpart coming close to a cure, he doesn't give in to the temptation to try and visit his other self. After his son dies, he comforts himself (and his wife) with the knowledge that in another world, Peter will grow up happy:

It's only after he sees his other self miss a crucial breakthrough in the lab — due to the arrival of an overzealous Observer — that Walter decides to take matters into his own hands and visit the other universe. Even then, he only plans to bring the cure to the other Peter, administer it, and leave. Unfortunately, in the struggle over whether Walter should visit the other universe, his vial of the cure is broken, so he has no choice but to kidnap "his" son and take him back to our universe. And it's only once Peter is in our universe and cured once and for all that Walter and his wife start to think about keeping him.

So in fact, Walter goes through the whole business with the best of intentions, and it's only after he's in danger of seeing his son die a second time that he breaks down and decides to violate the laws of the multiverse. And maybe the disastrous consequences that this act leads to are what force Walter to become such an unscrupulous researcher later on — torturing kids in order to create someone like Olivia, who can see intruders from the other universe. Walter turns out to be more of a tragic figure, and somewhat less of a monster, than we'd thought. William Bell, though? William Bell was always a monster.

I especially loved meeting Dr. Warren, Walter's colleague who avoids the stereotypical religious/scientific conflict and is actually able to hold her own in arguing with him. More of her, please — I wonder if she's still alive in 2010?

The biggest relief of this episode was how non-silly past Walter looked. Considering how bad he could have been:

Eric Stoltz In Back To The Future? Cellphones In 1985?


They actually did a decent job of making John Noble look significantly younger — Noble managed to transform his whole body language and attitude, and whatever they did with hair and prosthetics really worked, despite how many times I squinted.

The alternate 1985 credits (see above) were fantastic and did a great job of driving home one of Fringe's main points — that things which were once science fiction are becoming reality at an accelerating rate, making Walter Bishop the tragic hero of our times.

Also, in the alternate universe, Caprica star Eric Stoltz actually starred in Back To The Future:

This is a pretty great in-joke, since as Fringe Television reminds us, Stoltz actually did star in BTTF — until they had shot half the movie and decided to replace him with Michael J. Fox:

Plus everyone in the alternate 1985 has cellphones, and apparently more advanced super-science in other ways. Except not, apparently, the ability to view or visit other universes. Yet.

So what did you think?