Walter Bishop got rooked last night. Of course, to be fair, he was dealing with the greatest poker face in the universe. In fact, it's official: Sawyer is no longer the greatest con artist in the J.J. Abrams-verse. Spoilers ahead!
So for all their shy, non-interfering schtick, it turns out the Observers are incredibly manipulative when they decide to wade into the affairs of mortals. In last night's Fringe episode, the Observer known as September decides to yank Walter Bishop's chain, for a few reasons:
1) He wants to enhance Walter Bishop's feelings of guilt over his rash universe-crossing actions in 1985, by feeding him a possibly-false story about Walter being responsible for a traffic accident that claimed the life of Roscoe Joyce's son. (There's no proof that Walter had anything to do with that traffic accident, but the connection seems more important because Walter arrives at it on his own, after being spoonfed some of the pertinent details by September.)
2) He wants to keep Walter from drinking his weird brain milk, by setting up an incredibly complicated chain of events which leads to Peter drinking the brain milk instead of Walter. (You know the brain milk is no good, because it didn't come straight from Gene the cow.) Of course, September could have just told Walter, "Don't drink that brain-mapping stuff, it'll kill you." But that wouldn't be nearly as much fun.
3) He wants to test whether Walter "has changed," meaning whether Walter is willing to sacrifice the life of his son, Peter, for the good of both universes — making a different call than Walter made back in 1985, when he caused cosmic-level ruptures while trying to save the other universe's version of his son from a rare disease. This seems to be the main object of the exercise — making sure Walter will throw Peter under a bus when the time comes. Thus the whole Rube Goldberg setup to put the asthmatic gallery-owner woman in danger, so Walter will have to save her instead of protecting Peter.
So yeah, the Observers are kind of jerks. The more I think about "the Firefly," the more it seems like September goes to ridiculous lengths just to yank Walter's chain. To recap: September goes back in time to 1985 and grabs the son of Roscoe Joyce, keyboard player of Walter's favorite band, Velvet Sedan Chair, right before the son dies in a traffic accident in Harvard Yard. September brings the son to the present-day Roscoe, who's a burned out case in a nursing home, and has the son deliver a confusing message about Walter needing Roscoe's help. Then September feeds Walter a story about a traffic accident that's the indirect result of Walter bringing Peter from the other universe — plus September plays on Walter's existing paranoia that he's going to have to sacrifice Peter in order to undo the damage he's done.
(But on the plus side, we finally get to see an Observer kicking ass and already knowing all the names.)
But at least Walter gets to meet his musical idol and have a private concert from Roscoe Joyce, and the appearance of Roscoe's dead kid out of the blue makes a big difference in Roscoe's life, making him feel as though he's been given a second chance. So it's not all bad. And Christopher Lloyd proves he's not just a comedy genius in his performance as the shattered wreck of a psychedelic rocker — he gets a few particularly funny moments in, especially when he's hypnotized or comparing strawberry milkshake recipes with Walter, but mostly he's actually quite affecting as we realize that what looks like rocker burn-out is actually grief over his son's death.
Want to know what Velvet Sedan Chair sounds like? Here you go, thanks to K1k1chan on Soundcloud:
September's con game looks especially cruel when you realize just how fragile Walter's state of mind already is — John Noble does an absolutely brilliant job of showing how Walter's silliness and his terrible guilt and anxiety often spring from the same source. That scene early on where Walter is preparing to give himself a weird injection in the leg is an amazing example — Walter is zany and mad as ever, but then he raises a new fear that we haven't heard about before: Walter's worried that with large chunks of his brain missing, he won't be a match for Walternate, his counterpart from the other universe. But as Peter points out, those chunks were removed for a reason — Walter was becoming more and more unethical. Can Walter out-think his counterpart without becoming the monster he used to be? It's enough to make you despair.
Meanwhile, of course, the other thread running through this episode is the torment that poor Olivia is going through — she gets a book in the mail, which Peter ordered for the "other" Olivia. It's Peter's favorite book, the pop-psychology-philosophy book If You Meet The Buddha On The Road... Kill Him! by Sheldon Kopp. When Peter let his guard down with Fauxlivia, he confessed this was his favorite book, because it's about self-reliance or something. Actually, the book is best known for the "eschatological laundry list" that Kopp came up with — the word "eschatology" has to do with the last days, but Kopp's "eschatological laundry list" is mostly a series of maxims to help you get over your bullshit. You can read the whole thing here. Among other things, Kopp says, "All important decisions must be made on the basis of insufficient data." Also: "We must live with the ambiguity of partial freedom, partial power and partial knowledge." Oh, and: "You can't make anyone love you."
So did Fauxlivia make Peter love her? More to the point, which Olivia did Peter mean to give that book to? The Olivia he'd gotten to know over the past couple years prior to his decision to run away to the other universe with his real dad? Or the Olivia who got under his skin and seduced him into her bed? (Probably, the real answer is, both. But Peter is close enough to the truth when he tells Olivia that she was the person he always wanted to share his favorite book with.)
The pain and confusion on Olivia's face as she deals with all of the signs that Peter opened up to the other Olivia in a way he still hasn't opened up to her is just incredible, and honestly Anna Torv continues to prove that she's the equal of her two costars in the acting department.
And then there's the final bombshell from September — that Peter is a father. (And no points if you can guess whom he's knocked up.) How is Olivia going to deal with realizing that not only did her counterpart get to share all of these secrets and beautiful moments with Peter instead of her — but she's also carrying the third generation of damaged Bishops? (I'm just guessing.) Oh, and how is Fauxlivia going to explain it to Frank? This is going to be insane.
Screencaps via FringeFiles.com.