John Noble just can't stop stealing episodes of Fringe. Last night's outing was all about dealing with yet another one of Walter Bishop's nearly endless catalog of mistakes — and yet, Walter's most striking moment had to do with forgiveness.
The "war between universes" was a major theme of Fringe for a couple of seasons, and we heard a lot about the notion that one universe would have to try and destroy the other. That's why Walter spent so much time experimenting on little kids using Cortexiphan, to try and create soldiers or weapons in the coming cross-universe war. And that's why Walternate created the original shapeshifters to infiltrate our world, and tried to destroy our universe using the Machine.
But now that both universes are at peace and Walternate's universe is healing itself, those weapons from the aborted war are still around. And David Robert Jones is systematically making use of them — he's created a new, more effective bunch of shapeshifters. He's been using Walter's machine to cross from one side to the other. And now, he's using the Cortexiphan kids as weapons, to collapse both universes, so he can create a brand new universe with its own laws of physics, which he can populate with his band of new people.
The legacy of a war's terrible preparations is a great theme, and it's one that Fringe could have done a lot more with this past season. I feel like it's sort of bubbled beneath the surface of the David Robert Jones storyline, but hasn't really been pushed to the forefront too much. The notion that both sides created monstrosities to use against each other, which are now being used against them instead, is really fascinating and could have been more explicitly the focus of a few episodes. I feel as though the aftermath of the near-annihilation of both universes might have been a more interesting storyline than "Peter Bishop wants to go home but already is home" turned out to be.
In any case, last night's episode was definitely at its best whenever it put people together with their alternate selves — we got a few nice moments with the two Astrids, and the two Olivias finally admitted that they admire each other. But most of all, the episode's standout moments all involved Walter and Walternate.
As the episode begins, Walter's nervous as hell, because he has to face his counterpart and present his latest crackpot theory about David Robert Jones' plans. He even puts on a tie and his most ingratiating manner — but Walternate is all too keen to take Walter's theories seriously, even if they were hatched in a dream. When Walternate is called out of the room, though, Walter jumps to the conclusion that Secretary Bishop can't even stand to be in the same room with him.
All of which leads up to this great scene, where both Walters bond over what a great guy Peter grew up to be, and how he's everything they wanted in a son. Walter is so overcome, he has to go hide out in a hallway — but Walternate comes and finds him, and they share this weirdly tender moment, where Walternate acknowledges that this time around, Walter is willing to sacrifice Peter for the sake of the multiverse. (Neither of them remembers that Walter already made that choice last year.) And then Walternate quotes from Marcus Aurelius, and offers the notion that they can be like the philosopher king, who came through war and then helped to rebuild in peace.
It's a totally beautiful scene, in which both John Nobles are acting up a storm — Walternate letting a bit of his dignified mask fall, Walter showing his vulnerability and newfound humility.
So even as the weapons from the war that never happened are being marshalled, everybody is forgiving each other and bonding one last time — before deciding to close the door between the two worlds, as a last-ditch effort to stop David Robert Jones.
Sadly, this episode wasn't that great apart from the interactions between the two Fringe teams. Basically, David Robert Jones (who's not really in the episode) has convinced a bunch of the Cortexiphan kids to cause universe-quakes, by telling them that the war between universes is happening at last. And even when Olivia catches up with one of them, Nick Lane, and tells him the truth, he basically is such a whiny wreck that he doesn't even care. He pretends to decide to help the Fringe team, but then uses his psychic powers to convince a random agent to stab himself, so he can run away and help cause another universe-quake.
I love the stuff with Broyles saying, "I'm going to ask Washington what we should do," and then, "Washington says we should do whatever we want."
I guess part of the problem is that David Robert Jones is more of a plot device than a character. For example, he dosed Olivia with Cortexiphan, because the writers wanted Olivia to remember the "original" timeline. And now, he's created a threat, so that the two Fringe teams will have to close the bridge between universes. Jones' plan to destroy both universes so he can create a whole new set of laws of physics feels a bit half-baked, to say the least, and the fact that we haven't seen much of Jones' newfangled shapeshifters in months seems kind of odd. I don't feel like there's really a through-line to the David Robert Jones storyline, as such. He's just there to create situations for our heroes to grapple with.
So in the end, the alternates say a final farewell to each other, and Lincoln chooses to go off with the red-haired Olivia, because Peter said that home is where the heart is. The machine crashes to a halt, and the people from "Over There" vanish — apparently forever. It'll be interesting to see if this sticks, and we're really done with the interplay between the two universes as a major feature of this show. (If we're moving towards a storyline about one universe versus the marauding Observers, then we could indeed be phasing out the other universe as a major concern.)
In any case, now David Robert Jones' storyline is reaching its endgame, with the two-part season finale beginning next week. And judging from the preview of next week's episode, it looks like Jones may have enlisted one last weapon from the inter-universe war that never happened: Walter Bishop's oldest friend and collaborator, Belly.