Walter Bishop has already ruined one Earth and become one of the greatest destroyers in history — but is he doomed to do it again? Last night's disturbing Fringe made us wonder. Spoilers ahead...
The uneasy spirit of J. Robert Oppenheimer has hung over Fringe all along, symbolizing the abuse of science and the danger that exploration will go too far and hurt a lot of innocent people. Last year, when we saw the 1980s version of Walter Bishop plan to cross universes, his assistant Carla quoted Robert Oppenheimer at him. Now, a quarter century later, Walter's the one invoking Oppenheimer's name. As if Walter was the innocent scientist who's in danger of being misled into creating a doomsday weapon by people like Broyles. Conveniently forgetting, of course, that he's already created a kind of doomsday weapon on his own, and nobody had to force him to do it. Not that Walter can forget this for long, of course — he's constantly being reminded.
The crux of last night's episode seemed to be the question of exactly what Walter has learned from his past mistakes. William Bell, in his last will and testament, expresses the hope that Walter has gained wisdom to match his knowledge, but then his letter encourages him to "CROSS THE LINE." Which sounds like the opposite of wisdom: an injunction to continue making the same old mistakes. As Walter says, William Bell used to say that unless you go too far, you'll never know how far you're capable of going, in a version of Jim Steinman's famous dictum, "If you don't go over the top, you'll never see what's on the other side."
So in "The Box," people kept trying to hand the man-child Walter two humongous pieces of responsibility, neither of which he asked for. There was:
1) The Doomsday Weapon, which absolutely everybody wants Walter to figure out. Broyles thinks it's such a dangerous technology, they need to understand it before it gets used against them. Peter wants to understand it, so he can avoid becoming a mass-murderer like his father. And Fauxlivia, the Olivia from the other side, is under instructions from her superiors in the alternate universe to make sure Walter investigates the weapon. She goes to elaborate lengths, in this episode, to make sure a piece of the weapon falls into Peter and Walter's hands. But is Walter right — does even trying to understand the weapon mean that he'll wind up creating it and using it?
2) Massive Dynamic. The huge surprise in this episode was the little memento that William Bell left behind for Walter: sole ownership of William Bell's giant company. After finding out that Walter now owns the company, it's especially fascinating to watch the scenes earlier in the episode where he wanders the corridors and gawps at all of the scientific advances — it all makes him feel insignificant and tiny, until suddenly it's all his. Add that huge responsibility to the advice to "CROSS THE LINE," and it's like pushing Walter over a cliff.
So the super-weapon left us with more questions than answers this time around. It's clearer than ever that it's a piece of "ancient technology," not something Walternate invented or discovered on his own. It's something that predates all of this mess — which makes me wonder if we're being set up for another curtain to be pulled back. Maybe the war between universes has been brewing for a long time before Walter crossed over to save Peter, and maybe the whole thing was orchestrated for some larger purpose? Makes you wonder how much the Observers know.
In any case, there are a lot of mysteries. How did a piece of this weapon end up in our universe — buried under the foundations of a house in the tony suburb of Milton, MA for what looked like decades? I suppose it could have been transported there somehow, or it could have crossed over on its own, the way that office building did last year, but it doesn't seem very likely. And why are Walternate's crew so eager for Walter and Peter to work on the machine on their own? It ties in with another long-running mystery, which is why Walternate let Peter go in the second season finale when he could have recaptured his son.
Why Milton though?
So for the purposes of this episode, the piece of the doomsday device is also a sonic weapon that fries the brain of whoever comes into contact with it, unless it's in the soundproofed box. And there are a lot of interesting references to music threaded throughout the episode, the most obvious being Walter's experiment with the brainwaves and listening to Mozart or crappy dance music. There's also Faulixia not knowing who Bono (pronounced "Bozo") is, and her sudden eagerness to dance in public to Patsy Cline's "Crazy."
Walter really gets put through the wringer in this episode, which is when he's usually at his most compulsively watchable. First there's his distress over the idea of dealing with the doomsday weapon, and then there's the reading of William Bell's will, and then finally there's his attempt to talk to Peter about exactly why he had to kidnap Peter from an alternate universe. It's easy to become a broken record praising John Noble's acting, but Jesus. All the expressions that go past his face when he's listening to Bell's will, and the way he looks completely tormented when he tells Peter that he won't say what was in Bell's letter. And the way he won't even look Peter in the face when he's about to suggest temporarily (maybe) deafening him. As if to make up for last week's deficit of the real Walter, we got a double dose this time around.
And there was also plenty of the silly, manic side of Walter, including trying to get Gene to make chocolate milk. And giggling about the idea of buried treasure with legs in a house full of dead people. Not to mention the stain of Walter's tie that Astrid thinks is brains but is actually raspberry jam, and the "silent but deadly" joke, and then finally the massage parlor that Walter used to visit near Kent Street. There are some mental images we just don't want in our heads. Oh, and Walter finds the sound of a brain shucking out of a skull oddly soothing. And Walter would find bacon-flavored pudding surprising. Heh.
How long do you think it'll be before Peter finally lets Walter back in? I give it four more episodes, and that's only because half those episodes will take place in the "other" universe. The only question I really have about Peter this time around is whether he's as easily led as he appears — is he really going to be conned into helping to create the super-weapon for his bio-dad? And is he completely missing all the signs that this Olivia is way too much fun to be the real thing?
Which brings us to the final thing — bad Fauxlivia, bad! A ton of people die in this episode, and it's all just so that Fauxlivia can arrange for the box to "turn up" in suspicious enough circumstances to suit her purposes. Actually, she really doesn't need to shoot that poor deaf guy or kill all those people at the train station — she could have just told Broyles and the gang the partial truth: that the deaf guy showed up at her apartment with the box, and she found out he was the third man from the house in Milton. She's definitely very much into the idea that this is a war, and that casualties are inevitable. She is very casual about the casualties.
So it certainly seems as though we're being set up for a storyline in which Fauxlivia lives among our people and starts to realize that they're good guys, and softens towards them, eventually becoming a trusted team member. The scene where Peter talks to Fauxlivia about the destruction that Walter caused certainly goes to show that nobody intended for that to happen, and that this wasn't a deliberate act of war, and she does seem to take that on board.
But she also seems to be capable of a lot of atrocities that Olivia would never go for, and the scene where she seduces Peter to keep him from noticing the blood of a mostly innocent man seeping under the doorway is pretty skin-crawling. So I almost hope we don't get to see Fauxlivia softening and becoming one of the good guys for real.
What did you think of "The Box"?