Last night's episode of Fringe contained a major callback to the show's very first season — and yet, it underscored just how much Fringe has changed since then. By now, the story of Walter Bishop and his son from another universe, Peter, has become a byzantine tragedy. And last night's episode made it pretty clear that the story of the Bishops cannot end well, for both of them at least.
"Through the Looking Glass and What Walter Found There" is a pretty classic Fringe episode, in which a number of Fringe mainstays are thrown together in a way that actually feels pretty natural and coherent. You've got your universe-hopping, you've got your Walter madness, you've got strange brain manipulations, and you've got that weird empathic feral kid from season one's "Inner Child." Plus Observers! It's only towards the end of the episode that you see the common element linking the stories of Peter and Walter: both men have recently had stuff inserted into their brains, and it's changing them into something way less friendly.
In "Through the Looking Glass," Walter gets into the amber and pulls out Tape #7 in his continuing series of instructional videos on how to defeat the Observers — and this one calls for a road trip to Worcester, where Past Walter ate pastries and sparred with a cranky landlady. In the present, the cranky landlady is still there, but she's a somewhat quaint-looking cyborg. Walter's tape leads him up to a bombed-out floor, which contains the secret entrance to a pocket universe, which can only be accessed by doing the Time Warp. (More or less — there's no pelvic thrust.)
In the pocket universe, the laws of physics are all jacked up and time folds in on itself, and a man named Cecil has been trapped there for 20 years. And that's where Walter stashed the nameless empath from "Inner Child," who's not there any more — instead, there's just a mysterious radio tuned to a mysterious frequency. Unfortunately, Walter's attracted the attention of the Observers, who arrive in force. (Cue a great bit where Olivia's gun doesn't work in the pocket universe, but then she pulls the Observer into the regular universe and shoots him. Excellent!)
Oh, and we glimpse Donald, Walter's mysterious helper who was captured by the Observers 20 years ago — though we don't see his face. Is Donald still around? Also, is he somehow connected to the Dove, the other mysterious resistance leader?
The other story running through the episode is the consequences of Peter's self-administered brain implant, which is the only thing that allows our heroes to escape from the condemned building, onto the monorail. Last week, Peter killed an Observer, pulled out a piece of tech from the Observer's head, and jammed it into his own. Peter was already in single-minded rampage mode after the death of Etta, but the brain implant is making him even more single-minded — and now he's also starting to manifest Observer-like superpowers, including superspeed and teleportation. At the end of the episode, we see through Peter's eyes, and it's all blue and glowy. One Observer tells Peter that he knows what Peter's done, and it was a great error that will change Peter into... something. (Not an Observer, I'm guessing.)
Given that the Observers have been occupying 21st-century Earth for the past 20 years, Peter can't possibly be the first person to try stealing their tech and implanting it. Wouldn't that be the third or fourth thing you'd think of doing? And if it actually worked, long term, then tons more people would have done it. The fact that there isn't a small army of Observer-enhanced resistance fighters running around means that this plan doesn't work — as Peter might have learned, if he'd bothered to ask Anil before doing it.
(Although it occurs to me that Peter's one of the few regular humans who's actually traveled through time, something that might possibly give him a higher chance of success at this sort of upgrade? Just a thought.)
The episode actually opens with a scene of Peter barely managing to act normal with Olivia — Peter has snuck off to Etta's apartment and is obsessively rewatching a holographic message she left, saying she's been held up and will be back soon, and not to worry about her. It's actually more effective than most of the "mourning for Etta" scenes last week, and then Olivia finds Peter and asks to watch the recording with him. She wants to share in Peter's grieving process, so she can understand what he's going through and vice versa... but Peter can't really let her in, even if he hadn't just smushed some far-future technology into his noggin.
And meanwhile, Walter is also showing signs of brain modification — although the episode keeps it pretty subtle, until the end. Walter's acting single-minded and reckless, and when he meets Cecil the extradimensional piece of "collateral damage," he's pretty much oblivious to Cecil's suffering. (When Cecil wonders if he's trapped in Purgatory, I couldn't help wondering if that was a Lost shout-out.) Walter promises to get Cecil out of there — but only after Cecil helps Walter. And when Cecil says his wife is waiting for him, Walter rumbles, "Not any more."
At the end of the episode, we learn one possible explanation for Walter's behavior — his brain is changing as a result of the slivers that were stuck back in there, in last season's "Letters of Transit." Those brain pieces were cut out by William Bell, at Walter's request, because Walter was becoming too much of a callous hubristic jerkwad. And then, after Walter came out of 20 years in amber, he was suffering from brain damage, so Etta and Simon gave him back his missing brain pieces. And at the time, I remember wondering if there would be long-term consequences from that choice.
So now Walter is morphing back into the evil genius who broke the multiverse. And he's counting on Peter to anchor him to humanity — not realizing that Peter is rapidly leaving humanity behind, for somewhat different reasons. Walter is changing back into what he used to be, while Peter is transforming into something entirely new and futuristic. And chances are, neither of them will be able to help the other (although my money is on Walter sacrificing his life at the end, possibly partly to fix Peter somehow.) But at least Peter finally calls Walter "Dad."
In any case, this is already a family that's lost its only member of the new generation — and now both Bishop men seem irrevocably marked for tragedy. Fringe just got really interesting again.