Last night's episode of Fringe gave us a huge dose of mythology and cosmology, as we finally got some answers to the major questions the show's been teasing us with for years. This episode worked as a twisty thriller and as a heart-breaking piece of drama, plus it managed to bring up some fascinating issues about identity and selfhood.
But most of all... do we know how Fringe is going to end?
So it's almost hard to remember at this point how unlikely a Peter/Olivia romance once seemed. For the first couple years of Fringe, Peter actor Joshua Jackson in particular was very vocal about saying that he didn't want to see the two characters become romantically involved. (Sample quote, from a Sept. 2009 interview: "I don't think they're going to go in that direction. I see Peter and Olivia as more brother and sister rather than lovers on this show."
And now, it's become clear that the Peter/Olivia romance isn't just a thing — it's the center of the show, the thing everything revolves around. This has been clear at least since the Peter/Olivia/Olivia triangle, and the producers floated the idea that whichever version of Olivia Peter chose, her universe alone would survive. (This idea was floated via Sam Weiss, who at the time seemed to be the Voice of Truth on the show.) In any case, now we know — the Peter/Olivia romance really is the show's axis.
At least, that's what I got from the telepathic PowerPoint presentation that Peter gets treated to in "The End of All Things." We got a lot of context for stuff we already knew about Peter and the Observers. In 1985, when Walternate was on the verge of finding a miracle cure for Peter's illness, September distracted him at the wrong moment, so he missed out on the cure. And Peter was so important to the future, that September decided to step in and save Peter from drowning after Walter brought him back to our universe. September's interference inadvertently led to the devastating war between universes — but apparently, none of that was a major deviation from the timeline that leads to the best futures. What was a major deviation? Peter making a baby with the wrong Olivia.
Let's pause and process that for a moment — apparently, the Observers (or at least September) always wanted Peter and "our" Olivia to get together. And it's strongly hinted that the romance between Peter and Olivia is important — way more important than any of the fallout from all that universe-on-universe violence. Important enough that Henry, Peter's son with the other Olivia, was a major problem. Henry had to be erased from the universe, even at the cost of erasing Peter himself.
That, in turn, means that even if September hadn't disturbed Walternate in his lab — and Walter hadn't had any reason to cross over and kidnap Peter — Peter still would have needed to cross over at some point and meet "our" Olivia, for the Observers' desired future to come to pass.
So after the offending baby Henry was erased, and Peter along with him, there was a difference of opinion between September and December. December wanted Peter to stay erased, but September disobeyed his orders and failed to hold a magnet to the last traces of Peter-memory in the universe. Because, I guess, September still believes Peter can fulfill his original destiny — the destiny that made it worthwhile to pull him out of a lake in the first place.
So how does Fringe end? My bet is, with Olivia giving birth to Peter's baby. Or at least, being pregnant. It's pretty obvious, at this point, that Peter and Olivia have a child who's important to the future — some kind of historic figure. Basically, their child is John Connor. At least, that's the most likely scenario, given what we've just been told about baby Henry being the "wrong" baby, and the Peter/Olivia romance being vital to the future. I feel like the show is telegraphing a baby-related ending pretty hard, at this point.
And whether it's true that the Observers are outside of time, apparently they've at least seen the beginning of the universe and they've smelled dark matter and stuff. We learn, at last, that the Observers are from the future. And the month-related names are just code names for one scientific team who were sent to our time to study important events. September knows this is how he dies, and he's using his last moments to clue Peter in, just like he already went to see Olivia at the Opera House to spread cryptic info about Olivia's inevitable, impending death. (My guess: She dies, but is revived heroically. Or she dies in childbirth, in the final episode.)
So here's the plot of "The End of All Things": Olivia's been taken prisoner by David Robert Jones, who's torturing Nina to try and get Olivia to activate her Cortexiphan powers. But Olivia cleverly figures out this isn't the real Nina, but alt-Nina — and meanwhile, the real Nina has been detained by Broyles and Lincoln, who don't believe her (actually sincere) protestations of innocence. Peter, meanwhile, is trying to track down Olivia, but is stymied until he gets a hint from September, and then Olivia herself contrives to have him brought to her. Olivia saves the day with her scary psychic powers, but David Robert Jones and alt-Nina get away.
The cleverest part of the episode was probably the Nina-fakeout. I wasn't sure if these new-school shapeshifters still had to kill the people they replaced, but kudos to everybody who pegged this as the work of alt-Nina rather than a shapeshifter impersonating Nina. The episode pulls a clever switch, making you believe that the real Nina is Jones' prisoner while the imposter is in Broyles' custody — and even after it was revealed that the hostage-Nina was a fake, I still thought for a moment that both Ninas were in on it. But no — apparently alt-Nina has been sneaking into Massive Dynamic and boosting Cortexiphan samples to dose Olivia with.
It does make you wonder which Nina we've been seeing in the past several episodes, saying things like "we provide the research, and we're not responsible for how it's used," and apparently acting unconcerned about a fresh round of experiments on another psychic kid. Probably, those things were the real Nina, setting up a nice bit of ambiguity as to who's the "evil" Nina.
In any case, poor Nina — apparently, Olivia has all but forgotten her childhood as Nina's adoptive daughter. (Unless Olivia was exaggerating, as part of her gambit to trick them into bringing Peter to the abandoned hospital of doom.) Olivia's most formative experiences in this timeline, now reduced to just flashes of someone else's life. One wonders how the real Nina will handle it when she finds out about this.
So Walter is clinging to the theory that Olivia is "remembering" her past from Peter's timeline because of the Cortexiphan, but also because of Peter projecting his desire for "his" Olivia onto her. Which doesn't really explain why Olivia remembers tons of details from the wrong childhood, that have nothing to do with Peter whatsoever. But in any case, Peter catches a lot of flak for taking Olivia out of the lab, out of Walter's observation, and thus allowing her to get kidnapped — to which Peter could reasonably retort that Olivia's a federal agent, who was working a case, and thus entitled to go out and do her job. (Peter doesn't actually bother to say this.)
It's left to Lincoln to be the heavy, accusing Peter of being willing to wipe out Olivia's identity for his own selfish goals. And obviously, part of this is motivated by Lincoln's own desire to get busy with Olivia. But also, even if Lincoln's wrong about Peter's role in all this, he's absolutely right about the wrongness of just wiping out someone's whole past, and how that is basically the same thing as effacing her identity in the end. As another mysterious observer who stands outside of time and sees the future once said, "A man is the sum of his memories."
The other big reversal of the episode, though, is that Olivia wins out because she has the "other" Olivia's memories — remembering the events that we witnessed in the first few seasons enables her to face David Robert Jones down and boast of having witnessed his death. She's able to outsmart him, and then in the end, she's able to unleash the full-on lightning-flashing psychic freakout, burning a hench-guy to a crisp and allowing her and Peter to escape. Thanks to Olivia's reset memories, she's able to save the day, and turn Peter into the one who gets rescued.
Too bad David Robert Jones turns out to be an unkillable mofo, thanks to having been reassembled at a molecular level. (And why, exactly, doesn't Olivia shoot the portal generator instead of Jones anyway?)
Meanwhile, how many brickbats need to hit Peter in the head before he realizes that there's no original timeline for him to go home to? September even comes out and tells him that he (and baby Henry) had to be erased from the universe, because Henry was so wrong? That, by definition, means that this is the same universe, just with Peter's past altered. And yet, Peter is so stuck on his obsession about crossing back to a universe that no longer exists, he is almost unable to interpret a two-syllable clue as to how to find Olivia in time to save her. When is Peter going to give up on this "going home" nonsense?
In any case, the episode's sad ending stems from the misconceptions of two different Bishops — Walter's probably mistaken belief that Peter's been causing Olivia to remember the wrong timeline, and Peter's belief that he can still "get home." Olivia protests that she really does feel what she feels for Peter, and it's not fake, and he can see it in her eyes — but Peter decides to be stoic and self-abnegating and stuff, walking away in the midst of a sudden rainstorm. Leaving Olivia all alone, surrounded by first responders. (Not to be confused with the First People.)