Nothing is ever what it seems on Fringe — and that's one reason we love the show so much. But could the show's latest plot twist be hiding the most audacious surprise of all? After watching last night's episode, we're beginning to wonder.
So the big news in the past couple weeks has been the return of Peter Bishop from the time-erased oblivion he was consigned to at the end of season three. Except that, with last night's episode, I'm starting to wonder if this really is "our" Peter. Or is he actually a version of Peter from a universe we've never seen before, in which many things are the same as the one we witnessed for three seasons?
The main thing that stuck out at me, watching "And Those We've Left Behind," was the fact that this version of Peter seems a lot more scientifically acute than the old version. Sure, the "original" Peter was able to decode a shapeshifter's data disc without too much difficulty, but he generally left the hard science to Walter. Now, not only can Peter decode a data disc from a type of shapeshifter he's never seen before, he can also turn on the shapeshifter's "lojack" and pinpoint her location (in last week's episode.)
And that's nothing. This week, Peter is suddenly jotting equations on Walter's board, theorizing about wormholes and time displacement, recognizing the telltale signs of neutron radiation, and knowing off the top of his head that neutron radiation doesn't occur in nature. When Walter comes up with Fibonacci's Golden Spire as the shape of the disturbance, Peter immediately picks up on it. FInally, Peter volunteers to be the one to wear the Faraday harness and go inside the house o' doom, trumping Olivia's objections by saying, "We need someone with a science background" to shut the machine off.
I honestly don't remember the Peter of seasons one through three being quite such a science whiz, although he was good at deducing stuff on the go. (And I guess he did pass himself off as a chemistry professor at one point, even though he's actually a high school drop out.)
At the end of last night's episode, too, Peter suddenly starts talking as though he's actually in the wrong universe, instead of his previous working theory that he was erased and then un-erased. Maybe Peter has been picking up on discrepancies that can't simply be explained by the fact that he was removed from this universe thanks to the machine? It's hard to say, but it definitely feels as though this are clues being laid out. Or maybe I'm seeing a pattern that's not there?
Meanwhile, the theme of last night's episode seemed to be "role reversals." On the one hand, the relationship between Peter and Walter was the opposite of what it had been for most of the show's run. Instead of Walter desperately craving Peter's acknowledgement, it's Peter who's in need of Walter's help and being denied. Instead of Peter having a hard time forgiving Walter for his universe-shattering crimes, Walter is having a hard time facing up to Peter, because Peter is the living embodiment of Walter's mistakes. At one point, Walter turns his back on Peter, while refusing to call him anything but "the subject," and we see the sheer torment and confusion in Walter's eyes. The more Peter wants his old relationship with Walter back, the more Walter can't even face him.
In true Fringe fashion, this is reflected by the mad scientist of the week, a couple who've suffered a role reversal of their own. Kate used to take care of her husband Raymond, remembering everything for him and keeping track of all his pills and appointments — until she was stricken with early onset Alzheimer's. Now Raymond is completely taking care of his wife, while trying to use her physics research to build a machine to roll time back to when she was still compos mentis. Eventually, Raymond hopes to be able to stabilize the time bubble so that it's permanently 2007 inside his house — and he doesn't see any of the obvious flaws in this idea. (Even leaving aside the fact that meddling with the forces of the universe always backfires on this show, there's just the fact that rolling time back would only mean that Kate's dementia was bound to return, because time would still move forward within the bubble.)
Raymond's DIY time displacement machine only starts working after Peter appears in our universe, three days before the start of this episode. And Peter theorizes, towards the end, that his appearance has done something to mess up the spacetime continuum, to the point where stuff is working that shouldn't be — similar to what happened last year, with the crazy anti-gravity element that suddenly worked due to the degradation of the walls between universes.
Indeed, it seems as though a crack in time is this year's version of the old "fractured walls between universes" problem — and Peter's return could have a similar effect to Walter's universe-crossing, potentially threatening the stability of everything. Unless Peter can figure out how to fix it, and/or get home to a timeline where everybody knows his name.
In the end, the story of Kate and Raymond has a moving conclusion, as Kate realizes how far Raymond has been willing to go for her, and she destroys her notes, leaving him with a message telling him that he can repay her by simply loving her and living his life. She stares into space as he watches in horror, and you wonder if some part of her remembers everything that's just happened.
This episode feels a bit like a do-over of season two's "White Tulip," except that this time around, screwing around with time doesn't play out as well, and the mad scientist doesn't actually get his true love back in one piece. The deaths and near-deaths in the episode aren't reversed, and the more downbeat ending reinforces the idea that sometimes you just have to live with the world as it is. Not everything can be wiped away.
Speaking of wiping away, Olivia seems to have done a pretty good job of repressing all her lingering memories of Peter. Earlier this season, she seemed to have some idea that there was someone or something missing, and there was a lot of talk about the idea that even if someone was erased, his or her influence could remain. Olivia even dreamt of Peter's face every night, until he reappeared in the flesh. But now that he's back, she's insistent that he's a total stranger to her, although at least Olivia is starting to recognize that she meant something to him in the "other" timeline. And she and Broyles are starting to trust Peter a bit more, after seeing him find a small girl's elephant toy for her, risk his life entering the house o' doom, and generally make himself useful.
So is this really "our" Peter Bishop? Or a slightly different version who's stumbled into this Peter-less universe by accident? And are there versions of Walter and Olivia somewhere else, who remember the grown-up Peter and are searching for him just as frantically as Peter is trying to get home? I guess we'll find out soon enough.