Fringe viewers have long been waiting to see how Walter would handle revealing to Peter that he’s from the alternate universe, a moment that’s been slowly building over the course of this season. So we’d be forgiven for being fearful that the eventual payoff wouldn’t live up to all the suspense that brought us to this point. Happily, last night’s episode perfectly handled that anticipated plot point against the backdrop of the Fringe team’s battle with their biggest nemesis, Thomas Jerome Newton.
The Evil: In Worcester, Massachusetts, two teens hear strange noises and explosions coming from a nearby abandoned building. Investigating, the guys go inside, only to discover gooey podlike cocoons that contain the embryos of evil shape-shifters newly arrived into our universe. The shape-shifters kill the kids and quickly assume their identities.
The Determination: Head shape-shifter Thomas Jerome Newton has summoned these soldiers to help him construct a massive portal that will bring across an important man known only as the Secretary. The process involves embedding cylindrical devices into the ground in three separate locations that together will form a triangle whose center will be the location for the Secretary to enter our world.
Wacky Factor: Continuing to be at loose ends about how to tell Peter the truth about his identity, Walter threw himself into OCD tasks at home, reorganizing family photos and trying to find the perfect place to put the hamper. Plus, in the middle of the team's investigation into the murdered teens, he took a moment to admire their discarded joint. “Look, it’s a Lemon Zinger, I believe!” he said with deep satisfaction. Taking a big whiff, he proclaimed, “It’s not as good as the stuff I grow but it’s not bad either.” Also, we learned that one of the tricks he uses to help jog his memory is counting cars, although apparently he’s learned through prior bad experiences that he should stay off the freeway while doing it.
Paranoia Level: High. Fringe episodes tend to center around either action-and-mythology-heavy plots or subtler character-building stories. Last night was one of those rare occasions when the show managed to combine the two types into a coherent, engaging whole.
On the mythology side, Sebastian Roché reminded us how much we like him as the haughty, quietly ruthless villain Newton. And since the writers have previously established his backstory, he’s now free to go about his nefarious schemes, which in this case involved creating the time portal he extracted from Walter’s memory the last time we saw him. Sometimes the central mystery in a Fringe episode can be its weak link — we can guess what’s going on relatively quickly — but last night’s slow divulging of Newton’s plan made its impact all the more effective. We don’t yet know who the Secretary is or what his arrival into our world will mean, but it made for a fun tease at the end of the episode.
As much fun as Newton’s return was, his strategizing worked in concert with the emotional story going on simultaneously. Last night’s episode was titled “The Man From the Other Side,” and while that might be a reference to the Secretary, it’s clear that the titular “man” is Peter, who finally learned the truth about himself — and in the worst way possible.
Because Walter had taken so long to confront Peter, it was safe to assume that Peter would find out some other way than his father would prefer, but the payoff turned out to be much better than could have been hoped. At the beginning of the episode, Peter thought that Walter’s awkward behavior around him indicated that his father wanted to have a heart-to-heart about another dark secret: the fact that his mother committed suicide rather than dying in a car accident, as Peter had been led to believe. But once Peter realized that the time portal’s energy doesn't vaporize him, as it should for anyone from our world, he pieced it all together. But rather than having a hyperbolic blowup with his father, it was a much more pained and tense showdown between the two men, which made Peter’s decision to disappear without telling anyone all the more understandable and distressing.
Last night’s episode was the first time Peter actually called Walter “Dad,” a development that made the good doctor very happy. But as is often the case with characters on Fringe, once something promising happens, it’s quickly snatched away. If this season has largely been about the repairing of the long-damaged father-son relationship between these two, then after last night it appears that Walter is back to square one.
The AV Club’s Noel Murray comments on the writers’ skill at deftly illustrating how this complicated triangular time-portal thing works, but we still think it’s weird that Massive Dynamic has extra metronomes just lying around for demonstration purposes.
MTV’s Josh Wigler thinks the Secretary is either alternate-universe Walter (Walternate!) or William Bell, and he wonders how next week’s musical episode will be.
And TV Fanatic’s Agent SAHM reminds us of one of last night’s best lines: “As they say in Finland, there’s more than one way to roast a reindeer.”