The final 2009 episode of Fringe was a slam-bang suspense piece that also made room for a little character development for Walter and Peter. In short, it was Fringe at its best, mixing action, drama, and emotion in equal measure. Plus, it featured lots of brains.
The Evil: In a Boston mental institution, a suspicious man dressed all in black is operating on a schizophrenic longtime patient. The man removes a foreign object from the patient’s brain and then departs. Miraculously, the patient suddenly becomes sane.
The Determination: The man is Thomas Jerome Newton, the leader of the First Wave army, whose frozen head was thawed out earlier this season and placed on a new body. The First Wave are trying to find the doorway to their parallel world, which would bring about our planet’s destruction. Newton is removing foreign brain tissue that’s been incubating in three psychiatric patients’ brains for the last 14 years. The tissue is actually from Walter’s brain, and contains his memories of how to build the doorway, which explains why Walter could never remember how he did it in the first place. After collecting the tissue, Newton kidnaps Walter to restore his memories about the procedure.
Wacky Factor: Walter was an integral component of the plot, but that didn’t mean he didn’t have time for some bizarre behavior. For instance, we learned that if you want to calm him down, you’re going to need a lot of Valium: “I have quite a high tolerance,” he explained matter-of-factly. And during the episode’s big finale, when it appeared that Walter had died, the good doctor regained consciousness and announced, “I have a terrible headache — and a sudden craving for chicken wings.”
Paranoia Level: Medium to High. Wisely, Fringe’s second season has focused on Walter, easily the show’s best character. And a lot of his storyline recently has been centered on the rebuilding of his relationship with Peter. One of things that “Grey Matters” reminded us of was how far these two have come since last season, when Peter and Walter’s creaky odd-couple shtick threatened to capsize the show. With their strained “conflict” now resolved, Fringe has produced many poignant moments from their realization that this second chance between them is continually threatened by the dangerous work they do. (It was such a simple thing, but Peter’s apology to his dad last night for never visiting him in the mental ward was particularly touching.) And it’s not just Peter who loves the guy: Dunham was forced to choose between apprehending an escaping Newton or saving Walter from the poison Newton gave him. Thankfully, she picked Walter, although it did allow Newton to get away, presumably with the formula for the parallel-worlds doorway.
We also got what we’ve been told is our last glimpse of Leonard Nimoy as the brilliant William Bell. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much of a cameo — he showed up at the conclusion so that we could learn that he was the mysterious doctor who placed Walter’s brain tissue in those other patients so that Walter would never attempt to walk through the doorway again. If that’s really the end of Bell on Fringe, you have to wonder how the writers will explain his permanent departure. In the meantime, Newton and the First Wave are still out there on the loose. And Walter would really like some chicken wings.
The A.V. Club’s Noel Murray agrees with us that this was the best episode of the season.
TV Fanatic’s Dr. Shepherd points out that “Like all great villains, Newton is not a frothing-at-the-mouth, mindless mad man. What is so chilling about Newton is just how human he appears to be.”
IGN’s Ramsey Isler makes the case for why John Noble (who plays Walter) should get an Emmy nomination for his performance.