Since the premiere of ‘Fringe” in the fall of 2008, John Noble broke out as the man to watch on the show. His interpretation of a man so haunted by his past he was driven to insanity was captivating. Noble immediately won the attention of the audience. Even more so, the father-son relationship between Noble’s character, Walter, and his son, Peter (Joshua Jackson), has been the dominating story line throughout the first two seasons.
Sure, Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) is the show’s ‘main” character. But Agent Dunham started weak and has only just begun to really come into her own during this season. And yes, Lance Reddick as Agent Phillip Broyles never fails to completely creep me out, in the best way possible.
But the show is at its strongest in any scene revolving around Walter and Peter. Between the tension and hilarity that both Jackson and Noble display with flair, a strong and heart wrenching relationship has been constructed.
Note: huge, red, neon, flashing spoiler alerts from this point on. You’ve been warned.
That is what made last Thursday’s episode entitled ‘Peter” such a well-built episode. February’s winter finale ended with Olivia discovering the truth about Peter: He is not from the same universe as her, but from an alternate one.
The spring return of ‘Fringe” directly addressed Olivia’s discovery providing the audience with an episode set almost entirely in 1985. This flashback episode, which delivered in every possible way, right down to the alternate old-school opening credit sequence, gave us the complete story to an event we have only imagined since the season one finale. A story unfolds to tell of a time when the very fabric of the universe was torn apart and Walter made decisions that would change the course of history forever.
The only version of Walter we have ever really been associated with is the mentally unstable (yet lovable) and fanatical (still lovable) one. Because of this, I think it is fair to say that most of us assumed that Walter had kidnapped Peter from the alternate universe in an act of mourning and depression following his own son’s death.
I, for one, never honestly considered another option. After last night’s episode I see that was an incredibly foolish presumption. Throughout the course of the gripping hour, written by Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman, we learn that Walter was not acting on selfish impulses but on heroic and noble ones. The Walter Bishop of 1985 is a very different character than the one of 2010. In this episode we see a devoted husband and an adoring father. We see a sane man who will go to any length to save his son, including opening windows to an alternate universe.
Walter watched his ‘surrogate son” from the safety of the window between universes with the comforting knowledge that his son would grow up somewhere, that he would live a happy life. As 1985 Walter watches his counter-part being distracted by the arrival of the Observer and missing the key to curing alternate Peter, the terror and pain in Noble’s face are heart wrenching. He lost his son once and was forced to watch, from an alternate universe, no less, the slow death of the only reassurance he has left.
Noble’s performances in each and every scene (because he was in virtually every one, save maybe two) showcased his immense talent. He played not one, not even two, but three versions of Walter in the course of an hour the present Walter affected by years of instability, the sane father Walter of the past, and ‘Walternate,” the Walter of the alternate universe. As many critics and reviewers have raved, if John Noble isn’t recognized at the Emmy’s for this performance, I’m not sure it can be considered a credible award system anymore.
I could rave more about the character development and remarkable acting that ‘Peter” offered, but then I wouldn’t have the space to rant about the mythology and plot progression. Not only did we get the complete back story to Peter’s arrival in our universe, we finally learned how Nina Sharp lost her hand in an attempt to stop Walter from passing through to the other side. Through the appearance of the Observers, we now know that Peter is far more important than we ever imagined. ‘The boy is important, he has to live,” tells our favorite Observer to Walter later in the episode. Why? Because the impending war was caused by this incident? Because he is from the other side?
These are questions that will most certainly be explored in the upcoming seasons of ‘Fringe,” which was picked up for a full 22 episode third season in the beginning of March.
‘Peter” offered us a glimpse into the past in order to get ready for whatever the writers of ‘Fringe” have to throw at us in the future.
‘Fringe” airs on Thursdays at 9 p.m. on Fox.
Rosenberg is a member of the class of 2012.