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Fringe: “An Origin Story”

Illustration for article titled iFringe/i: “An Origin Story”
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Peter Bishop is his father’s son. Not that there was any doubt of this; for all the parallel universes and switched identities, for all his initial reluctance to a bond with a man he’d spent most of his adult life mistrusting and despising, Peter was always Walter’s deep down where it mattered. That’s what kept him moving, really, knowing that he was his father’s son, and all that meant. The capacity for madness, the genius, the arrogance, the ambition, and the way they all combine to create a man who is at once willing and completely able (as Walter points out) to wreck the universe to salve his pain. Olivia spends most of the hour struggling to hold together in the face of her loss, needing to give support and receive it, enduring what she has to in a far from ideal world. Peter, on the other hand, decides to build a magic bomb to kill the mean people who took his daughter away, and when that doesn’t work, he decides to do something much, much worse.

This isn’t a happy episode, for obvious reasons, but one of the reasons it’s a good episode (and, to my mind, it’s one of the best of the season thus far) is that it manages to deal with the fallout from Etta’s death in a way that never becomes overly self-indulgent or grim. There aren’t a lot of laughs (although we do get one of Walter’s terrific visual aids), but there isn’t a lot of moping, either; and the mourning we do get is direct, powerful, and, most important of all, relevant not just to the characters’ emotions in the moment, but also to this season’s, and this show’s, overall themes. The writers’ willingness to kill one of the show’s major characters a handful of episodes after she was first introduced was a bold choice, but it was also a risky one. If mishandled, Etta’s murder could’ve been just another element in a general aura of gloom and doom, a shocking moment which just just bummed everyone out for a while before they were able to move on. Instead, it drives Peter’s actions in a new, and more dangerous, direction, and also clarifies his and Olivia’s arcs.


What happens is, Peter needs to get proactive in the wake of his daughter’s death. Everyone’s fixated on Walter’s videos, but as of yet, the tapes haven’t yielded anything all that helpful. They certainly haven’t presented any opportunities for the sort of visceral vengeance Peter is looking for. That’s where the Resistance comes in. They’ve gotten ahold of an Observer, and they also have intel on a new Observer plan: the baddies are shipping in crates of tech from the future, in order to better destroy the Earth’s atmosphere for their own fell purposes. The captive Observer came with one of those time-travel window boxes, and, according to Walter (after Peter badgers him into coming up with a plan), all they need to do is find a way to assemble the box correctly, create a time window to the future, and shoot some anti-matter through the window into the world of tomorrow, creating a black hole which will royally screw up all of Observers’ plans. Sure, they’ll theoretically pull themselves back together in a couple of years, but it will be something, at least, and with Etta gone and Team Save the Earth parsing through decades old Betamax footage, a minor victory is worth the effort.

Theoretically, at least. Something is off with Peter, and while he manages to hide his frustration in front of Olivia and Walter, it’s driving him to the sort of rash decision making which leads a man to open a portal between dimensions and kidnap an identical copy of his dead son. Since there are no Etta back-ups in any reality (the downside of having a dad who only happened once), Peter has to sate himself on pure, unbridled revenge. So he tries to psyche out the captured Observer, using special interrogation equipment to study the prisoner’s pupil dilation and contraction. It seems to go well: the plan is carried off with only a minor hitch, Olivia gets to deliver a bad-ass line (see Stray Observations), and the future window collapses in a satisfactory manner. Except five minutes later, the Observers are taking another delivery from the future, which means that Peter’s whole plan accomplished exactly nothing. He runs back to the prisoner and demands answers, only to learn that his special techniques didn’t work as he’d planned. The Observer’s eye contracted and dilated as he watched a fly on a window across the room; it had nothing to do with the construction of the time device. The Observer reminds Peter of a quote that one of the resistance fighters had mentioned earlier, the saw about digging two graves when you go on a quest for vengeance. The angrier he gets, the more desperate he becomes to find some way to “solve” his daughter’s death, the more blind he’ll be. Unsurprisingly, Peter doesn’t listen to this warning. Instead, he does something horrible.


Fringe is rarely subtle with its morals—it’s one of the show’s strengths, as in a world full of shifting realities, it’s good to have a constant or two. “An Origin Story” is no exception, and it delivers its main message in the hands of Walter, someone who is well acquainted with making the wrong choice for the right reason. After hearing Peter and Olivia talking about Peter’s plans, Walter brings Olivia a tape. It has nothing to do with the mission; it’s something he had in his desk, a recording of one of Etta’s birthday parties. He tells Olivia she and Peter should watch it, and that her pain, as bad as it is, is worth holding onto. “The pain is her legacy to you both. It’s proof that she was here.” (The writing in this scene wavers between competence and beauty, but John Noble makes it all work; that last line in particular is just devastating.) Olivia rejects the offer, because it’s too much, and because, I think, watching a record of a loved one you’ve lost is a way of acknowledging they really are gone; of admitting there will be no more videos or memories to go back to. But in the end, she watches the tape, because that’s who Olivia is—someone who does the right thing. It’s a moving moment, all the more powerful for what it contrasts. As Olivia cries, and touches the screen—it might be a coincidence, but at one point she seems to touch the smile on the face that used to be hers, like she’s trying to hold on to it—Peter is slicing up the back of the Observer’s head, ripping out the creature’s implant, and sticking the wire into his neck. On Fringe, you can either accept that loss is a part of loving, that caring for someone means you can and will be hurt, or worse; or you can try and break the world that broke your heart. Like father, like son.

Stray observations:

  • In case you missed the change in byline, Noel is out of town this week. I’m not sure if I’ll get a chance to write about the show again before this final season is finished, but I will miss it a lot, and a huge thank you to Noel for letting me step in one last time.
  • Whose origin is this? Seems like it would have to be Peter’s, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
  • So, why does Peter’s plan fall? I can think of two theories: either he built the cube wrong, and destroyed a portal which wasn’t as detrimental to the future as they’d hoped; or, y’know, time travel. After all, even if it takes the Observers of Tomorrow years to recover from the damage, they can still keep sending material back to whatever time they damn well please.
  • I guess, technically, the Observer wire could do nothing but good things for Peter down the line. But I doubt it.
  • Posters are going up around town with Etta’s image and word “Resist.” Like physical proof of Walter’s admonition to Olivia.
  • One of the twists I like best about this episode is how it uses a typical Fringe approach—crazy tech, Walter comes up with a mad theory about how best to use it, Peter decides to follow through—and then has this plan fail completely.
  • “Yeah, it is that type of gun.” -Olivia. (I want more bad-ass Olivia. I miss her. Anna Torv does tremendous work here, though.)

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