After the heady events of last week’s episode and the episode before that, this week’s “Through The Looking Glass And What Walter Found There” is decidedly quieter and stranger, and much less action-packed. It’s almost like a little interlude—an episode tucked away from the other episodes. A “pocket episode,” if you will.
For all its scantness, I found “Through The Looking Glass” very enjoyable, primarily because it’s in keeping with a lot of what this season has been about, structurally and thematically. It brings back an old friend—sort of—in that when Walter wanders away from the lab in the pursuit of a secret Boston location that he discovers on one of his old tapes, it turns out he’s looking for Lil’ O, the bald, empathic boy-C.H.U.D. who appeared way back in season one’s “Inner Child.” He doesn’t find the boy, unfortunately, but in terms of connecting season five with the earlier Fringe seasons, “Through The Looking Glass” does as it intends. (It even connects to season four’s “reboot,” in that Olivia suggests that Walter may not have experienced the Lil’ O case in the same way that she and Peter remember it.)
“Through The Looking Glass” also sustains this season’s motif of secret stashes. Last week, Peter found a hidden arsenal in Etta’s old room, and re-constructed a device that opened up a portal to the future. This week, Walter continues to carve paths through the amber in his lab, and goes through a series of steps—almost like a locker combination crossed with The Hokey-Pokey—that leads to the “pocket universe” where he hid Lil’ O over 20 years ago. Peter and Olivia eventually track Walter to the apartment at 167 Cedar Street in downtown Boston, and follow his steps into the pocket, which itself is a world of trompes-l’oeil, shifting windows, and floors that become ceilings. Even the transition between the worlds is a process that contains secrets. Walter’s videotape goes blank at one point in the regular universe, only to continue in the pocket. The missing Lil’ O left behind a radio with a jammed tuning dial, which doesn’t work at all in the pocket but appears to be ready to receive an as-yet-unsent transmission on the other side. As always with Fringe this season, the pieces of the puzzle are scattered and incomplete, left by people who no longer exist, to be interpreted by people who don’t really know what to do with them.
Or do they? The other similarity between this episode and the previous weeks’ is that Fringe is continuing to consider the emotional toll this final adventure is taking on our heroes. Olivia’s worried that she’s drifting away from Peter again, and so she reminds him that when he goes off to mourn Etta, he needs to tell her what he’s doing, and to include her in the process. Peter’s recently implanted Observer-tech is giving him the power to zip around instantaneously, and to counter the enemy’s moves, blow-by-blow, but it’s also making him colder, more ruthless, and more distant. And Walter, while his brain is still fried, is starting to revert to his old, gruff personality—easily peeved, and unconcerned when he encounters a scared man named Cecil who’s been trapped in the pocket universe for two decades. Cecil gets shot and killed when the Observers infiltrate the pocket, and later Walter confides in Peter that he considered this man “an acceptable loss,” and it scares him that he could go back to being that inhumanly calculating. “I’m losing the man that you helped me become,” he says to Peter, little realizing that his son is now looking at the world as a series of electronic blips, not as a collection of people and places. (Note too that while Peter’s staring blankly into the distance while listening to Walter, there’s a poster of an Observer right over his shoulder.)
My main complaint about “Through The Looking Glass” really is that not much happens in the episode; it’s primarily just about the changes happening to Peter and Walter, and even more than that, it’s an excuse for a little semi-psychedelic trip. But while this is not the most fruitful excursion, it is an entertaining one, thanks to the video of Past Walter stopping at a street vendor to grab a raspberry-filled pastry, and thanks to the very notion of a surreal world that exists just one pivot away from our own. It’s a familiar world too, where the apartment doors are marked with glyphs instead of numbers. Call this universe: Fringe.
- I’ve been writing about Fringe since the first episode, and during the whole time I’ve been covering the show, Zack Handlen has been my backup, and has written very insightfully about some of Fringe’s best episodes. With the end approaching, I was glad Zack got to sit in once more last week, and—as is traditional—that he got to cover a great one. Had I been reviewing “An Origin Story” I’d have probably given it an “A-” instead of an “A” (because I’m a stingy bastard), but I did think it was a terrific episode, taking the proper time to mourn Etta and to show why her death mattered.
- This episode also extends this season’s sci-fi homages—though perhaps I’m “ascribing meaning that isn’t there” when I see echoes of Star Wars in Peter watching the holographic Etta message over and over.
- Nice gag there in the way that Walter encounters the same cranky neighbor at 167 Cedar Street both on the videotape and when he returns over 20 years later. (Now she has a bionic eye, though.)
- The coolest over-there/over-here transition? The way that Olivia’s bullets don’t work in the pocket universe, which means she has to drag an Observer across with her so that she can shoot him.
- Another reference to the mysterious “Donald” this week, who apparently helped Walter hide Lil’ O in the pocket universe. Similarly, last week’s episode featured some pictures in Etta’s apartment of her with people we’ve never met (I don’t think). I really like how this season is hinting at the larger world of this future where we find ourselves.
- The Etta RESIST posters continue to multiply.
- Before Captain Windmark heads out the door, I imagine that he thinks to himself, “Wait. Let me hat-up first.”
- Not to freak y’all out, but given that the finale is going to be double-length—episodes 12 and 13 of this season, basically—that means that we’re halfway done with Fringe’s fifth and final season. Six Fringe weeks down. Six to go. (For the record, here are the remaining airdates: 11/16, 12/7, 12/14, 12/21, 1/11, 1/18.)