And so a season that in my opinion has cemented Fringe as an all-time sci-fi TV classic comes to an end, with some tried-and-true, hardcore sci-fi-ery. Time travel! Supervillainy! Paradoxical loops! Bridges between alternate universes! “The Day We Died” arrived fully stocked.
The downside to that kind of deep-in-the-cut genre-play is that it necessitates some seriously cheesy, pulpy dialogue, along the lines of, “I should’ve known it was you, [insert name of bad guy],” and, “I get it now, we were the people who provided our past selves with the equipment we needed to…” and so on. But you know what’s not seriously cheesy? The moment in “The Day We Died” where a steely, white-haired Walter Bishop looks at the son who was stolen from him decades ago, and asks if he ever has the sensation of waking up in the morning and thinking for a few seconds that everything is as it used to be, before remembering exactly when and where he is. That’s a moment that shades in the cartoon, reminding us the within the broad strokes, there’s a lot of nuance to this story and these characters. And this episode kept balancing broadness with nuance, right on through to the batty twist ending.
If nothing else, I have to give the Fringe team credit for once again introducing a new world that feels fully formed, with its own rich backstory that they could choose to explore if they have the time and the inclination. We open where we ended “The Last Sam Weiss,” in the year 2026, a time beset by Fringe Events and terrorism. And here’s what we learn about the future: that Earth-2 has been destroyed, and that Earth-1 has been decaying ever since, because the worlds were inextricably linked; that a campaign of terror is being conducted by a group called End Of Days, seemingly led by a fiend named Moreau (played by the always-shifty Brad Dourif), but actually led by Walternate, who traveled to this Earth just before his own was destroyed; that a stroke-ridden Walter has become the most hated man on the planet, blamed (and rightly so, really) for the horrors that have swept Earth-1 over the past 15 years; that Astrid has become a full Fringe agent, as has Olivia’s niece, Ella; that a now-adept-telekinetic Olivia married Peter, and that Walter wasn’t allowed to leave prison to attend the ceremony; that Broyles has become a senator, lost an eye, and had some kind of life-changing experience with Peter in Detroit. So many threads here that could be tied off someday.
But will they? “The Day We Died” begins in the future, but it doesn’t end there, and there’s no indication that we’ll ever be back to 2026, given what happens in the episode. When Peter discovers a piece of even-more-futuristic weaponry at the site of one of End Of Days’ attacks, he pleads with Senator Broyles to let him get the band back together. Though Broyles is reluctant to free Walter—“There’s not a single person out there who hasn’t lost a loved one because of him,” he reminds Peter—he does allow Walter back into his lab under close supervision. (“Will Astrid be here?” Walter asks Peter, in another nice little moment.)
So Peter supplies Walter with Red Vines and says, “No matter who’s at fault, you’re my dad.” (Another nice moment.) And while Walter goes to work on dismantling and interpreting the meaning of the weapon, Peter heads up to Reiden Lake to pursue a clue he found at a Central Park crime scene: a key box, containing a key to the old Bishop lake house. Surprise: Walternate is there, and he and Peter have their conversation about destruction and loss, with Walternate making his point about waking up in the morning before promising to take from Peter everything he loves, one by one. Peter reminds Walternate that he only entered the WDM in the first place because Walternate had already turned his version of the machine on; it was self-defense. But he’s making excuses to a phantom—literally. The Walternate he’s talking to is actually a hologram. The real Walternate is busy shooting Olivia Dunham in the head.
At this point, “The Day We Died” takes a lyrical turn, pausing for Future Olivia’s funeral by the sea. And it’s not the only soft scene in the episode; earlier, before she’s shot, Olivia and Peter have a nice dinner, and talk about how even in a world that’s dying, people are still having kids, and they could too. It’s funny: Earth-2, with its accelerating decline, has seemed like a happier place than Earth-1 at times; and now a deteriorating Earth-1 seems a little lighter in tone, too. (Aside from all the terrorist bombings, that is.)
Ultimately, Walter figures out that he must’ve been the one to send the pieces of the WDM (and The First People notes that accompany it) back through time, and though he can’t undo that action, he does think he can stop the destruction of Earth-2 if he can pull Peter’s 2011 consciousness forward, show him a glimpse of what’s to come, and get him to make a different choice when he enters the WDM. (I think I understand why he can change the future in this way and not by refusing to send the machine back through time in the first place, but I don’t think I can explain it when my brain as frazzled as it is right now. Perhaps by morning I’ll find the words.) Peter worries that any changes he makes could have a terrible cost, but Walter insists that it “Can’t be worse than this.”
Cut to: 2011, where Peter’s consciousness returns in the WDM, and he makes the choice to create a bridge between the worlds, so that the two Walters, the two Olivias, the two Brandons, and the two of anyone else you can imagine can hash out their differences and save both worlds. Peter even has some ideas of his own on how to make it happen, and… he disappears before he say what they are. Outside, a flock of Observers gather, and say that Peter has done what he was meant to do, and now, to all concerned, “he never existed.” The end. (And yikes.)
I have no idea what’s coming next season. Does Peter really not exist any more, or does he exist in some alternate timeline? Does his disappearance in some way create the parallel universes? Does Fauxlivia still have a baby? How and when do the pieces of the WDM get sent back? Did Walternate get his weapon from the future? (In fact, has Earth-2 always been getting its advanced technology from some future versions of themselves?) Can the two Fringe Divisions trust each other enough to work together? Who the hell are The Observers, anyway? What happened in Future Detroit?
It may be that Fringe has bitten off more than it can chew here, and the storytelling is about to get hopelessly convoluted, as it often does once time-travel enters the picture. But for now, I’m going to enjoy living with and thinking over what I’ve seen so far. And I’m going to trust that no matter how crazy Fringe’s fourth season gets, the writers are going to keep bringing everything back to less mind-bending questions, like how all these people are going to co-exist without the mitigating influence of a Peter Bishop. There’s supposed to be more than one of everything, right? But what happens when you lose both your original and your spare?
- People are still using those crazy two-screen Sprint phones in 15 years, huh?
- I’ve also missed swiveling.
- Is that a big blob of amber in Central Park, or the latest Christo installation?
- Walternate spoke at Walter’s trial. That’s a flashback I’d like to see.
- Yum… Steak-in-a-can, with Table Wine. My favorite.
- If you’re in any kind of Fringe universe, stay away from the opera house. It’s not a lucky location.
- In the child’s drawing of Olivia and Peter, Olivia is wearing a little suit, like she always does.
- Dual maternity?
- Please take a moment to visit our homepage and read our interviews with John Noble and the Fringe showrunners Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman.