FRINGE: A Tale of Three Broken Lives (2011)

In FRINGE’s most recent episode “Subject 13,” the final layer was peeled back revealing a horror story of a different kind.  In the earlier episode “Reciprocity,” the kaleidoscope shifted and we saw a side of Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) that we never envisioned existed:  Peter, the killer — an assassin searching for clues.  Then, in “Subject 13,” we discovered perhaps the root of Peter’s villainy: he learned from the best villain of all — his surrogate father, Walter Bishop (John Noble).

We have always wondered what was so dangerous that Walter had William Bell (Leonard Nimoy) remove a portion of his brain and hide it.  It was not just that Walter discovered an alternate dimension, nor that Walter figured out how to cross-over into that dimension, it was the depths of Walter’s own evilness.

In “Subject 13,” we discovered that Walter was not just a brilliant scientist, befuddled and well-meaning — he had a dark side — a side that was so ruthless that he returned a young child to an abusive environment so that she would continue to experience heightened fear and emotion — the magic ingredients that enabled her to crossover to the other side.  Walter was so intrigued and enthralled with the idea that Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) as a child could seamlessly cross over into the alternate universe that he willingly turned a blind-eye to the violence she was suffering at the hands of her stepfather to further his own research.

It can be argued that Walter tried to threaten Olivia’s stepfather, but in his heart, Walter knew that he wanted Olivia to continue living in fear.  It was only because she lived in a state of constant heightened emotion that Walter’s experiments could continue.  If Walter had truly wanted to protect Olivia, he would have reported the abuse to child protective services, who would have promptly removed Olivia from the abusive home situation.  In fact, as a doctor and an educator, Walter had an obligation to do so.  But he did not.  Instead, he let her return to a life of a living nightmare — all in the name of science.  His addiction was learning more and more about the alternate world and trying to discover why Olivia could crossover so easily.  As a result, Walter’s obsession drove him to sanction the abuse and let Olivia live in terror.

Walter is the monster in this story.  He not only stole Peter from the alternate universe, he refused to return Peter claiming it would destroy the fabric of both universes.  Walter must have known that when he first crossed over and stole Peter, but he did it anyway — he crossed over tearing that first hole.  But then after he had saved Peter’s life, Walter was not willing to give Peter up.  His selfishness was even apparent to his wife Elizabeth who pleaded with Walter to take Peter home, which he refused to do. It was because Walter forced his wife to live a life that was a lie that stole her sanity and she eventually took her own life.  She could not bear the thought of watching Peter live a life that was not his.  It horrified and scared her.

Eventually Walter may have realized his addiction and how he was destroying lives simply for his own intellectual curiosity and his desire to keep Peter as his own.  That was when he asked William Bell to take out a part of his brain.  The guilt over having driven his wife to suicide, stealing a child, tearing an irreparable hole in the fabric of the two universes which began to slowly collapse, as well as destroying Olivia’s childhood was too much to bear.  To ease his own mind, to prevent further atrocities, Walter begged William Bell to help him — and he did.

The 17 years which Walter spent in the sanitarium was not a curse.  It was a blessed relief.  For in the end, Walter had little or no recall of the atrocities he had committed.

For the past 3 seasons we have watched Walter slowly regain his sanity, his intellect and re-discovered the mysteries of our universe and the alternate-universe.  But it never occurred to us that Walter was the reason for all the problems.

In fact, it was Walter who created the hybrid-monster for which Peter is now.  Peter, himself, does not even fully understand who or what he is.  He is a child that was stolen and brain-washed, and yet who never felt completely comfortable with the world he lived in, nor the family he grew up amongst.  He did not know that he did not belong there, but he sensed it.  Because the truth was imbedded in his DNA, and as buried memories and feelings arose, Peter began to lash out.

Thus, Peter’s invitation to return to the alternate universe with Walternate was not just to see what Peter was missing, it was a trigger.  It unleashed feelings of rage, helplessness and vengeance that Peter perhaps still wanted to deny.  He then only returned to our world because Olivia promised him a better life — a life filled with love.   It was the one thing the alternate world could not offer him:  Olivia.  Yet now Peter has learned that even that was stolen from him.  Fauxlivia stole his love too.  Peter may calmly tell Olivia that he thought Fauxlivia was her, but surely like his childhood, he knew deep down inside, something was wrong — something did not fit.  Being a boy from two universes, he would have sensed the discrepancy.  He may have wanted to deny it, but he still would have known.

Just like Walter trying to deny what he was doing was wrong when he experimented on Olivia and stole Peter when they were children, Peter too is trying to deny the wrongness of his actions.

Walter and Peter are like cracked-mirrored refractions of one another — and also unwillingly caught up in this modern day Greek tragedy is Olivia.  Olivia, who is the heart of this broken tale.  Olivia was special and gifted and she caught the attention of a brilliant scientist as a child.  But children are not guinea pigs, lab rats or even voluntary test subjects.  Children are innocent, vulnerable and should be protected.  Yet Walter did not offer Olivia that — he just wanted to study her.

It is therefore fitting that it was Walter’s fascination with Olivia and his unwillingness to protect her that pushed her to reveal the one thing that would one day unravel and threaten two universes: Olivia out of fear of her stepfather sought Walter’s help, thereby unknowingly crossing over and talking to Walternate instead.  Upon seeing Olivia suddenly standing at his desk, for the first time Walternate understood what had happened to his missing son — his son was not simply missing, his son had been kidnapped into an alternate dimension.  It was a concept so extreme and virtually impossible that Walternate had never stopped to consider it.  Yet with a terrified little girl suddenly appearing at his desk and then vanishing before his eyes, he understood.  He had been looking in the wrong place.  Because he had the same intellect as Walter, Walternate was then able to pursue the path necessary to figure out how to crossover between the two nearly identical universes and vowed to rescue his son and save their universe from our encroaching universe.

It had been Walter all along.  He was the one who set this terrifying chain of events in motion.  He knew it and he hid from it — and even today, he resists acknowledging the atrocities he committed and the damage he has unleashed upon the fabric of both universes.

“Subject 13” was a heart-rending episode.  It showed us the depths that Walter had gone to that had destroyed so many lives.  Walter may try to claim that he meant no harm, but he hurt so many people in the process.  Can he truly say that he was acting in Peter or Olivia’s best interests?  He destroyed their childhoods just because he could — to serve his intellectual curiosity and because he could not bear the thought that his son had died.

For all who have wondered why Peter, Olivia and Walter always seemed like shadows of the people they should be, now we know why.  They are but shadows.  They are splinters of the people they would have been but for Walter’s insatiable meddling.  Olivia grew up abused and haunted.  Peter grew up questioning his own identity and his place in the world.  And Walter relinquished his hold on his own sanity in order to cope for a time.

The congruent intersection of their lives with Fringe Division has reunited them later in their lives — which can help them heal and hopefully prevent the destruction of our universe.  Yet can they actually accomplish this goal without destroying themselves further in the process?  Or are they too broken by the sins of Walter’s past?

Walter, Walter, what have you done?

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