Welcome to the Friday Death Watch. Fringe debuted in its new time slot last night, and no matter how much Fox president Kevin Reilly wants to spin it, fans should be worried. Luckily the minds behind Fringe came prepared with Doc Brown himself and a clever nod to Fox Fridays past with this week’s episode, entitled “The Firely”.
Our first episode back after a more than month-long break, I was expecting some crazy stuff to go down because of the Observer’s return, but The Firefly was incredibly character-based, to the show’s credit. The focus was not on something fleeting, such as “when will the worlds collide?” but rather on something deeper, and stronger. “The Firefly” really struggled with choice and the bonds that tie fathers and sons. We’re not just talking about Walter and Peter Bishop here, but also of guest star Christopher Lloyd as Roscoe Joyce and his dead son.
The show forgoes a creepy villain of the week in favor of a purely character-based push. After an insane intro where Walter is trying to experiment on himself to the tune of “Menomena”, we are introduced to an elderly hospice patient who meets a strange man in the middle of the night. This figure then meets up with the Observer and we realize he is the long-dead son of the old man, Bobby. Bringing alterna-Bobby from the other universe to deliver a message to his senile father was a cryptic start to a confounding episode. Team Fringe gets the father, a washed up keyboardist from Walter’s favorite band to the lab, and Walter tries to coax the memory of the night in question from dear old Doc Brown. Through the power of music, his memory is triggered, but perhaps too much.
We learn of the events of the night, of Bobby’s warning that Roscoe must help Walter, but it is later revealed that Bobby died 25 years ago in a hit and run. Roscoe sheds this information upon Dr. Bishop in an incredibly moving scene that sends the episode from middling to mesmerizing. Know anyone else who died 25 years ago? Yes, it turns out Walter’s rash actions from the night of his abducting Peter had ramifications on more than just the other universe. Just as in science, every action causes an equal and opposite reaction.
Unfortunately for science, Walter’s reaction to this reveal sets up a series of emotional dominos. Our Observer, in a bet with an older Observer, is hinging on Walter changing from that fateful night for an unknown purpose, and The Observer is in charge of righting the wrongs of a man’s guilt. As Peter and Olivia traipse around town after the Observer and help the victim of a bank robbery, Walter and Roscoe bond over shared experiences and strawberry milkshakes. The death of Bobby Joyce caused Roscoe to disband the band Walter so dearly loved because poor Bobby was hit by a truck and killed. As the Observer explains to an affected Walter, because Peter came back he played with a firefly, affecting another child, and his existence accidentally killed another one. Everything has a price, and it seems the Observer was back to restore balance to the world.
As Peter and Olivia head back to the lab with the robbery victim to question her whereabouts in 1985, The Observer hits the car and runs on foot. Walter arrives and tries to save the girl, but Peter must continue his chase. It is here where a critical decision is made. Peter asks for the keys to Walter’s truck in order to pursue The Observer, but Walter must comply and focus on saving the girl. If Peter goes, Walter fears, The Observer will kill the younger Bishop to restore order. Walter agrees, and Peter chases on.
While nothing ultimately comes in the way of Peter’s life, Walter has demonstrated to The Observers that he would be willing to let his son die, now that their familial bond is stronger than it once was. The elaborate series of events set up this episode were a way for our bald friend to test Walter’s character and how it has changed in the past quarter century. Recognizing his actions and using his experience to grow closer to his son and his new pal Roscoe, Walter has matured from the cold, calculating scientist that Walternate became into a real three-dimensional father figure.
As it has so often before, Fringe zooms past the universe dynamics and shows its strength by focusing on the ties that bond. Where the show goes from here I am not yet sure, as the episode was important mythologically, but mostly emotionally. I hope we are done mining the depths of season two’s “Peter” for a while, but when it is pulled off as well as it was last night I won’t exactly complain.