'Fringe' recap: When going crazy makes you a better father

The degree and nature of Walter Bishop’s madness may not seem like the stuff of an exciting Fringe episode, but it sure worked out that way last night: This was one of the best Fringes yet for the way it wove its sci-fi with its emotional subplots with such tight, artful braiding.

The set-up: a number of mental-ward patients, institutionalized for 14 years each, are suddenly acting normal — good news, except that in the case of the first one, mental equilibrium was achieved by slicing off the back of his skull and removing… something.

The perpetrator of this theft was a familiar face, or head: Thomas Newton, himself a severed skull from the Other Side glimpsed by Olivia Dunham, and grafted onto a body in this universe. The hour’s central gimmick was ingenious: three patients, three bits of brain matter removed from them that wasn’t theirs in the first place — it had been implanted, which was what caused their mental distress. We soon learned these samples were meant to be re-implanted into Walter, that his own long-ago mental problems were caused (at least in part — don’t forget the hallucinogens he gobbled like candy in the ’60s) by these bits of missing tissue containing memories lost. Once restored in Walter’s head, this brain tissue might enable Newton and his First Wave army to extract information from him and build a doorway to the Other Side, which would have the rather unfortunate effect of destroying our world.

Science mingled with emotion this night, as Olivia assured Peter that, “Going crazy made [Walter] a better person, a better father.” And science mingled with action, as a gun-toting Olivia tracked down Newton, who’d injected Walter with a “neurotoxin” that would kill him in four minutes unless Olivia agreed to let Newton go free in return for the toxin-cure. This could have been a suspense-killer — no way was Olivia going let Walter die, right? — but instead, it set up even greater tension. “Now I know how weak you are,” the fleeing Thomas (“We’ve got what we need”) Newton cackled to the angrily compliant Olivia. He was right: She cares so much for Walter now that she’ll risk the show’s doomsday scenario (“opening a corridor” between universes that will result in “global destruction”) to save him.

Fringe at its best here is all about divided loyalties, the power of memory and the memory of power — how to get it, how best to use it, and how it corrupts.

This beautifully-directed episode (by Jeannot Szwarc, who’s worked on everything from The Rockford Files to Smallville) featured some gorgeously framed shots of bodies (Newton’s; Walter’s) entering the frame as gliding still figures.

A few final thoughts and a question:

• This was a great Walter episode. His emotional state has been played in the past for laughs (the eccentric with a child’s appetite for snacks), as evidence of mad-scientist genius (he makes connections and hathes theories quicker than anyone), and as tragedy (his commital to St. Claire’s hospital kept him apart from his son for years). This night, all these elements combined, along with some terrific scenes with Josh Jackson feeling guilt/anguish at all his father has been though, for maximum effect. Bravo, John Noble.

• Best exchange of the night: After Walter requests 50 milligrams of valium to calm himself, a doctor says, “That’s quite a high dosage.” “I have quite a high tolerance,” replies Walter.

• Best Walter non sequitur: “I have a terrible headache and a sudden craving for chicken wings.”

• What’s the significance, if any, of William Bell (brief cameo by Leonard Nimoy) using the name “Dr. Paris”?

Did you watch Fringe? I thought this was one of the best episodes yet; did you? And… no more Fringe until January! I crave more than chicken wings…

Comments (43 total) Add your comment
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  • James

    Fringe may have a particular purpose for this. On the other hand, Nimoy played “Paris” on Mission: Impossible.

    • Bobby’s Robot

      I also thought that was an in-joke.

    • Barb

      I also thought it was a ‘heads up’ to Nimoy’s time on Mission:Impossible.

  • The Dude

    Definitely the best episode to date and it sets up the second half of the season beautifully.

    The significance of Bell as Dr. Paris is quite simple. Bell put Walter in the mental hospital. Olivia and company think Newton is Dr. Paris but he’s not. The question now is whether the first wave used to work for Bell but have gone rouge or not.

    • Barb

      Gotta agree that this was the best eppie of the show. Last season I couldn’t get into (stilted acting and all) but now I’m hooked with Walter the star of the show.

    • Andrew

      No they are not working for Bell and gone Rouge. You see the evil orginization on the other side is actually led by the other side’s Dr. Bishop. Who so distraught over having his son STOLEN from him from someone on the other side has gone insane trying to find anyway of getting him back, and hence turning evil. This was so forshadowed in this espiode with Olvia being told. “No you did the right thing. For there is only ONE Dr. Bishop”

  • Count Screwloose

    William Bell’s pseudonym was a nod to the character Nimoy played on the “Mission Impossible” TV series.

    Here’s another question: What does Thomas Jerome Newton’s name have in common with David Robert Jones’s?

    • Outshined

      Oh, that’s awesome. You are a genius.

      David Robert Jones = David Bowie

      Thomas Jerome Newton = Man Who Fell To Earth

  • Phil

    Definitely a great episode. It was sad to see Walter look at his dying brain particles in the end. I think what was even more thrilling in this episode was when the “real” Walter was coherant for a minute…I bet he could have been a hard SOB before he was experimented on. This is my favorite “dramatic” series on right now. I just hope this continues to a third season. Fox needs to find a better timeslot for it.

    • side3

      I agree. The look on John Noble’s face as Walter’s faculties were restored was electric. We got a glimpse of who Walter was before he went insane. John Noble should win an Emmy…is there a better character, or actor, this year?

      I also was glad to see Sebastian Roche. I really liked him a Dr. Kurt Mendel on “Odyssey 5”.

  • Francisco

    Terrific episode, it leads me to wonder, is Bell truly behind the secret invasion? Remember at the end of the episode during the flashback, he told Walter that only he would know the location of the missing brain matter. Is Newton secretly or openly working for Bell? And if so, to what end?

    • Stewie

      My take was that Belly was effectively “hiding” Walter’s brain matter so that no one could entice him to reveal the secret to making the door for their own nefarious reasons.

      • Ace

        I agree b/c it seemed like Walter was doing this voluntarily. I also agree with the posters that want John Nobel to be nominated for an Emmy. It is amazing that just a look on his face can say so much.

      • Andrew

        You are Right.. Bell did it to hide the secrets. But here is the big question. If we exist on both sides (for Peter obviously died on this side and was stolen from the other side) then where is the Dr. Bell from the other side. Since the one from our side is over there. My guess is the Dr. Bishop from the other side has kidnapped/killed/tourtured that Dr. Bell for any and all information, and the Dr. Bell from our side is only over there for he is more needed there to combat that Dr. Bishop who want’s revenge for his son being STOLEN.

  • spankmaster

    great ep…agree seeing the “real” walter gave me chills…good ones…olivia is so hot would love to see her and agent farnsworth get cozy!

  • Casey

    John Noble for an Emmy! Let’s get this campaign rolling.

    • natalie

      Yes! He completely deserves it! And an honourable mention for Josh Jackson methinks.
      Great episode, all the elements came together perfectly. If they ever cancel this show I’m going to lose it.

  • Aurelia

    Such a great episode. John Noble is utterly brilliant, and they knew how to play every angle (funny, creepy, tragic) of this storyline.

  • RealisticExpectations

    Excellent episode.

    And now I’m going to miss my weekly dose of Walter for HOW long? January, even though it’s only next month, seems entirely too far away right now.

    It’s just not fair. No, not at all.

  • Texas Mom

    The true question is the extent of Walter’s superior brain. He’s been using food to help him connect to lost memories. Did this brief connection with his old brain allow him to develop new pathways to compensate for what is missing? We use only a tiny part of our brains, what if Walter can access more. Perhaps, he will remember more now ( he saw Belly reaady to operate). Walter having to make a choice to be a better man would be interesting.

  • David

    This is an incredibly great show and this was another fantastic episode showcasing some of the best work on television today.It has the potential to become a legendary show.It delves into subject matter ranging from deep sci-fi and science to deep human emotion.The only problem is it’s on the wrong night of the week,forced to fight against long established programs with set in stone fans who won’t take the leap.Too bad,let’s hope it doesn’t kill such greatness or cause another stupid Fox decision.

  • Kristen

    Loved it! By far the best episode of the season!!!

  • GnDC

    Can’t believe no one mentioned Newton talking about the how bad “the blight” (disease) was on the other side.

    • natalie

      Forgot about that…it caught my attention. Before this episode, I didn’t really understand why the people from the other universe wanted to come to this side so badly…but if their world is turning hellish it makes sense.

  • KRibbons

    I loved that the first patient was Jeff Perry from Grey’s Anatomy. Thatcher GREY appearing in GREY Matter.
    Connection? Probably not haha.
    Maybe its setting up for a Fringe Grey’s crossover ep. I would love to see Walter interact with Derek and Miranda.

    • S

      Actually, since it should be spelled “Gray Matter”, it may have been a shout-out to Grey’s Anatomy (grey = spelling of names, gray = the color). On the other hand, it could just be a spelling mistake by the writers. I hope not though, it would be sad.

      • amcorrea

        Not sure if this means anything, but “grey” is the UK spelling for the color while “gray” is the US spelling.

        AMAZING episode! John Noble is the heart of that show and deserves every accolade he’s eligible for.

  • Kaiulani

    Fringe keeps getting better and better! Come one EW, we need a full recap each week. So glad that it is coming back in January and not March/April like my other favorite shows.

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