The return of 'Fringe' recap: 'The Firefly' glowed with love, loss, and Christopher Lloyd

Fringe returned in its new time period on Friday night with “The Firefly,” an exemplary episode designed to bring joy, deep satisfaction, and uneasy fears to the hearts of its fans. I’ll deal with the joys and satisfactions first.

The hour began not with a previously standard pre-credits, scare-case-of-the-week introduction, but rather a beautiful scene between Walter and Peter that had those elements of comedy and poignancy that Fringe combines like no other current television show. Peter came upon Walter in the lab, the latter preparing to inject himself in his leg with something concocted to “make myself smarter,” the better to replace the missing parts of his brain (I know I’ve just lost every non-regular-Fringe viewer reading this with that phrase; sorry) and to approximate the intelligence of Walternate. Peter gently warned his father to recall that Walter had asked William Bell to snip out those brain-parts “because you were afraid of what you were becoming.”

Then, cut to a nursing home in Boston, where a patient who would prove to be guest star Christopher Lloyd was seen on security cameras conversing with an unknown hospital visitor. The patient was Roscoe Joyce, the former keyboardist for Walter’s favorite rock band, Violet Sedan Chair, and the stranger was Joyce’s dead son, Bobby, come to deliver a message. Bobby, who’d died in 1985, joined up with our most familiar Observer (Michael Cerveris), who told Bobby that, with his brief mission accomplished, “I’ll take you home now.”

Once Fringe Division is called into this scenario because the cameras also picked up the presence of the Observer, it was bliss to see Walter’s reaction when he realized that the drawn, haggard ex-rocker before him was Roscoe Joyce. Lloyd’s hopeless demeanor was as perfect as his wardrobe — the no-shirt vest plus jewelry get-up of a man who indeed looked like a refugee from a decades-old, now-defunct (art-? prog-? psychedelic-?) rock band. Walter’s elation at meeting one of his heroes, even in this fallen, sedated state, was tempered by the Observer sighting: “Every time the Observer appears, it has something to do with you,” he said to Peter, worry creasing his face. “Something bad.”

But soon after, we saw two Observers discussing Walter, not Peter. Our Observer says to his colleague, “I think he has changed.” The other one disagrees. Most of the Observer scenes in “The Firefly” were mysterious, confusing, until the end of the hour. Shortly before this, our Observer foiled a jewelry store robbery and saved a woman tied up during the burglary by locating her asthma inhaler, from which she desperately needed a dose. He pocketed the inhaler. It was very cool to see an Observer in an action scene — catching the robber’s bullets, disabling the thief with a series of sharp elbows and in-close punches. But… to what end?

With Roscoe brought to Walter’s lab, the scientist tried to draw out the musician’s memories, and in the process, Walter explained that he’s made a “liquid base to aid in the process of brain-mapping.” Roscoe Joyce observed wryly that Brain Mapping would make a great name for an album. Walter had mixed the liquid with milk “as a bonding agent,” and put it in his fridge in an ordinary milk bottle. Uh-oh…

The Observer appeared to Walter and asked to talk. What followed was the crux of the episode. The Observer and Walter discuss “various possible futures” and how “every action causes ripples.” He told Walter a story that gave the hour its title and was, we thought as we watched, a metaphor: It was about Peter as a boy catching a firefly, which caused another child to not catch one and go wandering off. Her father went looking for her in his car, skidded, and hit and killed a boy. The Observer broke off from his story to ask Walter for his help: “When the time comes, give him the keys and save the girl.” Walter was baffled by this apparent non sequitur.

But then Walter went back to the lab and Roscoe had remembered something: Bobby called him years ago to tell him about a dream that involved a bald man and a nursing home. Roscoe said it was their last conversation, because shortly after, Bobby was fatally hit by a man driving a car. Walter realized that, in a roundabout way, he was responsible for this death (because of his Peter catching the firefly) and Roscoe comments that the grief over Bobby’s death is the real reason Violet Sedan Chair broke up. So Walter is also responsible for the break-up of his favorite band! I’d have cheered at this cleverness in the script by producers J. H. Wyman and Jeff Pinkner had I not been so moved by the multiple unhappinesses that were caused in what the Observer called actions-causing-ripples. “That man lost a son because I was unwilling to lose mine,” is how Walter will boil it down a few minutes later to Astrid. Walter also realized that the Observer “wants me to help him un-do all the damage… But in doing that I would lose [Peter] all over again.”

The Observer’s non sequitur to Walter made sense when the Observer caused an auto accident and the woman with asthma was again placed in jeopardy. At the scene of this accident, Olivia chased after the Observer; Peter told Walter he wanted to go help Olivia but that Walter should stay with the young woman and that he needs their car.

“Give me the keys and save the girl,” Peter says to Walter. Thunderstruck, Walter realizes this had been the Observer’s plan all along. “They’re going to take you from me!” he cried out in anguish. Yet Walter cannot allow the asthmatic girl to die. He handed over the keys and improvised a cure for the woman. This delayed him from getting back to the lab, where Peter, thirsty, reached in for the milk and went into a seizure — a reaction to Walter’s brain-mapping elixir. A frantic Olivia called Walter, who guided her through an anti-coagulant injection.

Later the Observers spoke about all this. “You were right, he’s changed. He was willing to let his son die,” is what they conclude. “Yes, and now we know: When the time comes, he will be willing to do it again.” Fade to black.

But wait! There was the night’s other plot: Olivia received a book in the mail, If You Meet The Buddha On The Road, Kill Him! (This is an actual book, published in 1972 by Sheldon B. Kopp, that carries the subtitle, “The Pilgrimage of Psychotherapy Patients.”) At first, Olivia was put off by this, handing it off to Peter as being intended for “her” — i.e., Altivia. But then Peter explained, with a lovely sincerity and earnestness, “The book wasn’t meant for her. It was meant for the Olivia Dunham that I’ve spent the past couple of years of my life with… You’re the person I wanted to share it with.” It was meant to help explain why he can be so distant and disengaged. If The Buddha is about finding one’s own path, altering the narrative of one’s past, and commences with a section that’s very apt for this music-minded episode of Fringe: “Take From No Man His Song.” With its chapters about “spoiled identity” and “a search for belonging,” this book is something I’m going to have to dip into further. I’ll keep you posted on what I find; let me know if you’ve read it yourself.

“The Firefly” stands among the finest Fringe episodes. The pull of family; the knotty complexity of romance; the way sci-fi can provide fresh metaphors for the most frequently explored ideas and emotions; the way we encounter humor and surprise even in the midst of anguish and regret — this is the stuff of which Fringe is made. Hallelujah.

Oh yes, those uneasy fears I mentioned at the top of this piece. I do fear — with great delight — for the future implications of the Observers’ ominous exchange and what it means for Walter later in the season. Walter undergoing another traumatic challenge about the possibility of losing a son seems almost too much for the man to bear. It will also make for great drama.

Fringe benefits:

• The episode title was also, of course, a nod to Fringe‘s new Friday night Fox death-trap time period, once the quicksand-grave for Joss Whedon’s Firefly.

• It’s rumored that the Violet Sedan Chair’s album Seven Suns exists, and can be found in various independent record stories throughout the country. From what I’ve heard, Chair’s music is less psychedelic than I’d thought the band would be — more influenced by American British-invasion-influenced bands ranging from the Beau Brummels to The Three O’Clock. In other words: Fab.

• How many of you initially thought, as I did, that Bobby wasn’t a transported-from-1985 Bobby, but the alterna-Bobby, from the Other Side?

• The Observer shooting Peter with his “magic air gun” — wish I had one of those.

What did you think about the return of Fringe and “The Firefly”?

Twitter: @kentucker

EW’s TV INSIDERS PODCAST: This week, Dalton Ross, Annie Barrett, and Tim Stack discuss and debate the new American Idol. Is the new judging panel better or worse off without Simon? What’s with all the teenagers? And burping? Plus: Tim was on the set of Glee for filming of the musical’s big post-Super Bowl episode and offers intel on what to expect. (Good news! It includes dancing zombies and flaming boobs.) Finally, we’re taking sides in the big Jersey Shore house feud. Are you on Team Sammi or Team JWwow? The Insiders make their picks . To join in all the fun, just click on the audio player below. Of course, we’re now on iTunes! So you can also subscribe for free right here and take the TV Insiders with you on the go. And to send a question to the TV Insiders or learn about upcoming editions, follow them on Twitter @TVInsiders!
[AUDIO http://pdl-stream.timeinc.net/EW/podcasts/audio/2011/01/ew_podcast_01-20-11.mp3%5D

Comments (251 total) Add your comment
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  • Tim Lade

    Long live Fringe!

    • Lorne

      If we just keep showing up on Fridays it will!
      Oh and did anyone else catch that there’s a deleted scene from “Over There” where Peter’s in the car with Walternate when he turns on Violet Sedan Chair. Peter mentions something about similar music taste and Walternate says the 3rd album’s his favorite. Over Here they only made one. The band never broke up Over There because there was no Peter to catch the firefly, the father never went out, and Roscoe’s son was never killed…
      This show is just brilliant.

      • jodi

        Wow, great catch. Thanks for the details.

      • PMD

        Thanks for that!! Fringe is by far the smartest and bril show I have ever seen – but you just reminded me how bril and great it really is!! Love this show!!!

    • Sharlin

      I am so happy the show is back. Great episode!!

      • LoveBug68

        The fact that John Noble has never been recognized is a crime. The man is brilliant. Shame on the Golden Globes and the Emmy’s for their constant over sights.

    • Nathaniel

      My question is whether TiVo and other DVR data is factored into ratings. I know that the cable companies and TiVo collect this data but is it shared/sold to Nielsen?

      • nalex

        Don’t think DVR is counted in the ratings but we know that Fringe is a highly DVRed show. Nielsen isn’t an accurate measure at all

      • Stef

        If you are a Nielsen family, yes the DVR is included. If you watch a show on DVR a certain number of hours after it has aired (can’t remember the exact number), it is included in the weekly chart. If you watch it within 7 days, there is a Nielsen chart for that as well. I was a Nielsen family a few years ago, and I remember this.

    • sfday

      HELP!!! I missed the show and only have an iPad (no Hulu) – Comcast doesn’t show Fringe on demand – how can I see the show??

      • Holly

        Did you try the Fox website?

      • jen

        download it on itunes!!

      • sfday

        Thank you thank you!

      • sfday

        Saw it – was I imagining the Twin Peaks reference to Dr Jacoby’s glasses?

      • JA

        I totally thought that was a Twin peaks reference too. Dr Jacoby, from Washington and those exact glasses. Unless the Twin Peaks character was a reference to somebody else also.

      • Sarah

        Nope -totally Twin Peaks!!

    • Villa

      Personally I really don’t get why they had to rooebt both universes! I like the new characters introduced this season but I’m really concerned about where they are taking this! I was feeling the beginning of season three a lot more! I hope Fringe fixes this properly and comprehensibly Because they way they’re going right now, giving us a believable explanation for all this madness and confusion doesn’t look possible!

  • Lunna

    Just to make sure I understood correctly… What was the last thing the Observer said to Peter before he shot him with his “magic air gun”?

    • tipsy

      “It must be very difficult”

      “What?”

      “Being a father”

      I hope he meant Walter not Peter is going to be a father cause Fauxlivia is preggo.

      • Lunna

        Exactly! I just wanted to make sure I heard that right because my first thought was “Holy crap, Altivia is pregnant!” Then again, he could’ve also have been talking about Walter…

      • tracy bluth

        I reeeeeaaaaallllllyyyy hope that doesn’t mean Holivia is pregnant.

      • Lauren

        No not at all. The writers would not go there.
        It was about Walter and how he willingly let Peter go even though there was the possibility that something could happen to him during September’s “course-correction”
        Peter facing the Observer was the culmination of that. Walter’s decision had to be “very difficult.”
        Period. (or else it better be…)

      • Casey

        I don’t think the show would go there. They already did the hoodwinked by a doppelganger bit, so I’m sure they’re not stupid enough to do that. C’mon, Grey’s Anatomy is doing the “unexpected” pregnancy getting in the way of a relationship thing. Do you really think the Fringe writers would stoop to their level?

      • majamababe

        My thoughts exactly – Altlivia is pregnant and Peter is the father.

      • Loz

        There’s been spoilers (possibly rumours) that Bolivia IS pregnant, but that Walternate intends to use the baby as Peter’s replacement in the machine.

      • Nelly

        No please I don’t want Altivia getting in the middle of Peter & Olivia again.

      • stacey

        i am hoping it meant olivia gets pregnant in the future with Peter’s baby, not Altlivia…a baby conceived from 2 people from alternate universes would be a great twist!!

      • Jeff M.

        well I geuss that would be ok but what differance would it make if they r from alternate universes. they r both still human dumb story line.

      • KMS

        I actually thought this at the end of Season 2 because August and the other older Observer said to September that he had screwed up by distracting Walternate and that Peter is important and must live. Peter’s importance apparently did not change just becaused he switched universes, which made me wonder if Peter’s importance had something to do with Fauxlivia, since he could very well have met her Over There in his original timeline and also ended up meeting her here.

        A pregnancy does seem a bit melodramatic to me, but I fully expect to see Fauxlivia again, and I also suspect Peter’s feelings about Olivia and Fauxlivia are more complicated than has been addressed so far. Even though I hate to see Olivia hurt, as this episode reminded us, there is no guarantee of happiness or getting what you want–which is one of the things I love about Fringe, it’s always willing to do something that makes characters/audience unhappy for the sake of good storytelling.

      • jules

        I’ve also heard spoilers that she is indeed pregnant which I didn’t believe until this episode and that statement. Hope it’s not true but I have a bad feeling it is. Probably part of her mission ‘Over Here.’

    • mario

      that Peter is now a father. im guessing to Bolivia. Insert DRAMA here.

    • Laura

      Something along the line of “it must be difficult to be a father.”
      Which I sincerly hope doesn’t have any meaning in regard to Peter and Altivia, and was only about Walter.

      • allie

        me too. I think it would be beneath Fringe – to much like a soap opera – to have Altivia pregnant. I hope that meant that since he has been a part of walter and Peter’s lives & knows how much Walter loves Peter that it “must be difficult to be a father”. Given the conversation @the end of this episode by the 2 Others, I think this could be true.

      • Jesse

        I’m guessing there’s a double meaning there. It was meant to be read as referring to Walter, but it will also be revealed to be about Peter’s unborn Altlivia-baby too.

      • Johnification

        You guys don’t have faith that even if Altlivia is pregs, the Fringe writers would figure out a really clever, cool way to make it work? Think about it: “My son’s in another universe!” Yet another tie to bind Peter to Walter (and Walternate)!

      • Lunna

        @Johnification – I understand what you are saying. I think pregnancy is the oldest trick in the book. But, if it were to happen, I trust the Fringe writers to use that in a smart way and not just to add more drama.

      • Heidi

        I think if its true, we can trust the Fringe writers to make it a brilliant storyline. They are unlike any other show.

      • JaySin420

        I don’t think they were setting up a pregnancy, it’s just not like Fringe.

        I bet the show eventually ends with Walter having to go back in time and let Peter die to save the rest of the world.

    • TV Watcher

      Considering the conversation between to two observers was about Walter changing and being able to let Peter go and Walter and Peter’s conversation about what the Observer meant about “giving him the keys and save the girl”, all signs point to The Observer’s comment about it’s tough to be a father was in reference to Walter and Peter’s relationship.

  • nativenewvegan

    FRINGE FRIDAYS FOREVER

  • JenP

    I definitely thought he was from the alternate side at first, but then was confused because he should have aged.

    I’m very nervous about Walter-Peter-the Observers, but way excited.

  • Lunna

    Oh, and this episode was AWESOME!

  • Anthony

    FRINGE IS BACK BABY!!!

    • Thala

      Totally agree with your review. The shiaeshpfters developing real emotions instead of just mimicking them is very intriguing. I guess Newton didn’t develope any emotions as he kept himself isolated from people as opposed to the other shiaeshpfters. I do think that this will be Bolivia’s downfall. She too is developing feelings for Peter. Will she be able to complete her mission? One thing I was uneasy about in this episode was the incident where Peter brought to light that he has noticed changes in Olivia/Bolivia. In light of what happened with the senator’s wife why did he not investigate his hunches further? Maybe we’ll see him do that in the coming episodes. PS I am glad you guys are still reviewing this show.

    • Luci

      Fantastiskt roligt Peter! Vad stolt man blir som svesnk! Ska ta med mig resten av slakten har i London for att titta pa dig! Du blir perfekt som gjord for denna roll!! Du ar en lysande stjarna alla andra bleknar i din narvaro!

  • tipsy

    One of the best episodes if not the best. I was tearing up throughout. It was even more emotional than already super-emotional The White Tulip. Bravura acting was off the charts – the cast, Lloyd, absolutely awards worthy. Lets hope ratings do it justice. Very nervous about that one.

  • Barbarino

    TWIN PEAKS shout out!!!
    Walter mentioned that his red and blue lensed glasses were made by his friend “Dr. Jacoby” from Washington state.
    I was positively tingling from this slight reference to a very influential show whose last episode aired in 1991.
    Make a new Twin Peaks movie please, Mr. Lynch. Even though the last scene in the show has to be one of the best unanswered cliffhangers in pop culture history!!!!

    • Ben

      Glad someone else caught this!

    • aby

      I know I was jumping up and down when Walter said that. Awesome shout out Fringe.

      • Amy

        I was too! I can’t believe the recap didn’t mention this.

    • Trebornedies

      Makes perfect sense that crazy Dr. Bishop would be friends with crazy Dr. Jacoby. This show is awesome.

    • Brandon Woodson

      I was squealing with delight when he referenced Dr. Jacoby in upstate Washington! Glad someone else caught it!

    • Paco from NJ

      I KNEW I didn’t imagine that reference. I even mentioned it to my wife, who watched Peaks but didn’t quite make the connection. Too damn funny…and clever

    • Amanda

      I love it! I was hoping someone else caught the reference. They should get Russ Tamblin to make an appearance on the show.

    • Cherry pie

      As soon as I saw those glasses…

    • nykolus

      YES!!! THANK YOU!!! =P

      • Nuri

        I think that it could be part of the reason that Walternate is doing it but I can’t see it being the sole mitivatoon. Someone on YouTube thought me and Roth were off the mark about Walternate having a god complex but I don’t think so. If you look at his actions and the things he says, he very much has it. Dennis

  • Ben

    This episode was outstanding. But you missed the best part: Walter says the red-and-blue subglasses he wears during Joyce’s hypotherapy were a gift from “Dr. Jacoby” in “Washington state.” This is a Twin Peaks reference! Set in Washington state, Twin Peaks featured Dr. Lawrence Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn), a “highly eccentric psychiatrist” who always wore red and blue sunglasses!

    An outstanding nod in an outstanding episode.

    http://www.google.com/images?q=twin+peaks,+dr.+lawrence+jacoby&hl=en&client=firefox-a&hs=eqp&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&tbs=isch:1&prmd=ivnso&source=lnms&ei=K1I6Te_mD8aqlAfmpZmKBw&sa=X&oi=mode_link&ct=mode&cd=2&ved=0CCYQ_AUoAQ&biw=1280&bih=647

  • Anika

    Christopher Lloyd was BRILLIANT. I mean, I am used to thinking John Noble is the best actor on television and the whole cast is top notch and underrated (all very true) but Lloyd blew me away.

  • Mo

    The Observer said something like, “It must be hard being a father.”

    Great episode. Had me hopping up and down at the end when Peter drank the milk.

    PLEASE don’t cancel Fringe. It’s such a great show!!

  • Laura

    Ken, you got something wrong. Peter didn’t just drink the milk because he was thirsty, he was using it to swallow a pill to take some of the pain away from being knocked out by “magic air gun.” That’s why the Observer used it. Otherwise a great recap, and I did totally think it was an alterna Bobby at first.
    I’m so happy Fringe is back, hopefully it won’t be going away permanently any time soon.

    • Mary

      I totally new that Peter would drank it. Remember when he ate the omelet with the ear inside? LOL

      • Laura

        No! I forgot about that, and now I really want to rewatch it!

      • Heidi

        YES. Peter should just learn to keep out of that fridge!! ;)

    • SF

      Good catch, I couldn’t figure out why the Observer should shoot Peter – but of course, it was to nudge him along to having a headache, thus the milk. And maybe, nudge Olivia along too. I kept expecting to see a final clip of her reading the book.

      I also love the shout out with the book which goes back to Peter telling Olivia in the very first episode of the show that she should try picking up a book! lol I used to work in a bookstore long ago and we sold tons of this book. I really really like the reference to having Peter say there are no answers out there (a pun on Xfiles too?), but only from within, and the reference that they have to trust and find their own way forward, both Olivia and Peter, and how to resolve the dilemma of saving both worlds. Very cool. Add to that Christopher Lloyd as a washed up grief stricken ex-rocker, and he didn’t ham it up, it was a beautiful performance from him too. Perfect. Fringe is back!

      • Tassu

        You know I have noticed these stand alone iopsedes but I really don’t mind them. I agree this could have been placed right in the beginning of season 1 and no one would have noticed. As for Olivia’s sister and niece, I guess they finally found that place they were looking for all throughout season 1. Either that or got replaced by some shape shifter like Charlie from the first part of this season. This episode was fine for me, the effects were great, I really liked the part when the fly landed on the patients face and left an imprint in the ash. I’m sure it doesn’t seem like some of this stuff makes sense just yet but as we learned from the first season, they always try to come back and tie up loose ends. Maybe this was just to introduce the CIA and their ways in the world of Fringe. By the way, if I can make it to the weekend, I think I can finally catch up on Fringe and comment on time instead of three weeks later.

      • Alvin

        I feel for Peter. His impassioned clear and cconise wake up call is falling on deaf ears. May be we deserve this as we ourselves have not bothered to determine what is going on as long as the show goes on.. This is not a new catastrophe but one which has been predicted during the last couple of years and we are stupid enough to not heed the signs. The best example being non of the three auto CEO’s had a clue as to what to do with the money if they got it ,, its there so they want a part of it .. looked like a bunch of school boys asking for cake at a party.. WAKE UP – MAKE EDUCATION FREE AND MANDATORY – FREEDOM COMES WITH RESPONSIBILITY AND WE HAVE LACKED AT IT SINCE A LONG TIME.. GOD BLESS AMERICA.

  • kim in kentucky

    Finally,a reason to stay home on Friday night! LOVED this show and esp tonight’s episode.

  • Kate

    What a show!Amazing,incredible, outstanding. Can’t wait for next Friday.

  • Kate

    Confirmed after “Firefly”-Fringe is the best show ever.

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