This week’s Fringe was one of the series’ most satisfying stand-alone episodes. It had a good threat — an airborne toxin (smells like cinnamon: yum) that causes people to die “suffocated from the inside-out,” in Walter Bishop’s phrase. And it gave us a chunk of the Bishop family backstory in a manner that complemented — enhanced — the main plot.
From the moment near the start, when Olivia notices that one of the dead in a wedding party was a Holocaust survivor, the story began a subtle sub-text. The Nazi sympathizer villain (steel-rimmed round glasses, a slight accent, and grim-smiling demeanor that should have warned that barista not to serve him his requested “very hot” cup of tea) had developed something that could pinpoint specific victims based on their DNA. All it needed was, said Walter, investigating the case with Peter and Olivia while driving a car like a drunken madman, “a heat-source dispersed into the air.”
Where did the bad guy’s research come from? Much of it, it turned out, was from experiments conducted by Walter’s father. So now we have learned that Peter’s grandfather was Dr. Robert Bishoff (he changed his name when he moved to America), who worked in Germany in the World War II era and was a spy for the U.S. Walter groaned with guilt: “My father’s work is killing people.”
The hour peaked with the tensions that arose between Walter and Peter. Walter looked for his father’s research books, but Peter told him he’d sold them 10 years ago — during the time Walter was committed to St. Claire’s. Peter’s excuse was that he needed money, but it was acknowledged that there was a psychological reason behind the sale. At this point in Fringe history, it’s easy to forget that at the start of the series, Peter really resented Walter for his scattershot upbringing and Walter’s abandonment of him; selling those books was a way of getting back at Dad in a roundabout way. (I also think, based on nothing but a hunch, that at that time, Peter was probably in trouble with the law and maybe using drugs to blot up his pain, and those may have been the reasons for his money needs.)
Ultimately, it was Walter who saved the day, killing the villain in a very public place. This was a great night for John Noble, whose portrayal of Walter encompasses everything from endearing daffiness to ferocious concentration and commitment. When Walter told Olivia near the end, “Family is very important to me; there’s nothing I wouldn’t do,” that remark was heavy.
We know his words’ implications, and how they have and will continue to bear down upon the story Fringe is slowly telling of Peter and the alternate worlds Walter explored with William Bell.
Speaking of whom, it looks as though we’re going to get a rip-roaring mythology episode next week.
Can’t wait. Did you watch Fringe this week?
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