If you’ve watched Fringe from the beginning like I have, it might be something of a surprise to find out that John Noble has never been nominated for an Emmy or Golden Globe for his performance as Walter Bishop. Walter has always been a complicated character, but Noble’s performances have never been anything less than compelling and brilliant. Whichever version of Walter he’s been (and in Fringe, there are at least two versions of pretty much every character), he’s gotten the performance just right, never losing the heart of a character so important to the show.
And in episode 6 we get to see Noble at his very best, giving two strong performances as different Walters (one in the current timeline and one on tape, from 20 years previous) as he gets to lead the episode rather than Olivia or Peter.
The episode begins with Peter watching a video message from Etta at their now abandoned apartment. Olivia joins him after worrying when he didn’t respond to her calls, and they share a moment together watching the message. With Astrid asleep, this leaves Walter by himself, and he keeps busy by extracting another tape (number 7) from the amber. On it, Walter guides the viewer to an apartment building (Walter makes notes of the address and apartment number as he watches), and when he enters it, it is perfectly symmetrical. He stands himself roughly in the centre of the room, and then makes a series of elaborate movements before stepping forwards and disappearing.
In any other show, a character just disappearing in the middle of an otherwise normal room might make you give up on it, but with Fringe, I’m more than happy to go along with there being a hidden ‘pocket universe’ in the room, which clearly contains something very important for the fight against the observers. It’s a nice change up for the show to have a confident and determined Walter just doing something by himself, there’s never a point when he feels the need to ask for help from Astrid, Peter or Olivia, instead leaving them to try and work out where he’s gone.
Whatever reason Walter has for re-visiting this pocket universe, it’s made him more determined and confident. He’s disturbed to find someone else there, but when the man (Cecil) threatens him with a knife, Walter calmly, but forcefully, informs him that he won’t be able to leave unless he lets Walter guide him out, and pushes the knife away. In this pocket universe, Walter is in control and leads the way. He’s looking for Donald (the man who visited the mine featured in episode 3, ‘The Recordist’), although he’s not quite sure of the reason.
When Olivia, Peter and Astrid realise Walter has gone out alone, they watch the tape to try and find out why. Here, Walter (recorded 20 years ago) is explaining the reasons why the building he is leading them to is important, but he’s easily distracted, cutting short a ‘It is vitally important that you…’ warning to buy a raspberry flavoured pastry. When the tape finally reaches the room through which Walter entered the pocket universe, it goes blank. So they follow Walter to the building, and Peter leads Olivia through into the pocket universe. Suddenly the tape continues, and it becomes clear that Walter is now talking to more than one person on it, Donald and someone else. That someone else is an observer child, who was involved in a Fringe case before they took over the planet.
Walter and Donald were hiding the child in the pocket universe (where time goes by much more slowly than in the real world) for a reason, but they can no longer find him. Olivia notices a radio, which doesn’t work in the pocket universe, and they take it with them. But before they can leave, the observers arrive (they were earlier alerted to Walter’s presence by CCTV), killing Cecil and almost getting to Olivia too. It’s here where we start to see the first effects of Peter’s decision to put the chip he extracted from the observer in the last episode into his own head. Back in the normal universe, he goes one-on-one with an observer, matching him blow-for-blow. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Neo fighting Agent Smith in The Matrix, although the observer Peter is fighting warns him that he’s made a mistake inserting the chip, rather than reacting with fear. Peter is now able to teleport himself like the observers, and appears behind his opponent’s back before coldly snapping his neck.
It’s clear that the observer was right, and Peter is changing is ways he cannot fully understand. At the end of the episode we see that he is seeing the world in a different way too, the way the observers do, and it’s obviously something that will develop in the second half of the season. Will Peter be able to stay on the right side of the fight, or will his new abilities transform him into an enemy of Walter, Astrid and most importantly, Olivia?
So this is more than just a filler episode of Fringe. There are great performances in it, particularly from John Noble, and it adds something new to the story. Where are Donald and the observer child now, and are they both still on the right side? I’m really enjoying this final season and the way the story is being constructed.