The Human Touch: Fringe Episode 5.06 ‘Through the Looking Glass (and What Walter Found There)’ Review
Peter Bishop continued a frightening transformation and Walter set off on a mission of his own, endangering their already fractured family unit, in last Friday’s rather slow episode of Fringe that nevertheless moved us toward the mid-season mark of the show’s final year.
The over-the-top rage Peter (Joshua Jackson) displayed last week in the wake of Etta’s death, which led him to inject himself with a dangerous piece of Observer technology, has apparently now turned to brooding. The opening scene tells us all we need to know about Peter’s dark state of mind, as he sits alone in Etta’s apartment repeatedly watching a holographic message she left before her death. Olivia tries to get Peter to open up about his feelings, but it’s clear that he is not in a sharing mood. He’s also keeping his Observer implant secret, as he lies to Olivia about the wound at the base of his skull. This seems a monumentally bad idea, but it’s not clear how much is Peter being just plain stupid, and how much is the influence of the alien tech now residing in his brain.
Olivia and Astrid (Anna Torv and Jasika Nicole) both seem worried by Peter’s distant mood, but they have a more immediate problem: Walter (John Noble) has gone missing, following clues left on yet another videotape recovered from the amber in the lab. Peter, Olivia, and Astrid take the camcorder with them to watch the tape, which leads them to a bombed out apartment building that was the residence of Donald, a colleague of Walter’s whom he can’t remember due to the Observers’ brain-scrambling interrogation. The apartment no longer contains Donald; what it does contain is a portal to a “pocket universe” which, according to the tape, is a hiding place for a crucial part of Walter’s plan to overthrow the Observers.
John Noble, as always, is wonderfully entertaining, as Walter (on the videotape) demonstrates a rather hilarious sequence of dance steps that are required to enter the portal; but the tape then seems to end without any more information. Peter and Olivia follow the steps and pass through the portal to find themselves in an abandoned and weirdly lit version of Donald’s apartment building, where they soon encounter Walter as well as an anxious man named Cecil.
Cecil turns out to be an unfortunate thief who had the bad luck to be robbing an apartment on the day the Observers bombed Donald’s building, which hurled him into Walter’s private hiding place. According to Cecil, though, only five days have passed in the strange Escher-like pocket universe, although the Fringe team knows the explosion occurred twenty years earlier, indicating that both time and space are warped in this weird spot. Walter can’t remember what he has hidden here, but luckily, the tape now contains more information – presumably crossing into this wacky universe has affected it as well – and the person Walter is speaking to on the recording is now visible. It turns out to be a little bald boy who was found to be an empath on a previous Fringe team case (and who, it’s now clear, is also an Observer). Following the action on the tape, they search through rooms (marked amusingly with familiar Fringe glyphs that fans will enjoy recognizing). They find the room where Walter left the boy, but it’s completely empty except for a transistor radio next to the bed. Walter, frustrated, still remembers nothing. He thinks Observer Captain Windmark may have taken the boy, and despairs that they will ever complete their plan. Peter points out that since Donald is the only other person who knew about the pocket universe, he’s the most likely to have moved the boy, for whatever reason. Olivia takes the transistor radio, saying it may contain information that will help them locate Donald once they return home.
All of this has been playing out at a rather plodding pace, so it’s a bit of a relief when the Observers track down the Fringe team and chase them into the pocket universe. (Yay! Some action!) Astrid is knocked to the ground as several Observers step through the portal and start using their creepy teleportation skills to hunt down the team in Walter’s little universe. (Raise your hand if you’d like to see Jasika Nicole do something other than analyze data and get knocked out. Poor Astrid!) Cecil is killed as the team flees through the maze of repeating corridors, but Peter shows a sudden uncanny ability to know which way to go to find their way back to the portal (handy Observer tech, check). In a rare moment of levity in this bleak episode, Walter tries to repeat his silly dance steps before going through the portal; Peter, thankfully, just shoves him on through. Olivia falls through a second later with an Observer on top of her, but she quickly shoots him with her now-functioning gun (which was ineffective in the bizarro universe). I’m still not entirely clear as to why no more time had passed in the real world, given Cecil’s experience with time dilation in the pocket universe … but there’s no time to think about that, as the action is finally picking up (maybe as an intentional diversion from a plot hole?).
As the team flees the building, an Observer follows them out. Peter tells the rest he will meet them at the monorail, and once they are gone he finally unleashes the new powers we’ve been waiting for. At first he is overmatched by his Observer assailant, but Peter soon gets the hang of his new toy as his enhanced speed and reaction time kick in. He blocks punch after punch, until finally (WOO HOO!) he teleports behind the Observer, breaking his attacker’s neck with a quick twist. As satisfying as this moment is, it’s still chilling to see Peter displaying such inhuman powers; and to make the moment even more unsettling, we see that Captain Windmark witnessed the scene as well.
Peter shows up just before the monorail leaves, unable to explain how he escaped. We can tell Olivia is getting suspicious as she takes a seat next to Astrid, leaving Peter to sit with Walter as the train departs. Walter is upset after the day’s events, especially by his own lack of empathy over Cecil’s death. Peter tries to convince Walter that he wasn’t responsible, but Walter is distraught; he fears he’s turning back into the man he used to be.
Once again, John Noble shines in this lovely emotional scene. “I’m losing the man that you helped me become,” Walter tells Peter sadly. “Please, son. Whatever happens, don’t let me go.” Joshua Jackson’s moving response is perfectly played as well. Although we’ve spent most of this episode fearing that Peter is becoming less human, he’s now entirely the loving son as he cups Walter’s cheek and replies, “I won’t, Dad. I promise,” in one of the only times that Peter has ever called his father anything other than “Walter.” But this brief human moment is starkly contrasted with the show’s final shot of the train from Peter’s point of view: His vision now looks computerized, showing us how much of his brain function is now being influenced by the implanted Observer chip.
Although it was slow to get moving, ‘Through the Looking Glass (and What Walter Found There)’ provided some necessary movement for the season’s overarching plot, along with a rewarding final scene that promises more drama to come.
I will certainly be watching when Fringe continues its final season, Friday at 9 PM ET/PT on FOX.