Fringe Observations: 3.02 The Box

Welcome to another edition of Fringe ObservationsFringe Bloggers comprehensive clues and eastereggs round-up from both universes.

We dive deep into the mythology, symbolism and resonating factors from the latest episode, as we explore the meaning, and unlock the mystery of Fringe.

Toon In To Fringe

Joe (the most mourned ‘bad guy’ ever) turns on the TV to a Merrie Melodies cartoon featuring Wile. E Coyote and Road Runner, it appears to be Beep, Beep.

There seems to be a ‘road not taken’ message being implied through this particular scene, with the blue train tracks lending themselves as a symbol for the derailment of Peter’s original path as a result of his abduction.

Hole, Baby

Fringe has always had a lot of ‘underground’ symbolism, with several significant items being hidden below, or passing through the earth, such as:

This little fella..

and this little fella.

Since those two little fellas both have connections to the Observers, does the box have anything to do with our fedora-wearing watchers? Given that they saw fit to warn Olivia about Peter’s relationship with the weapon, it seems pretty darn likely.


The box lends itself to the Pandora’s Box metaphor. We know that Pandora’s box was essentially punishment for mankind from ‘god of gods’, Zeus. Like the bandits that Newton hired, Pandora wasn’t supposed to open the box, but curiosity got the better of her and out of the box flew all the evils in the world (disease, war, procedurals, etc), leaving only hope inside. We see parallels with the box in our story – when opened, its sonic blasts killing those in the vicinity. Yet the device inside the box could also offer hope for a solution to the problems facing the two worlds.

But there’s also a deeper connotation with our box and Pandora’s box.

Zeus, the so-called king of Gods created Pandora and gave her the box to bring about the downfall of mankind. But what caused him to act all crazy?

The story goes that his sons Prometheus and Epimetheus were charged with overseeing the creation of mankind, but in doing so Prometheus developed a fondness for them and decided to steal fire from the Gods so that man could eat and keep himself warm. As punishment for Prometheus, his brother, and man for accepting fire, the vengeful Zeus created Pandora and sent her to earth where Epimetheus fell for her. You know the rest about the box and how curiosity got the better of Pandy..but how does this relate to Fringe?

As I mentioned eons ago, the early name that the writers had for Massive Dynamic was Prometheus Corporation – a name no doubt chosen to reflect the company’s position at the front line of pioneering technology and science. With this in mind, the company can be looked upon as the embodiment of Walter and William Bell (Prometheus and Epimetheus), who stole fire (knowledge) from the ‘Gods’ (the alternate universe/Mother Nature) to better serve their own people (scientific developments) and their own interests (Peter). Pandora, in this instance, could represent the allure of acquiring this knowledge. While her box, well the box represents the box seen in this episode – and a bunch of other metaphors.

I just think it’s kinda neat how they’ve (perhaps unintentionally) brought together the mythological metaphors of Prometheus and now Pandora to further bind some of the show’s own overarching stories.

Push The Button, Cross The Line

Spoiler alert for the movie “The Box”

There were also shades of the movie, “The Box”, in regards to some of the visuals employed. As well as that, the movie explores whether mankind is capable of putting other people before personal gain – in essence, it’s an experiment. We see shades of this in the episode, with Walter admitting to Peter that he’s not sure that he’d be able to put the lives of billions of people over his own interests. The movie is therefore about choice, and its central question of whether or not to ‘push the button’ is similar to the ‘cross the line’ metaphor used in this episode of Fringe.

In Symbol Terms

The symbol on the lid of the box is the same as one of the symbol’s found on the Rambaldi Peter Prophecy sheet that the Observer left for Olivia Walternate had back in the season 2 finale:

Not that it was in much any doubt, but this confirms the relationship between the prophecy and the machine. While the Observers may have ‘engineered’ the prophecy, it does all seem to pre-date Peter himself, especially with the Weapon being ‘old tech’.

..And is that an eye, bottom left? Not quite Horus, but it got me thinking along those lines.

Sonic Screw Driver

The laser that Newton used to remove Altlivia’s tattoo (bottom) closely resembles the one that The Observer (or rather, ‘The Watcher’) used to cut Olivia in the episode “Brown Betty” (top). As we know, this episode was a fairytale concocted by the wild bong-propelled imagination of Walter Bishop – yet it holds several parallels to the ‘reality’ of the story. The laser appears to be another such parallel that the creators have now manifested.

In his fantasy story, it was revealed that the Observer’s laser was patented by Massive Dynamic.

Does this have any bearing on our story? Was Newton’s laser designed by Massive Dynamic?

We have it on some authority that William Bell didn’t set up his Massive empire Over There. But that doesn’t rule out Bell or another company designing the laser, and Walternate acquiring it like he has so many things.

There’s still the possibility that Massive Dynamic Over Here designed the laser – and as we know, Newton has ‘cultivated a lot of resources’ in his time in Over Here Land.

I think the main point here is that Walter’s fantasy world has more bearing on the reality of current events. There’s also some nice duality in that the Observer’s laser was used to penetrate the skin, while Newton’s version was used to remove ink from the skin. Again we see the neutrality of science activated one way or another by man. Yes Newton, you are a human-being, sir.

It’s also worth noting how the lens on the laser appears blue at first, and then red once Newton has activated it. It’s just the lighting, but a nice little Over Here/Over There thematic touch.

Over Here Love

“He’s easy on the eyes”. I spoke a lot about this in my review, but I’m not sure I mentioned the word perception. We also get a nice reflection shot of Altlivia and Newton – two Alterversians Over Here in their mirror world.

So Crazy Right Now

Altlivia reveals that she loves the song “Crazy” – originally composed by Willie Nelson. This was a resonating moment because besides giving us a bit more insight into this Other-Dunham, it was another of those cyclical moments. You may remember that “Crazy” is the song that first introduced us (properly) to the Observer we’ve come to fondly know as September. It was playing in the coffee shop as he ate his sandwich.

What is the Observer ‘crazy’ about – what is his obsession?

Now we can ask the same question of Altlivia, while acknowledging the fact that Olivia’s struggle to retain her sanity on the other side is echoing across the universe to her double in the form of music. Crazy, huh.

And let’s look at some of these lyrics:

I’m crazy
crazy for feeling so lonely
I’m crazy
crazy for feeling so blue

I know
you’d love me as long as you wanted
then someday
leave me for somebody new

Oh, Altlivia feeling so Over Here blue. Oh, Olivia knowing that he’d leave you for someone new. Oh Peter, how could you do this to her!

Son Of A Obit

A closer-up look at William Bell’s obituary (click above) reveals that the same paragraph repeats several times. While this is not the first time such a thing has been spotted (“Night Of Desirable Objects”), it’s most likely just a “generic” prop thing (i.e. convenience) more than an underlying message.

Although it somehow plays into the cyclical nature of the show. 😉

Destroyer of Worlds

In relating to his current feelings of guilt and responsibility, Walter relates himself to Robert Oppenheimer, creator of the Atomic Bomb. You may remember that prior to crossing to the other side to ‘save’ Peter, Carla Warren warned Walter of the perils of ‘playing god’ by quoting Oppenheimer. At the time Walter dismissed her. At the time I also said the following:

“Walter rejects Carla’s ‘Oppenheimer quote’ but accepts the mantle of “God”. Walter has effectively drawn a line around his Lab, separating his domain from God’s.”

I must have been channelling ‘the line’ business, because as we see in this episode, Walter now accepts Carla’s Oppenheimer warning and initially uses it as a means of deflection – a reason not to go near the line again, let alone cross it.

The Dynamic of Magic

Being at the cutting edge of science means that you get to play around with teleportation while leaving the door WIDE open for all and sundry to see. Here we see evidence of Massive Dynamic’s teleportation technology. We last saw teleportation used by David Jones (using ‘Diz-re’ technology that he stole from Walter), and possibly in the season 1 finale when William Bell crudely brought Olivia over to the alternate universe. On each occasion we see the blue lights signifying the high amount of energy used for this method of travel.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if this was another little hat-tip to Mr. Spock who went ‘beam me up scotty’ at the end of the second season. Could Walter and the gang use this technology to get Olivia back from her Alt-reality? We’ll see how things pan out.

Still With Us

“My great friend Isaac once said, life is joy, death is peace, it’s transition that’s difficult”

Edited out for clarity. Thanks to Zen for the tip that Bell is of course referencing science fiction writer Isaac Asimov:

“Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.”

Aside from that, could the underlying message here be that the characters are all in transition – neither alive, nor dead, but in-between stages? We’ve spoken a lot about dreams and the true nature of reality, this would be another aspect to consider. In spiritual terms it would imply that the characters are being tested in some way. So far, who is passing their personal tests?

Moreover, the lighting effects used in this scene suggest that Bellie was there watching over his fellow explorers, his spirit now part of the light which guides them. Or perhaps he’s in hell? Who knows.

Can’t Box Me In

This episode, contained not one, but several boxes. The box that Walternate wanted his baby boy to find (middle). The box encasing Bellie’s metaphorical embodiment (left). And the safety deposit box containing Walter’s keys to Massive Dynamic (right).

I also got the sense that the episode itself resembled a box.

Pencil Me In

On the door leading to Blake’s apartment are the words “The Pen Is Mightier

Possible interpretations:

  • “The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword” is a famous phrase coined by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in for his play 1839 Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy. The meaning of the phrase is literal – that the pen – a means of communication, imagination and creation – is mightier, more useful than the sword – a tool of destruction and war. This plays into the war between the two worlds. Could a pen (communication) be tool that manifests peace between the two worlds – perhaps by way of a treaty or doctrine of some kind?
  • This easteregg also plays into the on-going ‘pen theme’, which saw Peter offer to “save a dying pen” (inset, right) in the previous episode. Will Peter be the one to spark communication between the two sides? There’s also the “find the crack” pen reference from last season’s “Northwest Passage“. Not to mention the ‘Pen-rose‘ easteregg from season 1. So the pens seems to be an overarching item. Worth looking out for in future episodes.
  • There could also be a hidden message in that the story of Fringe is more powerful than the perceived axe that threatens to bully the show into submission? Is Fringe mightier than the axe?
  • We should probably note that the phrase is written on a door – a symbol of the passing between universes.
  • Worth noting that this clue also came in the same scene in which the hearing-impaired Joe lip-read Altlivia – there we have it again, communication.

Photograph Her Memories

While researching Fringe Division’s old cases, Altlivia watches a video featuring everyone’s favorite Olivia giving evidence on the Dr. Nayak case (“Dream Logic”). With all this research on Olivia that Newton has gathered over the months, you’d think that he would have known that she could ‘move between universes’ and reported this to the seemingly unwitting Walternate. It could be argued that Olivia’s ability a well-kept secret, but it’s not out of the question to question the depth of Newton’s research given the stakes. Heard of Cortexiphan, Newton?

Perhaps more interestingly, we also have it confirmed that ‘photographic memory’ is totally Olivia’s thing and it’s not a trait (nurtured, or otherwise) shared by Altlivia. This is intriguing because it should mean that Olivia – who’s memories have been replaced by Altlivia’s – shouldn’t really have her memory skills to call upon. So any flashes of long-form memory that we see Olivia experience in future will represent her innate strengths bubbling away under the surface.

Can Olivia survive the storm, or will she drown in a flood of Altlivia?

Don’t Come Knocking When The..

As predicted, the door knocker with the kissing couple was the ‘next episode clue’ for “The Box”, which featured Altlivia and Peter kissing. The red door also serves to highlight the fact that Peter is kissing daughter of Over There, Altlivia, as opposed to Olivia.

As an aside, perhaps Olivia will kiss Frank in an upcoming episode? Crumbs!

Observing The Observer

The Observer can be seen entering the platform as Newton cruises on out of there. Thankfully, the Observer appeared to have avoided the box’s sonic waves and lives to observe another day.

What Are Peters Made Of?

A visual comparison of the weapon control panel from the season 2 finale, and the component part from “The Box” (bottom).

Can Peter fight the hand of fate?

Other Clues

  • Lucky horseshoe.
  • The board game Clue makes yet another appearance.
  • Sleep references? Walter speculates that Oppenheimer didn’t sleep so good after his creation killed hundreds of thousands.
  • Walter uses The Marriage of Figaro to demonstrate the effect of harmonic music on neural activity, and in doing so brings back the ‘halo device’, which is giving the ‘Bra & Panties Tank’ a run for its money in terms of repeated use.
  • Bridges are popular symbols of crossing and have been used frequently in Fringe – there’s a picture of a bridge in Olivia’s apartment. It’s in black and white, perhaps reflecting the dilution of Olivia’s memories, or the fact that this ‘war’ contains many shades of grey.
  • We know that Peter has the “first piece”. Are there six of these ‘box’ devices in total?
  • Lots of slanted lights as a result of Walter, Altlivia and Peter’s high-energy transfer from the alternate universe.
  • This episode’s prominent color – not blue, but green.
  • The glyphs for this episode spelled “ALERT“, as in the AMBER glyph translation from the previous episode, as in AMBER ALERT, as in abduction.

If you’re looking for even further exploration, feel free to check out our:

We also cover Fringe over at our Serialized TV sister site Seriable.


  1. Laura says

    Well done !
    Just a small , thiny thing: the old symbols you wrote about were in the prophecy Walternate had, while the one left by the observer to Olivia was full of nucleotides sequencies (that of Peter, I presume)

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  2. jade86 says

    Roco, are you sure that the symbol on the prophecy is an eye? For me it looks like an “Ouroboros”. The meaning of this symbol is really interesting!
    Take a look:

    If you look at the scene with peter at Olivia’s apartment, there’s a shoot of him between two small paintings on the wall. It seems they show the Ouroboros symbol. A snake.
    On the ancient box there’s a picture of a snake that wraps a stick, and on the first device we saw in “over there part 2” there’s also a picture of a snake!

    I also read that in the middle of the circle with the 12 signs of zodiac, there can be a snake or a sun! Or a snake around the sun!

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  3. Inter-dimensional Dave says

    Roco, I remember your blog entry about Prometheus and the original name for MD. I’m pretty sure I countered with the story of Frankenstein and how it was subtitled, “The Modern Prometheus”. Frankenstein was a cautionary tale about being responsible for one’s creations or inventions. We can metaphorically connect Walter and or Walternate as the “mad scientists” that let their creations get the better of them as what happened to Dr. Frankenstein.

    Peter could well be the monster of Walternate (and his diabolical machine) as the cortexiphan children were the cursed creations of Walter. Each of these creations suffered terribly as did Frankenstein’s “monster”. And all them felt out of place, without purpose and shunned by man.

    Perhaps the fates has a different future penned for Peter. It is my hope that Peter will be “the Rock” that the future will be built on. He may go through periods of doubt and denial but in the end provide the stability that will allow both worlds to coexist.

    As for the “mad scientists” who rescues them? Prometheus was chained to a rock for the sin of giving fire to man. I can imagine Walternate similarly bound by his blood feud with our universe and Walter fettered by his internal demons and confined to the sanitorium once again. In the role of Heracles, who rescued Prometheus, arrives Olivia and Altlivia. Each of them rescuing their “Walters” from their darker selves upon the return to their respective worlds. We shall see!

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  4. Cindy says

    Are you teasing me, Roco. Do you know for a fact that Olivia will KISS Frank?
    ’cause I’m raring to see whatever happens over here happen over there.
    Isn’t it about time Olivia get to know what it’s like to be in a stable solid relationship?
    Makes me happy to see her happy for even the briefest moments.

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  5. LMH says

    “Altlivia watches a video featuring everyone’s favorite Olivia giving evidence on the Dr. Nayak case (“Dream Logic”). With all this research on Olivia that Newton has gathered over the months, you’d think that he would have known that she could ‘move between universes’ and reported this to the seemingly unwitting Walternate.”

    Point taken, but just as a side note I was under the impression that the video Altivia was watching was simply one that was stored on Olivia’s computer for job purposes (videos of official FBI interrogations) not gathered by Newton and given to Altitiva. Maybe Liv just doesn’t password protect stuff that is classified :O ! These videos of Olivia interrogating people presented an opportunity served up on a platter for Altivia to learn our Liv’s mannerisms. Let’s hope it shows next time. Conversations or materials concerning cortexiphan and Liv’s abilities existing outside of the FBI could have been picked up (especially at the lab), but whether there was enough context provided for Newton to get the full picture is uncertain. Newton may well know now about Olivia’s world-hopping ability through Walternate, but the full story may not be so easy for them to flesh out. Knowing the details surrounding Walter’s initial door building (which Newton needed Walter to explain) was more straightforward IMO because this secret wasn’t really a secret to those in power on the other side and it seems Newton and Walter have a history (given Walter’s long time no see reaction once his brain slivers were connected in “Grey Matters”). Newton was delayed in his intelligence gathering on that front because of the inconvenience of being a frozen head. If Walternate, Newton and co. had to steal memories out of Walter’s head to get info on the door that late in the game (20+yrs later), then I suspect they are missing pieces to the cortexiphan puzzle as well. Maybe they’re just not that great at espionage (clearly).

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  6. William Bishop says

    Nice observations Roco as always, but I think you should have considered Newton’s “safehouse”, the place has many RED lights while we can see a BLUE light trought the window, like Newton was trying to create his own piece of Over There, here.

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  7. says

    The subway was giving me a “follow the yellow brick road” vibe. The yellow subway tiles, the yellowish/amber lights down the tunnel that Peter ran into. It seemed to be a deliberate use of color.

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      • Ann_Louise says

        Maybe yellow isn’t the “negative” color Olivia thought it was – before she remembered/found out about the Cortexiphan experiments. The other CortexiKids in the S2 finale after getting help in dealing with their abilities, seemed to see their talents, and the good that could be done once they learned how to control them, as one good thing that came from something bad.
        Perhaps when Ourlivia remembers who she is, yellow won’t be a negative association, but a positive – she will have within her a “yellow brick road” to get back to Over Here.

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    • Ann_Louise says

      I mistakenly read the ending of your last sentence as –
      “Walternate’s doomsday machine PEN.”

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  8. LizW65 says

    I’m curious about the memorial for “famed childrens’ book author” Bob Levesque, which is visible in the magnified shot of the newspaper. Is that a real obit, or something planted by the show designers? (If it’s real, than Bob’s fame hasn’t extended to my neck of the woods, as I’ve never heard of him.) Anyone?

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    • Joe Curwen says

      Bob Levesque is listed in imdb as being the assistant property manager for Fringe, for the episode, “The Plateau”.


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  9. Page 48 says

    How does the newspaper know that Bellie is dead? Did Walter phone it in? The Obit, in addition to being repetitive, conveniently leaves out the cause of death, which would likely raise a few eyebrows (outside of Fringe Division, of course).

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  10. mlj102 says

    “Since those two little fellas both have connections to the Observers, does the box have anything to do with our fedora-wearing watchers? Given that they saw fit to warn Olivia about Peter’s relationship with the weapon, it seems pretty darn likely.”

    That being your theory, does that mean that you also believe that molebaby has a connection to the Observers? He lived underground, too, after all, and it wouldn’t be fair to leave him out of your theory… Would that make you love him more?

    “Perhaps more interestingly, we also have it confirmed that ‘photographic memory’ is totally Olivia’s thing and it’s not a trait (nurtured, or otherwise) shared by Altlivia.”

    What stands out to me about this is that we’ve had a few brief references to Olivia’s unique ability to remember things very accurately after only seeing it for a second, in Season 1 and 2, but both episodes this season have made a point of emphasizing that ability. That tells me that they’re building up to something specific with that, but first they want to make sure everyone remembers about that ability. I’m quite intrigued by where they’re going with that. Is it going to be a part of how those on our side realize it isn’t our Olivia with them? Is this ability going to have a key role in the events of the war?

    Additionally, I mentioned this in the review comments, but I found it interesting that, of all the cases they could have shown Olivia reviewing in that recording, they focused on Dream Logic, one that many fans seem to regard as a standalone episode of little consequence. Could this be suggesting that we’re going to learn that it’s more significant than it appears to be on the surface?

    “..And is that an eye, bottom left?”

    If we’re looking at the same thing, to me it reminded me more of something along the lines of the phases of the moon. It appears in each of the four corners, though in a different position each time… But, as is usually the case, I have no idea how to interpret that, if that is the case… So your guess is as good as mine… or, more accurately, your guess is better than mine!

    Love the reflections!

    As usual, you pretty much covered it all. One additional thing that stood out to me, however, was this conversation at the first scene they investigated:

    WALTER: Reminds me of Monet’s Water lilies.
    ALTERNATE OLIVIA: The painting?
    PETER: It’s a pastel.

    At first I assumed this was a subtle occurrence meant to illustrate another difference between over here and over there: that it’s a painting over there, but over here, it’s a pastel. But as I looked into it a little bit, I discovered that Monet’s series of water lillies were in fact oil paintings. So why did Peter call it a pastel? Did someone on the writing staff mess up their facts? Of course, I am completely ignorant when it comes to the finer details of art, so it’s quite possible that I’m completely missing something here and there’s nothing odd or out of place about it at all. Paintings and pastels aren’t the same thing, are they? Still, I thought I’d mention it.

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  11. says

    I’m sure I’m not the only one to realize now that the “Pen is mightier” tag was also the next episode clue. Nice, Milo!

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  12. Corran says

    I can’t believe you did not notice the Figaro hint: The famous line from the Barber of Ceville says: “Figaro here, Figaro there; Figaro here, Figaro there;”, as an obvious reference to characters jumping between the worlds.

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  13. Jonathan Howe says

    I’m pretty sure the “non-harmonic” music that Walter uses is the theme from the TV Show, “The Equalizer” – gotta be a few levels of irony going on there…

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