Fringe Observations: 3.11 Reciprocity

Welcome to Fringe Observations: the comprehensive clues and eastereggs round-up for episode 3.11 “Reciprocity”.

We dive deep into the mythology, symbolism and resonating factors to explore the meaning and unlock the interconnected mystery of Fringe.

Ghost In The Machine

The episode clue from “The Firefly” for “Reciprocity” seems to be The Ghost In The Machine (“The Police”) album, in reference to the Machine and Peter’s change. Hence the flipped image foreshadowing Peter flippin’ out on all things hybrid.

Nice To Sea You, Petah

There’s a sea horse glyph on Peter’s Kill Bag. You might recall that Peter’s grandfather, Robert Bishop, was nicknamed The Seahorse because he was an excellent swimmer.

It was also his trademark signature, found in the toxin Alfred Hoffman modified to murder people with specific traits. For a parallel, Peter targets shapeshifters in this episode.

Lev-el Up

Peter jokes that he “might be able to use my new-found super-powers to make this machine levitate”.

In the previous episode, “The Firefly”, the female/baby silhouette on the wall appears to be levitating. Was a nod, or a coincidence? If it goes somewhere a touch more meaningful then it could be a nod. I expect to see Petah flying by the end of the season.

Heads Down

Thematic head-shot comparison: Olivia (“Pilot”), Walter (“Grey Matters”), Peter (“Reciprocity”). I’ve included Walter’s because both he and Peter are literally going inside the machine in their respective images.

Olivia’s first dip into the Bra & Panties Tank™ was arguably the beginning of her journey to the ‘fringe’ (from our standpoint, at least) – her awakening, if you will. Does the thematic carry-over signal the start of Peter’s true awakening?

There’s More Fish In The Mercury

There are many symbolic meanings that could apply to the above image of the dead fish in the fountain. From secrecy, to abundance, to death, to transformation – all could be deemed worthwhile nods.

“Sleeping with the fishes” is also a phrase that comes to mind.

Dead fish have been in the news recently, along with other animals that have been dying in seemingly larger-than-normal quantities – leaving many fearing that doomsday is around the corner. Doomsday..doomsday device. Hmm. The fountain effect also brings William Bell’s famous line: “a storm is coming” to mind. But that’s a bit of a reach.

The scene transitions cleverly to Walter’s lab where Astrid is cleaning out Gene II’s fish tank. Once again the clues are manifesting right in front of their eyes. If only they could truly see them.

Is this how Peter feels – living in the metaphorical ‘fish tank’, isolated and trapped? Interesting that the tank should look fairly cloudy, perhaps indicating the fog which has descended on Peter’s consciousness. Will Astrid be the one to bring clarity to our Boy Wonder?

That Smarts!

Nina says that the original labels on William Bell’s retroactive serum for Walter’s brain tissue were lost in a “small lab fire” back in the 90s (she infers that it was a Massive Dynamic incident). It was a lab fire in 1991 that killed Carla Warren and landed Walter in a world of trouble. It doesn’t appear to be the same incident, but worth mentioning.

Observing The Observer

He didn’t need to run from Olivia this week. Low-key Observer, in the crowd.

Mythology Porn

The mythology porn that is Peter’s room reveals that he’s been a very busy boy. Visible on his wall is a map – presumably indicating locations where the device was scattered, and the First People calendar.

Walter looks through Peter’s mythology porn. On the wall, one of the clippings talks about an unearthed tomb, so we can see that peter has been doing his own independent research on the First People and other ancient civilisations. That’s our boy, connecting the dots.

On the other wall is a picture of a blond boy. Is this supposed to be Peter? He wasn’t blond in the flashbacks. There are also clippings titled: “Was Ancient Technology Found In Potash Mine?” and “Tunnel Dig Stopped By Strange Fog”. This is why Peter can’t sleep, not because of the two Olivias, but because he’s knee deep in the mythos!

Where The Wind Blows

Highly symbolic, Peter enters shapeshifter Alpert’s abode through the window (Walter later comes through the door). They have to enter somehow, but it nonetheless plays into the show’s inherent parallel world symbolism.

Electric Heap

An interesting look inside the shapeshifter’s apartment evokes Blade Runner vibes and provides useful insight. Simply put, Alpert is a hoarder. He hoards kipple, clocks, globes, phones. You name it, he hoards it. Except the TV – he only appears to have one empathy box.

Why? What is the point of showing us this?

It might suggest this is his way of identifying with humanity. Does he seek belonging? Do these items compensate for something lacking within?

Men Of Kin

Another interesting detail. Not only does the mannequin serve as a trap for Peter, but the fact that the shapeshifter has such a thing in his apartment may imply that he is lonely and yearns for the company of others. “Blade Runner”, “I Am Legend”, your mind might think of such films when considering this scene.

In context, the mannequin may serve as Alpert’s ‘Electric Sheep’ – his desire to have a real human companion, compensated in a doll. Notice how he calls Peter’ “my friend” when they engage. He may have said it with a negative connotation, but it’s ‘interesting’ nonetheless that the writers had him say that. While this isn’t always the case, you’d like to think that each word is deliberate, layering the worlds of the show. Of course, the mannequin may serve as a device to make Alpert feel more human. Because in comparison to a doll, he is.

These are just interesting little details that help reflect the psychology of the shapeshifters (at least, this shapeshifter). If there’s one thing I hope we see before the story ends, it’s some alone time with a shapeshifter – just to see what they do when they’re not on mission. Do they like ‘strawberry flavored death’, for instance?

It’s also worth looking at this from Peter’s point of view – the fact that he mistook a mannequin for a shapeshifter tells us something about the way he’s seeing things – his perspective. His reality is changing and he’s struggling to distinguish between inanimate objects and living creatures. In short, we seem to be honing in on the idea of consciousnessWhat is it? Is it a truly human thing, or can a machine acquire a will of its own? Can it be retained, reshaped?

Eye Sacked Newton

I found it somewhat noteworthy that Alpert threatened to remove Peter’s eye. As is often said, eyes are the windows to the soul. We could therefore take the view that Alpert was threatening to remove Peter’s soul. A theme which has been growing in recent episodes.

Then there’s the perception angle – as mentioned, Peter is struggling with his own reality, removing an eye would, you’d think, only make things worse in that regard.

The Road Taken

Broyles’ near-miss comes on the heels of Peter’s near-road accident in “The Firefly”. There was also Olivia’s near-scrape in “There’s More Than One Of Everything”, when William Bell transported her over to the big AU before Walternate’s shapeshifter could intercept her.

Peter’s incident was very noticeable. The Broyles incident just made it a theme we should definitely be looking out for.

Is the timeline slightly off? Has there been an adjustment? Does it have anything to do with Broylnate getting killed and his body ending up where it shouldn’t be? Yikes!

Whatever the case may be, it would be pretty disappointing if it didn’t lead to anything.


The Spanish version of the First People’s book.

We didn’t get the clearest look at the covers of the other two books, but the one pictured above could be a Hebrew version. I did find it interesting the way that Nina touched each book. Not sure it means anything, but it stood out to me.

The First People’s Book – LA PRIMERA GENTE

Mach Better

Nice end montage-y thing. Transitioning from the First People’s book, to a REFLECTION of Peter.

The transition continues from Peter’s reflection into the machine, giving us the impression that we’re going inside Peter’s mind, where we find..the machine.

Further, closer, ever deeper, we travel to the very core of Peter’s being as the boy gradually weakens, holding for a fragile second, before fading out completely.

The machine is victorious in this battle of consciousness, standing tall like some kind of giant-ass ‘Tin Man’ who’s just received a human heart. But will the implication hold true, or will the coming storm rust old tin pot, allowing Peter to carve out his own ‘better world’?

A nicely put together scene, framing the FP-Peter-Vacuum connection while providing a intriguing context.

Other Clues

  • The previous episode, The Firefly”, Peter joked about Astral Projecting. This may have contained some foreshadowing elements in regards to Peter’s abrupt change in this episode.
  • It’s interesting to observe that from a medical standpoint Peter is perfectly fine. This offers some perspective on how the machine is changing the boy. Once more suggesting that the machine is ‘meant’ for Peter, and perhaps implying that Peter can survive whatever his Machine destiny holds.
  • Given the next episode promo, this could be the clue for the next episode.
  • The glyph code for “Reciprocity” is ALTER – as in change. As in “you’re not the boy wonder I knew!” As in alternate. As in different.


  1. Peanut says

    Nick Lane’s apartment (“Bad Dreams,” 1.17 ) was also a “treasure trove of mythology porn.” Love that term, Roco!

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  2. Inter-dimensional Dave says

    I can add that Peter shooting the mannequin reminded me of the Sherlock Holmes story, “The Adventure of the Empty House.” In that story Holmes sets a trap for Col. Sebastian Moran as Moran is out to murder Holmes. Sherlock has correctly deduced that his life is in danger and silhouettes a dummy against his Baker st. window. Moran shoots the mannequin and is captured by Holmes and Watson.

    Although Peter is like Moran there are several parallels to the two stories.

    Peter like Holmes escapes from a watery death. Holmes at Reichenbach Falls and Peter at Reiden Lake. Like Holmes, Peter spends a great deal of time travelling after his near death experience. Holmes is the master of disguise and uses his “shape shifting” skills to solve mysteries. Peter on the other hand hides from his friends and kills the disguised (shape shifters) to solve his puzzle.

    The Adventure of the Empty House marked the return of Sherlock Holmes after his near death experience. Will the “Reciprocity” episode mark a similar sea change in Peter?

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    • Peanut says

      You know that Arthur Conan Doyle really meant for Holmes to stay dead after Reichenbach Falls. The public demanded the return of the character. The reason that I bring this up is because Sherlock Holmes was revived–returned from the dead. An early case of Fringe (sort-of) dead.

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      • Inter-dimensional Dave says

        Yes, I am aware of that. Doyle was quite tired of Holmes but the public clamor was just too much. I think we’d see something similar if FOX ever hinted at cancelling Fringe. Woe to them!

        We’ll have to keep an eye out for more similarities between Fringe and the adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

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  3. Robert says

    You might consider this as heresy, but I think the seahorse on the suitcase is product placement (it´s the trademark of a real-life suitcase company).

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  4. Michelle says

    There’s an article on the refrigerator door as Peter leans in to get the milk titled “The Weird World of Shapeshifters”– another candidate for the next episode clue perhaps?

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  5. Peanut says

    Others “observed” that the photo of the blond boy is supposed to be Josh Jackson. The photo was made in early 1985–probably neither Peter would have been able to play soccer then because they were too sick. Then the photo would actually have been, by the date, DeadBluePeter–how creepy is it that Peternate would keep that photo in his bedroom? Definitely continuity problems IMO.

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  6. sivan kotek says

    Hebrew book: i’t says Haanashi, Harishonim
    האנשים הראשונים
    literally, the first people.

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  7. lizw65 says

    Very interesting observations as always, Roco! (Apropos of nothing, my local newspaper lists tonight’s episode as “Immortality”–I assume that’s a mistake, unless the network decided it was time to show another “over there” ep and movedthem around?)

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  8. lena says

    thanx for these awesome observations, roco!
    one thing that keeps me wondering though:

    “It’s interesting to observe that from a medical standpoint Peter is perfectly fine.”

    I would not take this as a fact. Falcon was a shapeshifter so if he (or walternate) wanted our team to stop examining peter, the easiest thing to say is he is perfectly fine. it really bothered me that they did not re-examine peter after the identity of falcon was revealed. even peter should have said something if he is so desperate for answers! or he will examine himself in tonight’s episode… 😉

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  9. mlj102 says

    A couple of really quick thoughts:

    – The dead fish in the picture you posted above are mostly red… is this a subtle hint that the red universe will die? Similarly, I like the transition between the dead fish and the alive fish. It was a great contrast and balance showing the idea that while one dies, another continues to live…

    -“Tunnel Dig Stopped By Strange Fog”

    Looking at the picture, it’s blurry, but I thought it said “Tunnel Dig Stopped By Strange Find” Either way, it’s the same general concept, right?

    – I LOVED the collection of globes in shapeshifter’s apartment. The appearance of globes in Fringe is one of my favorite recurring “easter eggs” in Fringe… Second only to the reflections, of course. :) I am of the opinion that they include them intentionally as a shout out to the multiple worlds in Fringe. As usual, it’s brilliant.

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  10. Alex says

    The picture of a blonde boy is Joshua Jackson’s real childhood picture. Yup, Josh was blonde when he was a boy.

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  11. cody says

    Has it occured to anyone the that the reflection of the light in the shape-shifters room (off of the picture in the backround) is a chess board? Checkmate as the machine wins?

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  12. Mel says

    I just watched all of season 2 in one sitting- in the episode in which the altered boy lives under the house, there is also a collection of telephones on the stairwell wall. Are the telephones an alternate communication device, like the typewriter?

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