Fringe Rewatch – 1.08 The Equation

The Equation - Rewatch

Synopsis: After a young music prodigy is taken by a serial kidnapper, it’s discovered that a sequence of flashing lights appeared at the abduction, which Walter links back to his bunkmate at St. Claire’s Hospital. Much to Peter’s dismay, Olivia encourages Walter to return to the mental institution, and Walter’s determination to help ends up having chilling ramifications.

General Thoughts: This was one of the episodes I most wanted to rewatch, both for the excellent performance of John Noble and the exploration of the father/son relationship, which in my opinion, is the most important relationship in the show – at least in the first season.

Below the jump I share my new observations and perspectives, explore the unresolved mysteries, highlight the mysteries closed by information gained in this episode and cap it off with my final thoughts on this episode retrospective.

New Observations & Perspectives

green, green, green, red. green, green, green, blue. d'oh!1.) Mr. Stockton said that Ben was different after the “accident”. That he woke up from the coma with the ability to play the piano, despite never taking a lesson prior to that. So we can assume that someone gave him these abilities for a very specific purpose (perhaps to break the equation).

Whilst it’s unlikely that Ben is a Cortexiphan kid, there appear to be similarities with the premise of giving children special skills.

2.) There was a brief cut to a Superman cartoon when we first see Ben locked up in the room –  this probably doesn’t hold any deep significance to the show, but it could be considered a nice little reference to having special abilities and the color thematics in the episode (Kryptonite = green). Yeah, that’s really digging. 😉

3) So we have the scenario in which a special combination of  green and red lights were used to put people into a trance and give them hallucinations – making them think, feel and see things that weren’t really there. This seems to support the idea of the alter-Walter being a hallucination and not a version of Walter from another reality. Could Walter have been exposed to any green and red lights that we were not privy to? Personally I think the significance of the alter-Walter is still very much open, but I have to think that Sumner only allowed Walter to speak to Dashiell so that he could check up on Walter..or perhaps do something to him..

4.) According to Walter; “[green and red], these wavelengths are the key to success”. Does this tell us something about why the green and red sequence was on the kayak, Observer’s binoculars and Mosley’s hat? Is there something in this episode that can help us link these three elements into a single explanation? And here’s a slightly random thought – what if the whole world was put into a hypnagogic state – life really would be a “dream”, as Walter put it.

5.) Not sure if this holds any subtle meaning, but when Walter said the following to Peter it stuck out like a sore thumb: “he’s light years ahead of where even you were at his age”.

6.) Dashiell: “None of it happened, it was just a dream. Just a bad dream.” Unintentional foreshadowing! Yay!

Unresolved Mysteries

Now for my next die!1.) Why was the equation incomplete in the first place – why did Loeb only have part of the equation? When, where and who did they get the bulk of the equation and the machine from?

2.) Was Ben more able to crack the code because he’s a child? Does this tie in with William Bell’s belief about children’s minds having less limitations?

3.) Who does Sumner really work for? He said too much and was just too ominous to not have any ties with major players in the story.

4.) Peter warned Sumner: “you have no idea what I’m capable of”. What IS Peter capable of — other than sarcasm — and what did he mean, exactly? A lot can be read into what he said, but knowing what we do now, I wonder if Peter was hinting at something more supernatural than criminally under-lordish?

5.) How did Ben get his abilities, who gave them to him and why?

6.) How the heck did Loeb recover from his ‘parasite situation’ so darn quickly???

Closed Mysteries

1.) Ben didn’t really see his mom – she was a suggestive manifestation induced by the hypnagogic state – he was hooked up to the computer the whole time. I guess this is how Ostler knew that Ben’s imaginary mom said “I don’t want to go away” (to which Ostler replied “well, that’s up to Ben, isn’t it”). She wouldn’t have known what to say had the image of his mom not been controlled by her.

Final Thoughts

ok, i give up, i don't know what any of this meanzI’ve always remembered this episode with fondness, but until I rewatched I had kinda forgotten why.  I particularly enjoyed seeing another side to Walter, who gained some much needed independence and social awareness from his foray back into St. Claire’s.

There was a really touching moment when Walter asked Peter if he is as incoherent and difficult to deal with as Dashiell – the warmth on Peter’s face said it all: you’re my family. In that moment it seemed as though Peter began to forgive his father — just a lil’ bit — for all of the heartache he suffered growing up – seeing his father sacrifice his own safety for a little kid was a redeeming act surely not lost on Peter.

I do wonder though, how much of this forgiveness and progress will be undone when Peter finds out that Walter is not his real father, and that he’s kept the truth from him, even once he remembered?

Best Performer: John Noble

Best Moment: The appearance of Loeb at the end and the realisation that we were about to go more serial!

Retrospective rating: 8.5/10

You can find our original The Equation Eastereggs here.

Next episode rewatch: “The Dreamscape” – Thursday (ETA)


  1. mlj102 says

    I like your theory about something being done to Ben while he was in a coma that gave him the ability he had. The way they explain it makes it sound like his sudden ability to play the piano and being obsessed over the song were both unusual, but not unheard of, side effects from the accident and the coma. And that never made sense to me — that this kid would suddenly be obsessed with a song that happens to be a very important equation. I can believe that the piano ability was part of some side effect, but being obsessed with the equation seems like it had to have been done on purpose.

    I definitely agree that the way they did the whole double Walter concept was very ambiguous. Was it just an indication of how crazy he is? Was it an alternate Walter? I certainly hope they will revisit this. In some ways, it’s actually somewhat similar to Olivia seeing John – we don’t know if those are just memories and it’s all in her mind, or if it’s alternate John contacting her, or what. I wonder if the two could be connected somehow. I also agree that Sumner allowed Walter to speak to Dashiell only because he wanted access to Walter – it was definitely a set up. He was not happy that Olivia and Peter had taken Walter away and he was not happy that they managed to take him away again. He’s definitely up to something. I believe that for some reason, Walter was purposely sent to St. Claire’s and that St Claire’s is more than a tiny, insignificant insane asylum. It’s got to be connected to ZFT or Massive Dynamic or the Pattern or something like that. I am very interested to find out what exactly happened to Walter during the 17 years he spent there.

    I had also picked up on the references to sleeping and dreams that were in this episode. Walter was singing “Row, row, row your boat” again, and then there was that comment you mentioned that Dashiell had made about it all being a bad dream. It also seems to me that those who’d been put in the hypnotic state went along with that continuing theme as well. Although they were present and they thought they were aware of what was happening, they come to find out that there was more going on than they realized and that they’d been oblivious to it all and, in a sense, it was almost as though they’d been asleep the whole time. I find that particular theme to be quite interesting and I love the continuity! Also, I like your theory about the whole world being put in a hypnotic state – wouldn’t that be something?! I can only imagine what all they could do if they somehow managed to hypnotize everyone. And it would certainly be consistent with this ongoing theme.

    You mentioned Peter telling Sumner that Sumner has no idea what he’s capable of. It made me wonder if Peter himself has any idea what he’s capable of. I wonder if Peter might have seen or realized evidence of special abilities he might have. If not, it makes that statement even more ironic that, here he is threatening this guy that he doesn’t know what he’s capable of, when in reality, even he himself has no idea what he’s capable of doing.

    Nice observation about Loeb being recovered so quickly – I hadn’t realized that. It was only an episode ago that his chest had been cracked open, huh? Perhaps it’s just one of those times where more time had passed on the show than in real life. Or – here’s a random theory – what if there’s more than one Loeb? Whether it’s a twin or an alternate self or something, it would certainly explain a lot, like how he recovered so soon, or how he managed to be busy leading up some ZFT faction and breaking Jones out of prison while also keeping a job at homeland security. At this point, I don’t think anything’s out of the question.

    I also find it interesting to watch the relationship develop between Walter and Peter and to think how it will hold up when Peter finds out the truth. They said that probably won’t come out until the last half of season 2, so I imagine that, until then, the relationship will continue to improve. Sometimes I think that that will be a good thing because, the closer Peter gets to Walter before the truth comes out, the more likely it is he will be understanding and forgiving. But then I think about it some more and I think maybe the closer they get, the more it will hurt when he does find out – similar to the way it hurts more to be betrayed by someone close to you who you trust than it does to be betrayed by an enemy. Only time will tell.

    I thought this episode had some really good camera shots. From the very beginning when we see the rain falling on the location title (that’s one of my favorites of those), to the way they depicted the green, green, green, red lights hypnotizing a person. Very well done. I thought the whole opening scene was put together very well and had a good feeling to it. I also was intrigued by the camera angles in the castle of Ben and Joanne from above where we see and hear the fan blades going around. That was very deliberate and, whether it was done merely to be creative and to provide a “tempo”, or there’s more to it, I thought it was very neat.

    Another random thought I had while watching this episode: what if Joanne hadn’t intentionally faked her death 10 years ago? We all just kind of assume that it was something she had done on purpose in order to go into hiding and start kidnapping people, but what if it really had been an accident? What if someone had tried to kill her and she used the event as an opportunity to disappear? That would certainly add a new twist to things, although it’s probably reading too deep into things.

    Joanne is one of those characters whose motivation confuses me. For one, theoretically we’re supposed to believe that she has been searching for the solution to this equation for ten years. Why? Loeb ultimately uses the equation to get the equipment to get Jones out of prison. But Jones has not been in prison for 10 years, so that would indicate that he and Joanne (assuming they’ve been working together the whole ten years) wanted the equation for another purpose and it was just convenient that they could use it to help Jones as well. Further, Joanne makes a comment at the end with Loeb where she says something about “let’s see if this really does what you say it will”. If she was the one seeking out the formula, I would expect she would have more faith in what it would do, but this comment seems to imply that this is all Loeb’s idea and that she’s just helping out. So again, why did Loeb want the equation? How did he start working with Joanne? Is there an even bigger reason he would want a device that would allow him to walk through walls? I wonder if we will see it again.

    I thought it was fun to get a little glimpse into the way Walter’s mind works – his whole train of thoughts that allowed him to remember Dashiell was very entertaining! I wonder if he thinks like that all the time. And, if so, could it be possible that some of the off the wall comments he makes could actually be significant in some strange way if we knew the connection of events in his mind? It was also fun to see Walter’s reaction when Peter hypothesized that the song and the equation were equivalents and he asked Walter to transcribe it. The way his eyes lit up and he got so excited – he was like a little kid on Christmas morning!

    I always found it rather odd when Walter first goes back into the main room at St. Claire’s and the random patient approaches him and he says “I’m sorry. I can’t help you.” That just really stood out to me. Why did he say that? What kind of help did he think the patient wanted?

    I loved that they brought back the Butterscotch pudding! I thought that scene with Olivia in the pilot was hilarious, so it was fun that they brought that back again. Also, it makes one wonder if there’s something wrong with the pudding…

    Broyles says that Dashiell potentially had knowledge of various state secrets. So of course I wonder what sorts of secrets he might be aware of and if any of them might be important to the show. I wonder if we will see Dashiell again…

    While grossed out, I was also somewhat intrigued by the shape of the injury on Ben’s mother’s head. It seemed very deliberately done the way it was, and I found it odd that it had a definite shape to it. It kind of reminded me of Nick Lane’s scar, though bigger. It’s probably nothing, but just another random observation I figured I’d mention.

    There were several quotes in this episode that stood out to me. One was the quote you’d mentioned when Dashiell says “None of it happened. It was just a dream. Just a bad dream.” Is he trying to convince himself? Is he talking about more than just his kidnapping? Another quote that I think I’ve mentioned before is when Peter says “The best lie – the one that’s easiest to remember with consistency – is the one that’s based on the truth.” I think that’s an important key to remember in watching the series; that it’s the believable things that you can’t confirm as being wrong that we should be suspicious of. Sometimes it’s right in front of our eyes, but it’s so obvious that we don’t even consider it. Also, at the end, Joanne makes some comment to Loeb about it being amazing the things numbers can do and Loeb replies, “Look around your house, your office, your kitchen – numbers make everything work.” It was an innocent enough type of comment, but it made me think about “Safe” where Olivia tells Peter that she’s always had the ability to remember numbers. If numbers make everything work and Olivia has a special ability that involves numbers, that could be an important factor in this whole story. I expect we will see more that has to do with numbers doing incredible things and what Olivia can do as a result of that.

    Reflections: Throughout the opening scene we see reflections of Ben and his dad through the rear view mirror of the car. That’s really the only actual reflection I noticed, but as far as duplicates are concerned, there’s also the obvious appearance of a second Walter.

    Favorite Moment: That’s a tough one. I love when Peter cuts the sleeves off his shirt. That was brilliant.

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  2. says

    Great points once again mlj!

    Thanks for highlighting Ben’s particular obsession with the song version of the equation – that is definitely a very specific point worth considering; he wasn’t just given abilities..he was obsessed with the equation. For me, this confirms the idea that someone choose him (prior to Loeb’s kidnapping)..but was it Jones who gave him this desire to crack the equation..or someone else? Hmm..

    Thanks for picking up on the point about Peter and his possible abilities – what with all his magic tricks and gestures, it seems almost certain that the writers want us to speculate over his skills, and whether or not he even realises that he’s not quite a normal guy. As you say, it’s pretty ironic if he has no clue how ‘special’ he is. I kind of prefer it that way, to be honest – same goes with Olivia. I like the journey of discovery and realisation that we’ve seen from Dunham, so hopefully it will be something similar with Peter in seasons to come.

    Interesting idea about Loeb possibly having a twin. This would definitely explain how he recovered so quickly, although if that’s the case I would hope that Broyles (or whoever) would make mention of the fact that he got over the parasite attack so quickly. I’m assuming that Loeb was also back at work (Fringe Division work) during this time, although I guess he could have been ‘off sick’. So I’m not sure on that one – especially since the Loeb we see in later episodes appears consistent with his previous appearances, but you never know with this show. I do like the idea that we’ve peered into an alter-reality without realising it.

    The Peter/Walter relationship will be one to watch in season 2! Like you, I’m interested to see how they play it – I have to think that they will get even closer before the bombshell drops. I hope this is the case, because although it will be painful, there may also be more chance of reconciliation, as you said.

    Good spots on the direction. I particularly loved the scene in the car when Ben asks his dad to slow down the wipers – I don’t know why, but I thought that was very well shot. I also agree re: the fan blades – it helped add to the atmosphere and the idea that everything has a purpose depending on our perspective.

    The Joanne character is quite confusing, although I assumed that she was indeed ‘hired help’, who had only recently started working for Loeb (similar to the bank robbers who Loeb hired in “Safe”, perhaps?). My feeling is that Loeb only told her the basics to get her on-side – he needed someone like her because he needed the child, and she was an expert in abduction. At least that’s my guess :)

    As for Loeb wanting the equation, I believe this ties back to Jones. As you mentioned, the equation enabled him to steal Walter’s “Dis-rey” from the safe in..“Safe”, which in turn enabled him to teleport Jones out of the Wissenschaft at the end of the same episode. So there appears to be definate pattern or purpose to what he was doing. I would imagine that he started working/communicating plans with Jones prior to Jones getting caught in Germany. I find it interesting that Loeb seemed invested in the ‘greater cause’ – he later suggests that Jones was just a ‘soldier in the army’, so it seems as though Loeb was a true believer who did what he did for more than money. Interesting fellow, that Loeb. 😀

    Nice catch on the patient asking Walter for help. It could hint at Walter being somewhat of a “warrior” on the inside – or it may just have been a nice way to illustrate how far Walter has some since the Pilot – reminding us that he is, after all, still a doctor (of sorts) who others look to for help?

    I hope we see Dash again – good character! It was also interesting to see Walter bounce off someone of a similar age. We’ll also get more of that next season will Bellie.

    Good work on the reflections, by the way. It’s interesting to keep a track of these. Some of them are unitentional but you just know that these guys pay attention to the little details that foreshadow/enhance the story. It’s also possible that the unitentional thematics are part of their subconscious storytelling, since everyone (even Bad Robot) leaves subconscious clues.

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  3. Gil_Cdn says

    The Kill Report # 8

    Once again, this is only one death in this episode. (We are NOT going to count Ben’s mother as one of the dead because it happens before Olivia was recruited into the Fringe Division.)

    Death Toll for ep.1.08 The Equation
    – Joanne Ostler (shot by Mitchell Loeb) 1

    Cumulative death toll (up to and including ep.1.08) = 198

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  4. mlj102 says

    One more thing I forgot to mention: I love the little comments you put on each of the pictures in these recaps — they make me laugh. This episode had some great ones! Keep it up!

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  5. Elliot says

    Lots of this episode was painful to see, esp. the torture of Ben and Kim’s and Walter’s anguish. All of it very well done. Sumner made himself immediately hateful–I can’t be the only one who hoped Peter might pound him then and there! You’re right, there likely will be more from him.

    Joanne was responsible for a series of kidnappings, if I remember correctly, including Kim’s, so she wasn’t recruited just for getting the boy.

    “what if the whole world was put into a hypnagogic state – life really would be a “dream”, as Walter put it.

    5.) Not sure if this holds any subtle meaning, but when Walter said the following to Peter it stuck out like a sore thumb: “he’s light years ahead of where even you were at his age”.”

    The colorblind wouldn’t be affected. . . and I think that’s a good question; what was Walter trying to train Peter to do?

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    • says

      Good point re: Joanne also being responsible for kidnapping Dash. So perhaps she WAS more invested in this green/red-code-breaking-thing afterall. She definitely needs some explaining..

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  6. FlashWriter says

    Again, just a few notes (I’m at work and right now I’m fighting a computer virus breakout in sales. This thing is coming in right under all the anti-virus programs we use. Where’s Astrid when I need her?)

    I think one of the things that I’ve been considering–and this shows up again in this ep–is this stunted set of childhood memories we seem to see in the major characters.

    I should do more research on this, but it seems to me that Peter was old enough when Walter brough him to our universe that he would remember it. Nina Sharp’s recollection of hers and Peter’s time together at the stables–did Peter not remember it because it wasn’t the same Peter who was with Nina? If he were old enough to “spend time” there, well, it just seems like he should remember his “abduction”. Some of his memories are very clear (the whole pancakes-in-the-morning sequence). While others seem to be either non-existant or “different” (G.I. Joe’s scar).

    Olivia demonstrates a similar memory anomaly in that Nick Lane seems to have all kinds of cortexiphan memories while Olivia is totally in the dark until Nick re-educates her. Yet, when she shot her step father, that memory is completely in tact. We’ve seen a few cortexiphan people with similar limitations. Something was done to these people’s childhood memories, whether or not it was some kind of hypnosis or something drug-induced or what. Of course, Walter’s memory problems are well documented and explained. But, more and more, we’ve become aware of massive memory dropouts in the main characters as the season progressed.

    Onward. Re-watching this episode was a total delight and again seemed much better the second time around. John Noble was sooooo great in this episode and the father-son dynamic was incredibly done. I loved Joshua Jackson in this episode at every turn.

    And let’s not forget the bad guys. I think one of the more notable aspects of “Fringe” are the great bad guys we’ve seen. Without the bad guy, any andventure story flops, and in this episode we had Chance Kelley’s Mitchell Loeb. (Is it just me, or does Kelley remind anyone of Robert Shaw in his “James Bond” days as Grant?) One fantastic bad guy–in the same league with Jones and Harris. Since he didn’t die, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of him. Supper job all! Re-watch score 8.75/10.

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    • says

      “I should do more research on this, but it seems to me that Peter was old enough when Walter brough him to our universe that he would remember it. Nina Sharp’s recollection of hers and Peter’s time together at the stables–did Peter not remember it because it wasn’t the same Peter who was with Nina? If he were old enough to “spend time” there, well, it just seems like he should remember his “abduction”. Some of his memories are very clear (the whole pancakes-in-the-morning sequence). While others seem to be either non-existant or “different” (G.I. Joe’s scar).”

      Good points!

      Like you, I took this to indicate that some of these experiences happened to our Peter, while the one’s he can’t remember happened to the other Peter. You make a brilliant point about Peter not remembering his ‘arrival’ into our world – was he asleep when it happened..or was he ‘deactivated’ in some way, ala Olive..? Maybe at that age the realities just blur together until you choose which aspects to remember and which to let go as if they were dreams..or nightmares.

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      • mlj102 says

        I agree that it is an interesting thing to think about why Peter doesn’t remember his transition to our universe. Probably a big part is that he was still quite young and memories from that age are scattered and not very clear. I don’t really remember much from when I was seven — just vague things. Also, I think a large part of it is due to the way children are innocent and also very unaware of the bigger things going on around them. I imagine there really wasn’t much that made it seem uncommon for young Peter. For one, his dad was Walter, so he was probably used to strange things happening. Also, it probably wasn’t a big deal — in his mind he just went somewhere with his dad and didn’t even realize he’d changed universes. He wasn’t old enough to really notice any of the differences between realities, and getting there seems like it’s essentially walking from one place to another. And if he did notice anything, I imagine Walter was quick to dismiss it or have a simple explanation that a seven-year-old would be quick to accept.

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