One of the most meaningful aspects of “The No Brainer” was the re-defining of the father/son relationship between Walter and Peter. Whilst absent fathers is a tragic theme on “Lost”, so far, it seems to be a more hopeful portrayal on “Fringe”. We saw glimpses of this as Peter put his trust in Walter’s capacity to deal with difficult situations, by allowing Jessica Warren – the mother of the dead lab assistant – to speak to him.
In many ways the humanity of this episode was easy to miss amongst the synthetic ‘surface story’. But then, Walter once said that computers are comparable to the human brain; and the struggle between creator and creation is constantly changing.
There were occasions in this episode where I had to remind myself of just how far Peter and Walter have come. Back at the start of this adventure, Peter wanted nothing to do with his father, he openly shunned the man who had deserted him in for the pursuit of scientific glory. But over the course of these 12 episodes, this divide has healed, and it’s all thanks to Olivia and her “insane freak show of an operation”. It hasn’t all been plain sailing, of course; there have been good times and bad, love and contempt, laughter and sadness. There have been times when both men have ‘assumed’ the role of the father, speaking down to the other as if he were a little child. It’s understandable in a way; Peter feels as though Walter has no right fathering him after being absent for most of his childhood (and adult life). And Walter is a man of incredible intelligence and pride who doesn’t want to be “babied”. It might not seem as though he has much self awareness at times, due to his random, child-like outbursts. But therein lies the duality of the man – there’s no doubt that his experiences in life have dulled some of his functions, but we’ve witnessed two or three occasions when he’s acted with clarity, courage and incredible coherence:
- Keeping the cylinder safe for the Observer in “The Arrival”.
- Bravely venturing back into St. Claire’s in order to save the young musician (who probably reminded him a lot of Peter)
- Handling the Jessica Warren situation with unflinching compassion and sympathy.
It’s these moments in particular that have shown us the other side the Walter Bishop. A side that Olivia Dunham and much of the viewing audience has come to really admire. But for Peter, accepting these qualities in his father can’t be easy. For one thing, he’s distrustful of him. He must surely question how a man who is capable of such compassion and awareness could be absent from so much of his childhood. He must wonder whether it was something about him that just wasn’t good enough for Walter. It’s the old classic theme of a son not living up to their father’s expectations (although I sense that Walter is more proud of his son than Peter could understand). Then there’s his obvious love and affection for Walter – he doesn’t want anything or anyone to harm him and the progress that he’s made. One set-back could take Walter away from him for ever – as he said to Olivia;
I haven’t had him in my life, and I think that I was..I think that I was a little scared“.
If this episode did anything, it gave us more insight into why Peter is so protective over Walter. In particular, it was mirrored by Luke Dempsey and his protection of his murderous father. The following conversation between Peter and Olivia spoke volumes:
Peter: I don’t get it, he knew he was killing those people. Why would the kid protect a murderer like that?
Olivia: “…Because it’s his father”
Boom! Peter turns and looks through the car window at the ambulance carrying Brian Dempsey’s dead body and Luke Dempsey in handcuffs. What he’s actually doing is looking at a mirror image of himself and Walter; a father corrupted by his creation, and a desperate son who would do anything to save him. Don’t tell me “The No Brainer” had no underlying messages.
So, for Peter and Walter this is a ‘second chance’, and those just don’t come around all too often, certainly not without the aid of a time machine. It’s no wonder that Peter wants to hold on to his father, but it was heart-warming to see those training wheels come off ever so slightly in this episode. The melting brains of goo was good sadistic fun, but it is the look in Peter’s eyes, as he watched his father comfort Jessica Warren, that will live with me for quite a while.
But here’s the thing; the writers have basically told us that Peter will protect his father no matter what his past (and perhaps future) crimes against humanity, because he’s his father. Is it just me who can see the big red flashing neon lights, or will we one day have the revelation that in actual father Walter isn’t Peter’s father? I know, I know, we’ve seen Peter’s birth certificate (“The Arrival”), and the pair share a mental link and other similar traits. But I’m just putting it out there. If I were a betting man (and I might be) I’d say that there will come a time when Peter has to re-evaluate the term ‘father’, and whether Walter really is the man who he’s come to call “daddy”.
Incidentally, anyone seen William Bell lately?…