Welcome to the FB review of the Fringe season 2 episode 10 – Grey Matters. In this review I present my honest opinions on both the good and bad aspects of the episode. I also take a look at the answers and unresolved mysteries, before sharing my thoughts on other aspects which may have been overlooked.
- Serial and overarching mythology were brought back with aplomb. Every scene carried more weight because it tied into the central arc of the show. The motivations, actions and reactions of characters made a lot more sense as a result. I enjoyed getting to know the shape-shifters more and seeing how their mission intertwined with our central characters. I don’t expect serialized episodes every week but I do believe that more episodes of this ilk are needed in a season.
- Character involvement. All 3 main characters had a major part to play in this episode, addressing some of our concerns over the show’s inability to drive more than one character-story in any given episode. On first inspection Grey Matters may seem like a Walter centric episode, but in reality Peter’s role was just as pivotal, with Olivia playing a vital part in bringing it all together.
- John Noble gave us another rendition of the tragically broken Walter Bishop. This has to be one of his finest performances on Fringe to date. One moment in particular, when he seamlessly transformed from the lovable, tortured Walter to the sharp and aggressive Walter of old, was nothing short of sensational.
- The Walter Position. The episode repositioned Walter back to the center of the mythology and it felt more natural than last season’s attempts to make him the fulcrum of events. This is largely due to the foundations, stories and the mythology that the show has built up over time. The idea that Walter is responsible for the impending war (whether that is actually the case or not) is now much more believable to me than it was this time last season. This episode is not solely responsible for the show arriving at this destination, but it went a long way in threading the story-elements together.
- References. One of my complaints this season has been the lack of integration and continuity between episodes. So I was very pleased to hear Olivia say that she’s been researching Laston Hennings Cryonics and the shape-shifters for the past 2 months. It doesn’t make up for the such an important story being put on the back-burner for the past 6(!) episodes but it’s something, and I bought the idea of Olivia doing research in her own time. I’m also glad that she mentioned Charlie, because their relationship deserves that.
- Central Antagonist. Finally we have a main antagonist who looks set to last longer than one episode! We’ve really missed that since the wonderful David Jones left us at the doorway to heaven. Sure, we have Bell and Nina, but I’m not sure where to place them just yet. They both seem to have one foot in each camp, so a clear rival – at least from our characters perspective, is good for the show. I liked what Newton brought to the game, he is pleasant but clearly driven and resourceful. I like my villains to be smart and I also found myself sympathizing with him. He definitely conveyed the sense that this isn’t a battle of hatred, but rather survival.
- I loved the way this episode was filmed. The camera angles, transitions and parallels between scenes. For me it’s all about the details and the creativity, and this was the best it’s been since Momentum Deferred.
- I thought the sequence of events were a bit predictable, but I still enjoyed seeing the reveals play out.
- A few contrivances. At times the characters were a bit slow to realise what was going on, but I understand that the creators wanted to guide viewers through the mythology, and it wasn’t so major that it detracted from the episode. I’m less forgiving over the sudden disappearance of Peter’s injuries from “Snakehead”.
- Lack of discussion. I find it strange that Olivia hadn’t filled Broyles in on what she knew about “The Door” before this episode. Seriously? It would have played better had Broyles known what she was talking about, or if he asked her why she’s only now telling him that information. It just took me out of the episode a bit.
- The events in “Grey Matters” took place a week after “Snakehead” and 2 months after “Momentum Deferred”.
- The delusions of the three ‘mental’ patients were actually memories taken from Walter 14 years ago by Dr. Simon Paris AKA William Bell. Bell extracted pieces of Walter’s brain where long-term memory is stored because what he “accomplished (in creating a doorway between worlds) was too dangerous” should the information get into the wrong hands. Consequently, this explains Walter’s on-going memory problems.
- The episode confirmed our suspicions that Walter’s wild food cravings are borne out of a desire to trigger old memories.
- We have a name for the shape-shifters leader – Thomas Jerome Newton.
- The other side is apparently suffering from something called “The Blight”, which has made the grass and the trees die. Presumably, the Blight is an environmental problem caused by Walter opening the doorway from “over here” to “over there”.
- Who froze Newton’s head?
- Who, specifically, are Newton and the shape-shifters working for – who is their leader?
- How did the shape-shifters find out about Walter’s tracking device?
- Why do the shape-shifters have to open “the door” from our side? Wouldn’t it be easier to open it from their side? Fair enough they needed Walter’s knowledge to create the door, but now that they seemingly have that information, why not open the door from their side? Does the door have to be opened from where it was first opened?
- How do the shape-shifters know about Walter’s memories and Bell’s ‘hiding places’ in the first place? Bell said that he was going to put it in a place that only he could find.
- Did Walter tell Newton how to open the door off-camera? I’d say yes, although there’s also a chance that Newton retrieved the information he needed once Walter’s pathway’s reconnected.
- Why did Newton allow Walter to live? Does he know that Walter will be needed later on? Also, what would have happened if Olivia didn’t catch him – would he have phoned her to tell them about the antidote? Or was saving Walter a decision he made on principle once he had made a deal with Olivia? And most important of all, what will Newton do with all of Olivia’s phone numbers?
- I’ve said this many times, but Fringe really does build on its themes. This episode was a great example of that with Walter’s hidden memories mirroring the way he split up the pieces of his Diz-rey (teleportation device) in safety deposit boxes to prevent people from using it (“Safe”).
- I wonder why Newton is so cordial? Is it part of his programming, or has he just got a very cool head?
- Perhaps I need to go back to episode 2.04, but how is Smither. able to maintain his shape for so long, when ‘Evil Charlie‘ was dying because he had ‘spent too long’ in Charlie’s body, despite topping up with mercury? I’m fearing that this is an error. I’m hoping that I’ve overlooked something, or that this will be explained at a later date. Fingers and toes crossed.
- Walter says the strangest things, including this subtle remark to Astrid:
“..only the luckiest of people find their way back to the world you live in”
Walter is clearly aware that his perception has changed his ability to function in the world. It also alludes to the idea of different levels of reality. I guess seeing the other side would result in some kind of ascension.
- This episode had me wondering whether we can use the memory-splice theme for the overarching ‘reality’ concept? Have aspects of reality been stolen, changed or hidden within alternate realies? If the show ever gets that crazy I think that would be kinda neat.
- I really liked this exchange between Peter and Olivia:
Peter: “The dead don’t get out from the grave and perform brain surgery!”
Olivia: “I know they don’t..but this one did”
It’s as if the writers are encouraging the audience to re-evaluate the ‘impossible’, and that’s what this show is about – things that are unlikely yet conceivable.
- Another note-worthy Olivia and Peter discussion:
Olivia: “How can I fight what I can’t understand?”
At first I wasn’t sure about this line, it seemed a bit off. But in retrospect it was important as it reminded us that Olivia is driven by emotions. It also helped set-up the later scene where Olivia caves in and lets Newton go in exchange for Walter’s life. Peter’s response was pretty poignant:
Peter: “This isn’t just your fight”.
Firstly, I love the fact that he left it at that. He didn’t specifically include himself in the fight, even though he clearly meant to. On a writing level I think leaving that response open-ended is a good idea because of what we know that Peter doesn’t. 😉 It’s also typical of Olivia’s character that she hasn’t told Peter that Bell said she’d need him by her side.
Furthermore, we could insinuate that the fight is also “ours” – the audience. I feel that the creators want us to take sides so that we become invested. Will they cause our loyalties to switch later on in the series? I think so, especially if Peter joins the other side or begins to doubt his connection to our world. Then there’s the possibility that they could make the other side even more sympathetic, what with The Blight and kidnapped children.
- Considering her closeness with Walter, I found it interesting that Astrid broke the news about Paris (Bell) visiting him while he was in St. Claire’s to Peter. Is this another indication that Walter will never be treated like an independent adult?
- Walter was heart-breaking when he told Peter: “I’m not worried about claustrophobia, Peter. What do you think that man did to me?”. Thing is, Walter must now understand how Olivia feels after finding out what Walter and Bell did to her as a child. I felt sorry for Walter, but I couldn’t help but notice the cruel irony.
- My favorite Peter line of the episode:
“What do you think that’s like for him? Wishing he could turn back the clock to before he went crazy? He’s just sane enough to realise how much he’s lost.”
Olivia’s response killed it:
“From what I know of your father, going crazy made him a better person. It certainly made him a better father”.
I found this interesting on three levels:
1. Olivia has contempt for the old Walter (watch 1.19 where she tears him a new one in the cafe). Even though she can’t remember what he and Bell did to her, she is a product of their experiments and you better believe there’s resentment there. She had no say in whether or not she wanted to become a fire-starting “gate-keeper”. So I can see why Olivia thinks that crazy-Walter is better Walter.
2. Peter and Walter are probably closer than they’ve been for many a time since they reunited. Despite the personal cost to both men, perhaps the gains outweigh all that they’ve lost? Hopefully Peter can take some encouragement from that fact – at least in terms of their relationship. We’re yet to find out where the ‘mother’ fits into all of this.
3. I feel that this plays into the theme of characters acting outside of parameter again. The show is all about people literally going to the fringe of their being and discovering who they really are. We’ve seen it with Olivia, more recently with August, and Peter is a time-bomb just waiting to happen. This episode did a good job of illustrating Walter’s journey to the outskirts of his being. In truth, I feel that he’s always operated on the outer sphere, but it’s interesting that a crazy-Walter seems to represent the better part of his potential.
- Astrid’s reliability has come into question of late. In the last episode she ‘lost’ Walter and now she leaves him sitting like a duck. I totally agree with Peter though, it wasn’t her fault. However, I do have to take issue with Olivia. She gave Astrid the stink eye when the young agent looked to her for support. Yikes! Adding to my suspicion that Olivia doesn’t think highly of Astrid. (does she have any female friends who aren’t called Ella?). And I haven’t forgotten her half-arsed concern when Astrid got battered in the previous episode. Just sayin’.
- Evil Walter taunting Newton by asking “How are things on your side?”. That gave me some extra insight into the man Walter once was. It doesn’t quite marry with the friendly Walter we heard on the Olive/fire-starter footage at the end of 1.19. It does however fit the shady Walter who visited..um..Walter in the asylum and the Walter who snatched young Peter from his bed (“Dream Logic”).
- Screw the lock-picks, Peter sure did bust down a lot of doors in this episode. I can’t help think this was somehow symbolic.
- Walter was right to be worried about people stealing his thoughts.
- Walter delivered one of the best lines ever when he asked Newton: “Are you trying to fix me?”. Wow, just wow.
- I thought it was very significant that Peter briefly experienced what it’s like to lose his father (and I don’t mean lose in the sense of “Snakehead”). Later on this may become crucial for him in understanding why Walter brought him over from the alternate universe.
- Just a personal thing, but I loved Walter’s second “hello son” as he keeled over from the neurotoxin. I just love the way Noble played that. It made absolutely no sense for Walter to repeat the line but it worked for me because in reality he was actually saying “goodbye son”. Fantastic little moment.
- The electricity theme was back again, this time involving brains.
- I had to laugh at Olivia’s faux tear upon saving Walter. Like I said, she’s still not over the Cortexiphan thing.
- Broyles says that Olivia made a rational choice in choosing Walter over capturing Newton. I think he’s right. Predominantly this was a decision based on sound reason, despite Newton taunting her for being “weak”. (don’t men in this show ever learn, you just don’t taunt Olivia D!). At first I questioned whether she actually made the right choice. I mean, the stakes were clear – “global destruction of biblical proportions”, versus the life of an insane man who violated her right to choose. But this is a long game, the war hasn’t even started yet, and that gate? It may take a while. Plus we’re going to need Walter Bishop. We’re also going to be needing you Dunham. Love it! By the way, I felt like pulling Broyles’ up for his mistake when he said “there’s only one Walter Bishop”. Oh Broyles, you have so much to learn. 😉
- I also felt like Broyles was talking to the audience when he said that the more answers we get, the more questions we’ll get. Was this the writers testing the water, warning the viewers that with mythology and serialization comes a heap of questions? I’ll take that thank you. And can someone PLEASE get that man an office!?
- Did Walter have a smirk on his face as he went back into the MRI scan? I think so. I suspect a trace of old Walter will remain.
- Walter asking Bell “What if we ever have to go back?”. I’m so glad he said that, it gives us insight into Walter’s guilt over the various consequences of his actions. It’s a natural concern, you always want to leave yourself room for error. Also, Bell seemed genuinely sincere towards Walter. I have no doubt that they were friends, but I do wonder if there was some jealousy of Bell’s part? And vice-versa.
- No Molebabies were harmed in the making of this episode.
I thought this episode was fantastic. Filled with unforgettable moments which leave me excited for the future of Fringe. It was as if someone finally gave us permission to delve into the meat of the show, the stuff that makes it tick. This episode should be proof that serial and mythology is the way to go. I realise it’s a juggling act and there are quotas to fill but there must be a way to produce more of these type of episodes than the stand-alone variety.
As for the episode title, Grey Matters, is a fairly clear cut choice. The Grey Matter is the major component of the central nervous system. It’s where Bell extracted the pieces of Walter’s memory containing knowledge of “The Door”.
However, Grey Matters also speaks to me on other levels. If I may be so bold I’d like to add a comma to the title so it reads: “Grey, Matters”. Because Grey does matter. Grey is the no-man’s land, the point of no return, the border between uncertainties, the area which is almost impossible to define. Grey is the color of our show – it’s where the impossible meets the possible. It’s the color of the Cortexiphan kids and the Observers. Grey matters alright. So did this episode.
Best Moment: The momentary emergence of old Walter during the brain mapping scene.
Best Performer: John Noble.
Episode Rating: 9.5/10