Welcome to the FB review of Fringe season 2 episode 18 – “The Man From The Other Side“. 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.
- Newton, Shape-shifters + Central Mythology. I was thrilled to see Newton return (and not just in photographic form!) and glad that we got to learn more about the shape-shifters – how they are brought to our side and seeing them in their embryonic state. I’ve always said that the central mythology of the show – the one dealing with the alternate universe and the impending war, is the most captivating part of the story, alongside the character journeys. What I loved about this part of the mythology is that it felt like a natural progression from “Grey Matters” and “Jacksonville“, with the motivations and themes from those episodes (and the intervening episodes) being advanced. I’m also happy to see the story hit another gear with the arrival of the mysterious “Secretary”. It’s like we have another antagonist to help Newton carry the threat, and I think this is a smart move. As for the identity of Mr. Secretary, it could be Walternate or Bell. In my dream of dreams I’d love for it to be alter David Jones.
- Peter Knows. As wonderful as the ‘Peter Secret’ arc has been (and seriously, there has been some amazing moments), I think the time was about right for Peter to finally discover the truth. The secret has weighed heavy on the entire season (and the back end of last) so now we can move on and advance that part of the character storyline instead of living off Walter’s endless delays. One of the negative consequences of the secret in recent episodes was the fact that Peter was portrayed as the gold star kid, being overly nice and sweet to his father. While this was clearly a mechanism to make the reveal even more impactful, I thought that some of the character’s believability was abandoned as it felt like Peter was becoming less and less of a character and more of a shell. Now we move on past that ‘necessary contrivance’ and I am both excited and scared to see what happens next.
- Team work. The main characters (aside perhaps, from Broyles) were well juggled and each contributed to solving the case/stopping Newton. It as particularly great to see them thinking on their feet in working out where Newton was planning to strike next.
- Peter’s response. I thought Peter’s response to finding out the truth carried the necessary weight to make it work. I really liked the fact that Peter addressed Walter before letting Olivia know that he knew, though his resentment towards Olivia was obvious beneath his veneer. I loved his confrontation with Walter, and the way he told the story of why he must be from the other side, instead of coming straight out with it. What makes it even more gripping is that in the back of my mind I realised he had no time to prepare what he was going to say to Walter. I also like that his next instinct was to check himself out of hospital and leave. For the first time since he joined Fringe Division, he’s reverted back to type. It was really fitting and Walter’s reaction was a picture of broken-hearted despair.
- I really enjoyed the direction on this episode – it was noticeable for those beautiful wide-shots and the over-the-shoulder positions. Subtle, but it definitely added to my enjoyment in seeing the story unfold through the intimacy and distance of character interactions.
- I have to mention the acting. There were times in this episode when I glimpsed some really incredible moments driven by actors who are in tune with their characters and have the ability to deliver the right amount of weight and emotion to a scene (credit also goes to the directing, writing, etc). I thought Joshua Jackson delivered one of his finest performances on the show to date during Peter’s confrontation with Walter, while Anna Torv’s reaction to Peter finding out the truth had such a believable quality to it. As for John Noble, there are times when you think he must have lived Walter’s life in order to act it out so convincingly. I’m not saying that this was the best acted episode of Fringe I’ve ever seen, but there were moments where I forgot that I was watching a television show and had to remind myself that this is a fictional television show.
- Should be common knowledge. Astrid tells Peter: “Walter’s convinced that Newton wants to build a door to the other side”. Heck, Astrid, I think we were ALL convinced about 8 episodes ago! I find it strange that Astrid would say this as if it was the first time they’d heard about Newton’s objective – clearly Newton tried to build a door in “Jacksonville”, which was a consequence of him getting information from Walter in “Grey Matters”. Surely there was a better way to link Walter trying to remember what he told Newton in Grey Matters with the current threat posed by the Shifters? Perhaps they wanted to catch up casual viewers, but that’s what the “previously on” and Hulu are for.
- Out of Character. Knowing what we know about Olivia’s commitment in the field of battle, and knowing how much Walter loves Peter, there’s no way in hell they’d both get off the bridge and leave Peter to fumble about with the frequencies by himself. Just no way. And that agent was only there to get vaporized. He probably had a family, dammit! Obviously this was done to set up Peter’s realization, but I felt that the character motivations that we’ve come to know and believe were compromised ever so slightly by telling the story in this way. I don’t have major complaints because they did the best they could with the story they decided to tell, I just wish it could have been cleaner.
- The episode seemed to send mixed messages over whether or not the Fringe Team were successful in stopping Newton. We know that the secretary managed to come across (albeit with side affects), but initially the scene with Peter on the bridge seemed to imply (to me) that Walter’s counter frequencies may have been successful in preventing the exchange. I also find it strange that Olivia and the gang failed to notice the secretary when they went to get Peter. Unless I’m missing something (and I might need to watch the episode again) it seems as though a few corners were cut in order to end the episode on a very specific note.
- Ruiners. Perhaps the biggest bad for this episode didn’t come from the episode itself but from the promos for the episode. Personally, I can live without spoilers, but I understand the need to create some buzz to sustain those who do like them. But what FOX did in revealing the fact that Peter would find out the truth in the promos for this episode is what I’d call a “ruiner”. It went beyond foreshadowing and deflated the suspense. Giving away significant plot details before the episode has aired is creative suicide! FOX did great by renewing the series but I really hope they realise that this show largely thrives on the unknown, the mystery and viewer participation. Giving away something that the writers have spent the better part of 2 seasons building towards destroys the integrity of the show, in my opinion, and I doubt it gains more viewers in the long run. The bottom line in all of this is that my experience of the episode was weakened because of the ruiner.
- Where has Peter gone?
- Who is the “Secretary” and why is he here?
- The shape-shifters enter our universe in embryonic form. They have dozens of different amino acids to help them survive in the harsh conditions of our universe. They are initially ‘blank slates’ who acquire human identities to blend in.
- Every so often the two universe’s are in sync with one another.
- Newton doesn’t currently have a shifting device, perhaps explaining why he hasn’t changed identity since we were introduced to him.
- Peter gives us confirmation that his mother is indeed dead, as has been previously hinted in past episodes. She apparently committed suicide 1
year after Walter was sent to St. Claire’smonth after Peter went to Europe. This was the only time during Walter’s incarceration that they had spoken to each other until their reunion in the Pilot episode.
- Walter and Bell used harmonic frequencies to send objects over to the other side. Newton and the his superiors figured out the same thing, waiting for the two universes to be in sync to bring the Secretary across.
- Walter trying to explain to Peter: “We try to understand the mechanisms of life, but inevitably we cant defeat death, no matter how much we really want to” – this may also be nod to the infinity/immortality references which are scattered throughout the series.
- Good to see “gumshoe” living up to her nickname by noticing that the girl’s lipstick was not on the joint, leading them to find another shape-shifter identity. They probably would have found out anyway but it was a nice little piece of detective work from Detective Dunham.
- Question: if they can “jump start” the shape-shifter embryo, why didn’t they try doing that with Evil Charlie and the other shape-shifters that have since passed on to the shape-shifting heaven in the sky?
- Walter took responsibility for killing the 3rd shape-shifter, which was interesting to me because it spoke about the broader act of him putting those “first cracks” in the fabric of the universe. When Broyles asked him whether it was a good idea to puncture the embryo, Walter said it was “harmless enough”. Though the Shifter was under-developed anyway, Walter’s action probably didn’t help. This carelessness (if you will) seemed indicative of the passion which led Walter to cross over to the other universe – his eyes fixed firmly on the immediate objective, but failing to fully recognise the potential consequences. That the Shifters are over here in no small part due to Walter’s past actions also seems somewhat poignant.
- I’m intrigued as to why the under-developed shape-shifter spilled the beans so willingly. I guess it’s because he was under-developed and not as sharp as the others? Although funnily enough he seemed to have greater compassion than his fellows, telling Walter “I’m sorry”. I found this interesting because he looked Walter in the eye, held his hand and then said it with such meaning. The Shifters have always been cordial, but this was actual compassion, regret, sorrow – almost echoing Walter’s own quest for forgiveness. It also seemed as though his programming included knowledge of our Walter, just as the other Shifters had been programmed to recognise their targets. And what did he mean by “sorry” anyway? Two possibilities crossed my mind: 1) he’s sorry for what he thinks will be the eventual destruction of our world, or 2) he’s sorry for failing his mission – perhaps believing that Walter was the “secretary”? You probably know where I’m going with the latter – the possibility that Walternate is the secretary. I’m not sold on the idea (I think there are other viable possibilities), but it’s a possibility nonetheless.
- The Shifters base form somewhat resembles that of Molebaby from “Night of Desirable Objects“. I have to say, I like the idea that they have a ‘blank slate’ – it somehow speaks of their ability to start over from scratch whenever they assume a new identity. Their attitudes very much match that idea – they lack emotional attachment, staying alive is only of value to them because it’s of value to the mission. Evil Charlie may have been a slight exception – or perhaps I wanted him to be. I think I’m eager to see a story emerge where we have a shape-shifter who develops a sense of humanity and overcomes his or her programming. I think that would kick ass, to be honest. Although we’ve seen a glimpse of something similar with the Observers, namely August and September.
- Peter calling Walter “dad” was both natural and unnatural. It was a bit hammy to be honest, but it carried enough resonance to make it emotionally effective. I liked Walter’s response – his happiness that his son finally trusts him enough to call him “dad” over-weighed by the burden of his secret. Oh
story contrivanceuniverse, you do have a funny sense of humor!
- It’s still strange seeing Olivia with glasses on. I wonder whether they made her wear specs in the scene with peter to subliminally enhance the idea that she sees everything much more clearly than Peter does, what with her knowing the truth about him? Probably not, but it crossed my mind somehow.
- Olivia to Peter:
Olivia: “Peter, you know that Walter loves you very much”
- I can’t help but feel Olivia dug another hole for herself with that one. Why even say that? I know she cares about Peter, but seriously, those almost pitying words will surely roll around in Peter’s head and he’ll chalk it up as another moment where Olivia was just too comfortable in keeping the truth from him. Eventually he may come to view it as a well intentioned act – a way to prepare him for the fallout, but she would have been better just advising Peter to talk to Walter, to find time and sit down with him, rather than lying like she did in White Tulip or offering platitudes. Come on Liv, you’re wearing glasses, put yourself in his shoes!
- I found it odd that Newton was seemingly pronounced dead and taken to the coroners without investigation (or attempt to resuscitate) and with his clothes still on. Somewhat of a contrivance, or is that standard procedure?
- It was a bit short-sighted of the bureau to send two police officers to the bridge when Broyles knew that there were two shape-shifters with the ability to assume their identities. Obviously this was done for drama reasons, but Broyles should have ensured that they were better prepared.
- I love how, even under a reign of gun-fire, our team find time for the important things:
Peter “How did you know?”
Olivia “A cop wouldn’t call the Sergeant on his cell phone”
- Haha, that’s why you’re the bestest, Dunham!
- Of course, all of this would have been avoided if only the shape-shifters were better at hiding the bodies of their victims. As maligned as the ‘Charlie fiasco’ was, at least Evil Charlie had the right idea.
- It comes across as though Walter managed to build the original door to the other side relatively easily (possibly because the building process didn’t receive much focus in “Peter”), yet the ‘more advanced’ alternate universe somehow struggle to create a stable portal after all these years, having instead to rely on the two universe’s being in sync and other circumstances just to create an opening. I mean, even our beloved Jones managed to open a gateway. I guess we’re still running with the idea is that the Door is easier to open on our side (since that’s where Walter originally opened it) especially in the case of creating a stable door which causes less adverse side-effects. I guess.
- I thought it was an interesting decision to have Peter realise the truth of his origins without us necessarily witnessing the moment in the way that I expected. While it’s clear that Peter figured out the truth when he didn’t get vaporized, to me it still came across as if the ‘lightbulb’ moment happened off-screen. It’s almost as if the realisation had been pressing down on his mind during his unconscious state, falling into place the second he opened his eyes some 36 hours later. In some ways it was even more effective – having Peter tell the story of what made him realize that he’s from the other side not only condensed exposition but it was also emotionally involving and packed a punch. I also appreciated the duality with the other side narrative clearly being a nod to himself.
- I found it interesting that one of Peter’s first reactions upon realising that he’s from the Other Side was to personalise his mom’s death and almost blame himself (“when I left, the guilt was too much for her to bear”). It’s heavy stuff and it shows us that he still views her as HIS mom even though he’s clearly written himself off as being Walter’s son. This is fascinating to me as there’s now another dynamic to any blame that he places on Walter – in that Walter not only stole him from his real family and caused those cracks in the universe, but his act eventually led to the death of ‘his mom’. Wouldn’t want to be Walter right now!
- I’m also intrigued by the idea that Peter instinctively seems able to forgive Elizabeth despite the fact that she was just as complicit in keeping Peter. He doesn’t yet know just how involved she was in keeping him but his almost innate ‘defence’ of her (if you will) says a lot in my opinion. I can’t wait to see what Walter does here – will he tell Peter that his mom was one of the key motivations for keeping him, or will he destroy Peter’s idealistic image of her, and perhaps his last grip on any semblance of reality? It’s a real test for Walter, and personally speaking, I hope that he does the boy a favour and lets him believe whatever he wants to believe about Mama Bishop. There’s no point in killing Peter’s memory of the only mother he truly knows. It could be argued that this would ANOTHER lie in Walter’s chest of lies, but for me there’s a big difference between this and Walter’s lying to Peter his whole life about his roots. Both are unfavorable consequences, but as Broyles not so long ago said – “there comes a time when the only choices you have are bad ones”. (Damn straight I brought that one back, and I doubt it wont be the last time those words are mentioned on this blog). The key thing for me is that Peter now knows that he’s “not from here”. Granted, I expect him to get further details on how and why he was taken, but he knows now. Im not saying that Walter shouldn’t tell Peter that his mother didn’t want to give him back (I’m sure Peter has figured this out anyway), but almost any face-saving explanation now would come across as though he’s trying to excuse his actions and he cannot for one moment let Peter think that he’s trying to do this. Sorry Walter, but you’re gonna have to suck this one up like a man.
- This got me thinking some more about WHY Peter was so quick to protect his ‘mom’. In my opinion it relates to the idea expressed in “Peter” – that he was closer to his real mom than Walternate, since he gave her his lucky coin, whereas dead Peter (who was seemingly closer to Walter) gave Walter his lucky coin. I have to applaud the writers here, they have not only ripped a family apart and brought them back together, but they’ve ripped them apart again and laid some really potent, intertwined themes in the Bishop family garden. It’s this attention to character detail that definitely enhances my enjoyment of this story. For me it is seriously great writing and foresight.
- And of course, it would be remiss for me not to ask – 1) is Elizabeth REALLY dead and 2) if so, did she REALLY commit suicide, or was there something even more sinister involved? I just feel that there are options open to the writers to make this family drama even more layered.
- It’s interesting how Peter saw Walter’s lie about his mom’s death as Walter’s way of protecting him. Granted, Peter thought this before he found out the truth, but I still wonder whether Peter will eventually see Walter’s secret about him being from the other side in the same light? As much as I don’t think it stands up to much, there is still a case to be made that Walter’s act carried some good intent in that it saved Peter’s life. Although, as I mentioned before, a note on the fridge with the formula addressed to Walternate would have sufficed. He didn’t have to take the boy back with him! Oh, and apparently Peter’s “important”, whatever that means. So Walter has some mitigating, but I can’t blame Peter for feeling cheap, cheated and deeply hurt. And once his heart has healed, I fear for that boy’s head. If Walter and Peter ever needed each other, it’s now. I hope, if the universe is truly the dealer of justice, that something happens to bring them back together. Something not involving death, of course.
- Contrivances aside, I do like how Peter only survived disintegration on the bridge because of something Walter did to him. It’s very similar to the way in which Olivia could only meet Bell, and rescue the people from the building in “Jacksonville”, because of Walter’s part in her clinical trials. They both resent Walter for what he’s done to them, but it’s ironic that what he did to them has empowered them in useful ways that they could never have imagined. I’ve always loved the symmetry – the cause and effect that Fringe taps into, and Peter surviving being torn apart was another great example of this.
- I cannot tell you how much I loved the clenched ‘victory’ hand shake and nod of recognition between Newton and the Secretary. Perhaps it’s because it seems to mark the beginning of a new phase, or maybe it’s because we see Newton give a pronounced smile for the first time (it was really genuine). It really feels as though the ante has been taken up a notch. Like I’ve said before, It’s hard for me to out and out say that the Other Side are the villains in all of this – I’ve never liked to assign ‘good’ and ‘bad’ so easily. What I will say is that both sides have committed foul acts, while it does look as though the alternate universe – or should I say, factions within the alternate universe (possibly led by Alternate Massive Dynamic) are trying to end our days. Whether we will strike back with the same intent is unclear, but given the history of the world it seems likely. What I do like about our Fringe Team is that they appear to represent neutrality. The Dunhamnator will put a cap in a dude’s head, but honestly, she’d rather not. (mercury’s a nightmare to get out in the wash). Team Fringe are trying to get a handle on the madness and fix the problem. But with Peter seemingly going rogue upon realising his allegiance may not lie here, this may soon become more complicated then us vs them. If it wasn’t already. The question of whether blood is thicker than Walter now springs to mind. Yeah, I said it.
- Walter is now offering lessons on how to win friends and influence people – “Are you going to drive me or shall I call a cab”. I know he’s hurting but he brought this on himself. Taking it out on Astrid is poor form.
- Whether or not God actually forgave Walter in White Tulip, the idea that he did is very believable to me. So I find It interesting to consider that the forgiveness of God extends further than that of Peter. True, God has had a lot more time to come to terms with what Walter did, but I’m interested in how this affects Walter – is God’s forgiveness enough to sustain him, or is Peter’s forgiveness more important to him? I guess Walter has to be realistic and remember the value in the possibility that Peter might one day forgive him, even if that possibility is simply fools hope.
The Man From The Other Side was a seminal moment in the Fringe story. Our team has battled the odds before and fought off the ghosts that lurk in their closets, but never before have they been forced apart like this, from the inside. Peter and Walter are both hurting and Olivia is stranded, a knowing part of the toxic secret that has decimated the team. She will blame herself, she will say that she should have gone with her instincts but that she couldn’t afford to lose Peter, just as Walter and Elizabeth couldn’t afford to lose their son again.
If there’s one thing that this show has illustrated it’s that humans can endure a heck of a lot, possibly more than we think. But it has also shown that humans are delicate, brittle, breakable little things. As I once said, the closer our team get – the more their bonds form, the harder it will be, the more it will matter and more greater they will have to risk. My hope is that Peter has time to work things out and that Walter gives him the space to be angry, because that’s his right. There’s no coming back from something like this, things can’t just click back into place like before. But the truth is, it doesn’t have to be like before – they can both grow from this and see each other for who they are today, and not for who they were. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but when was anything worth having easy?
The main regret I have is that Walter didn’t get the chance to tell Peter the truth himself. I always said that he HAD to tell him or it will be more difficult to ever gain Peter’s trust again, and so it goes. On the flip side we may be about to see why Peter is so “special”, and I’m not talking about magic powers or reading people or any of that (rather cool) stuff. But in my book, to have the capacity to forgive someone for something as selfish (and it was) as what Walter did, would make Peter – the man from the other side – very special indeed. Over to you Peter. Peter?..
Good luck Walter, and please, be nice to Astrid, okay?
Best Moment: Peter waking up from his injury and confronting Walter about his origins.
Best Performer: John Noble (honorable mention Joshua Jackson for confrontation scene).
If you enjoyed TMFTOS, you’ll like: “There’s More Than One..” and “Peter”.
Episode Rating: 9/10