Welcome to the FB review of Fringe season 2 episode 19 – “Brown Betty“. 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.
Note: In some instances I use the term “Waltercal” (as in Walter/Musical Episode) to help distinguish between the Walter from the musical fairytale and Walter the narrator.
- The tone and feel of the episode was different from what I’ve come to expect from Fringe, but it wasn’t too different. The storyline and themes were explored, if not continued, and the characters resembled their original counterparts. This really helped me to accept the episode for what it was. The integrity of the show also remains intact – I’m not quite sure how, but they pulled it off. Disaster averted.
- There was far less singing than I expected! For whatever reason – possibly because it was described as a “musical episode” – I was expecting almost every scene to be crammed full of song and dance. That was far from being the case, as the songs were interspersed responsibly throughout the narrative.
- I like how the characters were all slightly twisted and heightened versions of who we know them to be. Olivia was still an agent of sorts, Broyles a bossman who knows more than he lets on, Nina an untrustworthy iron maiden with a penchant for Olivia, Peter an enigma with a heart (literally), and Walter a wizard who is both the hero and the villain of the piece. It was a really absorbing interpretation of the world of the show, and informed me on the state of what goes on inside Walter’s mind. If this is how he sees the world, then I need a prescription of whatever he’s taking.
- The episode was a lot more useful than I expected it to be. It was as though the writers used this opportunity to reference previous episodes, while adding some extra brush strokes to the characters, giving us extra insight into who they are, inherently. That’s one of the useful things I’ve found about the alternate universe storyline – that we can see exactly who these people are through multiple dimensions (for example, both Peters being “brave” in the face of death). These constants, though tweaked, slanted or heightened, represent the core of our characters, and I found that this musical interpretation also served as a useful tool in that regard.
- I would still have preferred a normal episode of Fringe. The musical element worked a lot better than I feared it wouldn’t, but the general idea might have served even better as a bonus episode, perhaps for the DVD, than an episode building towards the climatic end of the second season.
- This is probably a bit of an obvious statement considering this was a musical episode, but I thought that the ending – especially Ella’s interpretation – was a bit contrived. I liked the symbolism in Peter splitting the heart in two and all, but as endings go Ella needs to work on hers.
- I know that this is episode represented a heightened interpretation based on a heightened world, but the idea of Walter stealing dreams from children sent my Sappydar sky rocketing. Again, I totally get the parallels to the Cortexiphan/alt. universe storyline, and on some level I very much appreciated them, but like I said, it was a bit too sappy for my taste. “He steals childrens dreams”. How Jackson said that with a straight face, I’ll never know. “and he replaces them with nightmares”. Ok, you can stop now, Peter. “that’s what this is, a pattern of destruction”. Oh heck. “Of damaged kids..shattered innocents”. Enough, already!
- The glass heart thing – as good as I thought the metaphor it was – did get a bit preposterous at times. I mean, if Peter/Walter can survive on Duracell batteries, what do they need the heart for? And wouldn’t they only be half alive if they split it in two? Now I’m no gumshoe, but I suspect Walter might have been engaging in drug activity before imagining this story. Call it a hunch.
WHAT WE LEARNED
This episode served as a useful exploration into how Walter perceives his friends, family and those he comes into contact with. Here are some of my findings based on Walter’s interpretations of these people.
- Olivia believes in love. Great love – in Walter’s opinion. He believes that she is a protector who also needs protecting. He also sees her as someone with hidden desires – “dancing”. He wants Peter to be the one to do the hot shuffle with her.
- Walter believes Massive Dynamic to be an underhand organization, describing them as “a vile firm that never missed an opportunity to exploit the little guy, profiteering off the creativity of others”. Walter is clearly personalising his experience and memories of Massive Dynamic and the way William Bell seemingly shafted him and his ideas, taking them corporate and cutting out his brain pieces while he rotted in St. Claire’s.
- Walter sees himself (or would like to) as a good person – someone has spent his life mending things, bringing joy and happiness to make the world a better place. In context, Walter aspires to be that person – someone who has invented everything that is wondrous in the world. Ultimately though, he also sees himself as being deeply flawed and inherently dangerous. Yet redeemable.
- Walter sees Astrid as being a person with the patience of a saint, and equally caring. Someone who is perhaps too accommodating for her own good (“because that’s just the kind of girl you are”), and someone who doesn’t switch her phone off in a job interview. Tsk.
- Walter sees Broyles as a cool cat with a cool hat. He believes that he knows more than he lets on, but that ultimately he has good intentions and wants to protect ‘all of his agents’ from the even ‘bigger boys’.
- Walter sees September as someone who is wary of letting his emotions interfere with his job. He sees the Observers – at least some of them – as able to be bought.
- Walter believes that Nina is untrustworthy. He seems to think that she has had intimate relations with Bell at some point. Don’t tell Broyles.
- Walter believes that Bell wants to return home.
- Walter doesn’t see Peter as his own son, but has ‘grown to love him as his own’. So much so that his own life is intrinsically linked to Peter’s heart. He fears that Peter will take his heart away and Olivia with him.
- Walter believes that he will die from a broken heart if Peter doesn’t return.
- Did Olivia’s wound from September’s laser gun heal because it was supposed to, or does it allude more to Olivia’s own ability to ‘self protect’? Possibly a bit of both?
- Does Peter really have something inside him that will become important in the future of the show, or should we only take the glass heart as a metaphor for Peter’s importance in the ‘Two Worlds’ storyline?
- Who was September speaking to at the end? What probable outcomes is he perceiving?
- If Rachel dies for real, will Olivia have to babysit more often?
- Elizabeth used to read stories to young Peter. Walter was always too busy
- Walter’s mom used to read to him as a boy. I think this is the first time (or one of the first) that we’ve heard her referenced in the show. Walter was also the victim of bullying.
- They didn’t actually show Walter administering the narcotics – presumably FOX didn’t want to risk being inundated with complaints of how Walter’s a bad role model for kids (Ella didn’t seem to mind). What a funny way to begin the episode, it set the stage perfectly – puff, puff. Don’t do drugz kidz.
- Walter labelling everything in his lab as his way of dealing with his missing son was a very Walterish thing to do. “A well ordered house, is the sign of a well ordered mind”. (episode 2.18).
- I love Astrid being there for Walter in his hour of need. She’s like his little rock of hope:
“It’s important to take control of one’s life”
“Walter, Peter is going to come back. He just needs some time. But he will come back”
- Aww, can we all just give it up for Astrid.
- “Hey Dunham, what could possibly be more important than finding Peter? Oh, you’ve brought the adorable Ella with you. Peter. Peter who?” In all seriousness, it was a bit weird. My feelings about Rachel and her parenting skills have been made known on numerous occasions, so I’m hardly surprised that she’s scooted off to Chi Town and dumped Ella on Olivia. Not only has Peter disappeared (and shouldn’t Rachel care about that, considering their flirting last season?) but Olivia doesn’t get much time off and the last thing she needs is to babysit that bundle of energy. Seriously, Rachel has problems. I guess it’s good to see the writers keeping Rachel in character though, as I had complained about Olivia’s out of character actions over the past couple of episodes.
- I had to LOL at Ella calling Walter “Uncle Walter”. Even funnier was the fact that he didn’t know who the heck she was: “Who’s that?” (asks Walter, some 10 hours later )
“It’s Ella Walter. Rachel’s daughter. Rachel’s Olivia’s sister”. That’s not exactly something Olivia wants to be reminded about too often.
- The funny moments kept coming as Olivia gave Astrid another of her trademark dirty looks when the lab assistant invited Ella to gorge on sweets. Aunt Liv wasn’t too happy with Astrid for a moment or two: “But she’ll ruin her appetite, we’re having Mc Donald’s for dinner!”. What do you mean she didn’t say that?
- Is it just me, or were these opening few minutes some of the funniest we’ve seen on the show? Walter mistakenly thinking that Olivia was asking him to look after Stella, and his explanation that he’s too far into “Phase One” to look after anyone else, tickled me silly.
“Walter just smoked something called “Brown Betty”. LOL at Olivia’s face! Seriously, if we’re going to do musical and possibly animated episodes, we might as well just have an episode containing Olivia’s expressions. They’re killer. Literally.
- Is this like the 3rd or 4th time we’ve seen the Operation game referenced in the show now? This was probably the most effective use of the game as Walter desperately extracts Cavity Sam’s heart by any means possible. (“you’re not supposed to touch the sides”). A clear metaphor for the episode, and the Peter storyline. In fact the episode has several moments like this, another being Walter saying that he never meant for Rachel to get harmed. This ties into Walter’s propensity to ‘unintentionally’ put people in harms way in his restless pursuit to get what he wants.
“all you’ve done is eat all of my snacks and talk about weird stuff”
- What is it with characters in Bad Robot shows? They all seem to take ownership over things that don’t belong to them. If you watch Lost you’ll know what I mean, and Ella is no different. I blame Rachel.
- Good to see continuity – even in Walter’s imagination Olivia likes her drink.
- It looks like the writers have all but quashed any idea of Rachel and Peter getting together:
Ella: “My mom doesn’t love Peter”
- OK writers, I’ll accept this as your house-cleaning on the matter and we can now put that one to bed. So to speak. But what does Ella know, she’s about, what, 3 years old or something.
- Walter’s Wacky World was seemingly set in the 40s with technology from that era, yet it also contained modern technology, such as mobile phones and computers. Somehow this ‘hybrid’ landscape doesn’t seem too out of place from the main worlds of the show, which also feature their own cross-pollination of the old and the new.
- I loved this exchange:
Ella: “That’s not how it goes, she can’t be dead”
Walter: “Why not?”
Astrid: “Probably because it’s her mother, Walter”
Ella: “No, that’s not it..”
- Haha, tell it like it is, Stella!
- While the following from Broyles is in reference to the events in Walter’s mind, I wonder whether it should be applied to the broader story:
“..one thing we both know, Dunham – death seems to follow you around”
- Notice how Olivia absorbs a few seconds before asking Broyles to explain his point. She knows exactly what he means because she’s been thinking the same thing for a while. The line caught my attention because Olivia is so often portrayed as the protector, the bringer of peace (Olivia means Olive Tree in Latin, which is a symbol of peace). So it’s interesting to consider Olivia’s impact on the world around her in a slightly different light – in that, in some way she is also responsible for the bad things that happen. Don’t get me wrong, it’s the kind of ‘responsibility’ that is a direct consequence of the things Walter and William did to her and the other children in those clinical trials. And let’s not forget that Olivia, though strong, is also emotional and takes things to heart – she’s bound to examine her own part in anything that goes wrong (letting Newton escape in exchange for Walter’s life, for instance). For me, this makes sense as I often see Olivia’s journey and The Pattern (or whatever the team are reacting to) as being interwoven.
- The part where Broyles tells Olivia to “leave things to the big boys”. Great line, but I found Olivia’s reaction to be a bit weird. I get that she palmed Broyles off so that she could continue to poke her nose into the case, but it didn’t quite work for me as it deflated the entire scene. Not sure if it came out quite as the writers had intended?
- This story that Walter concocted is really intriguing – as the producers have said, it holds a mirror up to what is going on inside his head. And I found it interesting that, in some ways, the story represented a counter-balance to what actually happened between Walter and Peter. Walter initially presents Peter as being the “bad guy” – the one who stole his heart, when in truth we know that Walter is the one who is the villain, the one who stole Peter from his home. Of course, the episode gradually comes to that truth, but nonetheless I found it telling that Walter would even dare to paint Peter as the antagonist, fairytale or no fairytale. It’s almost as though Walter is so broken up by what he’s done to Peter that he turned the tables around in his mind to reveal that he too has been hurt by what has transpired. After all, his son has deserted him. That has got to hurt underneath all of the the guilt and sorrow. I’m not sure if the writers wanted to get this idea across, or whether it just boils down to the narrative that they chose to unfold the story with, but I found it insightful.
- The singing corpses were great. Walter’s response was better:
“Why not bring a little life to the dead, I say”.
- LOL! And I’ve seen Olivia give this expression on more than one occasion.
- The idea that Walter invented “hugs” is both absurd and tragic at the same time. There’s just something not quite right with someone who claims to have invented the hug, and it speaks volumes for Walter’s sense of loss and his own need to be loved. In fact that’s it. This episode really informed me that Walter wants to be loved. Contrast this with the pre-Reiden lake Walter who was, by all accounts, a “slave driver”.
- For a show that deals heavy with perception, it’s interesting to use Waltercal as a gauge for both how Walter sees himself, and who he aspires to be . The Waltercal character, for me, represented both of these things – throughout the narrative, Walter depicts Waltercal as a crook but also someone who has brought so much good to the world. But clearly a lot of this perceived ‘goodness’ is not a realistic because it is counter-balanced by his deception and the trail of dead bodies that lie in his wake. But it can serve as aspirations for the kind of person Walter wants to become. I just found it really interesting to take Waltercal at face value, but to also see the narrative as describing someone who neither Walter or Waltercal are, but both want to be. For a musical episode that’s a lot of detail, unless, of course, I’m interpreting things that weren’t intended by the writers. Who knows.
- Again, I was intrigued by Walter’s description of the heart – “a power source but capable of many wondrous things”. It’s worth noting that Walter first describes its logical (scientific, if you will) function, before hinting at why it’s really special. “Many wondrous things” is an interesting choice of words because it describes the heart without really describing it. It’s similar to faith, or love, in that sense – how you can understand what it means too have it, but not quite know how to explain it. My next thought was, ‘if the heart is so wondrous, what must it be like to not have one’ – and this is exactly Waltercal’s predicament. Like so many things, we don’t appreciate them until they’re gone. Or maybe we do, but to experience that absence is a whole new reality.
- Now perhaps it’s just me, but there’s something about this quest for a “glass” heart (note: not a real one) that captivates my imagination. It really is fairytale stuff, and within that context lies deep metaphors that are difficult to pin down. Perhaps it’s that the heart is made of glass, therefore illustrating it’s fragility and tendency to shatter quite easily. Or maybe it’s the mirrored quality of humanity replacing organs and tissue with inanimate objects that continue to supersede nature. Or possibly, it’s just the idea of Walter doing almost anything to steal someone else’s heart because his own one was “bad” (this is probably the closest we’ve seen Walter come to saying that he’s a bad person). Whatever it is, this fantastical idea somehow seems so natural.
- On some level, I got the sense that Walter was questioning Peter’s morality through Waltercal. “The heart is priceless, who knows what somebody would pay for it” – the suggestion being that Peter would sell it for a quick buck (like he did with his books). Again, this could just be the cloak and dagger nature of the narrative, but it’s notable that Walter doesn’t shy away from muddying Peter’s root nature. Of course, Walter’s perception is soon transitioned through Waltercal and the events in the episode, but I find it interesting to examine the level of subjectivity in this story. Personally, I’m fascinated by the idea that this story isn’t all sunshine and light, that there ARE things about Peter that Walter doesn’t necessarily like – because that’s more real to me than them hugging it up all the time. These are two men with real issues that they are working through. Yes, they love each other as much as is humanly possible, but within that there are still issues to be resolved and boundaries to be readjusted. This is probably why I disliked Ella’s ending so much – I hope Peter forgives Walter, but if it’s all forgotten in a few episodes or seasons then I’ll call foul.
“I have so much good left to do. If I die I’ll never get to finish any of them. All of my ideas, they will all die with me”
- This echoes Walter’s quest for redemption and his belief in his own good nature. Again, I question the lengths that Waltercal was prepared to go to in order to get ‘his’ heart. What does this say about Walter? Is this lack of regard for the consequences of his actions more descriptive of Past Walter, or does Present Day Walter still have ‘it’ in him?
- Weird how Dunham let a strange man stab her in the chest without even trying to struggle. This isn’t the Liv I know.
“Don’t stick your heart out where it doesn’t belong”
- Interesting, bearing in mind this is coming from the imagination of Walter Bishop. Could this, I wonder, be in reference to Olivia interfering and pressurising Walter to tell Peter the truth about his origins, or is it just a comment on Olivia’s character in general? I guess it works both ways.
- There were a couple of instances throughout the story were Olivia was sarcastic. Which is great, because it implies that normal Olivia has a bit of that in her, which is something I’ve thought for a while – certainly with her facial expressions.
- I’ve mentioned before how Olivia has hardly said two words to Astrid in their entire time working together for Fringe Division. Well, in this episode they had a lot of interaction. Shame it only took place in Never Never Land. D’oh!
- RIP Rachel. You were a mother and a sister. You could boil a pot of pasta, while your child’s brains were being fried by a computer programme, better than any one I have ever seen. You went on numerous excursions which required you to dump your child on hard-working Olivia. You liked Peter and Peter liked you. You both momentarily flirted. Every time I hear Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” I now think of you. Thanks for that Rachel. Not that I listen to “Single Ladies” often, but the video is pretty good. Rachel, your name began with “R”, you and I should have seen eye to eye. You had annoying friends and brought them into our lives. Your child is as bright as a button (are you sure she’s not Olivia’s?), and for that Mother Nature deserves credit. Rachel, you will be sorely missed. This blog will not be the same witho… “Oh crap, what do you mean you only died in Walter’s head?” *sigh*.
- Brandon working at the patent office was a nice touch. I’ve never been blown away by Brandon, to be honest, but I liked him here.
- Nina called September’s weapon the “Quantum Laser”, which surely harks back to the Observer weapons in the normal show. Does this give us a clue as to the nature of his gear? I’ve long considered quantum theory as being a part of their make-up. We’ll see.
- Nina calls the Observers, “the Watchers”, a nice spin on their name which seems more fitting for that era.
- Ella becomes the audience:
Ella: “She was lying..Nina Sharp, she was lying wasn’t she?”
Walter: “What makes you thunk that?”
Ella “I don’t know, I just don’t trust her”
Walter: “Smart girl”
- I suspect, Walter then morphed into the writers, with his: “you’re getting ahead of the narrative, but you’re thinking along the right lines”.
- I didn’t think I’d be saying this, but the episode featured some of the best emotional beats of the season. The scene where Olivia tells Peter that she likes to dance is so splendidly searching and uplifting. Just look at the emotions that slide across her face in the space of about 5 seconds:
“I’d take you though”
“you would? Why’s that?”
“..it seems like it would be fun. You look like a good dancer”
(Olivia melts…before catching herself…and hardens once more. Peter’s almost too good to be true, right, plus she wants to find out if he’s for real).
- The alternate reality in this world that Walter has imagined is, as far as I can tell, computerised. This is illustrated through William Bell being on the Other Side and animated, and with Peter being born with a motorised glass heart.
- It’s amazing how much Olivia softens over the course of the episode. Peter brings out a different side in her – the side of love. *world melts into a puddle of Cortexiphaned goo*
- Peter: “It must be nice to know who you are, to know your place in the world”. Jackson is starting to get inside Peter’s head. The past couple of episodes is the most convincing I’ve seen him for a while.
- The scene were Peter ‘dies’ is like the missing narrative on why Olivia decided to join Walter in burying the truth about Peter’s origins – ‘she has only just discovered him, she can’t afford to lose him now’. Also, a word of Torv’s singing. I thought it was unexpectedly beautiful. The dramatic context and the score definitely contributed, but the performance (and I’m talking about the emotion) was spot on. I know that the idea of singing someone back to life is sappy, but looking past all that it was a really good moment.
- Her reaction once “PETA!” breathed life back into his battery powered lungs was also great. She was so caught up, so invested that she then had to catch herself a little bit and remember that she doesn’t really know this guy – even though she really does in so many ways. Again, maybe it’s me, but I really dug her performance.
- Walter’s rendition of “The Candy Man” was seriously creepy and slightly psychotic. The fact that he saw himself as a ‘candy man’ – was disconcerting considering all the kids he had ‘damaged’. That he continues to recite the song after Peter has walked off with his heart saying “there’s some things you can’t undo”, was also very sad indeed. It was like he was still hanging on to the faint hopes of redemption (‘making the world better’) but knew that he’d die before he even got the chance.
- As I mentioned earlier, I found Ella’s ending to be contrived, but I liked the sentiment – the idea that Walter asked for another chance, saying he could ‘fix the damage’ he’d done, rather than saying he could ‘make up for it’. To me ‘fixing’ something conveys a more genuine intent than ‘making up’ for something. Because you can’t ever make up for stealing a child from his parents. But maybe, just maybe you can fix some of the pain. Maybe there’s not much different there, but to me fixing something seems a lot more sincere.
- I’m slightly perturbed. In my review for the previous episode I said that the true measure of how “special” Peter was, might come down to whether or not he forgives Walter. Then in this episode we see Peter taking his “special heart” and forgiving Walter. Am I scared that I’m tapping into something I shouldn’t be – the Ghost Network, perhaps? Well, this is Fringe and strange coincidences happen, I guess.
- Considering all of this came from the mind of Walter, he is one very perceptive cat. It’s amazing how much he takes in about others and himself. Just something to remember going forward.
- A quick word on Ella. Nice girl. If hear ‘why don’t you tell me a story?’ one more time I’ll scream like a little girl who has had her dreams stolen by Walter Bishop. My point, though, this is this: Ella seems so full of life, so happy and, well, normal. Seeing her like this made me once again wonder what Olivia was like as a child. I imagine she was much more quiet, introverted and weary. Strong, yes, but damaged. I just find the contrast between Ella and my perception of a far more ‘mystical’ Olive worth mentioning, since who knows when we’ll see Ella again. I can’t wait to find out more about Olivia’s past – perhaps in season 3?
Let me just say that I was not expecting to like this episode and I have no reason for talking it up when I am inherently in tune with the mystery and mythology of the show. I have little time for Glee and I’m not crazy about musicals. But I thought that this episode of Fringe was worthy of my time and attention. I enjoyed it. I did not think I’d be writing these words. I didn’t think I’d have much to say except “on to the next one”, but I am actually looking forward to rewatching this episode again at some point.
Perhaps someone put something in my coffee, or maybe it’s the fact that it wasn’t terrible that surprised me. But actually, I think it’s more than that. I think that the humor appealed to me and the narrative didn’t put me out of joint. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how or why something works, it only matters that it worked. (I know, this coming from the guy who has just written a 15,000 word review of the episode, trying to figure out what worked and what didn’t! ).
I have to commend all involved for pulling this one off. No, I wont be signing up to Glee Weekly anytime soon, and no, the episode wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and no, I don’t want to see Fringe become a carousel of TV genres (or Glee’s shoe-shine boy – nothing wrong with shoe-shining, but Glee can do its own in future). But I have been reminded of one thing – ‘open your mind to the impossible’.
Best moment: Olivia ‘fixing’ Peter.
Best performer: John Noble
If you enjoyed “Brown Betty”, you’ll like: “Brown Betty”.
Episode rating: 7.5/10