Friday, April 16, 2010

Fringe “White Tulip” Recap & Review: Paradox and Playing God

Photo from Fox

Yet again, Fringe (Fox) proves it is one of the best shows on television these days with the amazing episode "White Tulip.” Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble) gets forgiveness in the form of a sign – a specific sign from "God" that he had long hoped for. If you are not already watching Fringe, you should be, if not for the compelling stories, for the outstanding acting from John Noble. If you don’t get choked up at the end, you may not be human.

This is an episode that deals with time travel, and while every television show or movie can fall into predictable patterns when dealing with this topic, “White Tulip” still delivers the suspense. In this case, astrophysicist Alistair Peck (Peter Weller) is moving through time, seemingly to save his fiancée who was killed in a car crash. The Fringe team gets sucked in to the case when Peck’s time travel methods causes the death of innocent bystanders – and they get sucked in more than once - after all, we’re talking time travel here. The episode did leave me with a question, though. In moving back through time, even though, at the end, Peck dies with his fiancée – is it the Peck of the past or the Peck of 10 months later? As with any story about time travel, the concept of who you are can get confused with “when’ you are. If Peck came there from 10 months in the future to be in the car with his fiancée when she was killed, where was the original Peck from the time in which he arrived? If he killed himself in the past AND also in the future, how could the drawing of the white tulip come to be if he never lived to draw it? (Paradoxes, they can make your head hurt and spin you around until you don’t know which end is up.)

It also seems that Walter now is back to thinking that he can’t tell Peter who he really is. My guess is that this will eventually come out – but at a later date in a later story and likely not the way Walter OR Olivia will want it to come out.

Here’s what happened in this episode:
Oddly, this was a Fringe case that never really was a case at all, as with any story about time travel, sometimes changing the past means changing the present. It seems that astrophysicist Alistair Peck (Peter Weller) has mastered time travel, but at some expense. It seems that when he moves through time, he literally drains all the energy from everything – killing everything nearby - when he arrives back in time. This means cell phones, lights, and even energy form people. When he appears on a train and kills all the passengers in the train car when he arrives, the Fringe team is called in. When Peter (Joshua Jackson) makes the call to Walter telling him about the deaths, telling Walter he will be picking him up, Walter is writing a letter to Peter telling him everything about who Peter really is.

With some help from security cameras, they quickly identify Peck and find the location where he is working and, as they confront him, Walter notices Peck has what Walter calls a Farraday Mesh on his arms, which is a shield to create a temporal pocket around his body. While Walter comments in amazement, Peck’s image seems to jump and blur, and he suddenly jumps out of that time and back on the train in the "past." The young panhandler who Peck ran into as he exited the train the first time is there again, and Peck apologizes for the kind having to go through this – again.

The Fringe team is called back, of course to them, this is the first time they got the call. But things are slightly different this time, and they find that Peck apologized for the panhandler having to go through it “again.” This time, they identify Peck through a fingerprint. Walter also realizes Peck is time travelling, and that they may have already apprehended Peck many times before.

Their investigation leads them to MIT, when Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) and Peter meet with Carol Bryce, who explains Peck was obsessed with time travel and gives them some of Peck’s manuscripts which she admits are over her head and “gobbledygook.” Olivia isn’t concerned as they have someone fluent in gobbledygook (Walter, of course!). They also find that Peck had a fiancée, Arlette.

Back at the lab, after Walter reads all the manuscripts, he knows that Peck is time travelling and they realize he is trying to go back in time to save his fiancée Arlette who was killed in a car accident. Walter comments that "Grief can drive people to extraordinary lengths." (He should know.) Walter is very worried became for Peck to travel 10 months back in time to save Arlette, it will consume a great amount of energy and many people could be killed in the process.

Again they track down Peck, but this time, Walter convinces Broyles (Lance Reddick) to let him talk to Peck alone (Walter wearing a wire of course) because Walter thinks he can talk Peck out of it. Walter knows all too well what the grief over the loss of someone you love can do. He makes every attempt to get through to Peck, and finally unplugs the wire so the team can’t hear him tell Peck that Peck made an error in his calculations and then tells him how to fix it. He also explains about what happened with Peter and the consequences of taking a son from another universe that does not belong to him. But Peck has it all planned so that no one will die – he will go back in time to an open field where he was watching a hot air balloon, where no one else was present so no one will be killed. Walter tries to explain the other unintended consequences of Peck’s actions, but Peck seems unmoved. When Walter tells Peck that when he took Peter he realized he betrayed God and everything that has happened to him since is his punishment. Walter goes on to say he asked God for a sign that God forgives him forgiven – in the form of a white tulip. When Peck comments they don't grow this time of year, Walter responds that God can make it happen, and if God can forgive him, maybe Peter can, too. But Peck retorts that “ God is science."

Meanwhile, as the team hasn’t been able to hear what Walter is telling Peck, Broyles orders the SWAT team in. Walter tries to convince Peck that there will be consequences and he won't be able to look at Arlette the same way, adding he is a cautionary tale. But as SWAT comes in and pulls Walter away, Peck shakes and shimmers and makes his jump out of that time.

The next time we see Peck, he is back in his lab, rushing to finish his calculations while several dead bodies lay outside the lab, with police calling for backup. Walter and the team are back in the lab, with Astrid (Jasika Nicole) finding that Arlette’s cell phone is still active, and they get a call from Broyles telling them that Peck is back and that they must take him down this time. When they arrive, Peck is still in his lab, writing something, and then addresses an envelope to Carol Bryce at MIT. Peck suddenly sees the red dot of the gun’s laser sight on his face in a reflection, and ducks just in time to avoid a sniper. He makes a time jump to the open field he told Walter about, a circle of dead grass all around him and the hot air balloon hovering above. He frantically races to catch up with Arlette, who is now getting into her car. He sits in the passenger seat and takes her hand, saying he loves her. A truck which is coming directly at the driver’s side of the car crashes into them at a high rate of speed, and both are certainly killed.

At the “present” at MIT, Carol Bryce opens a file cabinet and pulls out the envelope and memo Peck wrote when we last saw him. It includes an envelope addressed to Walter, with a note that it should be delivered on a specific date – that day. It seems Peck wrote it the day he died – a year ago – and with instructions to deliver it on that specific date.

Back at home, Walter is (again) finishing his letter to Peter, and after sealing it, he throws it in the fire and watches it burn. Peter doesn’t call with any information about deaths at the train station; this time he walks in and tells Walter he brought him a gift to cheer him up – a turntable for his records. Walter admits he had a decision weighing on him, but now he's fine. As Peter heads off to apparently take a snooze, Walter hears the mail drop through the mail slot, and is intrigued when he finds an envelope addressed to him with no return address. He opens it to find a drawing of a while tulip – Walter’s sign of forgiveness from “God.” Walter stands in thought as we fade to black.

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Angie said...

I think the past-Alistair was killed when present-Alistair jumped back (because past-Alistair was standing in the hot-air-balloon field and would have been drained of the energy). The note was, I think, with present-Alistair in the car. My guess is the police found it in his jacket in the aftermath of the accident and delivered it to his friend at MIT. Does that make sense? I can't tell!

I Like to Watch TV said...

Angie, that is a good point, the Alistair in the past would have been killed when the Alistair from the future arrived...but... if the Alistair from the past was killed in the balloon field, then there would be no future Alistair to come back in time....OK my head is spinning again! Paradoxes make me crazy!!!

Anonymous said...

Great episode except for the part where they didn't explain what happened to the two Alistairs. One thing that we need to take note is the main plot of this episode take us from the viewpoint of Alistair.

I believe the one that died in the car with Arlette is Alistair from the future (present). There are at least two explanations or probabilities here (and perhaps more?)...

1. Alistair in the past is still alive and i hope they will explain it in future episodes. Otherwise if both died, then like "I Like to Watch TV" said, there will be no Alistair coming back from the future (present) or creating a "time machine". Perhaps the past Alistair went for hiding after discovering that another version of himself get killed in the accident with Arlette.

2. If both were killed in the past (one getting killed at the field and the other at the accident) then there would be two dead bodies discovered. That situation by itself will become an interesting case for the FRINGE team to investigate (of course in the past)...

3. In each jump, Alistair creates a different branch of time lines with different outcomes and scenarios that will keep going on by itself. Thus each time lines wont be affecting one another. Meaning that Arlette will be still dead on the original time line.