One of the problems threatening Fringe's fifth season is a missing sense of purpose beyond saving the world. Don't get me wrong, saving the world is right up there with other important things, like building the perfect jelly donut that will last decades, but we want to see some overall theme emerge in Fringe's final episodes, before the door shuts on the series for good. Another problem of Season 5 is the elaborate scavenger hunt staged by pre-Observer-Invasion Walter, the details of which are purposely being kept from us through the convenience of 10 feet of hardened amber.
One of these problems took a step toward solving itself, and another dug its feet in for the long haul in "Through the Looking Glass and What Walter Found There," a lengthily titled aside from the momentum that was built up in the previous two (excellent) episodes. "TTLGAWWFT" (not typing it out again, sorry) featured some interesting concepts that didn't quite reach their potential because of forced storytelling, but it also had a badass fight with an Observer—so let's not be too upset.
A quick survey of various messageboards and TV.com's own user reviews revealed that a lot of you really thought this episode was the jam, and I'm completely okay with that. The concept was neat: Walter hid a clue in a "pocket universe," an alternate universe that existed between other universes and could only be accessed by line-dancing or Hokey Pokey-ing or Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks-ing your way into it. In this tiny universe, the rules of physics were bent almost to the breaking point, with up sometimes being backwards and down being a tuna-fish sandwich. It was the Fringe crew walking into its own M.C. Escher painting, and I'm glad we got to see it before the series ended.
But what wasn't great was the road they took to get there. I'm still trying to understand why Walter watched the tape by himself and felt compelled to follow its instructions to an old apartment building without backup. Yes, we found out later that Walter's mind has been reverting to its pre-lobotomy state, and that Walter was much more prone to flights of fancy fueled by hubris—but the show didn't establish enough beforehand to make it seem like anything but a stupid thing for Walter to do. When Walter was headed to the apartment building, he seemed sheepish, not confident. It looks like we're in a situation where the writers can pick and choose their Walter moments based on whatever serves the story better, and that's never good for season-long structure as it gives them too many doors to just jump through on a whim.
Walter's lone-wolf mission enabled Peter, Olivia, and Astrid to retrace his steps (quite literally) to find him, resulting in a large portion of the episode moving sloooooooowly as people walked through the same space twice. The episode played the long game of unraveling the mystery, which can work, but it was so obviously playing the long game that it touched on being tedious. Add to that the introduction of redshirt character Cecil, a lifeless man whose most interesting characteristic was that he hoarded half a glass of water, and we had an episode that was stretched so thin it was almost see-through. Let's put it another way: If the entire team had watched the tape together and headed over to the building together, would the episode have ended much differently?
That's why it wasn't until Peter and Olivia (Astrid didn't pass through the portal to the pocket universe because Astrid doesn't get to have any fun) met up with Walter in the pocket universe, more than halfway through the episode, that things picked up and moved beyond repeated sequences of walking through hallways in this strange dimension, like an episode of The West Wing set in a funhouse. The rules of the universe had some really cool wrinkles, like Walter's camcorder only showing footage in whichever universe it was recorded in and the doors of the building marked with the Fringe glyphs, but there were missed opportunities to show off more of that Fringe ingenuity on a budget that the show is famous for.
There was another callback to the Fringe of past when we learned that the object hidden in the building was the empathic boy from the episode "Inner Child," who we now know was an Observer. The writers seem to be going the extra mile to serve long-time fans with scoopfuls of the old Fringe, but I'm still waiting for Walter to go into his basement full of Fringe artifacts and throw some parasitic slugs at Observers. Now I'm wondering if the team will go back into the basement at all.
The boy ended up not being in the apartment building, and the team theorized that he'd been moved by Walter's mysterious friend Donald, the identity of whom will not be unveiled until the writers think it's appropriate, apparently. Between Walter's mystery plan and Walter's mysterious friend, there's a lot of mystery being withheld. Instead of the boy in the room, Olivia found a radio that was intentionally set to a certain frequency by whoever took the boy, or so the group surmised. But it was out of batteries, or it didn't work in that universe, and when Olivia tried it out back in the plain old boring regular physics universe, nothing was coming through because it wasn't being transmitted yet. This is another blank that will be filled in when the writers think it's time. This plan, these objects, these mysteries... they're all starting to worry me. I'm going to stick with it, Fringe, but you better make it worthwhile.
The coolest part of the episode by far was THE PETERVER showing off his new fighting moves. Pitted against a particularly skilled Oberver in hand-to-hand combat, we saw Peter learn with every punch thrown and taken, until he imitated Reptile from Mortal Kombat with a down-back-high punch combo and Peter pe-teleported behind the Observer, a perfect spot to snap the Observer's neck. Sweeeeeeeet! Modest Peter didn't tell Olivia about his new skill set (I would be challenging anyone who dared to look at me to a fight), opting to lie about it instead. Oh sure, that won't come back to haunt you, Peter.
With the Observer boy gone, a radio grabbed, and Cecil shot dead by Observers (oh yeah, Cecil got shot by an Observer), the episode ended with Walter having a chat with Peter about how he is turning back into the combative, selfish old Walter now that his brain has been reassembled like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces forced into spots they don't belong in. Between this and Peter's new identity as THE PETERVER, the season takes a turn toward highlighting regression and change between the characters. These characters all started off going in bad directions before coming together over the course of the series, and now we're seeing hints that they may be splitting apart again. It's not the strongest of themes the show has thrown at us, but it's something to keep an eye out for in future episodes that's more interesting than chasing VHS tapes.
"Through the Looking Glass and What Walter Found There" had the markings of a great episode and some good individual moments, but in the end, it didn't provide much sense of accomplishment. We followed the team on a hunt for more strange objects that currently mean nothing to us, putting a lot of pressure on the rest of the season to deliver a big ending and give purpose to all these treasure hunts.
– Actually, cooler than Peter's fight with the Observer was Olivia's move to shoot a different Observer. Stuck just outside the portal to the normal universe with a gun that didn't work, she yanked the Observer through the portal and waited to shoot him dead until they were all the way through and her gun worked. One of her best moves in the entire series!
– I liked Etta as Halo's Cortana hologram! I guess that makes Peter Master Chief? Yes, as soon as I get this review posted I'm going to get my butt kicked in some Halo 4.
– Hey! Why didn't Peter, Walter, Olivia, and Astrid all sit next to each other on the train? There were plenty of empty seats. Gosh!