This article contains spoilers from tonight's Fringe episode, "And Those We've Left Behind." If you haven't seen it yet, be smart and don't read on.
Tonight's episode of Fringe, "And Those We've Left Behind," was a Twilight Zone-ish episode, in that it blended science-fiction with philosophy and asked those impossible-to-answer questions you can spend all night answering: "Can you love a different version of the person you love? Is your love for someone built by the shared experience of your relationship, or the person?" It was old-school, and I loved it.
"And Those We've Left Behind" was a beautifully tragic "mythalone" episode, with a case that mirrored the current problems faced by Peter, Olivia, and Walter. Peter is back, and because we were too busy following shapeshifters last week, we've only now had a chance to see Peter attempt to fit in with the Fringe team from this timeline. And things did not go well. At all.
It's painful to watch Peter constantly be treated as if he just crashed a party. Walter wants nothing to do with Peter because he can't bear to deal with the man who claims to be the grown-up version of the son(s) he lost—he's reverted to a childlike state, and he has no interest in playing with the new boy in class. Olivia is cautious around Peter, just as you would be if a handsome stranger arrived out of nowhere and knew intimate details about you. I know that some Fringe fans out there would rather see the characters in their old shoes (their relationships with each other are one of Fringe's strong points), but I think this new method of reintroducing them is so cool, because it opens up all sorts of ideas that are fun to rattle around the brain.
When two people meet and form a bond or fall in love, their lives are changed forever. From the moment they meet until to the end of their lives, the life they live is entirely unique, different from the life they would have lived if they hadn't ever met each other. We've seen versions of Walter and Olivia who never had adult Peter in their lives, and while they're still recognizable, no one would dispute that they're very different from the Olivia and Walter we saw grow in Seasons 1 through 3.
Now that a man who once had such an impact on their lives has entered the mix, it's fascinatingly uncomfortable. We know, as does Peter, that he's fated to be with Olivia, but this Olivia isn't blessed with copies of the first three season of Fringe on DVD, and doesn't know what she missed. It raises the question of whether this Olivia will ever be able to love Peter the way she once did. Will fate push them together in a different way? Can they rebuild their relationship again by spending time together, as they did in another timeline? Or has the window on their relationship closed, forcing Peter to find his way back "home" to have a chance with Olivia? It's an aching examination of fate, destiny, and other terms we throw around when we meet that special someone we think we're supposed to spend the rest of our lives with. (This obviously applies to Water and Peter's relationship as well.)
While those questions as they relate to Walter, Olivia, and Peter will be answered over the course of the season, Fringe provided a quicker answer in tonight's case-of-the-week. Real-life husband and wife Stephen Root and Romy Rosemont were FANTASTIC (and they had to be to make the story work) in the emotionally charged tale of the nerdiest couple ever, an electrical engineer and a professor of theoretical physics. Engineer Raymond was fuddling around with a machine in his basement that turned the clock back to pre-Obama times, making things that happened four years ago pop up and scare the stuffing out of people. A house and a young girl reverted to their four-years-ago forms, a train popped up out of nowhere and almost crushed four teens on their way to a crappy emo concert (Aluminum Rain used to be great but they suck now), and a tunnel full of commuters slowly began turning into what it was before the last Olympics: the inside of a mountain.
Raymond didn't know he was making other people's lives hell; he thought he was creating a time bubble to set his house back by four years so his wife, Kate, could finish up some important math. It turned out that math was what made the way-back machine tick, and Raymond was giving his wife a chance to finish her work so he could perfect the machine with her numbers. Why was he doing all this? Because Kate, in the present day, is afflicted with early onset Alzheimer's and doesn't even remember who Raymond is. Raymond just wanted to spend some time with his wife when she was healthy and give her the chance to help create a way they for them to go back to the time before a terrible disease took her away. It was sad stuff, and it really packed a punch thanks to great acting and excellent plotting.
You see, we first met Raymond and Kate during one of those four-years-ago moments, when things were great (the content look on Root's face was priceless); it was only later that we saw the brilliant Kate taken from Raymond as time reset to the present. He was holding onto the past so tightly that he was willing to do anything to get it back, because his new reality was one in which the woman he loved didn't even recognize him. Does that scenario sound familiar?
I tried to put myself in both Raymond's and Peter's shoes, and it wasn't pretty. Would I try to make this "new" person love me again? Would I try to figure out a way to go back to the "old" person and revive that love? Would I crumple to the ground and scream, "Why me!?" Yes, yes, and definitely yes.
Those questions still remain, but Fringe offered one bittersweet outcome in its resolution of the Raymond and Kate story. Raymond eventually showed Kate the machine and told her what he was doing, but he didn't know that his effort to keep them together was hurting others. Kate understood the negative side effects of her work, and realized she couldn't continue with it. Raymond asked her to finish it anyway, so that he could rebuild the machine in a remote area were others wouldn't be effected, but in the end, Kate erased everything and left Raymond a note telling him that the best way for him to love her was to move on. It was so tragically heartbreaking yet so filled with love, one of those endings that sticks to the inside of your soul.
With its themes of love and loss and sweet time jumps, "And Those We've Left Behind" was Fringe's version of Lost's "The Constant," considered by many to be that series' finest. But the love story between Peter and Olivia is still very far from being over, and as the new Olivia begins to understand just how important she was to this strange man who popped out of time, I get the feeling that Peter and Olivia might avoid the same fate as Raymond and Kate if destiny can just give them a little nudge. An excellent episode of Fringe, and one that should stay with fans for some time.
Notes from the Other Side
– How awesome was it when Olivia and Peter connected at the end of the episode, when she asked him about the other version of herself and admitted that she can tell how much he cared about her from the way he looked at her when he thought she wasn't looking? Their Season 4 relationship between may be frustrating for some, but it's these big payoffs from such small things that make it so worth it. This is what I expected from the Fringe writing team when they steered the show in this direction, and they're delivering. Ditto for Walter's reluctant praise of Peter.
– It seems like the writers are still struggling to find a place for Lincoln in all this. He was the star of the season premiere, but hasn't really progressed since then. I figured the show would make him an obstacle between Peter and Olivia, but so far he's just a co-worker.
– Walter, while looking for his rubber cement: "I think it's in my Spider-Man fanny pack."
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom