The writers of Fringe are now extremely well-versed in their subject. Visible maturity and familiarity, coupled with their high level of skill, has resulted in the quality of episode stepping up a notch in recent weeks. ‘White Tulip’ is a fabulous example of this. Given the subject matter (time loop) and the need to include some driving force regarding Walter’s current arc, this could have been a mess. But it’s played out with great panache and seems wonderfully well thought-out (on immediate viewing) such that in my opinion it may be the finest Fringe episode yet (though I do have a penchant for anything time-travel).
We meet Robocop (Peter Weller – clearly the writers remembered his starring role too with a nod to it here –detailed later) as he appears on a commuter train in a flash. Unfortunately, his arrival results in the death of each and every passenger in that carriage. Enter Fringe division. The investigation leads them to the house of Robocop, who turns out to be an ex-Professor of Astrophysics at MIT. The living areas are painted with equations, documents and equipment are dotted all over and in no time at all Walter - with an admission that he understands nowhere near all of what he can see - does postulate the Professor’s discovered time-travel. Of course, this isn’t realised until after the Professor has come to his house and is attempting to jump away. To make a jump possible he has had to insert various metallic objects into his body (Robocop!) – creating a Faraday Mesh – as this allows the generation of a temporal pocket around his body. He can bend time meaning where he is now is adjacent to the past. Only problem is, this jump requires enormous energy; something absorbed from all sources at his landing point, i.e. the train carriage. After this jump we are back where we began ready to start version two of this investigation.
I’ve mentioned before how much Fringe reminds me of The X-Files, and this is no bad thing. This episode reminded me immediately of ‘Monday’, where Mulder & Scully were caught in a time-loop during a bank robbery. Of course, Groundhog Day could have played out in my head just as easily. The writers in this instance show they’re adept at managing such a difficult concept, allowing the passage of time to play out differently over multiple run-throughs until we are able to witness the centre-point of the episode, whereby Walter tries to talk the Professor out of his ultimate goal – a 10 month jump to change history for the better (in his eyes). Specifically, he wants to save his fiancée from her accidental death. Walter is aware of the effect of changing things. He’s done it himself, bringing the alternate Peter into our world. The point is clear – do this and you will have to live with the consequences, whatever they are. Walter has never seen a sign of forgiveness from God for changing reality 20 years ago. He’s never seen the ‘White Tulip’ he desires, and has had to live with his actions for all that time.
The Professor did jump; of course, once Walter had corrected his equations to allow him to go so far back (that man is a true genius). He finds his fiancée before she dies. But then they are both killed. When watching this episode the ending felt just right given all that had come before with Walter’s warning and the like. However, in hindsight and with detailed reflection it doesn’t gel as well as I suggested earlier. The timeline has changed. I wouldn’t have expected it to. The Professor who dies with his fiancée is the one who existed 10 months from then. The one who is from that point in time is in a field somewhere. Yet we see an epilogue whereby his death is talked about. So the future-Professor jumped and became the present-Professor? Or we just ignored the second instance of the Professor? It doesn’t fit from a time-travel POV but in the moment it didn’t detract one iota from this episode which delivered across the board. One final thing – before he died, but after the jump, the Professor drew a white tulip and ensured it would reach Walter one day. Walter has never met the Professor, nor has any recollection of his telling him about the flower as it never happened in his timeline. The entanglement of this with the episode’s one-off plot was masterful and impresses upon the viewer the sheer brilliance of Fringe right now. This white tulip from the Professor is Walter’s sign of forgiveness. Now he can tell Peter. Everything.