This week, Fringe does its own take on Kurt Vonnegut's classic novel Slaughterhouse-Five, but the resulting episode isn't anywhere near as good as Lost's version "The Constant". This is partly because the crux of the episode wasn't Peter (Joshua Jackson) bouncing around in his own timeline Billy Pilgrim-style, as that only happened briefly as a consequence of the story, so instead this episode was perhaps closer to Fringe's own "White Tulip"—a tremendous episode from season 2, likewise concerned with time-travel derived from spousal grief.
Strange time anomalies are happening around the Boston area (cue Fringe's exhausted trope of pinning crime scene locations to a map, to calculate the source). Peter's return might be to blame for cause-and-effect going haywire (a woman's kitchen is instantly gutted by a fire that occurred four years prior), but he has to work alongside Walter (John Noble) if he's going to solve the mystery for Fringe Division. Unfortunately, Walter now wants nothing to do with the man who claims to be a future version of his dead son, erased from their timeline, so the atmosphere in Walter's lab was uncomfortable.
The culprit for the "time displacements" was unusual: Raymond (Stephen Root), the engineer husband of Kate (Romy Rosemont), a professor of physics. In 2011, Raymond's wife's been lost to Alzheimer's disease and she no longer recognizes him, but by building a "time bubble" using her revolutionary research he's able to exist four years in the past for 47-minutes per "jump". It really helped that Root and Rosemont are married in real life, as both made for strong guest stars in this touching tale of a man trying to spend more time with the wife he remembers, in a time when she still remembered him.
Trouble is, as much as I really enjoy this episode, I didn't quite come to love it. Too much felt like an attempt to duplicate "White Tulip" (it even involved another Faraday Cage), and all its obvious influences are much better than this episode. I'd probably have preferred it if the script had chosen to have fun by telling its story in non-chronological order from Peter's POV, which they toyed with for one brilliant scene (Peter "skipping" from the backseat of a moving car to a railroad), but didn't take it very far.
It's still impossible to really dislike this episode, as it was a really strong example of Fringe balancing SF with tender human drama. I was also really convinced by the hurtful ways Walter was choosing to ignore his son (leaving the room, referring to him as "the subject" during an examination, sitting in silence listening to music in headphones), and there are already signs Walter is warming towards Peter because he's clearly impressed by his intelligence. It was also interesting that Peter's started to theorize that this perhaps isn't the universe he disappeared from, so he still needs to find his way home. Is this a "third universe" created by The Observers? Is it possible for Peter get back to his own universe we last saw in season 3, or do you think the "third" universe is just a fancy name for a altered version of the prime universe? If you follow.
Overall, this was definitely a very good episode of Fringe (easily one of the three best this season, too), but the story was spoiled by its own derivative nature, and I was disappointed by how writers Robert Chiapeta and Glen Whitman chose to avoid doing something more interesting and creative with the raw ingredients.
written by Robert Chiappetta & Glen Whitman / directed by Brad Anderson / 11 November 2011 / Fox