In our Twitter-driven, micro-blogging world, we're always so quick to declare the latest version of something the "best ever" without ever really thinking about what came before.
However, that is not the case here. Understand that I am coming from a place of full perspective when I say that Thursday night's episode of "Fringe" - "Peter" - was the best episode ever, and isn't likely to be topped any time soon.
Remember, when we last left "Fringe", Olivia had discovered that Peter was from the other dimension, a theory that many had held since the early in the first season and was finally confirmed. Instead of this episode spending 40 minutes with the fall out of that, the episode spent most of its time in flashback mode, showing Dr. Walter Bishop in 1985, dealing with the death of his son Peter from a genetic disorder and how Walter dealt with that.
As it turns out, at the time, Walter was working with William Bell, and they'd developed a window to an alternate dimension. Through this window, they were able to see all kinds of advanced technology, including an alternate version of Dr. Bishop, who was on the verge of discovering a cure for his son's disorder. Only, as it happens, in "our" universe, Peter died before the alternate Dr. Bishop found the cure.
Despite Peter's death, Walter kept watching the other Dr. Bishop. He happened to be watching as one of the compounds actually worked. Only, at this moment, the other Dr. Bishop wasn't looking at his work, because The Observer was in the room to observe the cure being created. As he explained to the other observers, it was an important moment, and being in the room was the only way to observe, but by being in the room, he changed the path of the future.
Our Walter, having witnessed the compound briefly work, became obsessed with going over to the other side and curing Peter. He reproduced the compound and explained to his lab assistant what he was going to do. As it turns out, she was a religious person (which bothered Walter as a scientist), and was convinced that Walter breaking down the barriers between universes would destroy both worlds.
"I am become Death, destroyer of worlds," she said to him. Walter responded angrily "Don't you quote Oppenheimer at me," referring to the famous quote by J. Robert Oppenheimer when he first saw the atomic bomb.
Walter originally only planned to go to the other side to administer the cure, but he was confronted by his lab assistant and Nina Sharp. Nina tried to stop him from going through to the other side, but he made it through, and Nina's arm was caught in the portal (causing it to end up in some weird in-between phase and explaining why she eventually needed her robotic replacement). In the scuffle, Walter broke the vial of the cure, and had to take Peter with him, so he could administer the cure back in our universe. When they got back, they fell through the ice at the Bishop's lake house, resulting in the events that have previously been described by The Observer (he pulls them out of the ice, tells Walter that Peter is important, etc.).
Back at Walter's lab, he finishes administering the cure, when his wife arrives. Walter explains what happened, and tells her that he has to bring Peter back.
This is where the flashback ends, and we cut back to Walter in 2010 explaining the whole thing to Olivia. I'm not going to even try and quote the scene between them (really, just Walter talking to Olivia, because she doesn't say anything the entire time), because it's just haunting.
Now, "Fringe" hasn't had much mainstream success and has been on the verge of cancellation all season, but this is the kind of episode that SHOULD turn all that around. This episode, despite leaning heavily on the science fiction of the show to advance the plot, was NOT a sci-fi story. It was a family story, and John Noble owned it. He may have actually done enough to at least earn an Emmy nomination if not a win come August.
We've seen so much of "confused, post-trauma" Walter in these two seasons, and this season we've started to see a glimpse of the real Walter, but in this episode we got to see what he was really like, before all of this happened. It was great, because he was driven and he was mentally stable, but in many ways he was like the Walter we know now. He was obsessively devoted to his son, and he had a child-like fascination with all the possibilities this other dimension held. Noble did a great job balancing the character elements we've come to expect from Walter with an individual 25 years removed from what we've seen.
For an episode titled "Peter", it was strange not to see Joshua Jackson at all, but this episode wasn't the place for his story. No, that will come later, and if this week's episode is any indication, the writers will do a masterful job handling the characters' emotions when the truth is finally revealed to Peter.