I had to go back and watch the season finale of "Fringe" a second time to make sense of what I'd seen. I was hoping that upon second viewing of "The Day We Died", I'd find something in the first 30 minutes of the episode that connected the brilliant character study to the confusing final 10 minutes, but that's not the case. The episode really plays out as an incredibly strong, set in the future episode of "Fringe", with an epilogue that rapidly ties up many of the loose ends of Season 3 while establishing a baffling new status quo for Season 4.
After seeing last week's previews for this episode, I was worried that this was going to be similar to the penultimate episode of "No Ordinary Family", with Peter bouncing back between the future and the present, trying to fix things, but that wasn't the case at all. Aside from a little initial confusion, Peter settles into the role of "Future Peter" as if there's no connection to him using the machine 15 years prior.
The scenes that play out in the future are among the best we've had from "Fringe", particularly the relationship development between Peter and Olivia -- and their debate on the morality of bringing a child into a doomed world, a world they're partially responsible for dooming. Nothing tops the emotional moment where Peter tells Walter, now incarcerated for his universe-destroying experiments, that no matter the mistakes Walter's made, Peter considers THIS Walter, and not Walternate, his father.
Meanwhile, Walternate is now also living in "our" universe, fronting a terrorist group while plotting more specifically against Peter for the destruction of his universe. That plot results in the killing of Olivia, leading to a touching funeral scene. While the shooting of Olivia was a bit of a "holy crap" moment, the emotional impact is lessened by knowing that this future won't stick.
It's after the funeral -- and a couple emotional aftermath scenes -- that the episode starts making the kind of sense that doesn't. Walter talks with a now-grown Ella (Olivia's niece) about wanting to go back and make different choices, leading him to have some kind of epiphany. See, there's this wormhole in Central Park that leads back 250 million years in the past, and Walter figures out that "The First People" -- the ones who built The Machine -- are actually Walter and crew, and they can still go back and make "different choices".
Peter asks why, if they put the machine there in the first place, they can't just NOT put the machine there this time, avoiding any universe destruction, and Walter goes into a lame time paradox explanation. See, they've ALREADY done it, so they can't NOT do it. Which, again, makes no sense. I accept a lot of stretches from this show, but this was a little too much.
Peter decides to go along with Walter's insane plan, and we cut back to the present, where Peter uses the machine to tear holes in both universes inside the room where the machine is stored, so Walter, Olivia, Walternate and Fauxlivia can all work together to save both universes. And as he's explaining this to the two Walters, Peter just vanishes.
Of course, this causes everyone to immediately freak out and... no, wait, everyone just continues talking to each other without acknowledging what just happened, and outside, The Observers explain that Peter, having fulfilled his purpose, has been erased from existence and no one remembers him.
OK, that last part, I LOVED, because it's just so insane. It also makes some sense that if any of the key characters were to vanish it'd be Peter, because he is the only one who doesn't have an alternate universe double. But the stuff that preceded it with the time travel paradox and the explanation of The First People was a huge letdown. On some level, I should have expected it, because on this show there is no major plot point that is allowed to revolve around anyone but Peter, Olivia and Walter, but this was a little much. They planted the seeds to save the universe 250 million years in the past so they could be the ones to eventually save the universe? C'mon, man.
I do remember there being rumors about Joshua Jackson being ready to leave "Fringe" after last season, but even with Peter's vanishing/erasing, I don't feel like his character arc is close to complete. Knowing that, or at least feeling that way, lessens the impact of the final moments of the episode, which is unfortunate, because it was an "out of nowhere" moment.
Overall, I think the episode would have been better served by balancing the future and present a little more evenly, or at least giving more time to Walter figuring things out, rather than giving us some barely explained time paradox "making different decisions" BS. Still, it was a good watch and a good setup for a Season 4 that we know is coming, Peter or not.
For more coverage of the 2010-11 television season, visit the AdamReisinger.com TV Reviews home page.