“There has to be a line somewhere. There has to be a line we can’t cross.”
– Carla Warren

“Peter” is Fringe’s first flashback episode, a deeper examination of the events that led Walter to kidnap Peter from the alternate universe. We learn that Walter did what he did not out of selfishness, but out of a desire to save his biological son’s doppelganger’s life.

To save the alternate-universe Peter’s life, Walter must cross over to the Other Side, risking the integrity of the fabric of the universe in the process. His assistant, Carla Warren, warns him against it, but Walter does it anyway. He crosses the line that Carla speaks of, both metaphorically and physically, by crossing over into the other universe.

So much has been written about the ethics of what Walter did and the ripple effects that it had that I don’t feel as if I can add anything substantial in that vein. However, there’s a curious part of the episode that invites further analysis, and it has to do with the Observers. In this episode, they state that Peter is important, and his life must be saved.

In at least one review of the show, I have commented about the fallibility of the Observers. Despite their ostensible omniscience, they occasionally make mistakes. We’ve seen that with August, who let his feelings interfere with the natural course of events. September’s screw-up in this episode is considerably simpler. Not realizing that Walternate is on the verge of synthesizing a cure for his son’s illness, September has a conversation with Walternate, which distracts the scientist long enough for him to miss the positive result.

However, September, like the other Observers, knows that Peter is important. September’s mistake must be corrected. But how? The Observers apparently don’t have the same kind of scientific know-how that the Walters have, so they wouldn’t be able to synthesize the cure themselves. But before they can intervene, Our Walter has already crossed over to the Other Side to deliver the cure to Peter.

Still, the question remains: what would the Observers have done had Walter not acted first? How would they have saved Peter’s life? They cannot cheat death, so they would have had to act through someone else. Would they have encouraged Our Walter to cross over with the cure? Then, wouldn’t the Observers be responsible for the tears in the fabric of the universes?

Of course, the Observers don’t face the same kind of responsibilities that regular people do. They operate largely outside the law, free from the scrutiny of a higher power. If one of them screws up, then one of the others can fix it, but if they all screw up, then there’s no one to clean up their mess. If they had encouraged Walter to cross over, then no one would be shouldering the responsibility for saving the universes.

Obviously, this is all moot, because Walter acted before the Observers had to intervene. Walter brought Peter back Over Here, and all September had to do was save them from drowning in the icy depths of Reiden Lake. It’s fun to speculate about what could have happened, especially since the Observers are such a mystery, but despite fulfilling their plans, Walter must shoulder the blame for his kidnapping of Peter and the ripple effects it caused alone.

For more information on the Fringe rewatch project, please click here.

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