“The one thing we know, Dunham: death seems to follow you around.”
– The noir musical version of Broyles

“Brown Betty” aired during a special promotional week at Fox called “Fox Rocks.” The campaign involved inserting musical elements or themes into most of its shows that week. Bones did an episode set at a rock-n-roll fantasy camp. The Simpsons swapped its theme song for Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok,” as seen below:

 

Fringe could have had an easy time of it. The writers and producers could have decided to make an episode similar to “The Equation,”  which tied a young boy’s ability to a piano piece. It’s easy to imagine any number of ways in which a freak-of-the-week could have something to do with music. But instead, the powers that be decided to go all out and transform Fringe into a noir musical, framed as a story told by Walter to Ella. The story is peppered with Easter eggs and references to the show’s mythology, little in-jokes that delight hardcore fans. It’s a bold experiment, one that’s often noted for its weirdness rather than any importance it may have to the show’s overall story. “Brown Betty” is certainly a mythology-light installment, but it tells us some important things about Walter’s state of mind after Peter’s disappearance.

Because the story in “Brown Betty” is told from Walter’s perspective, it gives us a glimpse of his points of view about various other characters. In the story, Olivia is cast as an intrepid, resourceful detective, which reflects the fact that Walter thinks very highly of her. Nina is a villain in the story, and she’s in cahoots with the fictional Walter. That isn’t to say that Walter thinks of Nina as being evil. Rather, he knows that she kept Peter’s true origins a secret for many years as a favour to him, and he’s aware of just how much damage that secret has caused. Most notably, Walter casts himself as a villain in his own story, a reflection of the self-loathing he’s feeling at the moment. He steals dreams from children and even kept a glass heart from Peter to keep himself alive.

Interestingly, the fictional Walter justifies his actions in the story by saying that he has created all the wonderful things in the world: hugs, bubblegum, even singing corpses.

Yeah, that’s just creepy. I don’t know why I included that video. Anyway, it’s interesting that though Walter now understands the consequences of his past experiments with Cortexiphan and universe-hopping, he still uses the story to insist that his intentions were pure. He really believes that he was just trying to help children achieve their full potential and expand the frontiers of scientific knowledge. But he also now knows that what he did was wrong – very, very wrong. And so, in a final display of self-flagellation, he ends the story with Peter leaving Walter to die for his misdeeds.

Ella thinks that’s a crappy ending. After all, stories are supposed to begin with “once upon a time” and end with “happily ever after.” So she retells the ending with Peter splitting the glass heart in two so that both he and Walter can live. Peter and Olivia share a dance, and all is well and good. Well, apart from the fact that that ending includes possibly the lamest deus ex machina ever. But that’s kind of the point. Peter and Walter’s relationship can’t be magically repaired in an instant. To do so would require a deus ex machina, a contrivance that would belittle the emotional heft of their story. Even if Peter does choose to forgive Walter, healing their emotional wounds will take time, and it’s clear from Walter’s story that until that forgiveness comes, he’s going to remain in a state of penitence.

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

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