“The rancher and farmhand are confirmed missing, along with their entire herd of sheep.”
– Broyles

If you ever really stop to listen to the dialogue on Fringe, you can have a great time taking it out of context. A lot of crazy things happen on the show, and the audience is expected to take them seriously. (Fun drinking game: take a big ol’ gulp of your favourite alcoholic beverage every time someone says, “I know this sounds crazy, but…” You won’t make it through the night.) However, Fringe has crafted a world in which ludicrous events have serious consequences, and paranormal phenomena are examined on a philosophical level. Take the alternate dimension, for example. It’s not just a vehicle for wacky alternate-universe hijinks (though the show does indulge in that with fun details like Springsteen Station or the twelfth season of The West Wing). Over There is a fully realized world, one that feels just as real as our own, and though its main narrative purpose is to answer, “What would we be like under a slightly different set of circumstances?”, its destruction would nonetheless be devastating for the audience to witness.

So, when Broyles tells our Fringe team that an entire herd of sheep, you can laugh at the mental image of a whole flock vanishing into thin air (“Baa!”), but then you stop to think: those sheep disappeared through a rift in the space-time continuum. Our universe is falling apart at the seams, and the only way to prevent its destruction is for Peter to get inside the Machine and destroy the Other Side, once and for all. This isn’t just about a flock of sheep. The time for war is now.

“Sir, history may never fully know what we’ve done here, how we saved our universe. I’m proud to be a part of it.”
– Alt-Brandon

War isn’t something that either side takes lightly. Both of them have held off on activating the Machine, for fear that the repercussions might be too severe. Peter, the man who has a metaphorical foot in both universes, has been insisting that “there has to be another way,” a third option where both universes can coexist, where both his past and current homes are preserved. But once the damage becomes too severe, once the instability threatens to rip apart the fabric of their universes, both Walter and Walternate are forced into action. Their personalities may have diverged long ago, but under duress, they reach the same conclusion: the Machine must be activated.

Alt-Olivia: “I don’t understand how killing billions of people could possibly be in the interest of the greater good.”
Walternate: “That’s because you still have the luxury of your ideals. I have to be pragmatic.”

Activating the Machine isn’t a decision that Walternate takes lightly, contrary to what Alt-Olivia might believe. But what Peter said has gotten to her; she believes there’s another way, one that doesn’t result in the destruction of Our side. Walternate has only spent a brief time Over Here. He hasn’t moved far past the idea that Our world is just a seething mass of evil. However, Alt-Olivia has spent several months Over Here, and in that time, she has come to realize that Our universe is a complex world full of nice people, just like her own. To destroy it would be to sacrifice billions of innocent lives, and cocksure and arrogant though she may be, that’s not something that she can accept.

But Walternate has no time for such opposition. He has already spent countless hours wrestling with the ethical implications of what he’s doing, and he has come to terms with them. He imprisons Alt-Olivia and leaves the Machine in operation. Now, unless the Machine somehow malfunctions, all Walternate has to lose is a sample of Baby Henry’s blood. On the other hand, Walter has much more to lose by activating the Machine. He fears that the Machine could kill Peter, which would bring his story full circle: Walter broke the universes when he rescued Peter from the Other Side. Now, as the Observers showed him in “The Firefly,” he has to let Peter go in order to repair the damage done.

To activate the Machine, Olivia needs to unlock it with her telekinetic powers. This is no easy task. Olivia was able to turn off a group of light switches using her brain back in season 1’s “Ability,” but a multi-tonne machine is much harder to manipulate with one’s mind. Try as she may, despite Walter’s encouragement, she simply cannot employ her powers, even when attempting to use them on a simple typewriter. It’s a testament to the seriousness of the situation that Olivia, who once viewed Cortexiphan as a stain on her soul, begs Walter for a dose of the drug in order to complete the task. But Walter refuses. He knows Cortexiphan won’t be much use anymore, and besides, he has full faith in her:

“I know what it’s like to feel unequal to the task required of you, to feel incapable. I’ll never be the man I was, but I’ve come to embrace those parts of my mind that are peculiar, broken. I understand now that’s what makes my mind special. I wish you could see yourself the way I see you. You have no idea how extraordinary you are. If you can embrace that, there’s no end to what you can do.”
– Walter

Even though those kind words aren’t enough to jump-start Olivia’s telekinesis, they’re important to hear. Both Walter and Olivia are damaged people. Walter has had to live with the knowledge that he caused the disintegration of two universes, while Olivia had her childhood marred by abuse and experimental drug testing. However, both have emerged from their experiences stronger in character, and both have now found love in a boy from the alternate universe, Peter. It’s that strength and love that finally gives Olivia the ability to manipulate the Machine, opening it up to let Peter inside.

Of course, you can pause here and think, “Seriously? Love opened up the Machine? What a load of sentimental bullshit!” If you haven’t been totally captivated by this multi-dimensional narrative, that’s a legitimate complaint to make. Yes, all of it – the Machine, the alternate universe, the telekinesis, the mind-altering drugs – is totally ridiculous. But Walter recognizes this too. As he tells Olivia before she attempts to unlock the Machine with her mind:

“Don’t worry. Just think of it as a giant typewriter.”
– Walter

For more information on the Fringe rewatch project, please click here. For my review of “6:02 AM EST,” please click here. For my review of “The Last Sam Weiss,” please click here.

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