Brown Betty, the title taken from Walter Bishop’s smooth blend of Chronic Supernova and Afghani Kush is the episode of Fringe we were told would be a musical. Maybe they meant The Singing Detective?
In the wake of that bombshell revelation that Peter Bishop was snatched from another reality, the audience needed a moment of light relief. Peter has gone missing, Olivia’s trying to track him down and Walter’s reeling from the emotional impact of his disappearance. Hilariously, he kicks off proceedings by grumbling at Olivia: “What’s more important than finding my son?” And then she reveals she’s got stuck babysitting her niece, Ella.
So, Olivia leaves Ella in the lab with an extremely-high Walter and Astrid while she continues the hunt for Peter. Soon Walter is telling Ella a story in order to pass the time.
Given Walter’s state of mind, coupled with his having taken some industrial strength drugs, his story drags in all the elements of his situation. The symbolic heart that his story’s version of Peter ‘steals’, that he’ll die if he doesn’t have returned. Olivia Dunham stars in this fantasy tale as a hardened private detective hired by Walter to track down the stolen heart.
The fantasy draws on all the characters from Fringe, with Broyles as a cop moonlighting in a jazz piano bar, Nina Sharp being…Nina Sharp in a less glamorous building. Walter initially paints his character as a benevolent figure, wanting nothing but the best, and inventing all the cute and cuddly things that kids love. Sure, he’s pandering to Ella, but he’s also sugar-coating over his own failures to present his character in the best possible light.
And to this we get some of the bright moments of the story, singing corpses and Jean the Cow wearing a bright, polka-dotted covering. I loved the bit where he wrote Astrid’s character in as Esther Figglesworth (playing on the in-joke that Walter can never remember Astrid’s name). However, when Dunham’s character catches up with Peter, he reveals the horrors that Walter is responsible for. And because Walter is the narrator, we get a feeling of his burden of guilt and remorse, voiced by his son.
Of course, Walter ends his tale on a melancholy note, with the loss of Peter and his heart. But Ella chastises him for not ending the story on a happy note. She gives a warmer ending, with Peter giving Walter half the heart and the two working together to produce “goodness”. It’s a more naive, childlike viewpoint, and it contrasts with Olivia giving Walter the bad news that they’re no closer to tracking Peter down.
And so ends a slightly lighter, more allegorical episode of [[Fringe (TV Series)|Fringe]]. Sure, it doesn’t move the story forward, but it allows us to experience Walter’s torment. And it stretches out the uncertainty about Peter for another week. You can add to that the closing message from the Observer: “I do not believe Doctor Bishop remembers my warning”. Does this mean the Bishops are in trouble now and will the Observers become a problem for the Fringe team?
- Walter Bishop: You could hardly classify what I’ve just smoked as marijuana. It’s a hybrid of Chronic Supernova and Afghani Kush. I call it Brown Betty.
- Ella: All you’ve done is eat all my snacks and talk about weird stuff. And everything makes you laugh.
- Watcher: The boy has not returned and I do not believe Doctor Bishop remembers my warning. Yes, I am concerned too.
- Walter’s proud of his singing corpses: “Why not bring a little life to the dead, I say.”