Jeff Jensen
January 12, 2013 AT 03:34 PM EST

“The Boy Must Live” began on an odd dramatic note that made more sense and became more poignant only in retrospect. We found Peter Bishop working off some insomnia in the Harvard lab by burning another tape out of amber. (I dug his Dr. Horrible goggles.) Suddenly his Spidey sense tingled. He wheeled around, gun drawn. It was just headlights outside the window, a patrolling Loyalist. The car passed. (Oblivious as ever, these Vichy keystone cops!) Peter resumed his labor until he heard the shuffle of footsteps. He wheeled once more, ready to shoot. There was a figure in the shadows. My mind generated suspects — September? An Observer? William Bell? – but Peter immediately recognized his father’s distinctive silhouette. Suspense quickly gave way to relief, and then the business of the plot, but the ominous entry into the scene and Walter’s weirdly serene vibe created an unsettling tone that charged the entire story that followed. Something was up with Walter. He was lighter and more whole than he had ever been, yet touched by wistful melancholy, if not so. We would soon learn that Michael the Observer child’s touch in the previous episode had restored most of his pre-reboot memories. But that same magic had helped him remember something else, too, something about his master plan: In order to save the world from the Observers, he had to die.

Commence stocking up on tissue for next week’s series finale now. I’ll pick you up a box while you continue reading.

Michael’s psychic intervention had not restored every byte of Walter’s burned-out memory. He was still fuzzy on some things, like where exactly mystery man Donald – i.e., domesticated September with hair! – could be found. Hence, why Walter was up and about in the middle of the night like his son: An idea had roused him to action. “It involves The Tank,” said Walter with an implied wink. And so, once more, and most likely for the last time, we went into Walter’s sensory deprivation chamber, one of the show’s signature elements. [The second I saw it, I was reminded of the self-aware opening bit of last Thursday’s 30 Rock (“That’s a series wrap on Dr. Spaceman!”), another show in swan song season, making sure it hit all the fan favorite people and places one last time before the final bow.] He went for a trippy altered states float – sans underwear – and took a VR tour of his fuzzy recollection of meeting with Donald 21 years earlier. By playing psychic CSI, our heroes determined September lived in a Brooklyn apartment (such a hipster) under the Williamsburg Bridge with a pretty sweet view of Manhattan. Or he used to. Was he still alive? Did he still live there? Walter seemed confident. “I’m optimistic,” he declared radiantly while chomping on a licorice stick.

To Brooklyn, then, where Walter, Peter, and Olivia (and The Boy) searched the neighborhoods looking for Donald’s pad. The younger Bishop managed to slow his dad down for a few minutes to have a lengthy chat about the elder Bishop’s weirdly upbeat yet composed disposition – a far cry from the volatile grump of recent episodes. Walter revealed that The Observer Child had fixed his broken noggin. The lobotomy he wanted to reverse his “Letters of Transit” brain graft? No longer necessary. He oozed new humility and a healthy sense of hubris, and he felt liberated. “All once I realized that everything I had ever known or thought I knew as ‘a great man’ could fit into a thimble!” he said, eyes twinkling. Walter also confirmed what many of you suspected after the last episode: The Boy had reconnected Walter to his pre-reboot memory. He had a peculiar, ironic relationship to these experiences, as Reboot Walter hadn’t really experienced them at all. But it felt like he did.

“I remember when you first came to me at St. Claire’s, my first words were: ‘I thought you would be fatter,’” recalled Walter. “I remember when I was up late, making a peanut butter sandwich, you slipped and called me dad. The feeling of joy that game me! And the terror before you stepped into the machine! And I told you I had never been good at letting you go, and you said –”

“This time, you’re gonna have to,” said Peter, clearly moved. Walter! My Original Recipe Dad! He’s back!

But Peter also tweaked with questions. Who or what was The Observer Child? Why did The Boy do this to Walter? For what purpose? And why not also restore the memory of the master plan along with everything else? “I don’t know,” said Walter, who actually knew a teeny bit more of said plan than he was telling, as we would soon learn. What was more important was that he tell Peter something that had to be said before it was too late, the kind of thing people say to those closest to them when they worry that their remaining days might be few and dwindling. “Peter, before I met [The Boy], I didn’t think it was possible to love you more. But now, knowing what we’ve been through, and everything we’ve had, I do.” Peter melted, and the Bishop boys embraced. “You never liked public displays of affection,” said Walter. “Or going Number 2 in a public restroom. I remember that, too.” It was a very touching scene, although the staging distracted me: All of this took place outside, on a city street. The Snarky Nitpicker in my head kept saying, “Talk about awkward inappropriate PDA: Remember the part of the story where you’re all wanted fugitives?! Get a room, already, before you get caught!” But then the sensitive part of me who appreciates emotionally resonant, well-acted drama teamed up with the forgiving and wise parts of me who understand that shows on a budget can only afford so many set ups, and together they beat up the Snarky Nitpicker in my head, then doused him with gasoline, set him on fire, and pissed on his ashes. (I know! So violent! Someone should really call the police.)

Anyway. What were we doing again? Oh, yes, recapping…

NEXT: The Origin of the Observer Species

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