“Five-Twenty-Ten” wanted us to believe that Walter Bishop was losing it all over again. Not his mind. His humanity. He saw this awful erosion – felt it – in his impatience with Astrid, in his pitilessness toward Nina Sharp. He feared he was changing back into the arrogant wannabe god who made a mess of two universes with his brand of so-called “heroism.” He felt he was becoming unsafe – to himself, his family, the future. He wanted to believe that his son’s love would be enough to rein him, to save him. Peter Bishop: Walter’s own Personal Jesus. Yet the episode’s adventure – an elaborate allegory for an inward journey toward self-knowledge – tried to teach Walter the lesson that all of us learned from The Lord of the Rings: The Samwise Gamgees in our lives can carry us when we fall, but only so far. In the end, we have to make the choice to battle our Gollums and throw away our corrupting rings ourselves. Did he get the message? TBD. He begged Nina to execute the quickest possible fix: Cut out the Bad Walter brain bits that had been reinserted back in “Letters of Transit.” But by story’s end, the elder Bishop had not yet received this lobotomy. We left Walter sad and sober and laying in the gloom, reflecting on his life as he listened to David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World,” a song about a man coming face to face with his dark doppelgänger. Good luck with that, sir. Hope you find Nirvana.
But “Five-Twenty-Ten” gave us another pop culture reference that spoke meaningfully to Walter’s plight, and offered, perhaps, the better prescription for it. It came early in the story, when Walter was recalling an incident in which William Bell betrayed him and his cohorts shortly before they went to amber decades earlier. But his memory seemed to go wiggy, and the tale he told morphed into the plot of Marathon Man, which features one of the scariest scenes in cinema: Laurence Olivier torturing Dustin Hoffman with a dentist’s drill, asking repeatedly, “Is it safe?” Marathon Man is about a long-distance runner haunted by the past, who is changed by a painful ordeal into a man capable of righting a very specific wrong. In the process, he finds catharsis for his demons, and acquires the strength to be the person he wants to be as he moves into the future.
My friends, I don’t think this was some funny little Walter brain-fart. I think Walter’s subconscious was trying to tell him something – something about the master plan to defeat The Observers, a master plan that had been stripped out of his brain by his own Olivier-esque torturer; a master plan which I believe isn’t really about acquiring objects but rather acquiring experience, and being changed by the experience, in order to become capable of righting a very specific wrong. I think Walter’s brain was trying to tell him: Run the race, keep the faith, and in the process, you’ll find the relief – and redemption – you seek.
The mission of the episode was another leg in the scavenger hunt designed by Walter 2016. This week’s treasure: Two beacons. Walter 2016 led to the 2036 team to believe that the beacons were hidden inside a safe located within one of Kelvin Genetics’ old storage units. (Hence, why Walter cut off ambered Bell’s hand in “Letters of Transit” – it was the passkey.) The facility was a metaphor for Walter’s scarred mind, beginning with an entrance blocked by rubble. They sought help from Nina (welcome back!), now head honcho at the Ministry of Science, but secretly aligned with The Resistance. She hooked them up with tech that could evaporate the debris. Once inside the repository, and after navigating the accumulation of clutter and resisting a trip into nostalgia or bitterness, Walter focused and found the safe, but he couldn’t remember the combination. He tried various sequences, but nothing worked. He became frustrated, stressed, but Peter calmed him, soothed him, and the numbers came to him. “5-20-10.” This was the combination Walter used back in the episode “Jacksonville” to access his old Kelvin Genetics lab – a mission designed to help Olivia recall important intel from her painful past. Interesting: In that episode, Walter said – conspicuously – that he couldn’t remember the significance of the numbers. Hmmm…
NEXT: Beacons Of Hope