Unfolding an image

Fringe 365 Project – #148

imagesPeter missed Walter terribly, and the image of the mysterious white tulip would remain in his mind for many years. Surely Walter was trying to tell him something…?

If there is any nice thing about Fringe being on open-ended hiatus (no! I refuse to say cancelled!), it’s that there are no new episodes coming to mess up the episodes in your head. And if you like to create art or fan fiction, you can play pretend showrunner and imagine what you might to do if you had all the resources of JJ Abrams at your command…

Usually with the Fringe 365 Project I have so little time to turn over an idea and make something out of it, that I use episode prompts to get me started. Sometimes images do pop in my head though and I count myself lucky if I can get the more ambitious ones on “paper” before the clock strikes midnight. This post is about how one image from the show, in my head, turned into a series of sketches (Fringe 365 Project entry #148).

finalimageJoel Wyman left us at the end of Fringe with a pair of strong images. There was the now-iconic image of the white tulip — passed down to us from Walter’s mind through Alistair Peck and through Walter again. But, linked to the image, and indeed the final image of the series, was Peter looking up from the letter. His look was significant: perhaps worry for Walter, a flash of 2036 memories, or maybe of an idea. (You’d probably have to ask Joshua Jackson just what he intended there; I found it wonderfully ambiguous.)

But, as with Fringe every season finale led you directly into the next season’s situation, this pair of images could be a jumping-off point for the next stroke of storytelling: What would Peter do now with the white tulip? (and with whatever it made him think of?)

From a practical standpoint, you can imagine the next five minutes of the story, where Peter might leave his thought-flash and go through exactly the motions that Walter said he would:

I imagine you called me to ask why would you send such a strange letter? And when you tried to call, I didn’t answer. So you came to find me at the lab. But I was not to be found.

The next years for Peter would be no doubt puzzling and painful as Walter continued to not be there. The white tulip means nothing to Peter in and of itself, since Walter never told anyone other than Alistair Peck what it meant to him. Why would Walter (in Peter’s opinion) send him a picture of a white tulip?

Peter is brilliant, but he is brilliant in a different way than Walter. He’s not a chemist, or a biologist; he’s a tinkerer and builder, and always has been. He is the fixer of machines, the assembler of machines, the power-source of machines. Naturally, he wouldn’t want to grow white tulips so he could dissect them; he would want to build one.

A white tulip to open up the mysteries of time and space. And maybe, just maybe, answer the question of where Walter went.

148aIt would be reasonable for Peter to assume that the tulip is not a sentimental drawing of a feeling or a wish, but that it might be a technical drawing that Walter wanted to give him. Although Peter may not remember the now-erased 2036 timeline, he does retain the memory of 2026, where he learned that the mysterious drawing of the Machine was actually something that Walter was responsible for. What if Walter was doing it again?

I could see Peter getting government funding to build the new machine; because it could be a way to reopen the Bridge, or solve other Fringey dilemmas that keep happening. But I think Peter would hope that it would give him the answers to those hidden things nagging at his brain (such as what happened to Walter – and how to get Walter back).

alistairpeck1It’s worth noting that the spirit of Alistair Peck is present in this scenario also, simply by his association with the white tulip (it’s his drawing, after all). What was Alistair all about? He was about recovering a lost love, the person who was dear to him, through the unholy machinations of time travel. He didn’t want to do harm to anyone, but he would do whatever was necessary, and he would do it to himself, melding man and machine.

With Peter and the new machine in mind, I started out this series of sketches with an image of Peter prompting Etta to step into an actual isolation tank that was designed to look like a white tulip. This turned out not to be really feasible. For one thing, the tulip is vertical and there just isn’t a great way to turn it into a tank unless you do a vertical tank (like Walternate used). Which requires a breathing mask. Which is just not very evocative an image.

More importantly, there was also the idea of Peter prompting/pressuring Etta to be his subject. And while that has a certain thematic allure (“like father, like son”), and also echoing what her mother Olivia did, in the end I felt that Peter just would not be that much like Walter. Peter just wouldn’t experiment on his own daughter for the sake of recovering his father. Peter’s relationship with Etta would more closely echo what he experienced as Walter’s son: the parent would do anything, anything for his beloved child. Having seen what Olivia went through, Peter would never ask any child to be a subject, much less his own. And Peter would naturally try to power the new machine himself, as he had done in the past.

So the new white tulip would be not a tank, but a machine.

148bThe interesting thing is that in my mind’s eye, Etta literally stepped up and climbed into the machine as I drew the first picture of the machine. One of those instances where the character runs away with the story and takes it in the right direction. Why did she do that? Because this is Fringe, and shit happens!

I also think that as Peter constructed the new machine, that it might have subtle but important effects on spacetime even before he might be finished. Especially on Etta, whose
very existence post-2015 depends on the alteration of timelines. By this point, she would be a rebellious teenager, but maybe there would be something more to her misbehavior – a perturbation resulting from what Peter was doing. Etta’s entire existence, after all, is suspended between two timeline changes. And, knowing what powers her mother Olivia was capable of, she might be eager to try out some of her own.


148dIn any case, the thing that happens is not what was planned: before Peter believes it is ready for him to use, Etta steps into the machine. She sees it as a place to hide, or a way to defy her father. This is the classic sci-fi trope of “the Mad Scientist’s Beautiful Daughter,” but the tables have turned in that Peter is (sort of) the mad scientist now.

In any case, when Etta defies her father and “self-actualizes” by stepping into the new machine, Very Serious Things might happen.

I also think we love the white tulip for its beauty and its roundness, the idea that it maybe contains a hidden secret inside. It’s unopened, and full of potential. When you open it up and close it again, it could be womblike (sort of like the tank) and in a more gentle way, recall the enveloping threat of the original Machine. (The original Machine was masculine, but this one is feminine. Maybe Peter is wrong; maybe the new machine really is for Etta…)

There’s also the Fringe-y image of metamorphosis. The subject goes into the machine, and it’s sort of like a semi-translucent cocoon. Will there be a metamorphosis of Etta? Will she be transported somewhere else, or will she go out of existence all together? Or is it really a bridge to another parallel timeline or reality — one where Walter might be found, or perhaps, something else… or someone else? The repercussions could be profound.


And that’s where I’m leaving the white tulip… for now. I’d love to use these sketches as the basis for some complete paintings, and who knows, maybe more storytelling.