In Praise of ‘Fringe’s’ Walter Bishop


J.J. Abrams’ addicting, intriguing, and occasionally maddening sci-fi epic Fringe comes to a conclusion tonight, and along with it the story of the show’s most complicated character, mad scientist Walter Bishop. Portrayed with humor and empathy by the brilliant John Noble, Walter has always been the show’s emotional and intellectual centerpiece. Between nearly destroying another universe, spending almost 20 years in a mental hospital, and facing down his own evil alter ego, Walter’s been through more in five seasons than most Harvard-educated geniuses go through in a lifetime. Read on for the on-screen highlights of Walter’s illustrious tenure that earned his show one of primetime television’s most devoted cult followings.

He Loves His Son Enough to Blow a Hole in the Space-Time Continuum

We knew Walter’s relationship with Peter Bishop, his long-estranged son, was more than a little complicated from the moment Peter released him from St. Claire’s in the pilot. But over the course of the show’s second season, the audience found out that Peter technically isn’t even Walter’s son — he was kidnapped from an alternate universe so Walter could save him from a lethal illness that killed the original Peter, then kept in our world because Walter couldn’t bear to let him go again. What’s worse, the portal Walter created to the alternate universe caused it to slowly deteriorate, nearly leading to inter-dimensional war. Crazy, right? To the show’s eternal credit, Fringe took an insane-sounding plotline and spun it into a morally challenging, heartbreaking story of parental love and when to make sacrifices for the greater good.

He Removed Parts of His Own Brain (Then Temporarily Reinserted Them) in the Name of Self-Improvement

When most people don’t like the person they’re becoming, they generally pick up a new hobby or do some self-reflection and call it a day. If you’re Walter, however, you have your longtime friend and research partner William Bell (Leonard Nimoy) cut out pieces of your brain to remove certain memories and character traits — oh, and put those pieces inside other people’s heads. After an agent from the other side temporarily restores Walter’s cerebrum to its full capacity, the show gives us just a few seconds of what Walter could have been: chilling, ruthless, and nothing like the loopy scientist fans know and love. It’s great acting on Noble’s part, plus a reminder of the radical changes his character has undergone.

His, Um, Unusual Habits

Luckily for Fringe viewers, Walter’s character arc isn’t always so heavy. Dr. Bishop’s idiosyncrasies include a liberal attitude towards the use of LSD, Valium, and pretty much every other mind-altering chemical, a sweet tooth powerful enough to inspire a search for the perfect strawberry milkshake, keeping a live cow in his lab at all times, and a complete and total inability to remember Astrid Farnsworth’s first name. Walter is the rare character who manages to consistently serve as both a conflicted protagonist and comic relief, cementing his status as Fringe‘s jack of all trades.

He Has a Badass Alter Ego, Walternate

Introduced at the end of the second season, “Walternate” — Peter and Walter’s nickname for the alternate-universe version of Dr. Bishop — gave John Noble the chance to show off some serious acting chops and the audience yet another look at the Walter who could have been. Peter’s biological father, Walternate threw himself into his work after his son’s kidnapping, rising to the station of Secretary of Defense and heading the war against our universe from his office in the still-bronze Statue of Liberty. Composed, calculating, and even a bit of a ladies’ man (he’s happily married, with a mistress), Walternate is everything our Walter isn’t, although he does eventually transition from enemy to protagonist.

He’s Really, Really, Really Smart. Really.

Of course, Walter is a mad scientist on a show about science, so he’s had plenty of room to show off his genius. The brains behind the Peter/Walter/Olivia Dunham dream team, Walter has done everything from developing a drug to give children mental superpowers to communicating with the dead to co-founding the world’s biggest (fictional) technology company, Massive Dynamic, with William Bell. He may be a little unhinged sometimes, but in terms of brainpower, Walter’s definitely still got it.