Josh Jackson on Peter Bishop's return to 'Fringe'
"Fringe" made a gutsy move at the end of Season Three. Plenty of shows kill off characters in a season finale, but how many can say they completely erased one of their main heroes from all of existence? Not only did ‘Fringe’ delete Peter, but the show also kept him deleted. Olivia, Walter and the rest of Fringe Division spent the beginning of Season Four in a world with no Peter Bishop, so when I got a chance to talk with Josh Jackson about Peter’s return to "Fringe" this week, I asked if the rest of the cast teased him about basically getting to sleep on Season Four. “I don’t know if it was teasing,” Jackson joked, “as much as a lot of dirty looks.”
Reimagining the world of "Fringe" without Peter Bishop gave the writers and cast the opportunity to alter the characters we’ve come to know, and even though his character was out of the picture, Jackson kept a very close eye on the changes that took place. “For some characters it’s a totally different iteration.” Jackson explained. “I think the Olivia we have in Season Four is very different from the Olivia of Season One. Walter definitely regressed. Even probably further back than he was in Season One. They’re at opposite ends of the spectrum. She became more whole and he became less whole.”
“Without Peter it’s a complete different equation. Anna [Torv] and John [Noble] had their chance to decide on the pieces of their Season One character, what the original idea was, and decide what would change.” Jackson went on to say, “I think the Olivia we have in Season Four is very different from the Olivia of Season One. Walter definitely regressed. Even probably further back than he was in Season One. They’re at opposite ends of the spectrum. She became more whole and he became less whole.”
The new season brought the opportunity to reboot the characters. Take them back to how we first met them. “For Anna what she’s done with the new Olivia is that she’s much more emotionally capable.” Jackson told me. “Olivia, back in Season One, was incredibly emotionally withdrawn. She was very broken. She’d been betrayed by the man that she loved. She didn’t really want to be part of this fringe world that she was thrust into and this relationship with these two men she didn’t know. She was trying to be a good cop against all odds, but she was caught straddling these two worlds. She couldn’t trust Peter because, frankly, he was untrustworthy. And Walter was crazy. She was emotionally kind of crippled that first season.”
“It doesn’t feel like that this year.” Jackson noted. “She’s totally capable of not only communicating but flirting with Lincoln. Olivia is much more a solid human being than she was in Season One."
On the flip side of that is Walter, who we met when he was stark raving mad. Since leaving St. Claire’s in Season One, he came off the medications and became part of this family and had purpose. He started his slow path back toward… well, if not sanity, at least mental competence. Whereas the Walter we meet now is totally shattered and burdened by the guilt by the things he did before, and he hasn’t had the relationship with his son to try to work through any of those feelings. He’s very much on the edge when we get to know him.”
Just as playing different versions of their characters gave the actors the opportunity to explore new aspects of their personalities, seeing a world where he didn’t exist gave Jackson a chance to explore Peter. “A lot of the way we’ve used Peter is as a mirror to reflect back these characters to themselves. He was the shoulder for Olivia, who was emotionally so intensely cut off. It took almost three seasons before they could have anything resembling a personal conversation. For Walter, it’s the same way. As he was slowly, slowly making his way back to sanity, coming back to being able to deal with the real world, Peter was the character that he bounced his ideas off.”
Since Olivia and Walter were being stripped down to some the core aspects of their characters, I asked Jackson what he thought those core aspects of Peter would be. “Peter’s a survivor.” Jackson answered. “When we first met Peter, he was a guy who didn’t have a moral center at all. He was quite happy and unperturbed to do anything or say anything to get what he needed at that moment. It was only through first his relationship with Walter and then with Olivia that he started to develop empathy, understanding how things would affect or impact the people around him.”
That all changes when Peter returns to reality in this week’s episode of "Fringe." “His initial reaction is to put those walls back up. He is clearly trying to manipulate the people around him towards his own gain, which is an audience with Walter.”
“It’s really a Season One version of Peter. He’s willing to tell the people around him whatever he thinks they want to hear, to manipulate them, to get what he wants. I think Peter has a very amoral view of things. It’s a very zero sum gain for him. I need this and I’ll do whatever it takes to get that. That’s what is going to be part of what he needs to do this year. Not be such a… bad person. Come back to the place he was at the end of Season Three which is a man who is willing to sacrifice his life for the things he loves.”
When Peter returns, he has no idea what’s going on and has think fast. It reminds you just how intelligent the younger Bishop man really is. “It’s one of the things that just got lost in the shuffle about the character. It certainly wasn’t malicious. But Peter without Walter is the smartest guy in the room. Always. Peter with Walter is the second smartest guy in the room. We never were able to show Peter as the guy who was able to navigate the world by himself, essentially just on his wit. This is giving us a bit of an opportunity, particularly in the reintroduction, to see another side of Peter, which I am happy to see return. I would love to have more of that stuff to do.”
The Walter/Peter relationship is one of the strongest aspects of ‘Fringe.’ I had to ask how close it was to the John Nobel/Josh Jackson relationship. “He’s not anywhere near as fragile as Walter is, but the professional relationship is certainly as warm as it is on screen. The best moments, the best memories I will take from this show when it’s all said and done, will be that working relationship with John. We’ve spent many hours talking about how to make that father/son relationship as honest as possible, and I think that comes through. That relationship wasn’t there in the first season, but by virtue of hashing it out, all the moments we found in scenes, really added that dimension to the show."
Top, middle photos: Peter Bishop (Josh Jackson); bottom photo: Walter Bishop (John Noble), Peter Bishop and Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv). Credit: Fox Television