If you have not been watching Fox Network’s supernatural hit Fringe, then you are missing out on a number of different television greats: great acting, great directing and a mind-blowing storyline. The show was created by the same mind that brought the television world Lost, J.J. Abrams. The show takes a look at the Fringe division of the FBI in Boston Massachusetts. The Fringe division looks at cases and events that dip into fringe science, events that involve phenomenon like teleportation, parallel universes, precognition, dark matter and much more. The show follows a three man team consisting of Olivia Dunham, Peter Bishop and Doctor Walter Bishop. Future posts will look at the show as a whole and all the different components of it but today I have one focus: Walter Bishop.
Walter Bishop is the show’s mad scientist, a broken shell of an insane man attempting to make up for the wrongs of his past. The role is played by John Noble, a man who most people do not know by name. Beyond his portrayal of Walter Bishop in Fringe, Noble’s notable roll is in The Lord of the Rings series where he plays Denethor (the guy who lit himself on fire). He has played other roles here and there but his most impressive piece of acting is his brilliant portrayal of Walter Bishop.
To understand why Noble is so brilliant, the character of Walter Bishop needs to be understood. If you notice, I did not slap SPOILER ALERT warnings on the top of this blog because I’m not going to ruin the show for people but that means readers who have watched the show are going to have to bear with my somewhat cryptic descriptions. When the show first introduces Walter Bishop he is a patient at a mental institution. Olivia Dunham, the series main protagonist, enlists Walter’s son, Peter, to sign him out of the institution as a consultant. Walter is only allowed out as long as Peter stays with him as a guardian. Walter is a broken, shell of a man with large gaps in his memory of the past. One minute, Walter is a giggling child thinking about candy and the next moment memories of the horrible experiments he conducted in the past reduce him to a broken man, cry out of horror at his own actions.
As the Fringe division investigates a series of supernatural events that become known as The Pattern, it becomes increasingly clear that many of Walter’s forgotten (and not forgotten) actions of the past have created an unstable future. This realization only further shatters Walter’s spirit as the audience sees the truly horrific nature of his past. Noble brings Walter’s character to life with such ease that in my mind, Walter is a real person. Noble dances Walter across an emotional spectrum, bringing him from supreme happiness to pure horror as a lucid memory finally settles in his mind. The acting is real, raw and in my opinion, some of the best acting a viewer can find on television.
It confuses and bothers me that John Noble has not received an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of Walter Bishop. Working my way through the first three seasons of Fringe, I have found plenty of single episodes in which Noble proves he deserves a nomination, let alone entire seasons. Noble walks Walter down the fine line that separates villain from hero with deft ease, creating a wholly heart breaking character. Walter spends the show desperately trying to live with and make up for the actions of his past. The beauty of the writing and acting of the show is that the audience is forced to do the same thing. It is difficult to not put your faith behind the mad scientist, struggling to right the wrongs of his past but as the past is revealed, it becomes very difficult to keep faith in Walter. It becomes very difficult not to turn your back on him yet at the same time you’ve invested so much emotion in the character that you just can’t turn your back on Walter. The character Noble is able to bring to life with his acting is amazing and shows his true talent. John Noble deserves a nominations or at the very least, some recognition of his acting talents.