After some broadness in the season opener, I welcomed how “In Absentia” introduced a sense of narrative momentum by having Walter’s Secret Knowledge Tapes™ be the driving force behind the gang exploring the world of 2036.
“The Recordist”, then, does a strong job of exploring an aspect of this society, and is an enjoyable hour if lacking in a sense of tension or real stakes. Then again, perhaps that’s part of the theme of this hour – that the present is not as important as the past, and documentation has as much relevance as action in the moment. Who knows.
After liberating another tape from the amber at the Harvard lab, the team are given a set of coordinates way out in the countryside which are apparently vital to the survival of the human race. Leaving Astrid behind to work on unravelling the details on the damaged tape (because of course), the Bishop ad hoc family head out into the woods and encounter a group of people who’ve been living quite happily off the grid for much of the past twenty years.
Central to this group is Edwin Massey, a man who’s dedicated himself to obsessively recording the major events of the past twenty years – and who recognizes and trusts Walter on sight as being part of the feted (and presumed dead) Fringe team. Walter and co ingratiate themselves with the campers, while also discovering that a nearby mine contains material vital to whatever plan Walter concocted all those years ago. The problem, though, is that the mine is causing a fungal reaction in the residents that would be quickly lethal should anyone come too close – and Walter must work on a suit to counteract the fungus’ effect.
The theme underlying “The Recordist” is an important one. As evidenced by Etta’s ruthlessness last week, the Earth of 2036 is very different from the one they left, and to some extent the only way they will be able to incite a true rebellion is by having an informational connection to the society that was. To ask a group of people who’ve spent twenty years in slavery to rise up is almost impossible unless you can remind them of what life once was and could be again.
The execution, however, is less than perfect. Much of this is in the progression of the plot – once the mine is discovered it’s a case of “not if but when”, and Walter’s efforts to create the suit feel like the misdirect they inevitably turn out to be. Unable to find copper to complete the suit, Edwin sacrifices himself by climbing into the mine and retrieving the Unobtanium (or whatever) before succumbing to the fungus.
It feels underdeveloped, and sketching out the plot of the episode shows that it’s missing a good few twists and turns along the way. It also doesn’t develop the recording theme enough, and it would have been great to see more of Earth’s recent past in those touchstones.
That said, there are moments that shine. Massey’s actions are buoyed by some nice dialogue and a strong performance from Paul McGillon, while we also get more detail of the breakdown of Peter and Olivia’s relationship in the past. Peter is ever-forgiving – because he’s Pacey Witter – but Olivia explains that her supposed strength in returning to the rebellion (in lieu of searching for their daughter) was fuelled by fear, not focus.
“Every day, the odds of us finding our little girl the way we wanted to find her were getting worse.”
It’s a simple but effective line that shows the gravity of what the Observers have done, more than any number of decapitated Scotsmen could. However, it was unfortunate that this revelation was prompted by Etta’s reduction to “I love you Mom” sentiments that don’t really fit with what we saw of her character last week.
The strongest plot point to emerge from “The Recordist”, though, is the presence of a man named Donald at the camp some years before. Considering the photos of him were almost screaming “WE’RE NOT SHOWING HIS FACE” it’s obvious he’s going to return in an important manner. With a longer season I’d say it could be for as-yet-uncast reasons, but with this number of episodes it’s likely because it’s someone we’ve seen before. My money’s on William Bell, but I’d be happier with someone left-field (Broyles?),
Here’s hoping that Fringe will dispense with too much mystery in this shortened season, and by next week we’ll have launched full throttle into the end of all things. For now, “The Recordist” sits as a nice installment but lacking in the tension I’m after from this final season.
– One wonders why the group didn’t move anywhere else if they picked up that disease after moving to the forest.
– “Well kid you’re my hero. You drew me a nice strong jawline.” River’s comics added a nice counterpoint to his father’s recordings, showing that interpretation of events can have as much validity (and inspiration) as the real deal.
– Fringe joins the lofty company of Firefly and Doctor Who by having a sci-fi character named River.
– I love Astrid. Jasika Nicole can OWN acting. Give her more to do.
– On entering the mine: “A mine collapsed in Peru. The survivors were forced to nourish themselves on the dead.” / “Thanks Walter.”
– Why do no women work for the Observers? I understand the species might be male-appearing, but none of their grunt soldiers are men (Etta was a higher up).
– The price of last week’s heist is that it’s making it harder to understand why they would stay at a Harvard so close to the Observers.
– Why would the Observers choose uniforms so clearly Nazi-themed? Surely it would make people reluctant to wear them, or maybe discomfort is the point.
– Nice moments of parenthood: Peter rushing to check Etta for the fungus, and Olivia awkwardly touching her leg at the end.
– Tomorrow I get up to date with Fringe. Thanks for catching up with me!