Well that was unexpected. Only four episodes into its final season and Fringe is proving that it’s willing to dispense with wheel-spinning and characters as it wraps up the story of an Earth under alien rule, and even moreso the story of the ill-fitted Bishop family (and yes, that includes Astrid).
But before we get to that emotional rug-pull, let’s sit back and take a broader look at what this season of Fringe is offering us, and what may or may not be working.
To call this season divisive would be pointless. Fringe has rewritten the book on the word “divisive” (the dictionary?) over its run, most especially last season’s reworking of the entire universe of the show to suit an absent Peter – a situation that was never shifted back. Last season’s “Letters Of Transit” introduced the Observer-occupied 2036 version of Earth, and while it was good to see Desmond running around solving crimes in his mystery-solving van it wasn’t necessarily an absolutely solid foundation for a full season.
Now four episodes in, how has this world supported its story-telling? Generally quite well. The strongest decision the writers made this season was to acknowledge that time has passed since last we saw these characters. Obviously decades have gone by, but it was shrewd writing to introduce Etta as being four at the time of the attack, and to have Peter and Olivia’s relationship fracture over her abduction. Walter had also been busy recording tapes and planning the downfall of their semi-omnipotent masters.
So shit had gone down in the interim.
When we returned there were points in the show’s favour – Etta’s bullheadedness, Peter and Olivia’s burgeoning reconnection, Walter losing his mind once more.
Astrid twatting around with VHS.
The points that risked bringing the season down were related to the lack of focus in this new world. It’s telling that last episode “The Recordist” was omitted from this week’s “previously on…”, showing that the (still enjoyable) installment didn’t bring anything truly shocking and permanent to the table. Every episode in this truncated final season needs to twist, and that one didn’t.
Some of the characterizations also faltered. As mentioned above, Astrid is still criminally underused, and one supposes that Jasika Nicole must have been extra emotional during last season’s “Worlds Apart”, the departure of Austrid possibly being her last chance to actually act on the show.
Etta’s consistency also wavered after the enjoyable torture aspect of the second episode – both last week and this week she operated as a sort of generic loving child for Peter and Olivia to feel things around. It was a dis-service to the character, and while it’s emotionally clever (aka manipulative) to make her sweetness and light considering her fate this week, it didn’t feel true.
The action of this season has also had its strong and weak moments. Any peak into the actual mechanics of the Observer-controlled world have been engaging, from the Ambered souls for sale in episode one, to the disparate rebel communities as seen in The Recordist. Some of the other action has been less so, especially more generic heist story lines and running down corridors waving guns.
This week, then, was an ample representation of what this season has been thus far. Another tape sends the Fringe team on a mission to retrieve another part of Walter’s plan, and in a fangasming moment Walter reveals that he’s kept some of the Fringe Division’s greatest hits in the basement of the lab. The team retrieve the package – a complex mathematical equation – and reconnect with their old friend Broyles, before being scattered to a local warehouse. So far, so thrilling.
What happened in the warehouse, though, was entirely unexpected. Etta was cornered by an Observer, who commented on the necklace Peter had risked himself to purchase earlier in the episode – and then killed her.
Henrietta Bishop, we hardly knew ye.
It was a daring moment – and perhaps one that won’t entirely stick (more on that below) – and acted both as a culmination of the Bishop family’s risky resurgence and a strong indication that this rebellion does indeed have casualties.
Where the season goes from here is anyone’s guess. There will be tapes, of course, but the emotional ramifications – and in Fringe, emotional ramifications always have plot ramifications – are harder to guess. I’m hoping that it will light a fire under the team. This episode painted the Fringe team in a terrorist light, and it’s a choice that can work as well as the opening episodes of Battlestar Galactica’s third season.
In the coming weeks, I want to see the Bishop family exacting an all-out assault on the Observers, while in the background their emotions crumble.
It wouldn’t be Fringe without both.
– My thoughts on Etta’s demise: because it came so early, and because it seems like an emotional punch too far to kill Peter and Olivia’s daughter (especially as little Henry was winked out of existence), I believe we will be seeing her again. This ties into the bits of dialogue heard in Walter’s tape at the beginning, saying that anything can be reversible.
– Broyles is back! Those holding their Fringe bingo cards just need Nina to show up next week giving a piggyback to William Bell.
– The bullet on the necklace was, presumably, the one that Walter shot Olivia with at the end of last season. In that context, it’s both epic and icky.
– Joshua Jackson IS Peter Bishop IN “Too Many Necklaces”.
– “There were times we solved Fringe cases. Now it’s time we started a few of our own.” That groan was the sound of everyone jizzing themselves.
– The Observers have really been a casting coup for bald men in the Vancouver area.
– Once again, where are the female Loyalists? Sexism.
– “Like everyone I was terrified that the Pinkos would attack.”
– Broyles proves, once again, that black men age beautifully.
– Walter’s jelly donut terrified me more than any Fringe monster.
– Walter being electrocuted and continuing as if nothing happened was priceless.
– See you next week for “An Origin Story”.