Watching this week’s episode of FRINGE, I gasped audibly out loud at one point. I got chills. And by the end, I was a big puddle of tears. Sure, there were some flaws, and obvious dialogue, but this was not just FRINGE – but also television – at it’s best, full of epic moments, beautiful bits of acting… And if that wasn’t enough, it featured Henry Ian Cusack, better known to LOST fans as Desmond, the best character ever. Point being: if there was ever a tangible reason to keep the ratings troubled FRINGE on the air, it was this week’s hour of television.
Okay, let’s get deep into spoiler territory, before we talk about what worked beautifully – and what fell a little short – about “Letters of Transit.” The beginning starts off like Terminator or Star Wars, with a scroll explaining that in 2015, the Observers took over. There’s a resistance, of course, which is being quelled by what’s left of Fringe Division. Cut to a blonde woman walking in the fog. It’s 2036, so that can’t be Olivia right? Even though she’s got the look and the walk… And it’s not Olivia, though it is a plucky female Fringe agent who seems to be able to resist mental probes by the Observers.
It’s also worth mentioning at this point that these are maybe not the Observers we know. They’re more aggressive, more emotional, and have names that aren’t months. It’s not explicitly said, but the implication is that these are more than the science team we’ve seen before… This is the population of 2061, sent back in time to take over our world. We find this out much later, but it implies one of two things: the semi-passive Observers we’ve seen are not responsible for the world takeover… Or they aren’t a science team at all, but an advance invasion force. We don’t find out this hour, but it certainly recontextualizes everything we’ve seen from them so far.
So back to blondie, who we find out at the end of the episode is named Henrietta. She’s secretly part of the resistance, and has found – with the help of a pimp with a heart of gold – Walter Bishop, frozen in amber, cap, coat and all. See, he did this to himself, as well as the members of his team in 2015 in order to protect themselves from the invasion force, and since then have become a myth; the fabled saviors of the Earth. Henrietta takes Walter to her commanding officer, who, in an awesome turn of events, is Desmond from LOST – so get your fanfic crossovers going now, if you can.
Desmond unfreezes Walter, and in a nice little character moment, the first thing he asks for on waking up is snacks. The bad news? Walter had his brain fried by being in amber for twenty years, so off we go to meet Nina Sharpe. This throws in another interesting wrinkle, and a ton more questions. They’re friends here, and there’s no mention of the shape-shifter Nina from the last few episodes. So what universe is this? Did David Robert Jones manage to merge the two universes, and this is the result? Is this a new universe entirely (particularly as there’s something we’ll get to in a moment that raises even more questions)? Or are we in one of the two universes we know, and… Well, who knows? This episode raises a lot of those questions, and stubbornly refuses to answer them.
Anyway, Nina points the team to the pieces of Walter’s brain he had removed, so it’s off to the old Massive Dynamic facility. There, using a bit of pseudo science that probably would have been better left unexplained, they inject the brains into Walters head. Ten minutes later, he wakes up, and it becomes clear he hasn’t just regained his senses, he’s also become Dick Walter with his brain now intact. Luckily, Dick Walter is also Kick Ass Walter, and he manages to suck the entire Massive Dynamic building into non-existence using an anti-matter bomb, along with an Observer and a team of human stormtroopers in very, very subtle costumes that don’t recall Nazis at all. And does Walter walk away from the explosion without looking back? Of course he does. And it is awesome.
From there, it’s off to rescue the other members of Walter’s team frozen in amber, which turns out to include “Astro” and later, Peter. But there’s one other surprise member of the Fringe team frozen in Amber: the CGIed body of Leonard Nimoy, aka William Bell. Questions? Tons of them. But still, an awesome, shocking moment, and it leads to another shocking moment later on when it turns out that Walter didn’t need to rescue Belly from the amber, because he sliced his hand off. “Have you forgotten what he did to Olivia?” he asks Astrid, as they race away from the Observer infested New York. We don’t find that out either, though there’s a pretty big clue in the form of a used bullet Henrietta wears around her neck. She asks the unfrozen Peter if he recognizes her… It takes a moment, but he does: she’s his daughter, and as the train speeds off, hopefully sending the team to save the world, they embrace, and I drown in a puddle of my own tears.
The biggest problem about all of this: how does it fit into the greater arc of the season? We’ve had such a razor focus so far on the altered timeline, that to throw in so many new details that don’t have a clear connection to any of this (other than, perhaps, the inevitability of Olivia’s death) feels like whiplash. And as far as I can tell from reading the next episode’s description, we’re not following up on this any time soon… Despite a massive cliffhanger at the end.
There’s a few thematic resonances, to be sure: Broyles is working for the Observers, tying into last episode’s reveal that he’s willing to compromise his morals if it means saving some lives; there’s also the importance of Olivia and Peter’s child, of course, to the overall scheme of the universe; and naturally the deepening of just how far reaching Walter’s mistakes have caused the destruction of the world. But unlike the last time we jumped forward – in the third season finale “The Day We Died,” we don’t get closure here, or a clear sense of cause and effect.
I felt sure that we would learn David Robert Jones caused all of this, with his merging of the two universes. But his name isn’t even mentioned. Neither are the two universes, or Earth 2 at all, which is pretty much the foundation of the FRINGE mythology. It’s a curious step, and could likely drive even more viewers away from a show that can’t afford to lose them.
Also? Lots of clunky, explainy dialogue. Possibly important for actual clarity in the episode… You need Henrietta to say things like, “The Purge of 2015. I remember that,” so we know what the other characters are talking about. But when you’re already presenting a possible alternate future that doesn’t have a clear connection to either the two alternate universes, or the two alternate timelines for those two alternate universes… Well, you’re so far down the rabbit hole, you might as well throw clarity to the wolves.
But that all said, for a die hard FRINGE fan like myself, this episode was crack. Huge emotion, crazy science, and epic set pieces. The end of the episode had me dying to watch the next one, even if it isn’t a direct continuation. That’s good television right there. Now give us a frickin’ fifth season, FOX.
– Desmond sacrificing himself for the greater good gets me every time. It worked on LOST, and it works here. Cusack is an incredible leading man, and should probably star in every action movie ever. My two cents.
– I kind of love how this show continually gets around bringing Leonard Nimoy – an otherwise critical character for the show – back, by doing things like freezing him in amber and chopping off his hand.
– This episode reminded me a lot of “Epitaph” from the end of Dollhouse’s first season, for obvious reasons… Though they had enough time to eventually link up the timelines. I’m curious whether the remaining three episodes of this season will be able to fill in the blanks at all. I imagine not, and like the recent Dollhouse: Epitaphs comic, it may be up to DC to connect the dots, not FOX.