RECAP: FRINGE's 'Bullet That Saved The World' Shoots Us Right In The Gut

©2012 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Liane Hentscher/FOX

I’ll be honest: I had to take a couple of minutes – okay, hours – before I sat down and recapped this week’s episode of FRINGE, because that ending? Pretty much an emotional wreck over here. Sure, there were some low points as well as the high points, but we’re well out of the Planet of the Tree Librarians from last week, and into the strong, epic emotion that made this year’s season premiere so memorable. Spoilers after this point, by the way:

First of all, how about that pre-credits sequence, huh? Peter heads to a pawn shop outside of Boston to pick up a chain for Etta. There, an Observer shows up, acts creepy, realizes he can’t read Peter… And Peter runs. Hiding in the sewer, Peter cocks his gun… And then sees there’s a grenade right next to him. He runs again, jumps, is engulfed in white light, and cut to Observer-themed FRINGE credits.

There are a couple of things that are wonderful about this scene, not least of which is the coiled intensity between Joshua Jackson and the weirdo who plays the Observer here. Jackson does some amazing back-ting, keeping the tense scene together even when he’s facing away from the camera. But even more important, it addresses – as does the entire episode – the main problems with episodes two and three, that things have been pretty easy for our Fringe team so far.

There’s a line later in the episode where someone says, “The Observers have always been two steps ahead of us,” and well, that’s just not true. The fact that the Fringers can flit in and out of wherever they want with ease, and even set up shop for nearly three hours of show time under the Big Bad’s noses with no problems shows that the Fringe team, in fact, has been at least ten steps ahead of the invaders.

This episode is all about closing that gap considerably, and it’s pretty simply laid out in that first scene. Peter has gotten complacent enough that he can walk into a heavily patrolled area just to get a chain for his daughter, a point that’s laid out by one of the Observers later in the episode. This week, the bad guys force our heroes out in the open, and there are significant losses on both sides.

Sob.

Okay, back to the episode… Tape #2 in our seven tape treasure hunt gets discovered, but it’s as destroyed as the others, leaving the heroes with no hope of tracking down the next clue... At least until Walter realizes he’s left himself plans to the machine that will destroy The Observers in his childhood hiding spot, off a platform in Newark Penn Station. Naturally, this is a heavily patrolled spot, so the team has to come up with a distraction in order to snag the plans.

Turns out, Walter has been hiding evidence from every single case the FRINGE team ever went on in Seasons One through Four, right under the Harvard lab. This leads to a cool, Easter Egg filled sequence where we get to see bits and pieces of previous episodes… And the grossest donut hole ever.

Meanwhile, Broyles - who is working as a lackey for the bad guys - is having a stand-off with The Observers over a leak in his department. To the surprise of no-one in the viewing audience, Broyles is secretly a member of the Resistance, and tips off Etta that the Observers are headed to the Harvard lab. With seconds remaining, the Fringers decide to vacate, and re-amber the lab so it looks like no one was ever there.

There’s a couple of problems with this sequence, probably the weakest for me in the episode, not least of which is that the Fringe gang had clearly been in that lab disturbing stuff for a while. Sure they re-ambered the lab, but did they also replace the mounds of dust and cobwebs that were there before they entered, and all their footprints and heat signatures? Okay, it’s one small moment, but in the middle of so much awesomeness, it stuck out as a low point.

Back to awesomeness though: the next sequence kicked all kinds of butt, as the team heads into Observer territory by employing the scar tissue creating agent from Season 1’s “Ability.” The break into the train station, find the plans, and get out without a second to spare. Except, they don’t really, as a Loyalist guard has attached a tracker to their car.

They meet up with Broyles for an emotional reunion, only for the Observers to attack. Into a warehouse goes our Fringe team, Walter gets lost as usual… And Etta gets shot by Windmark.

Yeah. So. I got a feeling pretty early in the episode, when Olivia is having the conversation with Etta about the bullet she wears around her neck – the same bullet that “killed” Olivia in Season Four’s finale – that someone was going to die, to give this whole thing weight. And it had to be Etta, if anyone, right? To give our heroes extra motivation to stop The Observers?

That doesn’t mean it didn’t feel like a punch in the gut when it happened… Or watching Peter and Olivia making the choice to leave Etta to die, anti-matter bomb in hand, wasn’t completely gut-wrenching awful. Or the following scene, with Walter telling Peter they have to go, while Peter looked at where Etta used to exist wasn’t equally horrible.

Things were pretty bad when we started this season. Now they’re worse… But this is FRINGE, so there’s hope, right? The behind-the-scenes team has been taking their sweet time rolling out the elements of this show we love so much, just bringing back Broyles this week for one. We’ll probably be getting Nina Sharpe again soon, but there’s one big element that hasn’t shown up, that might help us with this whole "Etta is dead" problem:

There’s more than one of everything, right? Right.

We’ll see you next week, as the countdown to the end of FRINGE continues.

RANDOM NOTES:

- There were so many great shots in the “secret lab under the lab” sequence it’s hard to pull out one, but the hero shot of Walter saying, “There was a time when we solved FRINGE cases. I think it's time we made some of our own,” made me squeal with glee. Interesting to note, though, that line was said by Peter in the SDCC highlights reel that was made expressly to sell Season 5 to FOX. That has no bearing on anything.

- “Astrif! Prepare the laser!”

- Olivia grabs Etta’s necklace as she dies, and leaves first. Peter can’t make himself leave. Nice bit of character consistency there.

- I would have loved to see a few more FRINGE event weapons used in the episode, but I imagine we'll be getting those soon? Still, glad they chose one of the more visually terrifying ones.

- "I met her for the first time at a crime scene five years ago. And even though she was facing away from me, I swear it could have been you." - Phillip Broyles, Butt Detective

- You notice the "Manifest Destiny" graffiti on the bridge the gang met Broyles under? Set dressing, or happy accident?

- On the last point I made in the recap, you don’t just have Peter dismissively say, “There has got to be a better option to get us into that train station than a portal that lets us see into another universe,” without it coming back later on. This ain’t our first rodeo, Wyman.