'Fringe' Recap - 'Five-Twenty-Ten'
The show makes things personal, even while Peter's personality starts to disappear.
One thing I’ve never gotten about the spoiler culture surrounding television is why it’s so important to know what’s going to happen before episodes air. “Spoiler culture” is a vague term, one that incorporates different things for different people. Short of simply unplugging from all forms of media, it’s extremely difficult to stay truly unaware. For instance, “Fringe” and FOX hyped up the return of Nina Sharpe tonight, removing any and all surprise that would have ensued for people just turning on tonight’s episode “Five-Twenty-Ten” without any knowledge of such casting news. The “why” was kept under wraps, and there’s the not-small matter of journeys being more important than destinations when it comes to television. But still: why strain to look ahead when there’s a great view right outside your window?
Casting news is probably unavoidable, even for a spoiler-phobe like me. But there are plenty of ways to learn specific plot details about future episodes of “Fringe”, should one want to find them. I could probably learn the shape of things to come, to coin a phrase from a past episode of “Lost”, if I really wanted to do so. But doing so would diminish for me both the highs and lows of this final season of “Fringe”, and Lord knows we’ve seen plenty of both categories already this season. But not having the epic highs or epic lows seems like a disservice, not an added value. I’d be left simply waiting for things I already know will happen to unfold onscreen. In other words, I might end up looking at the world of “Fringe” not unlike poor, misguided Peter Bishop.
Not knowing how this future dystopian world of 2036 would fit into the ultimate endgame of the show posed both excitement and trepidation for me heading into this season. And I’m sure many of you shared those feelings to varying degrees as well. While episodes such as last week’s misfire seemed content to emphasize this season’s scavenger hunt over character development, “Five Twenty Ten” absolutely nailed that balance. In many ways, the search for the next component in Walter’s plan to defeat The Observers was a second thought. I’m guessing the re-emergence of the beacons within the show will help provide a way to get September back into the mix. But forget all that for now. Tonight’s episode wasn’t about getting one step closer to sending The Observers away. Tonight’s episode was about how the Bishops’ attempts to push the limits of their own humanity push everyone they love away. In doing so, “Fringe” deployed perhaps its strongest episode of the past two seasons.
It didn’t take a stunning final montage that interwove Walter and Peter alone with their thoughts to underline this point. (Though that David Bowie-scored bad boy certainly didn’t hurt.) Rather, it’s been coming ever since Etta’s death, which served to unmoor Walter and Peter something fierce. Peter turned to Observer tech to dull the pain, while Walter entertained his inner demons and gave them voice once again. Contrast that with Olivia and Nina, two women who have suffered (both literally and figuratively) at the hand of male geniuses and their insatiable egos. It would be one thing for these women to settle for loving men who couldn’t love them back. But Walter, Peter, and even William Bell simultaneously have the capacity to love while simultaneously engineering their own isolation in search of Science, Truth, and other capitalized abstract concepts. “Fringe” has long been a show about how family has been able to be a stabilizing force in an unknowable world. Well, tonight’s episode tested that theory and found it suspect at this point in the narrative.
Joshua Jackson’s portrayal of Peter sinking into Observer-levels of existence was a stand-out aspect of this installment. It’s easy to just play “robotic”. It’s another to strip out Peter’s existing personality and recalibrate his relation to his environment for every scene. Over the course of the hour, the balance between personal will and Observer tech subtly shifted. Long before clumps of hair starting coming out, Peter view on the world started to change. Not only could he see in code, but he could also see complex patterns and use them to his advantage. What felt like prognostication in the vein of “Lost”’s Desmond Hume instead was the power of observation coupled with The Observers’ rigid daily schedule. This allowed Peter to take three top lieutenants normally kept separate from one another and place them in the same room in order to take them all out at once.
Peter didn’t simply change the way he perceived the the world. He also changed the cadence and vocabulary in his speech. In doing so, adjectives started to fall off, since they were no longer necessary. The fewest amount of words started to suffice, since Peter’s point-of-view pushed past speech and into the realm of ones and zeroes. Peter saying, “It’s logical that we split up,” is both a sly nod to Leonard Nimoy’s “Star Trek” days but also a way to draw a through line between men like Bell and entities such as The Observers. After all, what links them together isn’t the tech but the impetus to augment the human body with said tech in the first place.
As for Walter, his fear of turning into the old version of himself has been ramped up a little too quickly over these past two episodes. But it has underlined how devastating Peter’s transformation might be for him once he learns about it. Ever since his brain was made whole again in “Letters Of Transit”, Walter has been able to hold onto Peter as his own type of beacon. Now, all of that could be thrown into flux. What does “defeating The Observers” means if it entails the defeat of his son? Now, trying to connect events from the show’s past into this show’s present day can be dodgy when it involves anyone but Peter and Olivia.* But Walter’s arc from viewing Peter as his original sin to the person who can ultimately save him from true damnation is affecting all the same.
* He remembers the very first fringe event they worked on, which he employed to kill The Observers. She also remembers it, even if her physical body experienced another time line. I think. Oh look, my ears are bleeding.
This season has left Olivia oddly on the sidelines while the Bishops have worked through their respective descents into hell. But I thought tonight’s episode finally started her final arc on the show as the only individual who can save both Bishop boys, and in doing so save the world. Even if the show is about a small group and not just one individual, there’s no one but Olivia who can be the true hero. Whether or not that means she’s front and center when the time comes, or simply acts as the Samwise to the Bishops’ collective Frodo, we’ll see.
But regardless, she’s the moral core of this show right now, the true beacon that can hold everything together. Her wordless exit at the end of the hour was haunting, but what could she say? There could not appeal to a man who didn’t sell the world, but may have sold his soul, in order to avenge Etta. Olivia didn’t get the chance of break down after her daughter died. For the second time, she had to be strong while Peter crumbled. And now she has to be even stronger upon seeing just how far Peter has fallen.
Hell, “Peter” might not even be there anymore. The man who brought back Olivia’s memories has lost his own in a sea of blue code and yellow timelines. He couldn’t even be bothered to keep up the subterfuge by the end of the hour, content to spill out facts about his timeline because he was no longer concerned with protecting her feelings. “Feelings” are as foreign to him at this point as they are to Windmark. Etta is no longer the emotional reason for defeating The Observers as much as an operating system that defines and deploys his specific actions. In trying to be “ten times the man” when yielding that tech, Peter Bishop is now a shell of the man he once was. He can’t help himself anymore. But Olivia can. And will.
“Fringe” still hasn’t been able to string together successively strong episodes yet this season, but they’ve done enough good work to suggest that the end might yield a good payoff to the series as a whole. There’s no way to no that for sure. But that’s just the way I like it. The stakes are refreshingly personal in ways that have been absent from the show for far too long. So long as they stay along this course, we may be in for a good final stretch of the show.
What did you think about tonight’s episode? Am I overhyping it, or did you find it equally satisfying? How did Peter’s transformation work for you? With only six hours left, what do you hope to see before the curtain finally closes? Sound off below!