There are times in which shows inadvertently demonstrate their own shortcomings onscreen. And there are other times in which those shortcomings are in fact part of the show’s design, meant to highlight intentional faults in order to reveal truths. For most of tonight’s “Fringe”, I worried the former was the case on display in “The Human Kind”. But by the final scene, those worries were dissipated. That doesn’t mean the episode as a whole worked. But tonight served to close off the second act of this final season and reset things for the final overall act of the series. Meet the new Peter. Same as the old Peter. And with all his hair intact, to boot.
Having our remaining core four split off from one other so late in the game was a risky proposition, albeit necessary at this stage of the narrative game. Peter’s gradual transformation from the man we’ve known into the Observer-esque entity he has being turning into necessitates isolation from those around him. Quite often, that isolation took literal form, with him stalking Windmark in New York City. But that solitude also turned metaphorical when it came time to have Walter stitch him up after a teleportation-laden thrown down with Windmark.* Peter didn’t feel pain at his wounds, nor did he feel affection for his father, as Walter stitched him up. Peter simply detected a weakness in his mainframe and sought the necessary solution in order to complete the task at hand.
* That throwdown? Incredibly bad-ass. Simple, effective, and creatively choreographed. On one end of the show’s fighting spectrum, you have last season’s unfortunate fight between an Olivia-influenced Peter vs. David Robert Jones. On the other, you have tonight’s spectacular Peter vs. Windmark tussle.
While Peter tried to get Windmark back “on track” to a timeline that would achieve mathematical certainty of the latter’s death, Walter and Astrid stayed behind in the lab in order to analyze the piece of tech currently rewiring Peter. Obtained through Anil via Olivia, the pair discovered that the tech effected “controlled evolution”, heightening intellect at the expense of emotion through a reworking of the brain’s overall infrastructure. I’m not sure we truly needed an explanation for how it worked, since we’ve clearly seen the effects of the device on Peter’s personality and biology. Still, I understand Walter’s impulse to try and reverse engineer the process. After all, this tech isn’t like The Force: it’s something tangible, therefore figuring out how it worked isn’t as farfetched. But it wasn’t particularly dramatic, either.
Still, it was probably better than Olivia’s unfortunate trip to a Fitchburg junkyard, where a woman named Simone (played by singer/actress Jill Scott) had been waiting twenty-plus years for someone to collect a large magnet that is part of The Great And Neverending And Increasingly Cnvulted Plot To Defeat The Observers. This is the second time this season that “Fringe” has explored a subculture on the outskirts of major metropolitan areas in this post-apocalyptic world, and it’s the second time that it’s failed to make the sojourn either interesting from a sociological or dramatic standpoint. Ostensibly, this is a fairly-well populated enclave that has decades of history involving living day-to-day, making morally difficult decisions, and trying to maintain humanity in the face of temptations such as the “Reward Wire”. Yet all we really saw were two adults and one child that barely had any interaction with each other. Budgetary reasons, coupled with a shortened season, defanged a potentially potent idea.
But what really stopped things dead was Simone playing a version of The Oracle in “The Matrix” trilogy. There’s a good argument to be made for throwing out a “science” versus “faith” discussion at this part of the show, especially involving Olivia who is herself at a crossroads. Without Peter to lean on after Etta’s death, she has largely given up on anything resembling a divine plan at the outset of the hour. The problem is, I didn’t really understand that until the episode gave Olivia long passages in which she described her mindset. And that’s a problem.
Exposition in favor of action is never a good thing, no matter what show and no matter what character. Having Olivia express to Walter that she’s going “out of [her] skin” as a reason for her traveling to Fitchburg in the first place is sound motivation. But that didn’t provide the context for the semi-nihilistic viewpoint expressed once there. To be clear: it’s not the viewpoint I take issue with here. It’s the way that the show took a writing shortcut to take both Olivia and us to that point. Throw the show’s typically clunky exposition on top of this, and there was little even actresses as talented as Scott and Anna Torv could do to save their crucial scene together.
By the time Olivia left Fitchburg without heeding Simone’s warning, only walk into a trap that all but had a huge “AMBUSH” sign above it, and I was ready to throw in the towel on both this episode and potentially hope that Olivia might be redeemed as a character in this final season. But then she MacGyver’ed her way out of a ransom situation* and used the bullet once lodged in her own brain to free Peter’s own brain from the pervasive power of the Observer tech. I thought Peter’s transition would last longer than this week, but frankly I’m glad this was a relatively short arc in the final season.
* I’m not sure if her Rube Goldberg-esque trap was more or less badass than Peter’s fight with Windmark. But both were capital-A Awesome.
Olivia’s decision to fight for Peter would have meant infinitely more had we ever seen their initial split after Etta’s disappearance, but that’s just a casualty of the show’s low ratings and shortened final season. Not much that can be done about that. Despite all those shortcomings, that final scene between the two worked, with Olivia assuming agency in a way that has been severely lacking this season. She didn’t have to flex her muscles to save Peter’s soul. She simply had to reach out and jog his memory by activating what little emotional areas still existed in his brain.* As one who has been waiting for Olivia to step into an active, central role in this last season, that final encounter was an extremely welcome one.
* Between the magnet, the “science” versus “faith”, and the memory flashes, this was the most “Lost” of any “Fringe” episode yet, no? Come to think of it, Locke was bald, wasn’t he? Hmmm.
Having Olivia replace the Observer tech with “the bullet that saved the world” worked as both a strong image but also a hopeful metaphor for the show’s storytelling over these final five hours. Watching Peter and Windmark run futures on each other was interesting, but hardly engaging. It was like watching two computer programs play chess with each other. You can admire the complexity without having any real stake in the outcome. While Walter’s insanely elaborate scavenger hunt still remains intact, that’s an acceptable part of the show so long as it stays subservient to the characters. Getting Peter back as “himself” is a big step in the right direction for the show heading into its final stretch. I’ll take imperfect, messy emotional moments over coldly calculated plot any and every day of the week.
A few more thoughts about tonight’s episode…
I’ll confess to being completely unclear who is putting up all the Etta signs. I’m surmising the show will eventually explain this (maybe September’s been in a Kinko’s all season?), but it’s also possible that I missed something obvious. It’s strange that Olivia just accepts these signs all over the place as something normal, right?
“Truth churches” sound like an interesting concept, albeit one I’m not sure I need further explained onscreen. How can Observers not read people? Or is a moral agreement?
Olivia describes the Observers’ power to Simone at point as non-magical. “They are just better at math than we are,” she explains. If that’s the case, I went to school with a ton of Observers. I am terrible at math.
If Peter knew Windmark would be in Etta’s apartment at 5:42 pm, that seems like a good time to set a trap and kill him right then and there. Correct? Or am I thinking about this too much? Also, have I mentioned I’m glad I’m not watching two computers play stealth games with each other any more? Because that was hurting my brain.
Thank you, Anil, for making Astrid seem well-utilized by comparison. You just show up with weapons and a dead-sexy accent a few times per episode and then get out of the way. Mazel tov, buddy.
Maybe Olivia’s MacGyver skills will come in handy when it comes time to assemble the various pieces of the scavenger hunt into…whatever it’s supposed to become. At this point, I wonder if the “Fringe” finale will feature a Voltron-esque monstrosity fighting an army of Observers. If so, this will be, by default, the greatest finale in television history.
I don’t necessarily need Nina to come back, but I’ll be mad if Broyles doesn’t show up in the next four Fridays. (There are two more episodes this month, then two Fridays in January, the latter of which will feature a two-hour finale.)
What did you think about tonight’s episode? Did you anticipate Peter’s arc as an Observer would end so quickly? Did Olivia finally get something interesting to do this season? Are you still interested in the scavenger hunt to defeat The Observers? What do you hope to see in the final five hours? Sound off below!