This week’s episode of Fringe takes us to the future, though there are certainly lots of ties to the past. It is 2036 and the Observers rule over mankind, and while there is a resistance trying to overthrow the oppressors, it is not having much success. Their hope lies in a pair of Fringe agents trying to bring back secrets from before the occupation, and at the same giving us all an insight of what happened to our original Fringe team. It is the best episode of the season so far, and so full of details and twists that a proper recap is almost impossible, so let’s instead focus on what we learned this week.
You know you’re in for serious sci-fi when there’s an opening crawl
I really liked the whole opening scene to this episode and how it sets the stage for the rest of the story. If there’s one thing Fringe does right is the whole dystopian future thing, this time with Observers acting as the oppressors and Fringe division reduced to policing human on human violence. From the opening crawl to the show’s darker title sequence, it’s clear that humans (or “Natives” as they’re called) are under the thumb of the Observers. The scene with Rick in the club (a nice nod to Casablanca by the way) shows just how powerless humans are when facing the Observers, especially since they have the ability to scan your mind and wipe it, something we hadn’t really seen before on the show.
What’s most surprising in this episode is the huge difference in the way the Observers act in this episode when compared to previous seasons. I feel that we don’t get any indication of what caused this change in the Observers from an observational role to one involving taking over the Earth. Perhaps the Fringe writers are planning on addressing this issue in one of the remaining episodes of the season. There’s also Broyles relationship with the head Observer, Widmark, that reminds me a little of Captain Renault from Casablanca, the head of law enforcement reluctantly helping the rulers to help save his own neck. Maybe in a future episode we will see a similar reversal in Broyles like Capt. Renault had in the movie.
Walter Bishop is a man for all seasons (and timelines apparently)
John Noble gave one of his best performances of the season, both as addled Walter and the bad ass “let’s make an antimatter bomb” Walter. The scene at the train station when Walter is being questioned by the Loyalist guard was excellent not only in the dialogue (any time you can quote Star Wars dialogue in correct context is a win in my book), but in how Noble brought out Walter’s quirkiness without making it seemed forced. Then on the other end of the spectrum you have Walter after the serum shot who carried as much swagger as Alt-Broyles did in last week’s episode, something we hadn’t really seen from Walter (or any incarnation of him) since maybe Secretary of Defense Walternate last season.
I also want to say that Henry Ian Cusack needs to get back on TV ASAP, and not just in stories involving time travel. I wished we got more of him in this episode and hope that there is a chance we see him again on Fringe in the future (yeah that puns intended). His Simon was a nice “Peter-type” offset to Georgina Haig’s Etta, though I’m not sure if the writers wanted to make it seem that they’re relationship was more personal than it actually came through in the episode. Haig was great as Etta, who really gave off an Olivia vibe (and it’s clear why by the end of the episode).
Ten Minutes that could change Fringe forever (or not)
The last part of the episode where the good guys try to free the rest of Walter’s team from the Amber and once again escape the Observers is where we find out the big “game changer” for this season of Fringe. The first shocking event was that William Bell is back and frozen along with Walter in the Amber (how many times can Bell come back from the dead?). Walter and Astrid give hints of something happening in the past to Olivia due to Bell’s return, though it’s not clear what occurred.
The second event was that Walter knows how to defeat the Observers, but needed to steal William Bell’s hand from the Amber in order to do so (cool but at the same time eww). They talk about this weapon Walter had designed throughout the episode, but where are they headed to now? Is there another hidden lab out there (perhaps at Reiden Lake) where the team will complete the device? The way the episode ended really doesn’t leave you a sense of closure, so perhaps we will be revisiting 2036 before the end of the season.
Lastly, after Simon sacrificed himself to free him, we learn that Peter is Etta’s father. It’s a touching scene, even though they kinda foreshadow it when we learn that Etta can hide her thoughts from the Observers (a very Olivia like power). The real puzzler is that Olivia (Etta’s mom) was not in the Amber. It must be tied to what Walter and Astrid had said about William Bell, but could it also have something to do with Etta’s necklace with an odd pendant, a bullet. Did Olivia meet her end against the mysterious Mr. X from last season? Did William Bell cause her end? So many questions!
Yet the real question fans have to ask is “Is this a real Fringe story or just a one off?” The answer to this question is critical because there was a lot of emotional investment involved in this episode. To have the writers come back later and say it wasn’t really part of the main story is going make them lose some face in the eyes of the fan. At least when Peter jumped forward in the Season 3 finale, there was a reason as to why that future was not possible through the time traveling exploits of the First People (though paradoxes!). Here there isn’t any closure, so we need to come back to this story at some point right?
Favorite Parts of “Letters of Transit”:
- In 2036 you now have chewable coffee instead of liquid coffee. What is it with Fringe and the anti-java conspiracy?
- Opening title sequence where Free Thought and Individuality are kind of treated as the “fringe” concepts
- The dystopian look and feel of the future, especially the posters all over the city (“Take Back America” / “End the observer occupation”)
- “Of course, you understand the risk of wanting to save the world?” Nina to Simon.
- “I am not a number. I am a free man.” / “These arent the droids you are looking for.” – Walter to the guard at the train station. Awesome for quoting Star Wars and The Prisoner in the same conversation.
- “Shoot first. I’ll read them later.” – Observer that looks like Anderson Cooper
- “Neither Belly or I ever left ourselves one way out of a room.” – Walter
- “He’s half a fruitcake short of Christmas.” – Etta about Walter
- Etta’s actual name is Henrietta, which is interesting in that the child Peter and Bolivia had in Season 3 was named Henry
A couple of last thoughts on this episode. Unlike the last time we did a little side trip into the future at the end of Season 3, this episode shows us not a potential future, but one that will really happen. The problem is that we don’t get any idea of what was the triggering event for the Observers taking over. Was it tied to David Robert Jones’ grand plans? Is it tied to the attack on the Observer September earlier this season? Then there’s also the lack of closure to the episode. Does this mean this episode was a stand alone? If so, why do this episode? Perhaps to give an idea of what happens to Peter and Olivia? This may be one of the best episodes of Fringe ever, but how it ties in to the rest of the season(s) will really be the deciding factor.
What did you think of “Letters of Transit”? Did you see any other hints at Casablanca in the episode? What did you think of the big reveal in the end about Etta? What do you think happened with Olivia? Why is William Bell back? I can’t wait to hear your thoughts in the comments section.
On next week’s Fringe we will begin to the see David Robert Jones’ end game, and it will involve people from Olivia’s past. Will the universes have to sever all ties in order to survive? Make sure to tune in to FOX next Friday at 9 PM to see “Worlds Apart”, the last episode before the huge two part season finale of Fringe.