Fringe Season 5 Review “The Recordist”

This year’s Emmy awards was a culmination of the cable drama’s ascension to the top of the landscape. Cable dramas are lauded for their creativity, story-telling, and risk-taking. Meanwhile, most network dramas have receded into a world of mostly one-note procedurals. The shift is stark, but difficult to argue against. Many network defenders (including the networks themselves) bemoan the fact that they have 22 episodes to cable’s shorter 10-13 episode seasons. As a result, they have to come up with more stories, draw out other stories, and have less freedom with regards to content.

However, episodes like Fringe‘s latest effort, “The Recordist,” prove why those arguments are merely the thin cries of network executives who are really complaining about an obscene lack of creativity. The largest advantage a network drama has over a cable drama will always be the budget. Even a show on its last legs like Fringe will have a budget that will make the producers of The Walking Dead turn into money-hungry zombies. As a result of the larger budget, the set pieces on a network drama are allowed to be in constant motion and the characters can explore new things/places/people. It’s better than hanging out on a farm for a month waiting on zombies to come get you.

Walter’s scavenger hunt set up at the end of last week’s episode leads to a fun trip into the northern areas of Pennsylvania. While the reason for the trip certainly seemed a little thin (We really need those rocks, but we have no idea for what purpose.), the trip was a nice diversion from the constant villainy of the Observers and the depressing wasteland that is the year 2036. The trip seemed like it asked for some emotional investment in the bark people, but it was really just another exercise in showing the sacrifices that people are willing to make for the Fringe team. Ultimately, we all have to be willing to give up something for freedom. Fringe apparently adheres to the policy that freedom really isn’t free.

While this episode was entertaining, it definitely read like a “killing time” episode. Yes, we got the magic rocks we needed, but in a race to figure out how to stop the Observers, unloading one of your thirteen rounds on a contained story within northern Pennsylvania is moderately head-scratching. Given all of the world-building required of this season, it seems like an odd placement from a structural standpoint.

Some quick thoughts:

*I was wondering when we were going to see our first Resistance mole working as a Loyalist. I still am not the least bit interested in people not named Peter, Olivia, or Walter, but it was nice to see the Resistance extending beyond 6 people.

*Relationship work was far more poignant in this episode. The emotional work focused more on Peter and Olivia. Even though it was still tied into Etta, it was good to see them in that setting together.

*Not to objectify Ms. Torv, but I’m about to: Olivia is absolutely smoking this season. Who knew that a wardrobe change from pants suit to an awesome leather jacket and jeans could make such a huge difference?

*The kid’s name being River was the unintentional comedy gift of my Friday night.

*I like that the Fringe team uses the exact same method I used on my old Nintendo games to clean up Walter’s scavenger hunt videos.

What did everyone else think of tonight’s episode?