Review: FRINGE S5E04, THE BULLET THAT SAVED THE WORLD (Or, The Team Loses One Of Their Own And For A Smart Guy, Walter Is Awfully Dumb)
We begin with the positives.
We begin with Peter out roaming the streets, siphoning gas and visiting a pawn shop to replace the necklace they took from Etta to provide solder when building a laser device in the Harvard lab. It's not our first time to be out in the streets since the season began and the series rebooted with this new, occupation themed thread but it is the first time that Boston has actually felt like an occupied territory and The Observers like a tangible threat. The mood is great and when Peter is cornered and read by an Observer the tension is palpable. That a time traveling race of history chronicling beings wouldn't know what baseball is after watching hundreds of years of human history is a bit ridiculous but, hey, you'll take what you can get and this is a big step forward after three weeks of the Fringe team being able to roam freely and do whatever they want whenever they want with minimal effort despite the supposed occupation.
And things continue strongly on that front. This is the most proactive The Observers have been all season by a landslide, the bald head oppressors pulling information out of captured rebel spies, clueing in to the fact that they've got a mole in their midst, and just generally being badasses. It's taken far too long to get to this point but now that we're here it works well.
Another plus? Sure. The Fringe team realizes that maybe they don't need to skulk quite so much, after all. I mean, they did spend four years researching bizarre events, yes? And they've got a stash of weird devices and weirder science that they can call upon from those years, yes? So why not use them? This episode feels like a transition in some regards, with not only the Observers but also Team Walter becoming more proactive and if the rest of the season turns out to employ a sort of Greatest Hits of the previous seasons weird science - as it promises it may - then that's alright with me.
But the biggest plus of all comes, surprisingly, from the removal of the biggest plus of the entire season thus far. Etta has been a welcome injection of fresh blood to the Fringe team, bringing with her a needed inside knowledge of this new world along with a compelling link to the past. And she hasn't been just a good character on the page, she's also been brought to life wonderfully by Georgina Haig who I can only hope will turn up elsewhere sometime soon. And it'll have to be elsewhere because - taking a page from the Joss Whedon playbook - Etta is gone from Fringe, gunned down by an Observer in a high risk raid gone wrong. It's a bold move that could backfire if the writers fail to find something compelling for the remaining characters to respond with but, for the time being, it's an immediate escalation of the stakes that serves notice that nobody is safe. This is the final season, after all, and everybody is ultimately expendable no matter how much the audience may love them.
So. Positives. There are a lot of them this week, this episode standing very much as the strongest of the season thus far. But this season has been wildly inconsistent within episodes and so there are a corresponding number of negatives as well.
As strong as The Observers were this week - and, please, let's keep them in this proactive mode, shall we? - there were also some notable issues. There's the baseball thing noted above, a weird gap in knowledge for a race that observed so much human life before moving in, to say nothing of the fact that baseball was still very much being played when they took over, but even weirder is an extended sequence with Broyles being grilled as to whether or not he knew the Bishops in the past. Er ... hello? The Bishops were under extensive observation by multiple Observers - not just the rogue September - for a period of decades, including the time that they were working under Broyles in Fringe division. This is old news and absolutely something that everyone should have been well aware of.
As any fan of The X-Files can tell you there is nothing worse than that sinking feeling that comes when you realize that what appeared to be a complex mythology is actually just being slapped together on the fly to suit whatever the narrative - or budget - needs of the time are rather than according to any overarching plan. That has very clearly now the case with The Observers and, sadly, the on-the-fly adjustments are often not at all in keeping with things that have occurred in the past. It appears that the best we can do at this point is to treat all things Observer as starting totally fresh with this season and to ignore anything that has come before. The writers certainly have.
And then there's the matter of Astrid. While Fringe has admirably resisted the time-honored science fiction tradition of killing the black characters first the show is beyond useless when it comes to giving Astrid anything meaningful to do. Case in point: This week, while everybody else gets to put on their big-boy pants and launch a quasi-military operation to retrieve a blue print Walter hid beneath Penn Station, Astrid gets hidden in a wall. Why? She's a fully trained FBI agent, fully capable of handling a firearm or - at the very minimum - standing lookout. But nope. Into the wall. Christ, if you really have that little use for her, you should just give her a good death already. Absolutely ridiculous.
And then there's Walter. Oh, Walter. Put aside for a moment that Walter has apparently had a hidden room in the Harvard lab where he's been stashing Fringe items throughout the previous four seasons without anyone ever noticing (Really? You don't notice when the giant porcupine man just vanishes?) because that is far from the biggest Walter related issue this week. The big one is the confirmation that Walter's big ploy to hide and protect his master plan from The Observers consists of recording it in seven parts on seven video tapes and then leaving all seven video tapes in plain view on the work benches in a single room, that room being the lab where he was known to have worked for his entire professional career. This is, quite frankly, the stupidest 'keep something safe' plan ever devised. It suits the narrative needs of the show to compartmentalize the information and spread it out over the season - assuming, of course, that you believe your audience is as stupid as the plan - and it certainly suits the budgetary needs of the show by reducing the number of locations required. But, really? Really? This is your big plan? If you're going to leave everything in one room, why on earth would you not just leave one message and be done with it? First person to find any of them is going to find all of them, anyway, pretending otherwise is just foolish.