Fringe Review, Season 4, Episode 19: “Letters of Transit”
Written by Akiva Goldsman, J. H. Wyman, and Jeff Pinkner
Directed by Joe Chappelle
Airs Fridays at 9pm (ET) on FOX
This week, on Fringe: Etta’s lost her parents, Walter’s lost his marbles, and humanity’s lost their freedom
After weeks of build up in the most recent David Robert Jones arc, Fringe takes a week off from the Multiverse drama to give a preview of what a season five might look like, should the Powers that Be decide to bring the struggling series back next year for a final 13 episodes. Set 24 years in the future, we’re introduced to Etta and Simon, Fringe agents in charge of monitoring the human population. Observers have taken over the world and subdued the populace, quashing any signs of rebellion. Played by Georgina Haig and Henry Ian Cusick, Etta and Simon make compelling leads and ground this potentially off-putting new world.
It soon becomes clear that the episode will end with much of the current Fringe team freed from amber and joining the fight, but the writers never shift the focus from Etta and Simon. They spend the time to let the audience really get to know these characters and are surprisingly effective, given such a short window in which to do so. Cusick is incredibly charismatic, as fans of Lost can attest, but Haig is a pleasant surprise. She immediately garners the audience’s interest and sympathy with her tough, yet relaxed demeanor and slight air of mystery. By the episode’s end, Simon is trapped in amber, to be freed, one assumes, should the series get picked up and Cusick’s current series Scandal get cancelled, and Etta is off to fight the fight with Astrid, Walter, and Peter, her father.
Notably absent is Olivia. Walter makes a vague reference to her unfortunate fate, one assumes tying in with September’s unhappy prognostications, but the details are left to the audience’s imagination. Perhaps most surprising of all is the return, in a way, of Leonard Nimoy as William Bell and Walter’s assertion of Bell’s complicity in whatever happened to Olivia. Given that Fringe has already brought Bell back from the dead, it’s hard to imagine how he’ll return without it feeling redundant, but if anything, these writers have proven themselves creative, so it should be interesting to see what they come up with.
Though Broyle’s aging up isn’t particularly great, Reddick is predictably solid in his few scenes. Nina handles the extra 20 years better and Blair Brown is a lot of fun to watch, especially in her scenes with John Noble. Noble has proven his versatility time and again and this episode is just another example to add to the pile. Walter spends much of the episode as more of a personification of the obstacles Etta and Simon must overcome than as a character, but Noble fills these scenes with warmth and touches of the Walter we’ve come to know and love, providing a through-line for fans from the current show to this dystopic future. Credit is also due to the writers for their judicious use of Walter-inspired quirk. It would be easy for the character to overtake his scenes, particularly without Peter or Olivia there to ground him, but this problem never arises.
Fascist/Totalitarian dystopic futures are nothing new in science fiction, but though this particular take feels familiar, it’s well realized. Starting the episode with a brief text crawl eliminates any need for exposition and, aside from a one or two sentence aside from Walter explaining the Observers’ motivations, the episode functions well without it. Certain elements don’t work quite as well as others, the brothel for example feels particularly on the nose, but as a whole, the world feels complete and, perhaps most importantly, feasible. We’ve gotten very little explanation of the Observers thus far, so while painting them as patient villains may throw some for a loop, it feels to this reviewer like a piece of the puzzle clicking into place.
At this point it’s no surprise, but once again the Fringe production team does a great job. It’s easy to take this for granted, but every week, they put out well lit, well shot, well edited, and well scored episodes. This may seem like a small thing, but a quick look at the majority of television demonstrates just how significant, and worthy of praise, this is. The question that remains this week is that of the Universes. This appears to be Our Side- what about the Other Side? Are they following a similar timeline? We’ve seen Observers on both Sides- why would they be content with just one Universe when they could conquer both? Are the two Universes still connected, or has the bridge been closed and the cracks sealed? If so, just when did this happen and why? Presumably these are the issues to be addressed in the remainder of this season. Only three episodes remain and there’s still a lot of story to go. Fringe has felt increasingly confident in the past several weeks- barring a drastic decline, we should be in for an exciting, satisfying finale.
What did you think of this episode? Are you excited at the potential for next season? What do you think happens to Olivia? Post your thoughts below!