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Fringe, Ep. 5.01, “Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11”: Strong premiere sets up series’ brave new world

Fringe, Ep. 5.01, “Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11”: Strong premiere sets up series’ brave new world

Fringe, Season 5, Episode 1: “Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11”
Written by J. H. Wyman
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc and Miguel Sapochnik
Airs Fridays at 9pm (ET) on FOX

This week, on Fringe: Etta has shady connections, Walter has a screw loose, and Markham has a pretty sweet coffee table

After ending last season’s finale with a veritable explosion of happy, “Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11” starts Fringe’s final season off on a rather different note. The gloominess that has so often pervaded the series, right back to the pilot, is back in a big way and it’s no longer centered on the characters. The dystopic future first glimpsed in last season’s “Letters of Transit” is now the permanent setting, one of gray skies (pumped full of carbon monoxide, to better suit the Observers) and paved parks. This premiere presumably sets the template for where the season is headed and it’s looking to be a long, hard road to victory.

One of the strengths of Fringe has always been its focus on character, despite the complexity of some of its plots. It takes time to let its characters breathe, to give the audience a glimpse into their heads. The closing sequence this week is a prime example. John Noble impresses, as ever, and in this scene we see Walter’s despair and loss, but also hope. The moment is also aided by its scoring, continuing the show’s stellar track record as perhaps the network series with the best soundtrack, both in selection and use.

Noble isn’t the only actor given a moment to shine- Anna Torv continues to bring subtlety and poise to Olivia, particularly when she’s reunited with Etta and later, in her conversation with Peter. The rest of the cast does well in supporting roles and Michael Kopsa makes Captain Windmark a loatheable, and memorable, villain. Thus far Michael Cerveris as September has been the only Observer to particularly connect with most fans- with this season’s reliance on them, this will hopefully change, and Kopsa is a good start.

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Along with the performances and music, Fringe is elevated above standard network genre fare by its look. The cinematography immediately sets the tone, providing stark contrast between the green, lush (dreamed) flashbacks and the cold present and the details, from lighting to color timing, are what separate it. Directors Jeannot Szwarc and Miguel Sapochnik not only get strong performances from the cast, but, along with the editor, know when to hold and when to build momentum, creating one of the first premieres this season to neither drag nor abruptly end.

With a shortened, final season ahead, and given the events of “Letters of Transit”, there were only so many ways the story could go this week, but Wyman and the rest of the Fringe PtB have chosen wisely, putting an answer to the Observers out in the ether before ripping it away, from both sides. Obviously Walter had a solution at one point; he should be able to piece it together again, providing the hope necessary to prevent an overly dismal or depressing forecast. However the ticking clock of atmospheric change, and discovery of Etta’s involvement by her superiors, adds pressure to the situation and an urgency that promises to keep the Fringe team, and viewers, on their toes.

This premiere marks a significant departure for Fringe in setting, story, and theme. If it’s an accurate reflection of what’s to come, new ideas with the same core strengths, we should be in for an interesting, rewarding ride.

What did you think of this episode? Anyone else love seeing Markham back? What are your predictions for season five? Post your thoughts below!

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Kate Kulzick