Fringe, Ep. 5.09-10: Character, in very different ways, remains paramount in strong eps
Fringe Review, Season 5, Episode 9: “Black Blotter”
Written by Kristin Cantrell
Directed by Tommy Gormley
Fringe Review, Season 5, Episode 10: “Anomaly XB-6783746”
Written by David Fury
Directed by Jeffrey Hunt
Fringe has a tradition of doing at least one surrealist episode per season and this year, that episode is “Black Blotter”. As in “Brown Betty”, the noir-inspired musical episode from season two, Walter gets high and the episode around him reflects his mental state. Then it was with a potent strain of marijuana, here he’s on acid. Walter hopes his trip will help him recover the memories he needs to complete his plan against the Observers (so he’ll be able to have Nina remove the pieces of his brain turning him back into his older, crueler self) and, though he’s faced with visions of the lab assistant who burned to death years ago, causing his initial incarceration at St. Claire’s Mental Institution, acting as the devil on his shoulder, and Nina, the angel, he does manage to retrieve some lost memories, for better and worse.
The helpful memory is the password that allows the Fringe team to retrieve Michael, the child Observer, from the protective care of his guardians, a couple who’s adopted him. As for the rest, the episode implies that the original Walter may now be stronger than ever and that Walter may be coming closer and closer to a Dr. Jeckyll/Mr. Hyde-type personality split. The rest of the episode, outside of Walter’s POV, mostly serves to get the characters to Michael, though there is a nice shoutout to Sam Weiss, which serves as a reminder of the original timeline, in which Olivia met Michael and shared a bond with him. This naturally comes up towards the end of the episode, as Olivia attempts to reconstruct that same bond, as Michael seems unable to communicate.
Though the rest of the episode varies from interesting to exciting, the highlight is definitely Walter’s trip. The cinematography is beautiful, as ever, and we are treated to a wonderful animated sequence straight out of Terry Gilliam/Monty Python. This is a hilarious visualization of Walter’s experience, but it’s also a nice character flourish as well; of course Walter would love Monty Python. Between the prisms, fairies, hallucinations, eerie self-analysis and doubt, and John Noble’s fantastic performance, this is the most fun Fringe has been in quite a while. It’s a shame they won’t get the chance to do any more off the wall adventures like this.
While “Black Blotter” is Walter’s story, “Anomaly XB-6783746” focuses on Nina and her long history with the Fringe team. Blair Brown has been a fairly consistent presence on Fringe, but her role has mostly been a mysterious one. At this point, she’s wholly on Team Olivia, as in the Peter-less timeline she became Olivia’s adoptive mother, but it wasn’t that long ago that her motives were dubious at best. She’s also served an important role as the only character who can really communicate with Walter scientifically and check him when he appears to be returning to his old self.
As we head towards the series finale, it seems inevitable that many, if not most, of the recurring characters will die, so it is not a surprise when Nina sacrifices herself to avoid giving the Observers information via a mental scan, as much as we don’t want to see her go. She does at least get several standout moments, all of which Brown nails. Her reaction to Michael and the information he gives her is appropriately intense and leaves the audience dying to know what he told her. Perhaps most satisfying of all, though is the conversation she shares with Windmark, where she analyzes Observers’ movements and explains, to both him and the viewers, why they move the way they do.
Pairing her reveal that Observers have pretty much genetically modified themselves to remove emotion with Michael’s reaction to her death gives us an idea of what may be coming and why he is special. It also ties in to the season-long thread of the importance of hope and belief, something the Fringe team still has, to some extent, and are able to inspire in others, having skipped the decades of oppression that have beaten down so many of the human population. There is a strong sense of Robin Hood to the team’s saving of Dr. Hastings, a contact of Nina’s helping the Resistance, from the Observers’ questioning/torture. Olivia, Peter, Walter, and Astrid are figures of legend to many fighting the Observers. They swoop in and save the day, as much as is possible, and Dr. Hastings seems to hardly believe what’s happening. This added element of the power of myth is interesting; hopefully, it’s something that will continue to be explored over the final three episodes.
All in all, these are two strong episodes that set us up nicely for a final push to the finale. It’s been refreshing to see Fringe adhering so strongly to its core principals and themes throughout this final season, still taking time for character moments and beats despite a reduced episode order and the pressure to tie everything together in such a short time. With the reveal of September as Donald, and only three episodes left, hopefully we have answers coming soon. More than anything, however, Fringe seems determined to end on its own terms, confident in its priorities. Can’t wait!
What did you think of these episodes? What do you predict will happen to Walter? Did you guess Donald’s identity? What are your hopes for the final episodes? Post your thoughts below!