Fringe, Season 5, Episode 11: “The Boy Must Live”
Written by Graham Roland
Directed by Paul Holahan
Airs Fridays at 9pm (ET) on FOX
This week, on Fringe: Donald lays out the plan, Michael has his own plan, and Astrid still has nothing to do
With the series finale looming large just two episodes (one week) away, “The Boy Must Live” has a clear focus, setting the stage for the final push. Much of the episode is spent answering questions the audience, and characters, have been wondering about all season. The gang finally meets up with Donald, make that September, who fortunately is able to lay out the answers. Herein lies the problem with this episode- rather than our characters working all season toward figuring out the plan (perhaps that should be The Plan, given its import over the past year), being active participants in the narrative, everyone sits down in a living room and has it told to them.
If you’re going to sit your characters down and have them told a story, it’d better be a compelling one, and though some will be very happy for the peeks we get of the future and the Observers’ origins, by far the most interesting elements of the episode are those outside of Donald’s apartment and those not even addressed. Windmark and the other Observer’s growing emotional depth is the highlight of the episode. It would appear Michael has a plan of his own, affecting the Observers and bringing out emotion in them. Between that and characters sitting around scheming to send Michael to a specific point in time to an unseen and undefined scientist, it’s clear which is more effective storytelling.
By far the most promising element of this episode, and The Plan in general, is something not even addressed in the episode, however. Once again, Walter (at the time, regressed to his pre-Fringe megalomaniacal persona) has decided the only way to save the world is to sacrifice a child. Michael will be sent, it’s implied alone, to a scientist so that s/he will hopefully see a different way forward with genetic research than the current path of stripping away emotion in favor of intelligence. If this scientist is anything like Original Recipe Walter, Michael will be examined, studied, pumped full of chemicals, and generally turned into a lab rat. Walter, September, Peter, and even Olivia are seemingly fine with that.
There’s no conversation about this, there are no concerns raised from September, Michael’s “father”, or Olivia, who has a very personal connection with scientific experimentation on children. There’s not even a moment taken to try to communicate this plan to Michael and seek his cooperation. Much of Fringe has dealt with love and the world-shattering lengths a parent will go to to protect their child. Imagine the potential drama of Olivia’s internal conflict- if she allows a child to be experimented upon, as she was, she may get her daughter back. Would that make her agree or identify with ORWalter’s essential torture of her as a child? Or would she not be willing to try, to sacrifice Michael, with whom she has a specific connection, on the mere hope that the timeline might revert. Whichever way Olivia went, that moral quandary is far more compelling, and far more in line with Fringe’s usual narrative priorities, than anything we get here.
Another frustration is the piecemeal way answers are doled out. Every main element of The Plan is explained, except for whatever seems to necessitate Walter’s death. That detail is withheld seemingly so that the audience can be surprised by it next week. Why doesn’t Walter ask? Why do we need to retread the same Main-Character-as-Sacrifice plotline we’ve seen several times at this point? Most significantly, if their plan works and the timeline reverts, Walter won’t be dead, so is it even a sacrifice, really? Also, and this is another frustratingly unaddressed issue, if the timeline reverts and there aren’t any Observers, September won’t be able to save a young Peter when he crashes through the ice at Reiden lake, and once again, Peter will be the one sacrificed, and Etta along with him. If this seems obvious from an outside perspective, why hasn’t it occurred to Walter?
Finally, Walter’s seeming insti-fix, going from the character we know desperately trying to cling to his personality to a healed, new version no longer in danger of losing himself to his darker original persona, feels like an unearned Deus ex Michael-na. Only two episodes ago, with “Black Blotter”, the PtB at Fringe devoted most of an episode to his internal struggle, implying at the end that ORWalter was back, and to stay. Here, that’s wiped away completely. Why spend so much of the incredibly limited last-season time on this if it’s going to be undone so utterly and so quickly? It feels like a glaring example of poor final season planning. Another significant example is the continued mismanagement of Astrid. At this point, she could be entirely lifted out of season five and she would not be missed. The character, and actress, deserves better.
While Fringe is a show this viewer has enjoyed for years and will be sorry to see go, it’s hard not to be disappointed by such a clear lack of creativity and forethought. There’s too little time left for many of these frustrations to be addressed or rectified, so at this point, let us just hope for a strong two-part finale next week and a satisfying end to what has mostly been an excellent series.
What did you think of this episode? Do you think Michael has another plan? Are you as psyched as me to see Lincoln and Fauxlivia back? What are your hopes for the finale? Post your thoughts below!