Sunday, May 27, 2012

Fringe 4.19: "Letters of Transit"

“You know, I think you're just what we've been waiting for. Someone to show people that we don't just have to accept our fate. That we can fight back. That we can use our will and our imagination to make a better world, a better life.”

So “Fringe” has a history of doing crazy things in the nineteenth episode of each season. Sometimes the results are exquisite, like the noir detective story musical “Brown Betty” in season two. Sometimes the results are just strange, but you can appreciate the creative risk anyway, like last year’s episode featuring cartoon versions of all the characters as the team took a trip through Olivia’s mind. This year’s nineteenth episode involved a trip to the future, and this one was definitely on the exquisite side of the spectrum. I think it was my favorite episode of this season by far. It takes place in 2036, where we follow some future Fringe agents in what looks like a day of work. Only a few members of the regular cast appear, but it is fantastic anyway. Normally I’d be upset that we were losing a whole episode with the usual suspects we know and love, but the story was so good in this one that it didn’t matter. Not only was the story good, but the world that was constructed for this episode was instantly engaging. That the world-building was excellent shouldn’t be a surprise considering the work this same creative team developed the also very creative Other Side.

The situation in 2036 is rather post-apocalyptic. The Observers aren’t just observing anymore. They have completely taken over. Humans are called “natives” and are subject to Observer rule. Fringe Division is supposed to keep their fellow Natives in line, but some of them are secretly aiding a rebellion. We meet a blonde-haired young woman who is a member of Fringe Division who is patrolling a night club the Observers seem to enjoy frequenting. The night club manager gets upset when an Observer spends a bit too much time with one of his dancers (when this happens, the dancers don’t usually return), and the Observer starts trying to wipe his mind. I think whoever wrote this saw the “Firefly” episode called “Ariel,” because the mind-wiping side effects are similarly gross and disturbing to the method the “hands of blue” guys used to kill. The blonde saves the night club owner by reminding the Observer that as a Fringe agent, Natives are her jurisdiction. The blonde and the nightclub owner then go outside, where the nightclub owner shows her something in a van she finds interesting. He then implies there is something else similarly interesting elsewhere in the city. Before he can explain further, he’s shot and killed. The blonde gets in the van and goes to the location the night club guy suggested, and she finds Walter seemingly encased in Amber.

The blonde’s name is Etta, and we soon meet her boss, Simon, who just happens to be played by one of my favorite actors, Henry Ian Cusick (Desmond from “Lost” or Stephen from “Scandal”). He’s upset that Etta is late for work at Fringe Division, and she responds that she has a good excuse for being late. She found a member of the original Fringe team that was supposed to have died twenty years ago. She leads Simon to the location the night club guy told her about and shows Simon Walter. Etta and Simon take him to their lab, and they begin working on de-Amberfying him. This is going to be more difficult than they anticipated, because Walter is encased in a type of Amber that resolidifies very quickly when it is turned back to its gaseous state. They don’t think Walter could move quickly enough to escape the gas before it becomes Amber again. Etta has to go to what looks sort of like a typical police show evidence department to check out some “level 2 tech.” The guy manning the evidence department warns her not to trust Simon, but that doesn’t really go anywhere. The tech is a crowd control device that can throw somebody across a room, and they use that to move Walter before the Amber resolidifies. Walter wakes up, and he’s quite hungry from being asleep for twenty years.

A much older Broyles still runs Fringe Division, and an Observer comes to see him in his office. He is very displeased about the murder of the night club guy. Apparently “native on native” killing is prohibited, and this particular observer is in charge of making sure the Natives obey such laws. I thought the phrasing used in this scene provided some interesting social commentary. So often I’ve read nasty comments on crime news stories talking about “black on black” and “black on white” murder, as if the perpetrators and victims weren’t even human, and I think this phrasing of “native on native” was meant to criticize that.

Meanwhile, Etta and Simon feed Walter some Red Vines, and the fact that he doesn’t recognize his favorite candy makes Etta and Simon realize that Walter has suffered some degradation in his cognitive function. Some sort of fancy scan of his brain confirms it. Presumably the time he spent encased in Amber caused brain damage. Etta and Simon take Walter to see Nina, and Nina mentions that the removed pieces of Walter’s brain are still being held at Massive Dynamic’s old facility in New York. She thinks that reintroducing those pieces of brain might encourage healing of Walter’s brain overall. New York City, however, is crawling with Observers, so it’s going to be a dangerous mission. Plus, having a whole brain kind of makes Walter evil (Nina neglects to tell Etta and Simon this), so the plan seems like kind of an overall bad idea to me.

The team runs into a little trouble getting Walter to New York City in the first place, because in the train station, he starts yelling and calling the Observers monsters. A guard confronts them, and Simon has to concoct a story about how Walter’s Etta’s grandfather (which is true, although Simon doesn’t know it) and they’re taking him to see his wife’s grave. The story works, but they soon run into more trouble when they accidentally trip the security alarm in the old Massive Dynamic building. Broyles is alerted to the alarm and sends a full contingent of troops to the building. Before the troops arrive, however, our team recovers the pieces of Walter’s brain, and Simon injects some brain into Walter’s scull. As they wait for Walter to wake up, Simon tells Etta about how he was in college during what they call “The Purge,” and that event is what made him vow to stop the Observers. Walter finally wakes up and is much more together cognitively. Unfortunately, he also seems a bit more like Walternate than the Walter we know. Oh, and the troops are drawing closer.

Etta and Simon show Walter some blueprints for a device that could help with the war against the Observers, and Walter says he can build it. He also explains that the Observers invaded earth because they poisoned their own planet. Etta asks about what happened to the rest of Walter’s original Fringe team, but Walter doesn’t have time to answer before the troops get dangerously close. Luckily, Walter has a secret way out of the room where they have been hiding which involves holding his hand up to the wall. There’s a big chase scene, then Walter sets up this sort of antimatter bomb that makes the whole building disappear along with the troops (after Walter, Etta, and Simon have been able to escape, of course). Once they’ve reached relative safety, Walter tells Etta and Simon that he knows where the rest of the team was Ambered. It turns out to be the antique shop that had the typewriter used to communicate with the Other Side. Meanwhile, though, the guard from the New York train station contacts Broyles to tell him about the disturbance Walter caused there. Broyles orders Simon’s tracker activated and a team assembled to stop Simon and crew.

At the antique shop, the team uses the crowd control weapon method to free Astrid from the Amber, but then they discover that the device is broken. Simon starts frantically trying to fix it, and Walter points out something to Astrid that he doesn’t want her to share with the rest of the team. William bell is encased in Amber, too! I’m so glad Leonard Nimoy agreed to come out of retirement to do a few episodes of “Fringe” this season. Anyway, when investigating why their Amber rescue set-up isn’t working, Simon discovers that his tracker is on. He realizes they’re out of time to fix the crowd suppression device, and he sacrifices himself to save Peter. As the Amber turns gaseous, Simon pushes Peter out of it and becomes encased himself. Everyone not Ambered manages to escape before Broyles and the troops arrive. On the train back to Boston, Walter shows Astrid that he took Bell’s hand (still encased in Amber), presumably to use the finger prints to get around certain security protocols. Also, Etta and Peter have their reunion. The moment when Peter realizes that Etta is his daughter is really sweet. And it certainly explains why Etta was so invested in finding the original Fringe team.

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