Sunday, September 30, 2012

Fringe 5.01: “Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11”

“Mostly it amazes me. Music helps you shift perspective, to see things differently if you need to.”

“Fringe” opened its fifth and final season with an episode which, while I wouldn’t say it was one of my favorites, largely accomplished what it needed to accomplish. We needed to be resituated in the Observer-controlled world of 2036 first seen in “Letters of Transit,” and we needed to learn a bit about what happened between 2012 and 2036. And we got some of both of those things. There was certainly plenty to process. I think what I’m going to like the most about these final episodes is the worldbuilding aspect. The “Fringe” team did a great job creating the Other Side as a fully realized alternate universe, and I’m hoping they can do the same with 2036. The videos that were posted on YouTube over the summer of a creepy Observer reciting laws and reminding the lowly humans to, “Heed, obey, serve,” strikes just the right dystopian note with me. It’s creepy in a fun to be a little freaked out way. So those videos give me hope that we’ll have an equally rich world to explore in this final season. What can I say, I’m a sucker for dystopian future stories, so bring it!

The episode opens with the moment that the Observers arrive to take over earth. A tranquil moment of Peter an Olivia watching a three-year-old Etta play with dandelions in a color-saturated field is disturbed by the arrival. In the panic that ensues, Peter and Olivia are injured and separated from Etta. They would never see her again until 2036. We learn throughout the episode how this severely damaged their relationship (yeah, spoiler alert, the team rescues Olivia in 2036), although they seem to be finding their way back to each other. Apparently, after mourning Etta for a while, Olivia and Walter decided to really join the fight against the Observers, and this required them to go to New York. Peter refused to leave Boston because he still desperately wanted to find Etta. When Peter made this decision, Walter and Olivia both felt abandoned by him, and it looks like he’s going to have some work to do to repair that damage. Here’s hoping saving Olivia from the amber is a good start.

The story continues in 2036, Peter wakes up and checks on Etta, who is just waking up. His joy at having his daughter back is really quite sweet. Walter’s awake too, so they have a little family (plus Astrid) meeting. Walter says that when Olivia disappeared, she had been on the phone with him. She had been in New York City fetching a device that was supposed to decode a plan to defeat the Observers that September had scrambled into Walter’s brain. So the team heads to Olivia’s last known location, Columbus Square in New York. They notice that amber had been deployed there, which gives everyone hope. Apparently way back when, Walter had given everyone on the team an amber device that they were supposed to set off if they were in trouble. The team is presuming that Olivia set off hers. Their hope is diminished a little when they take a look at the actual amber. Big pieces have been carved out of it. Etta explains that this is most likely the work of “Amber Gypsies,” and the Amber Gypsies most likely have Olivia.

Continuing in the quest to find Olivia, the team makes their way to a black market, which reminds me powerfully of the souks in Morocco. There is even vaguely-Arabic sounding music playing in the background that almost reminds me of what it sounds like during a call to prayer. Anyway, at the market, they bribe an amber merchant to tell them who he sold Olivia to. The trader gives them good information on Olivia’s current location, but he also hits a panic button that alerts the Observer authorities to the team’s presence. The purchaser of Olivia (that just sounds wrong, doesn’t it?) is none other than the creepy guy who ran the bookstore the Bishops used to frequent. He hasn’t figured out how to de-amber her, so he’s kind of using her as a coffee table. Like I said. Creepy. Just as Olivia is being loaded into the team’s van, Observers and human soldiers attack. Everyone but Walter manages to get away in the van. Walter, however, is captured.

The Observers hold Walter in a suitably creepy small room, and one Observer in particular takes on the task of interrogation. They start with a conversation about music. Music helps Walter focus, but the Observers hate it. I guess they don’t want the humans to be able to think too well? The Observer warns Walter that what he is about to do could basically fry Walter’s brain if Walter doesn’t give up the information the Observers want. As the interrogation progresses, the Observer realizes that Walter’s brain has been partitioned, so he redoubles his efforts, and Walter does not appear to be tolerating it well. The one, maybe two of you who are long time readers of this blog know that torture on TV is one of my pet peeves. It’s just not something I like to see. At all. So this whole episode made me feel kind of squicked. The Observer tells Walter that he has the power to forcibly put the scattered thoughts back together, but it will take more effort than he really cares to expend. The Observer does, however, see an image of Etta as a little girl and figures out that Etta is somehow going to help Walter destroy the Observers. The Observer does not, however, know that Etta is now an adult.

Back at the safe house, Olivia is promptly de-ambered, and while she is a bit disoriented at first, the resulting Bishop family reunion is pretty sweet. Olivia and Peter embrace (before remembering that they’re kind of pissed at each other), and when Olivia sees what Etta has become, she’s just amazed (in a good way). Etta takes her parents (and Astrid) to visit her Resistance friends, hoping that the Resistance can help them rescue Walter. The Resistance is mourning a death of one of their members (who is laid out gruesomely on a table in their safe house), but they’re going to help. The other Resistance members use traffic cameras to track Walter to the building where he is being held. They also identify the device Olivia retrieved. It’s a thought unifier. In other words, it should unscramble the plans that September scrambled in Walter. The team has an idea to use the dead body and some tech that makes living people appear dead to infiltrate the Observer building. There’s a disagreement over the most strategic use of that tech, but they eventually decide to go for it and rescue Walter. Etta uses her position as a Fringe agent to wheel the dead Resistance fighter and a deaded-up Peter into the Observer building.

Etta flirts with a soldier friend of hers who is stationed at the building to make her smuggling job a little easier, and the soldier has some very important news. The Observers have found Agent Foster, Etta’s former partner, encased in amber. What has been done with Foster is above his paygrade, though. I love that the writers opened the door for Foster to return, because Henry Ian Cusick is one of my favorite actors. He’s been let go from “Scandal,” so why not! Anyway, with the team all smuggled into the building, they take out a carbon dioxide producing machine (the Observers don’t like how oxygen-rich our atmosphere is) to provide a distraction, and they get Walter out of the building. It’s quite amazing they got Walter out, considering he’s in bad shape. Watching CCTV, the interrogator Observer figures out that Etta is the little girl. Back at the safe house, the team puts the unifier on Walter, but it doesn’t do the job. Walter gets frustrated and storms out of the room. Etta said that the memories of the plan in Walter’s brain were probably destroyed by the Observer. Walter goes outside to take a walk, and he sees that someone has made a decoration out of some old CDs. He takes the one whole CD and sticks it in the stereo of a nearby abandoned car. The music calms him, and it makes me wonder if music will be the key to defeating the Observers. I think that would be fitting.

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