Last night’s episode was Fringe at its best: hilarity and heartbreak packaged deftly into an enthralling, unforgettable hour of television. “The Bullet That Saved the World” began with Peter facing off with an Observer while on a personal mission, and then saw the team create some Fringe events of their own in an offensive against the Loyalists and Observers. After retrieving some apparently integral information Walter had hidden, Etta arranged a surprise reunion for the rest of the Bishops and Agent Broyles: although we had known that Broyles was still running Fringe Division, we learned last night that he too is a member of the Resistance. The real sucker-punch, however, was delivered at the end of the episode. After getting separated from the rest of her family while fleeing the Observers, Etta has a face-off with Captain Windmark that leaves her with a fatal gunshot wound.
To be completely honest, this was a character death I did not see coming. I always knew that the team couldn’t possibly come through this battle unscathed, but for some reason I never imagined that Etta would be the one who died. I also never would have fathomed that the death of a character who has only been in five episodes of Fringe total could have such a profound effect. I think Georgina Haig, who plays Etta, hits the nail on the head in this interview: Etta wasn’t just a new character, she’s a Bishop. And even though she’s grown up without her family in this crucible of a future, there were still shades of a little girl who simply wanted her parents back. Just when this broken family had finally gotten a second chance, everything comes crashing down again.
If Fringe has taught us anything over the years, it’s that no one ever truly stays dead. But I’m of two minds in this case. On the one hand, it’s a brilliant, albeit heartbreaking, piece of storytelling. Our characters now have to deal with not only literally saving the world, but also the death of their daughter, and granddaughter. It goes without saying that we can expect some more tear-jerking scenes in the episodes to come. Etta’s death also makes the peril more salient. It’s easy to get lulled into a sense of security with shows, because we all know that they’ll “never” kill off certain characters simply because they’re main characters. So now we’re really forced to wonder: which other characters aren’t going to survive the next 9 episodes?
On the other hand, I really, really don’t want Etta to be gone for good: both because I find her character a fascinating addition to the team, and because it’s so thoroughly unfair. Olivia and Peter just got their daughter back, only to lose her before they’ve really gotten a chance to know her again. But I think that that’s what makes this episode of Fringe such a powerful one. As clichÃ© as it sounds, life itself is never fair. We try and convince ourselves that bad things only happen to bad people, but the world doesn’t work like that. Of course, there’s also the fact that you can’t help but feel for these characters we’ve grown to love over the past 4 seasons, and this kind of loss isn’t something they’re going to get over.
Even though Etta’s death rather overshadows other events, “The Bullet That Saved the World” gave us a scene I’d been hoping for ever since “Letters of Transit” aired, as well as answered some lingering questions. I thought that Lance Reddick and Anna Torv played the reunion between Agents Broyles and Dunham perfectly. Theirs has been a dynamic I’ve found intriguing from the pilot of Fringe: I loved that Broyles, although initially antagonistic towards Olivia, was willing to look past his prejudice to see who she really was. Broyles has always been a staunch, stoic ally, and even though he’s not particularly effusive, I always got the sense that he cared deeply for Olivia and the team. The fact that he’s been carrying around a picture of Peter and Olivia for 20 plus years certainly bears that out.
Broyles reveals to Olivia, Peter, and Walter, that he happened to cross paths with Etta during a case five years previously, and knew who she was immediately. He then had her transferred to his division so he could look out for her, only to find himself in the role of student. I love that Etta’s relationship with Broyles rather parallels Olivia and Broyles’ history: Broyles thought that he would be protecting and teaching Etta, but it ended up being the other way around. Answering one of my burning questions, Etta is able to teach others to be resistant to being read by the Observers, as she has done with Broyles. Arguably their greatest weapon against the Invaders, it should be interesting to see how events play out now that Windmark knows some people can block them. The revelation that Broyles is working with the Resistance was as welcome as it was unsurprising, and hopefully means we’ll see more of the taciturn agent as the season progresses.
Another question that was answered, though I’m sure many had already put the pieces together, was in regards to the origin of the bullet that Etta wears around her neck. In a lovely mother-daughter scene, Olivia and Etta discussed the eponymous projectile: it was the only thing of her parents’ that a teenaged Etta could find in their looted family home. Although this episode answered my question as to how long Etta has known the identities of her parents, I still wonder how she found out in the first place. Initially I had wondered whether Broyles may have been the one to tell her, but given that she was 13 when she returned to their old house, that cannot have been the case.
This episode was a welcome return to the more cinematic feel of the first two episodes of the season. I had worried that the hunt for the tapes would lend too much of a case-of-the-week feel, but “The Bullet That Saved the World” certainly disabused me of that notion in a hurry. They also managed to weave in some fantastic references to previous Fringe episodes with Walter making the gruesome, hilarious disclosure that he has a cold-storage space underneath the lab where he has kept evidence from all of the cases they’ve worked over the years.
It’s hard to believe that such a pivotal episode was set so early in the season, and I can’t help but wonder where the hell they’re going to go from here. Even if the team does manage to pull off the impossible, I can’t help but feel as though it will be a pyrrhic victory. I can give Fringe no higher praise than to say that this episode has stuck with me all week, and I don’t think I’ll be shaking it any time soon. Grade: A+