Tonight’s new episode of Fringe saw the team return to single-mindedly pursuing Walter’s plan to defeat the Observers. Ever since Etta died, the focus of our characters has, understandably, shifted towards vengeance and grief. But last week’s “The Human Kind” marked a change: Peter removed the Observer implant from his head, choosing what remains of his family over his need to avenge Etta. “Black Blotter” saw the team trace a radio signal — the radio Donald had left behind for them in the pocket universe — to a remote cabin where a couple had been looking after the child Observer, now known as Michael. (A nod, perhaps, to the wonderful Michael Cerveris, who portrays September?) Walter, all the while, is still wrestling with his terror over becoming the man he used to be, going so far as to drop acid, the eponymous “Black Blotter” blend; although knowing Walter, this particular coping mechanism certainly wasn’t unusual.
This Fringe episode saw something of a leap forward in the steps outlined by Walter’s plan. When the notion of another Observer child was introduced, I honestly thought that it was a different child than the one we met in season 1’s “Inner Child.” Tonight, however, it was made apparent that Michael is supposed to be that same child: he confirms that he remembers Peter and Olivia from when they previously met. If you recall, though, the timeline was reset at the end of season 3. Peter and Olivia recognized Michael, but they’re the only two with memories of the original timeline. As Peter points out, if the child is somehow related to the Observers, it’s likely that he perceives time — even alternate timelines — differently than humans. In the episodes to come I’d like to see some of the bond that was so evident between the boy and Olivia in “Inner Child” when he connected to Olivia empathically. I’m simultaneously curious and apprehensive about the role Michael will play in Walter’s plan.
“Black Blotter” was, in many ways, the love letter to the fans that Joel Wyman had promised. There were so many wonderful references, both subtle and not, to past events. I know that some people have been less satisfied with this season in part because they feel as though everything that came before in Fringe is now irrelevant: I’m hoping that “Black Blotter” quells some of those sentiments. Even though references may not be made every episode, the events that came before have shaped our characters and this universe and are therefore always relevant. I quite liked the revelation that Sam Weiss, in this timeline, was still actively helping Fringe Division. If you recall, we first met Sam in season 2’s “Night of Desirable Objects” when Nina recommends him to Olivia as a rather unconventional therapist; it gradually became apparent that Sam and his family played a much bigger role in the larger mythology. The longer we go without meeting Donald, the more intense my curiousity grows. I’m convinced that it must be someone we already know, but I’m at a loss as to their identity.
It appears that Peter is suffering some side-effects from the Observer implant: insomnia and headaches, at the very least. When it was revealed in last week’s Fringe that the implant functions by initiating the growth of new neural connections throughout the neocortex, I was fascinated. It also explains why the Observers, for the most part, seem to have no emotion: the forced development of the cortex is at the expense of the emotional centres of the brain. This explanation is also rather handy in that it accounts for some of the individual differences we’ve seen in the Observers; for instance, the fact that both September and August became highly invested in certain humans while others are so wholly devoid of empathy. That being said, now that the implant is removed, I’m going to be disappointed if these side-effects are the only ones we see in Peter. The modifications to Peter’s brain required the active involvement of an implant, so I’d expect the reverse to be true as well. Will we see in Peter any residual Observer abilities? We didn’t see any in “Black Blotter”, but perhaps he’ll retain more insight into the Observers and their actions.
As much as I was relieved to see Peter and Olivia starting to heal together instead of apart, John Noble rather stole the show — which is about as surprising as Walter using LSD. Mr. Noble called tonight’s Fringe a “personal favourite”, and I can absolutely see why. Walter’s struggle to be a better man has never been more salient than when he had a young Nina and his dead lab assistant Carla Warren voicing opinions as different manifestations of his psyche. I quite liked the symbolism of these two phantasms. Nina seems to have always held the unenviable position of trying to keep two brilliant, arrogant men with god complexes from going too far: although in this timeline, Walter spent a very long time blaming Nina for Peter’s death before he forgave her. Carla, on the other hand, is arguably one of Walter’s most tangible victims, and is very much representative of a time when Walter was at his worst. Of course, I could be reading too much into Walter’s acid-induced hallucinations. He did, after all, see Tinker Bell while tripping!
Thus far I have been incredibly impressed with this final season. “Black Blotter” was no exception. Grade: A
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