Last night’s Fringe episode “The Recordist” had, to me, a feel very much like some of the “classic” episodes of previous seasons. Our team, with the addition of Etta, found themselves in a settlement reminiscent of Edina in “Johari Window”. Walter, Peter, Olivia, and Etta ventured to an isolated area of Pennsylvania at the instruction of clues left in one of the tapes that Walter had hidden 21 years ago, which — in pure Walter fashion — he apparently hid out of order. The team was to retrieve a component of Walter and September’s plan to defeat the Observers which turned out to be a mineral, a crystallized form of quartz, which will serve as an energy source.
Each episode this season serves to answer questions about this future, even as it creates new ones. I find it quite fascinating that this group of people, and apparently they aren’t the only ones, has managed to remain hidden from the Observers. It makes one wonder how many other enclaves there are of people who’ve managed to hide. Even though the members of the Resistance are the ones fighting openly, it is unquestionably an act of defiance that this group of forest-dwellers has taken upon themselves. In seeking to preserve the history of the human race, they imply that one day the world will be free of the invaders, that people will one day want to know what really happened to mankind during the time they were oppressed as a race.
Even though I’m very much enjoying Fringe thus far this season, there are a couple items to which I take issue. Most predominantly, what exactly is the scope of the Observers’ power? In the past, we’ve seen them do everything from catching bullets to reading minds. And yet, we’ve run into some inconsistencies, which TPTB behind Fringe are usually better at avoiding. For instance, in the premiere, Peter had to fake death in order to get into an Observer stronghold; yet, in last week’s episode, Etta and Peter strolled right into a base, disguised only with the face-markings of Loyalists. In “The Recordist”, it is revealed that the Resistance has a double agent within the Loyalists: how could someone hide their true allegiance from mind-readers? One possibility is that Etta is not the only human who is resistant to being read by the invaders, but Nina’s attitude toward the phenomenon suggests that that is rather unlikely.
We do know that there is some sort of hierarchical structure within the Observer ranks, though what system they follow remains to be seen. Perhaps it is the case that, as much as these Observers in 2036 differ in personality from September and August, so too do the abilities differ from Observer to Observer. I would also like to see a bit more dimension to the Invaders: prior to “Letters of Transit”, the strangeness of the bald enigmas was enhanced as much by the glimpses of their humanity as by their more alien qualities.
This episode lacked the frenetic pace and action that we saw in the first two episodes of Fringe this season, but it did showcase several lovely character-building moments. Etta and Olivia are slowly building a relationship, even as Peter and Olivia try to repair their own. In Olivia’s memory, we saw how countless lives were, and continue to be, torn asunder by the arrival of the Observers in 2015. But as Peter observed to Olivia, their family has inexplicably gotten a second chance: Olivia and Peter did lose their little girl, and as much as Olivia cannot forget that wound, they still have an opportunity to get to know their daughter.
Three episodes in to this final season of Fringe, I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about how radically the show has changed: it feels more like a 13-part movie than like the show we’ve grown to love. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing: shows cannot remain static, and Fringe has certainly never been one to do so, reinventing itself every season. While I do have questions and quibbles, I love that we’re getting a chance to delve so deeply into the characters and their relationships. Hopefully, when Fringe returns in two weeks, we’ll get another of the action-packed, mythology-heavy episodes that seem to characterize this season so far. Grade: B-