Fringe Thinking: Glass Onion

More than once this season I've been particularly disappointed in an installment of Fringe one week only to have the following chapter stoke my enthusiasm considerably.

... was an inventive, at times elegiac episode that once again lifted me to heights of guarded optimism about the series wrapping up next month in a way that makes Season Five a worthy, even essential conclusion rather than merely a quirky coda to the past. It felt much more connected to Fringe as a whole, full of echoes and portents.

We got so many references to Fringe-gone-by, in fact, that I opted to use "Glass Onion" as the subtitle for this writeup instead of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". I came very close to going with the latter — a title that I'd previously considered (and discarded as too on-the-nose) for the Season Three episode "Lysergic Acid Diethylamide" — thanks to Walter's LSD use. In "Glass Onion", however, John Lennon reminds us that we've been told about the Fool on the Hill and Strawberry Fields, just as "Black Blotter" dredges up some of the series' own greatest hits; since "Glass Onion" was largely about Lennon deflating the Beatles mythology, and since the psychedelic "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" was according to Lennon not consciously a coded reference to LSD, "Glass Onion" felt increasingly appropriate the more I thought about it.

The name of the episode recalls that of Episode 2.20, "Brown Betty", in which Olivia, Peter, Astrid, and other cast members appear in a bizarre musical noir pastiche conjured up by Walter after he smokes a potent strain of marijuana he developed. "Black Blotter" is similarly titled after the acid that Walter drops, and we see its effect on him from the perspective of the other characters as well as internally. Like the aforementioned "Lysergic Acid Diethylamide", Episode 3.19, there's animation involved — which I found more effective and certainly more accomplished than the earlier episode's. Walter's revelatory head-trip in the style of Terry Gilliam's Monty Python work — now available for repeat viewing at Fox's Fringe website among other clips from the episode — is a particular delight both for its fealty to Gilliam's style and for its inclusion of Fringe Easter eggs, such as cartoon versions of not only Walter's old lab buddy Gene the Cow but the frog and seahorse from the series' glyphs.

Other aspects of Walter's hallucinations: a green fairy, Walter's own private Tinker Bell, who served as something of a spirit guide; visions of both Nina Sharp and his former associate Dr. Carla Warren, as dueling manifestations of his subconscious (or, as I heard someone theorize, a manifestation of his subconscious dueling with an avatar placed there by the Observer/Invader leader, Capt. Windmark, during his interrogation of Walter in the season premiere); and a glimpse of the team's destination as the Wizard's castle in the Emerald City of Oz.

This episode gave us a break from the Betamax-prompted scavenger hunt, although its plot was the result of one of the hunt's earlier trophies. A radio discovered in the pocket universe entered in Episode 5.06, "Through the Looking Glass and What Walter Found There", picked up a signal that led them to the Observer Boy — first seen in the Season One episode "Inner Child" and hidden away by Walter and/or the mysterious Donald, now revealed to have been moved by Donald to the care of a couple sympathetic to the anti-Invader resistance with instructions to periodically send out a broadcast that would be received by the radio Donald left in the boy's pocket-universe hideaway. The couple named the child Michael; I can't help but wonder whether the name is an homage to Michael Cerveris, the actor who played the rogue Observer called September, and if so whether it's a hint that the boy is the (or at least a possible) younger self of September or it's merely a red herring sure to cause such speculation. And while musing on that I wondered, seriously for 
perhaps the first time, why we haven't seen any female Observers. 

Aside from Michael, his possible connection to September, and the fact that he remembers Olivia when in this timeline they've never actually met — a point that I'll return to shortly — the episode's references of past Fringe elements that may come intriguingly back into play included the division of the green fairy into green and red twins. Given that the original Fringe logo was to my eye right on the border between smoky blue (how it usually ended up described) and smoky green, and that the color assigned to the Other Side was by contrast red, I took the bifurcation of the fairy to be a suggestion that our heroes' parallel-universe doppelgangers may yet figure into this final season.

If I have one complaint about "Black Blotter", and to at least a small extent I do, it's that the episode failed to pick up on the increased focus on Olivia that it looked like we might finally get after the previous installment. When Fringe began it was unquestionably Olivia Dunham's story, despite the prominence that Walter and Peter Bishop, for different reasons, had in that story. I enjoy a good focus on Walter, especially one that like "Black Blotter" is just so Walter; too much of this season, though, has felt like Peter's story — and more to the point has felt like Peter's story to the detriment of Olivia's story.

If I have two complaints about "Black Blotter", the other one is that the title keeps putting Spinal Tap's "Big Bottom" in my head.

Music was important to the episode, however. There's nothing quite as haunting as Donovan's "Hurdy-Gurdy Man" — at least not in the way that it's haunting. It seems like the episodes this season that include, and especially end with, Walter listening to heavy tunes have tended to be the strongest or most engaging in my estimation. "Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11" kicked off the season by closing with Yazoo's captivating "Only You". "Through the Looking Glass and What Walter Found There" had Walter seeking relaxation, inspiration, and perhaps self-recrimination through David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World". And now we have a trifecta.

Given that it's taken so long to finish this post and that the topic is the one I fleshed out least in my notes, I won't make much right now about how surprised I was that the show not only confirmed but made a story point out of the fact that the 2036 future of Season Five does indeed take place in the rewritten timeline that followed the adult Peter's removal from it, in which both Over Here and Over There's Peters died as children, and into which the adult Peter emerged to everyone's surprise (through sheer force of will or some grand destiny or whatever), with only Peter and, ultimately, due to their intense connection, Olivia remembering the way things had been. Michael knows that he met Olivia in that previous timeline — presumably because he's an Observer, although that makes me curious as to whether he was implanted with the brain tech the Observers use to map out probabilities; we don't really know how much of those powers of perception are due to the tech vs. simply being the result of evolution. The corpse of Sam Weiss, also not part of Olivia's past in this timeline, is seen and mourned by Olivia, in possession of a relay of Donald's radio signal.

I hope to get tomorrow night's last Fringe episode of the year written up in a timelier fashion than these past couple weeks' posts, but if that doesn't happen within a day or so it'll probably get pushed back to right before the show returns from its hiatus in mid-January.

This episode's glyphs spell out the word "guilt".

Related Posts: Mind Games (Episode 3.19);
Through the Looking Glass and What Walter Found There (Episode 5.06)
Previously in 'Fringe Thinking': Watching the Wheels (Episode 5.08)
Next in 'Fringe Thinking': This Boy (Episode 5.10)


  1. That Pythonesque video was fabulous.

    I was both pleasantly surprised and a bit confounded that they reinforced the whole rewritten-timeline thing, too. While I don't want the show to ignore it, and I realize that the characters had a couple more years to get used to the whole thing between the end of Season Four (2011 or 2012) and the picnic we keep seeing in flashback when the Observers invaded (2015), I still feel like it's a weird thing to have hanging over everybody's heads. So I hope that even if reconciliation of the timelines isn't part of the solution to Season Five's plot it's at least a byproduct of that solution.

    Not only are there no female Observers, there are to my memory no Observers who aren't white males. Diversity if not procreation is sorely lacking in their far future, at least among the oppressive invading hierarchy, which is particularly weird since apparently the melting pot of humanity is headed towards a general brownness. Of course it's possible that some environmental issues lead to future generations getting pale instead — as well as hairless.

    I liked the Michael thing but I don't know whether I want him to be September (or Windmark, or anybody we've seen) yet, because that kind of revelation usually rests on a fine line between genuinely cool and kewl for the sake of being kewl.

    Sam Weiss deserved better, not necessarily better than dying in a firefight between Resistance and Loyalists. which is valiant, but better in terms of more to do with the story. I wanted to see him again.

    You're so right about "Hurdy-Gurdy Man".

    Great writeup, as always, Blam! Late is definitely better than never.


  2. I liked the Michael thing but I don't know whether I want him to be September (or Windmark, or anybody we've seen) yet, because that kind of revelation usually rests on a fine line between genuinely cool and kewl for the sake of being kewl.

    Agreed. We're on the same page re the timelines, too, plus Sam Weiss — I'd love to know why he had nothing to do with Olivia in this timeline, in what way he ended up working with the resistance and possibly knowing Donald, and how (if at all) the whole Sam Weiss lineage's connection to the First People lore might have figured into the Observers/Invaders.