Fringe Thinking:
Watching the Wheels

I have to offer my apologies for being so late with my writeup on...

... especially with Fringe having returned from a fortnight's hiatus last Friday. It airs tomorrow and next Friday, Dec. 21st, then takes another two weeks off for the holidays before returning Jan. 11th and concluding with a double-shot finale Jan. 18th — the latter presumably beginning at 8 rather than 9 p.m. ET/PT, since Fox doesn't program the 10 o'clock hour.

With only 6 hours (or "hours" — episodes run less than 45 minutes sans commercials) left in the series, I was disheartened that last week's chapter felt like such a placeholder.

It's not that nothing happened. Our team got a new piece in Walter's scavenger hunt of a puzzle, the industrial-sized electromagnet; Peter and Windmark had a minorly epic battle; Olivia talked Peter down from his precarious position atop Corruption-of-Power Falls. Yet I was strangely nonplussed, a feeling that I'm not entirely unused to having this season. The whole was less than the sum of its parts.

An oracle of sorts named Simone was waiting for Olivia at the junkyard where the magnet sat. Wise people with visions who aren't elderly Asians are usually black women, on TV and in movies, and the black women are themselves either very old or stout if not both. (I'm... just being honest.) The junkyard had been visited by a man with graying hair decades before, quite probably either Walter or the mysterious Donald first referenced in Episode 5.03, "The Recordist". Like the title character in that early volley of Season Five, my least favorite installment in AfterFringe to date, Simone and her mother before her held faith that someone would return.

"You can't know everything," Simone told Olivia. Peter might disagree, although he did come to accept that the near-comprehensive knowledge and predictive ability that the Observer tech granted him was not worth the irreversible loss of emotion — how he felt about Olivia, Walter, and most of all Etta, the very reason he was using the Observers' own methods against them.

I did appreciate the "feeling" vs. "thinking" juxtaposition of Simone's limited clairvoyance with Peter's ability to see the most likely outcome of paths in the timeline. ("Timeline" could be a misnomer for the bigger picture, given that we're talking a tapestry of individual threads. Perhaps "timeplane" or — to bump up another dimension in the name of including alternate paths — "timesphere" is more appropriate. Rip Hunter might have a trademark on that last one, though.) Peter was really just playing with probabilities, his Observer implant operating on such a super-scientific level that it seemed like magic, and was able to manipulate small variables to prevent or induce certain events. A non-Observer variation of this hummingbird-to-hurricane 4D-domino strategy was seen previously in Episode 3.03, "The Plateau". Simone, by contrast, had an innate ability to intuit the future — and to see beyond barriers in the present as well, if her mention of the bullet in Olivia's pocket was an extrasensory awareness within that moment rather than an extrapolation backwards from a vision of Olivia using the bullet in the near future.

Simone didn't need Observer tech, in other words, but her name ironically echoed the electronic Simon game seen in Episode 5.04, "The Bullet That Saved the World". I don't know if the connection was intentional — Etta's former partner was also named Simon, last seen as a head in a jar in an Observer/Loyalist lab (a head with its eyes blinking, for all we know pleading "Help me!" slowly in Morse code), and I doubt that Simon Foster and Simone and Simon the game are all connected in some deep, vital way. In Christian scripture, of course, Simon is Peter, a point that I can't help but think about; likening him to a rock, Jesus calls Simon by the name Peter and depending on the translation he is often referred to as "Simon who is called Peter" or just Simon Peter.

Our attention may have been drawn to the bullet that Olivia keeps — in memory of Etta, who had kept it in memory of 
Olivia — simply to remind us of its existence in prepration for Olivia's later usage of it upon being kidnapped. (If a bullet is mentioned in Act I, to paraphrase Chekhov, it will probably be shot before the play is over.) The MacGuyvering of it by Olivia and, more obliquely, the Simon thing are however not the only callbacks to "The Bullet That Saved the World". Etta's death casts a strong pall over this entire season and Peter's wrath-fueled transformation in particular. Moreover, Etta is herself used as a weapon when her memory of that sunny day in the park, read by Windmark as Etta died, is tauntingly fired by Windmark into Peter's head. In the event that this memory, shown to us as being recalled by Peter at the end of the episode, helps our heroes triumph by causing Peter to reject his path to Observerdom, that just lends more credence to my theory that Etta herself is a, if not the, bullet that saved the world.

I will happily concede that the Observer-power fight between Windmark and Peter was seriously cool, as was the "gotcha" moment of Windmark reading the timelines that Peter had set up in Etta's apartment — a location now, finally, compromised. The fact that Peter gave up the Observer tech at Olivia's urging, just as his brain seemed locked in to the Observer way of, well, observing things, surprised the heck out of me. I liked Olivia's speech to Peter fine, and I certainly appreciate where she's coming from, but even with only five chapters left I expected this plot to play out at least one episode longer; to me it felt like we didn't quite wallow in Peter's nearly complete Observitude long enough.

Given that Fringe has been positioned as primarily Olivia's story from the beginning, I've been disappointed in her relative lack of prominence so far in Season Five. This is only the second time that she's been the focal character in my opening episode-title composite graphics this season, and the first time that she's appeared there solo (although if I'd been able to get a good a good shot of her in amber for the premiere I would have used it).

One thing I found funny in this episode is that Peter, man on a mission, his hair growing increasingly bushy like Walter's even as it begins to fall out, no time to shave, is getting so disheveled as the tech in his brain Observerates him, whereas the Observers themselves are precise in speech, clipped in manner, sharp in dress, meticulous in everything but the tabasco sauce that floods onto their food.

I also amused myself thinking of Olivia frantically
 searching various ledges and such before finding Peter's vantage point over the square where he was running his Windmark altered-destiny experiment just in time.

Most of the best television shows have atmosphere. Fringe has it for sure, although this season's is different than previous ones'. I realized as I settled in to watch the latest installment last Friday night, after two weeks without it, that I really missed being immersed in even this stranger, lesser Fringe's atmosphere, but like I said above I came out the other end unsatisfied. We can only hope that it was analogous to some light narrative calm before the storm of greatness, or at least verygoodness, that Fringe deserves before vanishing.

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

Related Posts: Magical Mystery Tour (Episode 5.03); Happiness Is a Warm Gun (Episode 5.04)
Previously in 'Fringe Thinking': Borrowed Time (Episode 5.08)
Next in 'Fringe Thinking': Glass Onion (Episode 5.09)

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