If the first two episodes of Fringe‘s final chapter brought the team back together (one or two members aside) and established the search for Walter’s plan to defeat the Badservers, there’s now a clear (or clearer) line towards the sci-fi serial’s final destination. The serial purist in me had some concerns that the ‘treasure hunt’ quest for the destiny tapes could serve as an excuse for stand alone detours, and while “The Recordist” isn’t the most insanely integral episode of Fringe you’ll ever see, it is a plugged in piece. Overarching story is developed, reassembled heroes are given additional depth, and themes are flavored.
That being said, the story has yet to solve the ‘Observer problem’ – the seemingly mercurial invaders are conveniently inept in their attempts to find and purge the resistance threat, while the episode itself felt notably low in the stakes department and skirted dangerously close to the feel of “Night Of Desirable Objects II“.
At the same time, the concept behind “The Recordist” is interesting, adds a bit of ‘world context’ to the season, and offers a reflective lens through which to capture Olivia and Peter’s internal conflicts. An episode perhaps a bit in conflict with itself ultimately does enough to feel rewarding (thanks Olivia), but at times serves as a reminder that a classic final season is by no means written in stone.
The episode starts on the front foot with Walter and Astrid “The Surgeon” Farnsworth extracting the first (technically third) destiny tape, which leads the team (minus the surgeon) to Pennsylvania to look for a key piece of Walter’s apparent plan. Reliance on the oft-unreliable narrator does add a touch of excitement to affairs, but emotion soon bubbles to the surface during Etta and Olivia’s little chat in the woods.
The doting daughter tells her mother that she’s even more than she imagined, but Olivia finds the hero worship hard to swallow. This is a touching moment because it’s delivered with sincerity and invites Olivia outside of her own eyes to stare at an image of herself she’s not entirely comfortable with, which begins to dig into where this episode has its most value.
If Peter has guilt over not being able to protect Etta, Olivia, it seems, has her own demons which haunt her for giving up. “In Absentia” gave us a very confident Olivia, which was fantastic to see, but that can only be played so far if you want a fully realized character. As it turns out, the one who inspires so much hope in others to the point where even loyalists are doing the switcheroo, lost hope of ever finding Etta. We’ll come back to this in a moment.
Admittedly, I hoped the subculture storyline would lead to some more intoxicating developments, but the idea of history being recorded (nay, narrated) in an act of preservation is one that has plenty of real world parallels in some shape or form, while also adding possible context to future/past events within the story.
It was made somewhat hokie by the addition of fungus — I’m really not sure why Fringe has such an obsession with the stuff — which ultimately served as a contrivance, but I find the concept of “The Narrator” in serial interesting and Fringe gave us more to speculate on in that regard with young River’s depictions of the Fringe team’s battles against the Badservers taking on more than a smidgen of what you might call “creative license”.
Given the show’s overarching themes and the processes our heroes have travelled through (memory resets, rewritten timelines, wish fulfillment etc), it does offer cause to reflect on how much their story has changed through the process, whether due to intrinsic design or sheer will. Certainly the Observers would say the Fringe team has plenty of creative license on their side, which in turn plays into the notion of “making history”, as expressed by Edwin.
In case anyone thought Windmark had forgotten about the Fringe team that threaten Badserver existence, the little scene with him overlooking the populous contained enough menace and creep to remind us that he’s still very much on the hunt, from behind a desk. Given the tools at the Badservers’ fingertips (literally) and the apparent way that they conquered the Earth, their lack of threat serves to undermine this portion of the story.
I get it, you have super-beings who can walk through dimensions and do just about anything except comprehend music, so you either have a good reason for their limitations or you don’t explain it and have them deploy their loyalists instead of handling the situation themselves.
So far Fringe has taken the second path, but for how long can it trade on this kind of logic? Unless Windmark has fallen in love with Etta (please no), I do think we’ll have to see a more convincing reason for their incompetence — and there’s still time, serial can be a redeemer. That being said, Windy certainly knows how to send a chill running down my spine.
The most fascinating part of the episode, for me, continues when Olivia explains her pretense at not remembering the place where she and Peter had that double delicious apple pie following the loss of their daughter — which I have to say was rather insensitive of Peter to bring up (and keep yapping on about) in the first place. I think even Etta could tell that Mamanator didn’t want to talk about it, but at the same time it was nice to see Etta intuiting her mother while signs of he slight disconnect between Olivia and Peter came to shore.
For the most part, Olivia’s admission that she felt “responsible” made sense – we know what she’s like, we know that she’s connected to this larger purpose. But it was particularly useful to hear her talk about her Cortexiphan “programming” and how it left her conflicted about being a mother. If parts of Olivia’s journey have felt at odds for significant portions of the audience, then in a way it’s useful to see that it’s also been that way for Olivia on some level.
Against all odds, she found herself with a life she thought she couldn’t have, one that felt out of sync with who she was “supposed” to be, so when she lost Etta she fell back on that programming – her default response is to protect, to do the thing she was made for. If we say that her weakness is her strength then it makes sense that her strength can also be her weakness, at least in her eyes.
There’s tragedy in that, to be ‘destined’ is one thing but to be fated at the hands of mere mortals in Walter and William Bell is another. While Walter has received forgiveness from God (or himself) for his actions, with yet more bouquets coming his way, Olivia still has to live with the fact that she’s an ‘experiment’ and the belief that losing Etta was her punishment for not being able to let go of the doubt. While Olivia evokes confidence in others there’s clearly still a lot going on inside that she can’t yet reconcile.
But this is where Peter ‘Another Way’ Bishop shines. He’s right to say that what happened happened and to look at this as a second chance. If losing Etta was “punishment”, and granted those missing years can’t be restored, then what a gift to now have her back. Olivia, bless her, may see herself as anything but heroic, but as reflected through the late semi-great Edwin (RIP), that doubt in her own heroic nature makes her courage all the more remarkable. Heroes are not born or made, they are discovered in lines of complexity.
NOTES OF RESISTANCE
- Edwin’s sacrifice was quite touching, though given the apparent necessity for the rocks, it did cross my mind as to why one of our brave Fringe teamers weren’t prepared to risk themselves and take one for the team? Just saying, guys.
- I think River will be more careful what he wishes for from now on. I guess he learned the hard way that there’s more to heroism than shiny guns. Hopefully he extends a bit of his creative license and gives his father a satisfying closing arc – I’m talking thunder, bright shiny light, trumpets, the works.
MYSTERIES & ANSWERS
- Where are the other tapes? What is the next phase of the plan? What will the energy source produced by the rocks be used for?
- Who is “Donald” — any connection to Donald Long, the science team hitman from “August“?
- As expected, Gael came through and has even rallied more loyalists to help the team.
- The team have completed the task laid out in Tape #3. They have the rocks which will apparently create a powerful energy source for the final phase of the plan.
8/10 Seriable Stars
Quotable of the Week: “..I’m conflicted. There’s a time for recording history..and a time for making it.” (Edwin Massey)
Best Moment: Olivia and Peter’s apple pie memories
Outstanding Performer: Anna Torv