FRINGE: 5.03 The Recordist — REVIEW


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.

  • 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.


  • 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

<<Previously | Next Time>>

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  1. Peanut says

    So brilliant Walter can’t be bothered to at least try to cure the fungus? I know he’s busy saving the world, but I’m sure he could quickly whip up something in the lab to help those people.

    Like: Thumb up 3

  2. Rick Terry says

    Hey Roco! Did I miss something? “As expected, Gale came through and has even rallied more loyalists to help the team.”

    I don’t have the foggiest clue of what you are talking about in this statement. Granted I could have missed something in the ep. Now I wonder if I missed a segment.

    Like: Thumb up 1

    • says

      I re-read that sentence as well Rick.
      My interpretation is that there is strength in numbers and the movement is growing. First Gale and now Edwin.
      Next episode, who knows who will join Walter and co. and support them in the attack.

      Like: Thumb up 2

    • says

      @Rick – As Starman said, I’m referring to the scene where the loyalist contacted Alin. Looking back I should have made that clearer.

      I assumed Gael had rallied some more believers, given that we haven’t heard about other loyalist double agents (as far as I recall) prior to this episode. I guess the resistance could have had agents within the loyalists already, though I’m not sure why the show wouldn’t reveal that in 5.02 (contrivances aside!).

      Like: Thumb up 1

      • Rick Terry says

        Thanks I totally missed that scene, I guess it was a blink and you miss it sort of thing. I need to re-watch now to make sure I’m not missing more parts of the puzzle.

        Like: Thumb up 0

  3. Sam says

    Agreed with everything you said, especially about the Observers. And “Mamanator” lol that’s awesome! :)

    Well-loved.: Thumb up 11

  4. Aria Mohtadi says

    Mamanator! 😀

    Awesome review as always.

    I love Olivia this season…I mean in the beginning of season 4 she felt a bit out-of-character (comprehensible, of course). Yet still, I have trouble buying Peter’s motives, perhaps that’s because I never truly understood the purpose of his disappearance and reappearance in the last season…If it was meant for him to merge the two worlds so finally after the defeat of Beta-Bell and Alt-Jones, Badservers could invade a “perfect” newborn world…I don’t know.

    I was expecting another Lovecraftian “Westfield”, being one of the best from season 4 imo, but ultimately the over-narration of River felt a bit too unnecessary and lame. Edwin’s talk with his son was good enough.

    Well-loved.: Thumb up 13

    • FringeSci says

      In my opinion, the Observers erased Peter so that they could make the perfect timeline to invade, however when Peter started to bleed through (due to the strong connection to Olivia and Walter or love or whatever), September didn’t stop it as he knew that if Peter and Olivia could correct the problem from the old timeline (where Altlivia had a child instead of our Olivia), their child would be able to defeat the Observers. At least that’s what I got out the conversation between September and Peter in “The End of All Things”, as September seems very bent on them being together.

      Well-loved.: Thumb up 15

      • Aria Mohtadi says

        Yes, that makes sense.
        And then they separated ties with the Red universe , etc. Making it perfect environmentally, for the Observers.


        Like: Thumb up 1

      • elisa says

        Finally, somebody that understands the point of season 4. IMHO, You are right. I also think the obervers tried to eliminate Peter in season 3: without Peter, there would be no Etta to free Walter fom amber, and without Walter, no plan to defeat the observers.
        But, the butterfly effect aplied and the observers didn’t foresee that Peter would reapear or that September would help him. That was the point of season 4.
        To me, it not only makes sense, but explaines the entire show.

        Like: Thumb up 2

    • Sam says

      From what I understand, September said Peter was important because he needed to save both universes. He did that, he served his purpose and September erased him from existence in order to set things right. He saved Peter from drowning when he should have died and his interference corrupted the timeline (like Baby Henry being born). So erasing both essentially gave us the correct timeline and in addition to that both universes were safe. You know I like to think it was important to get rid of Henry because maybe he would have grown up to be really evil. Like Walternate would probably brainwash him and use him to get his revenge on Walter. We already got a glimpse of his wrath in the season 3 finale. Maybe with Henry he would have been a lot worse.

      September did not know Walter and Olivia’s love for Peter would bring him back. But it did, September realises he was wrong and tells us Peter and Our Olivia are meant to be together. Now I think that was to mainly make the shippers happy 😛 But also because they need to save the world from the Observers together. Peter couldn’t go into the machine without Olivia’s help, Olivia always feels like she needs Peter around to trigger her abilities and they were able to stop Bell in season 4 because they worked together. And now they will need to work together again to defeat the Observers. So that’s what I think.

      Well-loved.: Thumb up 16

      • Aria Mohtadi says

        I think you just made us want to rewatch the whole series again. 😀

        Awesome explanation!

        I guess September was the sole anomaly the Badservers didn’t or couldn’t have foreseen.

        Like: Thumb up 2

  5. says

    Roco, LOVED your review.

    Aria, I also really love this season 5 Olivia (I love all season’s of Olivia) and agree that in season 4 she seemed a bit out of sinc to me, until I grew to understand that version andthen to see her evolve right before our eyes.

    I had to rewatch this episode before I could embrace it. With that said, even upon 1st watch, the Olivia and Peter (with Etta as catalyst) story was perfection. Olivia’s issues around motherhood and losing Etta made me think of two episodes: 1. “Brown Betty” when Olivia was putting the batteries in Peter’s chest and he asked how she became a detective “to take care of people .. . ” and Peter’s response, “then who takes care of you?”. 2. This sentiment appears in a couple of episodes, but most specifically in “Welcome to Westfield” when Olivia asked about the ‘other’ Olivia. Peter’s response included something about Olivia giving him a home. A place he wanted to call home.

    It’s the classic issue of a person being able to fix/take care of/protect others, but not themselves. Or more accurately, it’s easier to fix others than dealing with you own feelings and issues. The Etta disappearance forced Olivia to look inside herself and she didn’t necessarily like what she saw (much like in “A Short Story About Love–this was the one time that she acted on her feelings in a way that fulfilled her issue of aloneness). So, what did she do? She fell back to her ‘safe ‘ place of helping others–she ran. Remember in “LSD” when Peter was explaining to Walter and Bell about how he knew where Olivia was going. He said, when she’s scared, she runs and hides in a ‘safe’ place. The safe place in that episode was the time before the experiments. After the Etta incident, it was the ‘Olivia’ back in savior mold; pushing her feelings back to the background to take care of others.

    The Olivia character is truly wonderfully drawn. I’m so glad that they will be able to finish her story arc. I think it will be one of self-acceptance which will lead to her being able to let down her guard, to trust and thus allow herself to love and BE LOVED. Just sayin . . .
    Episode: 8.8/10

    Well-loved.: Thumb up 19

  6. JM says

    IMO that is a very generous rating ROCO, you must have seen something in that episode I didn’t, it had some interesting character moments but the plot was too poor to justify an 8/10 for me.

    Like: Thumb up 2

    • says

      @JM, Underseer – that’s fair. I can see why you may have marked the episode lower, we all come at it from different angles which is great. I might mark the episode higher or lower in retrospect of what it does for the remainder of the season, but for now I don’t mind slinging 8 seriable stars at it, feels right from my direction.

      Like: Thumb up 8

  7. Starman says

    Nice review, Roco. You focused on the best moments of the episode and gave me a better appreciation of those moments. I agree that Anna Torv was again the MVP in this episode; she can do more with just her facial expressions than most actors can do with several minutes of dialogue.

    I still think this episode was poorly paced, which has rarely been a problem for Fringe and therefore was quite noticeable. If the weaker scenes had been removed and it had been edited down to a half hour it would have been a much stronger story, but because they had to fill 42 minutes it just felt unnecessarily padded.

    They had a decent idea in the Recordist society but they didn’t take full advantage of it. As others have noted, they could have used the library to give us and the Fringe team more info on what happened following the Observer invasion.

    I also agree that at some point the writers have to explain the apparent limitations of the Observers in their inability to capture the Fringe team, because with their previously demonstrated abilities to walk through time and dimensions they should be unbeatable. I can believe that not all observers have the same capabilities as the original scientific team, but if they fail to explain this all season it will be a gaping plot hole.

    I hope they also address what led Olivia and the Fringe team to amber themselves. One would think that they would only do this if the Observers were hot on their trail, in which case how is it that the Observers never managed to find them when they were frozen like statues for 21 years? Hopefully these and other questions will be answered, because I really want to remember this final season as among their best.

    Well-loved.: Thumb up 23

    • says

      “They had a decent idea in the Recordist society but they didn’t take full advantage of it.”

      That’s one of my main issues with the episode too. Hopefully it comes back into play somehow but for now it’s a missed opportunity, despite getting some useful, if arbitrary, mileage out of it.

      “I hope they also address what led Olivia and the Fringe team to amber themselves. One would think that they would only do this if the Observers were hot on their trail, in which case how is it that the Observers never managed to find them when they were frozen like statues for 21 years?”

      Olivia was apparently close to getting caught with the Transilience. Though it does seem like something of a plot contrivance at this stage, especially the Observers’ apparent lack of interest in them in thereafter. Maybe Broyles helped deflect the attention? Hopefully more context will be offered along the way.

      Like: Thumb up 3

  8. June08 says

    Great review Roco.

    You always managed to see the best in every Fringe episode even when we don’t see it ourselves 😉 You are Olivia in disguise if I may dare say so :)

    I agree with you that the most fascinating theme was Olivia’s doubt about her ability to be a good mother because of her cortexiphan’s programming but the rest of the episode was too low paced and except for the discovery of the red rocks didn’t bring much to the mythology.

    As much as I loved In Absentia, I didn’t quite enjoyed this one and hope the rest of the season will carry more substance and surprise to the story.

    Speaking of surprise, looking at next episode promo, we are expected to believe that Etta will be kidnapped by Windmark, what if it was Olivia or Peter instead?
    What do you think Fringies: Etta, Peter or Olivia abducted?
    And even more so, who would you choose?

    Well-loved.: Thumb up 10

  9. YourPique says

    This episode explains Olivia’s “pause” at the end of season 4, when she tells Peter that she’s pregnant. The producers said that the pause was there on purpose, and this would explain why perfectly – she was already having doubts/conflict.

    Like: Thumb up 7

  10. YourPique says

    Re: Donald. Sure, they didn’t get the same actor, but remember, this is a different timeline than August. Maybe in this timeline, Donald was somehow convinced to work for the Science Team/good guys. Remember that we didn’t even know about the observers (technically) until September shows up in the opera house w/ Olivia.

    Like: Thumb up 0

  11. Danny B says

    Am I the only person who does not understand why walter used f-ing tapes? Why not disks , flash drives anything but old vhs tapes. This season started well but this is just retarded.

    Like: Thumb up 0

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