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‘Fringe’ recap: In the year 2036

April 21, 2012 |  6:31 am

Is there any other network drama on the air as daring and inventive as “Fringe”? Normally, the great, bold moves are reserved for cable. Even the big hitters of network creativity like “Lost,” “Twin Peaks,” and “the X-Files” had their formulas. You would have to get away from the big four channels to find risks like a musical episode of “Buffy” or the “Xena: Warrior Princess” where the actors played the show’s writers and producers.

“Fringe” takes risks. Risks on top of risks. It’s one thing to jump 24 years into the future for an episode. It’s something else to jump 24 years into the future and end on a cliffhanger. Television audiences notoriously want answers, or at least the promise of answers. “Letters of Transit” gives a lot of things (a fully developed world, compelling new characters, and a thrilling adventure), but it doesn’t even pretend that it’s going to give you answers. “Letters of Transit” is another excellent example of what “Fringe” does best: changing the perspective, and it’s a great example of why “Fringe” deserves a fifth season.

“They came from the future. At first, they only watched. Arriving at key moments in human history. We called them Observers. But in 2015 they stopped watching… and seized control. Citizen uprisings proved bloody and futile. Those who survived became known as “Natives.” In an attempt to show their allegiance, some Native factions became “Loyalists” and were marked by the Observers. The original Fringe team fought the invasion, but was quickly defeated. Fringe Division was allowed to continue at a reduced capacity, but only to police the Natives. The resistance was quickly overcome… or so they thought.”

That’s the crawl that gives us our bearings for “Letters of Transit.” Twenty-four years into the future. Just over two decades after the Observers stepped out of the background to take control of the Earth. We don’t find out exactly why they did (though there are hints throughout the episode). All that matters is that there is a small resistance, fighting back. 

Right away we’re introduced to Etta, a strong-willed, blond Fringe Division agent who seems to have some hidden mental powers. Does that ring any bells? Etta shows up to save a friend of hers who is in the process of getting his mind wiped for standing up to a member of the bald rat pack. I’ve always assumed that the Observers had some level of telepathy, being able to speak sync with Peter or Olivia, but now we know for sure. They can read minds and erase them if necessary. Though it doesn’t seem like a very clean process.

Etta’s friend is actually a member of the resistance, who has a special gift for her. Since 2015, the original Fringe Team has become an urban legend. They fought the invasion of the Observers but vanished. Some say they’re immortals, hiding and waiting for the right time to strike. Turns out that theory isn’t too far off. They’ve been encased in amber, and Etta is delivered a big old chunk containing Walter. Now if they can just extract his DNA and cross it with a frog, they’ll have dinosaurs. Wait. Wrong story.

Etta takes the Walter-cicle to fellow Fringe agent/resistance member Simon, played by Henry Ian Cusick (always nice to see a "Lost" alumni). Extracting Walter proves a bit difficult. The amber instantly re-solidifies when turned into a gas. So they need to knock him across the room with an old piece of Observer technology. That’s not the half of it. Since Walter activated the amber himself, he was too close to the source and his already fragile brain suffered additional damage. Etta and Simon go to silver-foxed Nina Sharp to learn that their one chance of returning Walter’s cognitive functions are the chunks of his brain he had William Bell remove back in the day. They’re still stored at the old Massive Dynamic building in the city, aka Observer Central.

The whole episode is a thrill ride. There’s tons of fun with Walter brain-damaged, relearning the joys of licorice and quoting “Star Wars” as Simon and Etta try to slip past Loyalist security. Then, after they repair his brain with the arrogant jerk chunks, his genius returns with a few of his less-likable personality traits, like destroying the entire building with an antimatter bomb. We also get a heck of a bald acting-off between an older Broyles and the Observer in charge of Native affairs. The tension was so thick, you could scoop it up with a ladle. I also want to know what that Observer did in the future to land him this gig. 

In the end, the re-smartified Walter leads Etta and Simon to the room where the other members of the original Fringe Division are trapped (which also seemed to house a familiar typewriter). They manage to extract Astrid without much problem, but with the Observer forces closing in and their equipment malfunctioning, Simon is forced to sacrifice himself in order to free the final member. Things get a little lost in the commotion at this point but it’s clear that William Bell somehow was part of the action and did something horrible to Olivia before they were all trapped. They leave him stuck in the amber (well, at least most of him) and rush off with Peter in tow. 

As they escape from the city, we learn that the reason Etta might seem so familiar (and have powers that shield her from the Observers) is that she is the daughter of Peter and Olivia. I was surprised how emotional that moment was, seeing as we’ve never met this character before and probably won’t ever see her again. That just goes to show the quality of the episode. Even though we get no answers and no resolution, the journey was fun on its own. 

The Future of Fringe – Word has gotten out that “Fringe” filmed two possible endings for the last episode. One that can be used as a season finale and another that can be used as a series finale. The official word hasn’t come down from the powers that be if “Fringe” will continue after Season Four. With episodes like “Letters of Transit” (and the past two seasons in general), I think “Fringe” has proven it deserves a chance to give these characters a proper goodbye. 

Astrid Action – Astrid popped in just for the ending. She got to share the secret with Walter that William Bell was encased in the amber. How did William Bell come back from the dead in order to get trapped? Was this the alternate timeline and he didn’t die? What did he do to Olivia to garner such scorn? And why do they need his hand anyway? I wonder how many of these questions we’ll ever get answered.

Spot the Observer – Of course, there were Observers everywhere, but there was no sign of September, our favorite watcher. Walter spoke kindly of him.  We still haven’t seen how September ended up with a bullet in his gut, but there are still three more episodes left.


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-- Andrew Hanson

Photo: John Nobel as Walter Bishop. Credit: Fox Television