In tonight’s game-changing episode, “Fringe” completely reinvented itself. With the reigns off for its final 13 episodes — and no pressure to bring in new viewers, only to satisfy longtime fans — show runner J.H. Wyman was able to approach the season as if it were a movie. Season 5 is presented as its own, standalone story written as a love letter to the fans who have been loyal since day one.
When we last saw Walter in 2012, the Observer September visited him in the lab, warning, “They are coming.” As we already knew from Episode 419, “Letters of Transit,” the Observers would ultimately take over the world, polluting it until it was uninhabitable by humans. We learned in tonight’s Season 5 premiere that with September’s help, Walter was able to spend a few years working on a plan to defeat the Observers when the time came. However, because Observers are capable of “cerebral scanning,” Walter had to essentially erase the plan from his own mind — leaving only scrambled pieces, unreadable, in his brain.
Despite September’s warning, the Observers’ arrival in 2015 came as a shock to the family — particularly Peter and Olivia, who were enjoying a relaxing day in the park with their 3-year-old daughter Henrietta when the Observers showed up. While a lot of what happened remains a mystery, we know that Peter and Olivia were separated from Etta in the chaos, and with their daughter missing, their relationship as we’d grown to know it fell apart. They were wearing wedding rings that day in the park. By the time Walter trapped himself, Peter, and Astrid in amber, Peter was no longer wearing his ring — and by Walter’s account, had abandoned the team.
Of course, we saw what happened next in “Letters of Transit.” Peter, Astrid, and Walter were revived in 2036 by a 24-year-old Etta, now a Fringe agent herself. The Observers have taken control of the planet, with human beings — “natives” — being governed by the Fringe team, unless, of course, they step out of line… in which case the Observers get to do pretty much whatever they want, from mind-reading to mind-erasing to inflicting agony. Walter hits up Massive Dynamic and is finally reunited with the missing pieces of his brain that he had removed so many years ago, and we met a new, more stable, more focused version of Walter.
Which brings us about up to speed for the current (er, in 2036) timeline. The premiere, “Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11,” gave us plenty of answers to the questions we’ve been stewing on all summer — but, typically, left us with far more questions as we begin the final “Fringe” journey. So let’s discuss what we know now! Take it to the comments section and weigh in on the various aspects of the premiere.
Olivia recovered: Olivia had ambered herself, just as Walter had, in order to protect herself from the Observers. She was cut out of the amber by “amber gypsies” and purchased by bookstore owner Ed Markham — who has not aged well. He had apparently been harboring a serious thing for Olivia all these years we thought he was just serving as a convenient deus ex machina. Now he’s using her as a coffee table (love is not dead, people) while plotting a way to get her out of the substance and make her fall in love with him, Sleeping Beauty style.
Walter and Etta: Watching the story develop between these two is going to be a joy this season, just as watching Walter and Olivia bond was a joy in Season 1. With only a few moments shared between Walter and his granddaughter, we’ve already found ourselves invested in this relationship. “To me, you will forever be a little girl,” Walter says. It’s resonant of any grandparent’s affection for their grandchild, but later it becomes relevant, because the only image of Etta that the Observer can get from Walter’s brain is that of a small child. Even his subconscious protects her.
The family reunion: First of all, it should be said that Georgina Haig is a revelation, and she so strongly resembles Anna Torv that we’re starting to think she was constructed in a lab for the express purpose of playing Henrietta Bishop. Torv, per usual, is heartbreakingly perfect. We’ll never get over Olivia’s face as she recognizes her adult daughter, and the visible combination of relief from their reunion and sadness at the time lost. “Kiddo, come meet your mom,” Peter says softly — and who knew that Joshua Jackson would wear “adoring father” even better than he wears a pea coat? (Also, it should be said — Etta is a badass. There’s no other way to put it.)
The caveat: The reunion could’ve been happier. “We didn’t save the world,” Olivia says sadly when she has a moment alone with Peter. While they were wearing their wedding rings that day in the park, they aren’t anymore in 2036. “I know what you thought of me, when I wouldn’t leave Boston and come to New York with you. When I left you alone,” Peter says. Olivia, ever logical, justifies his actions, and her own, by explaining that they were grieving their child, which could fracture any couple. He was focused on saving their child and being a good father, while she was focused on saving the entire world and, thus, being a good mother. They both sacrificed their relationship, and it’ll take some rebuilding to restore it to its former glory.
Walter’s mind: When the episode Walter is collected, capable, and intensely driven. It’s a bit jarring when Peter reminds him to wear pants and Walter snaps back, “I’m aware I’m not wearing pants, Peter. I’m not an idiot” — because the Walter we’ve grown to know and love absolutely would forget pants. This version of Walter is a combination of our Walter (as he fantasizes about his sci-fi writer potential) and the Walternate we said goodbye to last season. Walter is about to get his brain unscrambled by the Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11 device when he’s kidnapped by a violent Observer. The torture is tough to watch, but we can’t tear our eyes away from John Noble‘s award-worthy performance. September’s scrambling works — Walter’s brain is a hard egg to crack — but ultimately, the Observer messes around in Walter’s mind so much that he once again loses the sharp, focused edge. When the episode ends, Walter is as addled as we’ve ever seen him, if not more. Lost, damaged, and hopeless, he seeks solace in an old familiar song. This is the Walter we know, and it may take him a little longer to find the answers, but we’re confident he’ll get there in the end.
While we’re asking questions…
What’s up with Etta’s necklace? It’s a mangled bullet, and many have speculated that it was the bullet that “killed” Olivia in the Season 4 finale. We’re expecting a twist.
What happened to Etta after the Observers showed up, and who raised her?
Was she raised by Nina Sharp, the way that Olivia was in the universe where Peter didn’t exist? How did she become an agent? Did the Observers come specifically for Etta? And does she possess any of the abilities that her mother did?
Did the time inside the amber impact the team? We learned in a previous episode, “Amber 31422,” that while stuck in amber, people can be awake and aware of their entrapment. Walter says to Etta, “You must understand that for me it’s only two months ago that I took you to the pier. You liked the horses.”
Does that mean he wasn’t aware, for those 20 years, that he was stuck? We certainly hope so.
Why did walnuts become so valuable?
Is it because those heinous egg sticks are the other option for protein?
What are the stones used for?
The Observer mentioned that there were “stones” involved in Walter’s plan to defeat them. What sort of stones? Is that why we need William Bell’s hand to access his storage facility?