‘Fringe’ 4.19 Recap: “You Are Always Exactly What You Seem”

As if ‘Fringe’ wasn’t already crazy enough on a weekly basis, once or twice a season the show tries to pull out all the stops to drop a major mind-screw on the audience. Sometimes, these have lasting repercussions for the series’ narrative (like the first visit to the alternate universe in the Season 1 finale), while other times these bizarre tangents don’t lead anywhere (like Season 2’s musical or last year’s animated episode). Unfortunately, Friday’s totally out-there episode feels like one of the latter.

‘Letters of Transit’ propels the story forward to the year 2036. We’re told in a very ‘Blade Runner’-like prologue text that the Observers invaded our world in force and took over in the year 2015. For some unexplained reason, these previously passive characters are now outright evil. After purging the majority of the Earth’s populace, they rule the rest as one of those bog-standard dystopic societies where all human freedoms have been suppressed. Fringe Division still exists, as collaborators whose mission is to police the “native” populace. Elderly Broyles is still in charge, but the rest of the original team vanished years earlier.

The episode primarily follows two Fringe agents named Simon (Henry Ian Cusick from ‘Lost’) and Etta (Georgina Haig), who are secretly part of the human resistance. Etta is one of the few humans whose mind cannot be read by the Observers. Even she doesn’t know why this is, but if you take a good look at her, you can probably figure it out long before the ultimate reveal at the end. (More on that shortly.)

Etta and Simon find Walter Bishop trapped in amber. They believe him to be humanity’s last great hope. They manage to free him, only to find that he’s been brain damaged (even more than usual) and isn’t particularly helpful. After seeking advice from Nina Sharp, who’s now in charge of the Ministry of Science, they break into the old Massive Dynamic building (where the electricity still works, despite being abandoned for decades) and retrieve the pieces of Walter’s brain in storage there, which will bring him back around to sanity.

In the midst of this, we learn that the Observers come from the year 2609, where they have finally wrecked the planet and used their technology to seek refuge in the Earth’s past. In other words, the writers of ‘Fringe’ have been taking notes from the (now officially-canceled) ‘Terra Nova’.

On the run from the Observers, the main trio also rescue Astrid and Peter from amber. They find William Bell as well (an obviously CGI’ed likeness of Leonard Nimoy), but Walter elects to leave him behind, citing something horrible that Belly did to Olivia. We never get an explanation for that.

Simon sacrifices himself, but the rest get away. Etta reveals that she’s actually Henrietta, Peter’s daughter with Olivia, which was totally obvious from the beginning (even without knowing that Peter and Olivia had a daughter), given that the actress looks just like Anna Torv. The episode then pretty much just stops, with the characters on the run and nothing resolved.

Scenes from the next episode suggest that this storyline will not be revisited. It’s a one-and-done “What If?” story.

Personally, I felt that this episode was pretty pointless. It’s clear that none of this will have any impact on the further direction of the series. It basically has nothing to do with anything. A credit from producer (and hack screenwriter) Akiva Goldsman explains the lack of concern for logic or narrative continuity. Why do the Observers behave absolutely nothing like the Observers have ever behaved before? Why does this flash-forward contradict the events of last season’s flash-forward finale? Has Goldsman ever even watched any episodes of the show that he didn’t personally write? I’m pretty sure that I know the answer to that last one.

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