‘Fringe’ 5.03 Recap: “There’s a Time for Recording History and a Time for Making It”

You know what I think about when watching this final season of ‘Fringe’? I think about how amazing it is that the characters’ iPhones continue to work even in the distant dystopian future, and how convenient it is that none of the omniscient Observer overlords can track the characters by their cell phone usage. I think about how the current storyline radically contradicts the show’s previous four years of mythology about the Observers. I think about how frustrating it is that, even though everything that’s happening in this season might be considered an alternate universe that our characters could theoretically escape from, the series has slammed shut the door on any more talk of alternate universes and won’t even acknowledge that as a possibility. Yeah, in other words, I’m still not digging it.

For whatever it’s worth, last week’s episode, called ‘The Recordist’, sent Walter and the team on their first treasure hunt for the components of Walter’s plan to defeat the Observers. After cutting another of his Betamax tapes out of amber, they dart off to the woods of Pennsylvania to find… something. The tape is pretty mangled, so they don’t even know what they’re looking for. Upon arriving at the proper coordinates, they encounter a small encampment of people who seem to have tree bark growing over their skin.

The leader of this group, named Edwin, recognizes Walter. His young son River has even drawn his own comic books about the famous Fringe agents who stood up to the invaders. Edwin and his people are archivists of history. They’ve made it a mission to record everything that has occurred on Earth since the arrival of the Observers. In case mankind is ever wiped out, theirs will be the only true record of what happened. They store this information on fancy “data cubes” that can be played back on a super high-tech, ‘Minority Report’-style holographic display that isn’t in the slightest bit practical, but sure is shiny and futuristic.

Something in the environment has caused the locals’ skin to develop the bark-like growth, but they don’t mind since no one bothers them in the woods. With the help of Astrid back at the lab, Walter figures out that what he’s looking for is a special Quartz rock that can be used as a powerful energy source. It’s located inside an abandoned gold mine. Unfortunately, the mine is also the source of whatever is causing people to grow bark-skin. The only person who ever went deep into the mine hardened solid and died.

As Walter tries to build an environmental suit that will allow him to go into the mine, the Observers find out where they are and send Loyalist forces to capture the team. Because Walter can’t complete the suit in time, Edwin sacrifices himself by going into the mine and sending the rocks out before he dies. He does this both to save the Fringe team, and to protect his camp from being found by the Observers. The team then escapes by doing a switcheroo with their van and another car. The Loyalists fall for the dumb trick.

And… that’s it. The episode is fine for what it is, I suppose. There’s nothing blatantly terrible about it, but nor is it anything special. If the show wants to convince me of the necessity of its current direction, every episode needs to be something extraordinary. This just isn’t.

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