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Fringe 4.19 [SPOILERS]

I am disappoint.1

For the most part, I have been enjoying this eclectic season so far. It’s difficult to completely alter reality, and every character’s situation, and have the show feel like “home” to a viewing audience. Eureka kind of lost me, for example, when the main cast went back in time and changed the course of history. There were just too many differences in the new reality. I never regained that sense of “normal”.

Fringe has always been pretty mind-bending, and I was truly impressed with what the writers had done with the characters and history in the alternate universe. So I held out hope that our reality, the foundation we’ve been building for the past three years, would come back strong in season four, merging with the new timeline…that somehow, everyone, or at least everyone aware of Fringe events, would remember both.

Instead, the last handful of episodes have indicated that the only ones who will remember what the viewers remember are Peter and Olivia, and presumably the Observers, who worked to erase that timeline.

This climactic battle with the Observers in the future may yet lead to a restoration of the original timeline. It’s possible; anything is. But if that’s it, if that’s all, if that’s the resolution I’ve been waiting for, then what a letdown.

First of all, putting text on a screen to quickly explain an all-new story concept right in the middle of a show that’s already working within a different reality than the one previously established is heavy-handed. It might have been more confusing to be thrown into the episode with no explanation, but it certainly would have felt less awkward and B-movie sci-fi.

Second…Observers, in a nightclub, acting like gangsters, forcing themselves onto women. Uh, what? This is the first time I have ever seen an Observer do anything remotely sexual, and what a cliche way to add that to the story. I realize there are no female Observers–I’ve wondered about that for a long time, actually–but it doesn’t follow that upon wresting control of Earth from their ancestors, they’d start behaving like thugs from the 1940s.

Speaking of the 1940s: human enforcers of Observer law, dressed up like Nazis! Really! Yes, let’s invoke Nazi Germany in our already trope-heavy dystopian dictatorship.

I guess one thing that really drives me crazy about this is that the future September showed Peter seemed so bright. Humans would evolve and grow and eventually be able to go anywhere and Observe anything. This seemed Good. He never mentioned anything about destroying the planet in the future and then going back into the past to take it over. That, to me, sounds like some hack writer’s drunken “Dude, wouldn’t it be awesome if?”

But September fervently warned Peter that it was imperative he and Olivia get together, because their child would be essential. (If it wasn’t obvious to you that Etta was their kid, the millisecond she first appeared on screen, you haven’t been paying attention.) I had assumed at the time that this meant Peter and Olivia’s child would be part of building the bright future that led toward human expansion into the galaxy…not that she would be vital to stopping the Observers because her mind could somehow not be read by them. Snore.

And did it annoy anyone else that while Etta is practically a clone of her mother, she doesn’t seem to have picked up any of Peter’s scientific genius? What’s that about?

Speaking of clones: last night, I was convinced that this future must be some alternate timeline that would inform our own story, but did not doom our characters to its realities. My main support for this belief was the fact that William Bell was there. Only this morning did I remember that Walter didn’t bother to take William out of the amber…he simply removed his hand. This could imply that he intended to clone William, which could further imply that the William in the amber was also a clone. So that turns out not to be proof after all, much to my dismay. And come to think of it, I don’t think we actually know what happened to William Bell in this timeline anyway. He died in the original timeline, not this one.

Argh.

Already this season I’ve had many of my assumptions challenged or overthrown (I thought Evil Nina and alt-Broyles were shapeshifters, for example), so maybe things aren’t as doom and gloom as I think. Maybe something good can yet come out of what for now appears to me to be a very trite, uninteresting story. There are little things that intrigue me, like Walter having his brain back, Etta’s life and how she managed to hide the fact that she’s Peter and Olivia’s daughter (her last name was never mentioned in the episode), what happened to the other universe (is the bridge gone?), and whether David Robert Jones is still around somewhere. I’m not so keen on watching another episode without Olivia. Etta does a good Olivia impression, but, you know, Olivia is the main character. Kind of like having her around. It sounded like something happened to Olivia, though, which implies she may not be in this little dystopian future story arc at all. Blerg. [Edit: Looks like I don’t have to worry about the next episode not featuring Olivia, as we are apparently leaving the future storyline unresolved and going back to the present next week.]

At least we already have established precedent for Peter going forward in time, then back in time to change the results he saw. It’ll be totally cheesy if he does it again, but I won’t complain.

I think what bothers me the most about this episode is that my entire understanding of the Observers has changed. I used to think of them as, well, observers. They watched and didn’t interfere. They were scientists and historians. They were interested in their own past and were lucky enough to be able to go and see it in person. September, our most sympathetic Observer, made a big mistake by changing the timeline in two universes, and that touched off all the events where Observers started interfering (except that one where an Observer decided he didn’t want a particular young lady to die). Olivia had an affinity for the child Observer they found, and I felt that this indicated the promise of future friendship. While I knew the Observers were willing to sacrifice people for the sake of the timeline, I always felt they were working for the greater good.

This episode would have me believe that everything, all of it, was the Observers preparing to take over, and just watching and preparing for the best time. And that one big piece of their puzzle was making sure no Peter Bishop ever had a child with our universe’s Olivia Dunham. You might ask, “Why not just kill them, then?” I’m sure a writer somewhere can come up with an explanation like “It would affect other things in the timeline too much.” Never mind all the other timeline changes the Observers kept making, including trying to erase Peter. Did they ever think to stop our Olivia from getting treated with cortexiphan, or is that too obvious?

I’m just disappointed. I’m unhappy that the Observers are nothing more than ruiners and conquerors. I’m unhappy that basically the writers are saying humanity can’t evolve past our petty greed and selfishness in 600 years, even as we make astounding scientific discoveries (and apparently eliminate all women :P).

What this episode is telling me is that even if Peter or someone else from the cast is able to prevent the Observer takeover in 2036, that won’t necessarily stop the Observers themselves from being evil. I’d grown rather attached to them, and I didn’t want them to be evil. I didn’t want this to be so freaking black and white. I wanted a nuanced story with hard situations and tough decisions for everyone.

It’s naive to think that totalitarian regimes can’t exist, obviously, and I probably shouldn’t dismiss them as cliche in stories. I guess I was just expecting more from a civilization 600 years older than our own.

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