by Josie Kafka
I’m not sure what to say about this, the antepenultimate episode of Fringe. (If I’m reading the Internet correctly, next week will be two episodes aired back-to-back rather than one long episode.) I am past the point of wanting to evaluate the show—to point out its strengths and weaknesses, to quibble or to praise. I’m a fan of Fringe, and I doubt that will change in the next seven days.
I remain fascinated by the empathy/intelligence juxtaposition that Fringe has focused on this season. I wonder how it will color our understanding of the show as a whole, when we re-watch it in six or twelve months. Clearly, empathy is meant to be the hero in the ideological battle we are about to face. Donald, Walter, Peter (post-Observer-tech)—all have, in various ways, chosen the heart over the head.
Michael represents the marriage of intellect and the empathy: his anomalous reproduction includes the intellectual power of the Observers and the emotional power of “real” humanity in its most distilled and potent form. Is that why he gave himself to the Loyalists? Does he know that somehow turning himself in will benefit our heroes and the human race in all its permutations?
And how ironic is it, that Michael—who may be the savior of mankind as we know it—is a product of “intellectual” reproduction, in a Matrix-like pod lab that breeds little bald boy-babies? Fighting for heart may be the harder, more valiant path; but sometimes we must use the intellect to win that fight. Michael’s hybrid nature shows us that.
Walter’s nature is now hybrid, too. Michael gave him memories of Peter’s childhood; Walter now is closer to the Walter we knew in Season 1-3. He isn’t losing his empathy anymore, either. Those memories, combined with his understanding that he must sacrifice himself, have made those extra brain-bits a tool rather than a curse. Walter is no longer faced with the challenge of selling his soul to save the world; he might gain a postmortem redemption in saving the world, instead.
[And if that happens, I want cupcakes as my reward for calling it back in my review of “Anomaly XB-6783746.”]
[Does anyone else wonder if we’re in for a big, crazy reversal? Michael showed Nina something, and she killed herself. Michael showed Walter something, and he plans to sacrifice himself. Is Michael a crazed serial killer bent on forcing our heroes to destroy themselves?]
[That’s crazy, right?]
Michael, Walter, Peter, and Donald/September have all been faced with varying degrees of emotional/intellectual hybridity. It is so fitting that Walter and Donald got a few more moments together, reminiscing about encounters, planning, and generally being friends (which are in short supply in the Fringe-verse). Various call-backs to past episodes, like the white tulip and the scene of saving Peter from drowning, made me wish I’d followed through on my plan to re-watch some key episodes during the hiatus. Doing so was almost unnecessary, though: John Noble and Michael Cerveris did an incredible job of showing the connection between these two men.
Windmark was equally interesting in this episode—a statement I never thought I’d make, since Windmark has always seemed like a generic representation of Heartless Calculating Evil. (And that’s not a bad thing.) Now, though, he seems to be experiencing some “primitive” emotions of his own: rage, obsession, anger. I wonder if he’ll learn to transcend those emotions and find the better ones: love, kindness, affection for cats.
Donald has (although I’m not sure how he feels about cats). The revelation that Michael is, broadly speaking, Donald’s son, fits into the theme of parents and children that has been so important on Fringe from the very first episode. And Donald even made a joke! Nothing signals humanity like gentle sarcasm and a love of musicals.
And now he wants to send his son on a mission to save the (present) world and re-write the future. Sending Michael to the era in which human development was “bettered” by the removal of emotions is a darn good plan, albeit one that seems to rub uncomfortably against the paradoxes of time-travel. Can Fringe re-set the world one more time? Will Peter and Olivia get Etta back? Will they be whooshed back to 2013, or 2015, or stay where they are in time? Or does Michael’s surrender to the Loyalists mean that the plan we’ve been hoping for all season is now kaput? And…is Donald coming back? His departure seemed vague.
• Olivia: “Are you feeling sufficiently free and open now?”
• Walter: “You never liked public displays of affection. Or going number two in a public restroom.” (Does anyone like that?)
• Walter: “He wanted me to know that I have loved, that I have had incredible moments and connections.”
• Windmark and the other Observer listening to jazz—with toe-tapping—was masterfully shot and acted. I love it when TV shows take their time with wordless scenes.
• Why did Donald’s “biological reversal” not make his brain explode? Wasn’t that part of the risk with Peter leaving the implant in for too long?
• This is me not talking about why, in the quest to rid humans of emotions, somehow women got cut out of the equation. This is also me not talking about why only men on the show are faced with the intellect/empathy conundrum. Those are questions worth talking about, but I don’t want to get all negative when I’m enjoying the show so much.
And. So. That’s my messy, disordered “review” of an episode that was excellent, thought-provoking, and full of interesting echoes of past ideas and hints of what is to come. I am incredibly excited for next week, and I am happy that Fringe has a chance to wrap up its stories.
Having said that: many people like to skip the “next week, on Fringe” promos. Let’s respect their decision to remain in the dark, and avoid talking about the totally 100% awesome OMG cool glimpse we saw of next week’s two, final, episodes.
Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)