Fringe: Letters of Transit

“Resistance must take place at any opportunity.”

This was a great episode, almost despite itself. An hour devoted to people we have never met, this close to what might be the final episode of the show ever? And yet it was touching, interesting, and extremely well done, just like all Fringe episodes are. But while “Letters of Transit” was a great episode, I’m still not sure that I’m on board with the direction this season has taken, or with the place of this episode in the master plan.

As I’ve mentioned before, the producers have been, and are now, asking us to take a lot on faith: that this new world is somehow still “our world” (at least in terms of the emotional connections to the characters), that Jones’s plot will turn out to be epic, that everything will make sense in the end. However, I have been resistant to that faith, because these characters still feel new to me, even as Olivia is beginning to remember the events of the previous three seasons.

“Letters of Transit” continues the tradition of the wacky 19th episode, but it is most closely linked to the Season Three finale, in which we saw what the future would be like if the Fringe team and two universes continued on their then-current path. Now, with Peter removed from the equation and possibly because of his walk through the Observer’s brain, the future is quite different: a dystopian mind-control police state created to benefit the bald white businessmen that we are all doomed to evolve into.

Okay, new future. It was a cool future, and the idea of the complicated shifting moral ground of the Fringe division working for the Observers while resisting them is interesting—and could make a great fifth season. But this episode isn’t the story of what will happen. It is the story of what our heroes will try to avoid. That creates some dramatic irony tension for us, as we know where the current path could lead our heroes. But, unless we keep bopping to the future and back again (which seems unlikely) for status updates, we’ll never know if what our heroes are doing will save the future or damn it. Plus, we’ve gotten a glimpse of the future before, only to have it re-set. Too many re-sets are like the boy who cried wolf: after a while, it gets hard to invest in peril that we know will shortly go away, or might never happen at all.

Future Dystopialand does give us some clues about what has happened in our present-day heroes’ recent past: obviously, William Bell played a different role in their lives. Somehow, Olivia met Henry the cab-driver, because she later named her daughter Henrietta after him. Part of Walter’s brain was removed, just like it was in the past that we spent a few years watching on our TVs.

Future Dystopialand also gives us some hints about the events of the current season. Is this what Jones is trying to prevent? Does he want to collapse the two universes so that the Observers don’t want to take us over anymore? Are the hybrid animals going to help us fight the invasion? It’d be an interesting twist, if Jones was a good guy who hates the Fringe division because they later start to follow a policy of hands-off appeasement.

All those questions either will or will not be answered, and all my doubts will either disappear or dissipate as the season draws to a close. The episode itself, as I said above, was well done and enjoyable. I figured out Etta’s identity about half-way through—she really does look like she could be Olivia’s daughter. That made her quest quite touching, particularly the grief she must have felt over Walter’s emptiness.

Simon Foster was great fun, mostly because I love Henry Ian Cusick. Simon Peter was one of the disciples, and “Foster” might be a sign that Simon played the role of foster-parent to Etta the orphan. Their relationship was certainly close, and the writers did a wonderful job of showing us with just a few lines just how close they are. He sacrificed himself just as Walter did, too. Hopefully they’ll be able to de-amber him soon. Soon, in the future. If the future happens. Oh, whatever. You know what I mean.

Empty-headed Walter was a treat: all that was left in his brain was the candy-center and the part of our brain that retains movie and TV quotes. The addition of the cold-hearted, overly pragmatic part of his brain was a great opportunity for John Noble to show us, once again, just how good he is at shifting his character(s) by degrees and nailing it every time.

Licorice!

• Simon: “People are getting brave. Don’t let them.”

• Walter: “I am not a number. I am a free man!”

• Walter: “These are not the droids you’re looking for.”

• Walter: “Like the Guns of Navarone.”

• Etta: “He’s a very smart boy.”

• Walter: “We are insurgents. And this is anti-matter.”

• Etta: “He’s half a fruitcake short of Christmas.”

• Walter: In that case, a little more focus and a little less pontificating and we might have the job done by now.”

• Coffee chews. Ew!

• Marking Loyalists rather than rebel Natives seems odd. Once marked, why wouldn’t a Loyalist turn rebel and use his tattooed face to infiltrate the organization?

• Sorry about the lateness of this review. My DVR doesn’t love me anymore.

My reviews have been complainy recently, and I’m not happy that they’ve taken that direction. Episode by episode, Fringe nails it. Everything is perfectly done, spot-on, completely flawless. It’s the overall story, and the emotions that it does or does not engender in me, that are causing the dissatisfaction. That makes each episode hard to rate. Quality of product? A+. Effect of product? Ah, there’s the rub.

Three out of four friends in the city.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

10 comments:

J.D. Balthazar said...

I absolutely loved this episode. But you're totally right, it did feel as though they were setting up our emotions for a payoff that we may never get. Even if they do a fifth season, this might be the only time we get to see Simon and Etta. Which would be a shame, because I really like them both.

However, J.J. (not that he is in direct control anymore) is fond of the jump in narrative. Lost, Alias, heck even Fringe has used this device. I'm not sure if they will again. But wouldn't that be a kicker if they ended the season in that future with maybe Olivia waking up there or something.

I just wish they had used a slightly different plot device for this season. At the same time I don't want to be one of those people that hates a show that changes just because it tries something different!

Either way, great review Josie!

celticmarc said...

I understand your dilemma Josie ! And I share it. I was all WTF ?! at the beginning of this season, and now, I'm flabbergasted by everyone's brilliant performance, each and every week.

This a was a strong 4. The first 40 seconds made me think of.....Blade Runner ! Must be the music. It was eerie similar...(or is it my vivid imagination ?)

Jess Lynde said...

I'm conflicted, too. I loved this hour, but when it got to the end and it felt like it was only beginning, I was rather disappointed to realize we may not be coming back to this point. And why spend time on something we may not come back to, when the end could be nigh?

Ah, well. I still really enjoyed the hour. I think mostly because of my affection for Henry Ian Cusick. I was terrified they were gonna have him turn out to be a bad guy, and I really didn't want that.

But Etta was quite engaging, too. I figured out almost immediately that she was Peter and Olivia's daughter. At first, I thought she might be Ella (whom we saw in the last jump forward). But as soon as it was revealed she had special, Observer-thwarting abilities, I knew she must be Olivia's child. It made the hour a lot richer for me. Knowing how much finding the team had to mean to her, and seeing her interactions with Walter made everything quite poignant for me. I wondered if Nina took her under her wing, the way she once did for Olivia.

But I'm definitely in the same head space you are at this point, Josie. I'm generally liking the individual hours, but I'm consistently frustrated by my inability to discern the overall direction for the season.

Josie Kafka said...

"I loved this hour, but when it got to the end and it felt like it was only beginning..."

Well said, Jess. This might have worked better as a two-parter, so that we got some resolution about what the future holds.

Mario said...

This was an incredible journey. If this is what season 5 is going to be touching upon,i would sell a kidney to get it... not that it would be enough... but i'll sleep better at night.

Mario said...

And how seriously awesome were those opening credits?

Anonymous said...

My favorite thing about Fringe is the way it uses science fiction in order to create situations of insanely magnificent emotion. I mean, come on. What would it be like to wake up tomorrow and 20 years has gone by and your 4-year-old daughter (now a grown woman) looks you in the eyes like she did and says, "Hi, Dad." This show was a gift to dads with little girls. Respect.

I found the "dark side" of the Observers a bit sad though. Was that really necessary? It kind of spoiled a good thing. I didn't really want to see behind that curtain and see myself but perhaps that was the point.

The different opening credits screaming "Freedom!" made me wonder whether or not the writers were just making fun of us a bit, pulling out this simplistic trope and asking, "Is this what you want? Is this what it takes not to get canceled?"

Shame such good things attract such few people. Real shame.

Mark Greig said...

DESMOND!!!

Is it too much to hope that we see you in another episode, brutha?

Jess Lynde said...

I rewatched this episode the other night, and decided that, regardless of how this season wraps, if the series renewal means we get to continue with this story thread in the final season, then I'm very much onboard. I really want to see how our team came to this place and what comes next! So: yea, renewal!

Anonymous said...

I try to convince everyone I know to watch Fringe, even offering to lend my precious first 3 series. I love all the characters and want them to experience this wonderful but weird show. My life would be less without Walter, Peter and Olivia. Roll on series 5.