We left off last week with the gang starting a new quest. Specifically, the quest to find an unknown number of video tapes Walter recorded some two decades earlier. The tapes, of course, contain the plan to wipeout the Observers.
The first tape was an easy find. It was encased in amber inside Walter’s old Harvard lab, pretty much sitting right next to the video camera they retrieved from the amber in episode two. Leave it to Walter, however, to make an already challenging endeavor even more tedious by hiding the tapes out of order. The first tape turns out to be tape number three, which I guess means there are at least three tapes. In reality, how many tapes can there be? This is episode three of a 13-episode final season.
Tape number three leads the Fringe gang, by way of GPS coordinates, to a forested area of Pennsylvania. What they’re supposed to learn or retrieve while there is a mystery as that part of the video tape was garbled. The coordinates, however, were clearly stated and so Peter, Walter, Olivia, and Etta are on their way to the Keystone State while Astrid provides lab support.
This episode of “Fringe,” officially titled The Recordist, made me think about some movies I’ve seen, namely “Armageddon” and an old classic, “Fahrenheit 451.” More on these in a bit, but first we head to the forested area of Pennsylvania.
The gang no sooner arrives at the coordinates when it becomes obvious they’re not alone. Then there is movement in the forest; was that a face behind a tree? In on only a matter of minutes, they’re surrounded by a group of armed people who, on first examination, appear to have their skin camouflaged. Upon closer inspection, however, we see they’re all afflicted with a skin condition that looks like black fungus.
The gang is marched at gunpoint to the home-base of the forest people. Fortunately, Walter can’t go anywhere without being recognized, even rural Pennsylvania. The man is Edwin Massey (Paul McGillion) and he’s the de facto leader of the forest people.
This was the part of the episode that had me remembering the final scene of the 1966 classic, “Fahrenheit 451.” In the society depicted in this François Truffaut film, based on the popular sci-fi book of the same name written by the late Ray Bradbury, books were banned in that society, people ratted out their friends and family who owned books, and fire departments were tasked with setting books on fire rather than putting them out.
But a group of artists, scholars, actors, and other interested people who refuse to let the best stories in history die in a bookless society, live in a forest together, each person having fully memorized an important piece of literature.
The group of people in the Pennsylvania forest call themselves Recordists. They have taken it upon themselves to accurately record the history of mankind, fearing the Observers will re-write it upon their successful and complete oppression of the human race on Earth. Unlike the group of people in “Fahrenheit 451,” the Recordists have awesome technology at their disposal, ensuring digital records of history.
Massey isn’t quite sure why Walter and the rest have come to this location, but whatever he can do to help he will. Part of his motivation is to help create a better world for his young son River (Connor Beardmore), who is an expert on the Fringe Division.
River shares his handwritten and hand drawn “Fringe Division” comic books with Peter, Olivia, and Etta. They’re heroes to him and he wants their autographs because they chose to fight the invaders (the Observers) when many other humans went into hiding, afraid to fight.
The episode to this point was exciting and intriguing. I wasn’t sure where the Recordist story was going, or what the gang was supposed to find there, but I definitely wanted to know. I was easily sucked into the story and wanted something awesome to come of it.
Astrid’s timing couldn’t be better. Just as I was beginning to wonder if their purpose in Pennsylvania was going to remain a mystery, perhaps only revealed in a fan blog after the series ended, Astrid pieces it together back at the lab.
Apparently there’s a mine somewhere inside the Recordists’ camp, and whatever is in the mine is what they need. Massey acknowledges a gold mine and takes them to it. The discovered an old corpse tied to a rope down a mineshaft. The skeleton is covered with the black fungus, indicating to the team that whatever it is, its source is in the mine.
Massey shares some back-story with Walter about a man who came to the area just weeks after the Observer invasion. He’d no sooner gathered up a bunch of red-hued rocks when two Observers captured him and escorted him out of the area.
Astrid discovers they are looking specifically for a crystallized form of quartz that can be used to create a very powerful form of energy, but Walter says they can’t go down into the mine without dying a quick death. He needs to build a protective suit, which requires copper, but there’s no copper at the camp.
To continue with the too many dramatic conflicts that have arisen during the episode, Massey tells Walter of another group of people in the forest. One he doesn’t know personally, but occasionally talks to on the radio. They have supplies. They can get copper. A deal or barter can be reached.
Time, however, is not on their side. Not only is the episode winding down (I always keep my eye on the clock, building up pre-disappointment if I think something complex is going to be resolved in the last minute of the episode), but Observer leader Captain Windmark (Michael Kopsa) has gotten word the Fringe team has been spotted in Pennsylvania.
This news is of great concern to the Recordists as they’ve been living off the grid as survivalists for many years. Massey appears to be weak in front of his son, River, and has to eventually explain to him that the words “hero” and “coward” are quite complicated, and what might appear to be one thing is in fact the other.
It was at this point in the episode I was drawn back to the final scenes of blockbuster hit movie “Armageddon.” You know the scene, the one where the dad steps up to the plate and hits the biggest homerun in mankind’s history.
There are some important spoilers I won’t divulge, but the gang gets the quartz from the mine. They also elude the Observers in a very clever way, assuring us that River is no longer confused about the terms “coward” and “hero” and the work of the Recordists will go on, uninterrupted, well into the future.
Episode three was much better constructed than episode two, and advanced the story nicely. The videotape story could prove maddening to viewers, but what felt like a road to nowhere last week actually took shape quite nicely this week.
Can’t wait for episode four, which will air in two weeks as “Fringe” takes the week off so Simon Cowell’s “X Factor” can air its first live episode of the new season, a two-hour special event.