Fringe: An Origin Story

Episode five of the final season of “Fringe” was a perplexing, introspective look at human emotions. The episode begins with Olivia and Peter mourning the loss of their daughter Henrietta for the second time. Killed in last week’s episode, they can’t believe they’ve lost her again.

The range of emotions dealt with in this episode run the gamut from loss to fear, anxiety to let-down, and how our bodies involuntarily deal with them. Sadness, on one end of the spectrum causes us to cry, and question our very own existence. Fear, on the other hand, causes our subconscious minds to betray our outward composure. Sadness and fear are dealt with in respectful and interesting ways in this episode.

While the members of the Fringe Division are busy dealing with their own feelings regarding Etta’s loss, the Observers are busing ignoring their own. They’re also creating quite a ruckus in a downtown area of Manhattan.

Just ahead of their arrival, the air crackles with electricity noticeable to some of the denizens milling about the area. In fairly short order, several Observers arrive on the scene and deploy some of their technology. Whatever their machine is, it opens a wormhole to their future, and through it comes some very special cargo.

As quickly as the portal appears, it disappears and leaves the area scorched. Just then, back at the ranch, a phone starts ringing. It’s inside a box of Etta’s belongings. Olivia answers it and to her great surprise it’s Anil (Shaun Smyth), Etta’s partner in the Resistance. While he apologizes for using the only means necessary to contact Olivia, I think it was a smart move by the writers. In a way it reminded me, and in fact everyone in the Fringe Division, that each of us is more than a box full of our final possessions. It was not only a good plot device, it was also a savvy bit of psychology.

Anil has recovered the box that the Observers used to open the wormhole and a logbook that is suspected to be a shipping manifest or schedule. It’s another bit of great fortune for the story and the series, but it gets even better. He’s also in possession of the Observer (David Stuart) who was attached to the device.

Of course Peter and Walter want that bit of technology, certain they can use it to their advantage. One thing that’s always bugged me about shows that deal with foreign technology is how easily Apple products can figure them out!

Anyway, Astrid is busy trying to decipher the logbook while Peter is busy trying to make heads or tails out of the metal cube that looks like a scale model Borg spaceship. It has many parts and components that are easily removed and refitted, but—and not surprising—Peter gets a shock every time he reassembles it incorrectly.

This is the part of the show where the science of fear and the reality of sadness come together. Peter insists on interrogating the Observer, stating that he has his own ways of making him talk, while waves of sadness get the best of Olivia and she pleads with him not to go.

Of course she’s just lost her daughter, having only been reunited with her for a handful of weeks, and she’s afraid she’s about to lose Peter, again, as well. Props to the writers and actors for treating real human emotions with honesty; “Fringe” has always been best when the actors dig deep and sell the human side of humanity, regardless of their day jobs and the fictional world in which they live.

Peter has attached an ocular reader to the restrained Observer so he can see the tiniest changes in his pupils. While he reassembles the wormhole device, he explains to the Observer that human fear triggers an involuntary response causing pupils to dilate. He’s counting on every human’s desire to survive at any cost to help him out with the really tricky part of reassembly.

The last piece of the wormhole device must be inserted in exactly the correct way, or KABLAM! Goodbye cruel world.  There’s no mystery whether or not the ocular camera is going to reveal the Observer’s subconscious fear, but it’s a great scene filled with intrigue and tension; definitely one of the highlights of the episode.

Astrid, also to no one’s great surprise, has deciphered the logbook and sure enough it’s a record of past and present shipments from the future. There’s one set for later that afternoon, not too far from where Peter is playing the Observer like a fiddle.

Simultaneously to Astrid’s fortunate news, Walter has discovered another videotape. This time, however, it’s a recording of one of Etta’s childhood birthday parties. He implores Olivia to watch it, but then Walter never has been very sensitive to the emotions of others. She turns him down.

Walter and Peter figure if they can open a wormhole they can fire some munitions into it, thereby shutting down this end of the light-speed highway. One thing I’ve never understood is why these guys never come to accept that the Observers  are exceedingly smart, and surely wouldn’t be undone by something as simple as closing down an intergalactic highway. I know it makes for good theater, but smart people in the real world always defer to smarter people, ya know?

Anyway, the gambit appears successful, in another high-tension, high-action scene that really pays off. The only problem, of course, is it doesn’t work. Not two minutes after they think they’ve closed the wormhole, the Observers open another and three more large boxes emerge.

In the final scene between Peter and the Observer, the only way for Peter to get the point across about the emotions of human loss and suffering is by slicing open the back of the Observer’s neck and removing a computer processor of some sort. The Observer is clearly in pain, and perhaps does come to understand that what he’s feeling is what Peter experienced in the wake of Etta’s murder. The Observer dies.

The climax of the episode has Peter slicing open the back of his own neck and inserting the microprocessor. It literally leaps into his body and roots somewhere deep inside his brain. We feel for a moment that his head might actually split open from the pain he’s exhibiting.

It’s a major development in the series and could have Peter on-par with the Observers. I guess we’ll see how all this shapes up. No matter what, I’m excited for next week’s episode. Peter’s just smart enough to make this work to his advantage.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Stephanie Caldwell is a writer from Salt Lake City for CableTV.com.