This review contains spoilers.
4.19 Letters of Transit
Having watched this episode for the second time, I’m still trying to work out if it was a stroke of insanity or brilliance. The best description I can come up with was that it was like we’d glimpsed an episode of Fringe from another dimension, one that didn’t exactly follow the same basic rules as the one we’re used to.
But when the show’s three creators, J.J. Abrams, Alex Kutzman and Robert Orci get together and write an episode, you know things are likely to get a little unstable, like one of Walter’s cooking experiments.
Springboarding off the death of the Observer, September, we fast forward to 2036, where the Observers have taken over the world reducing all humans to the lower ranking of ‘Native’. Fringe division still exists, headed by Broyles, but it’s a instrument of suppression for what’s now an occupying force.
What I found fascinating about this was that none of the actors who have generally played Observers before were shown, as if this was a different group. But then as things progressed so many parts of the reality they inhabited didn’t fit with any of the previous universes we’ve encountered, with bits borrowed from multiple ones, and entirely new elements blended in.
That said, it was nothing but very watchable, as I wrestled every bit of new information into some semblance of order in my head, and tried not to get too distracted by the anomalies that this inevitably threw up.
The new Fringe Agent, Henrietta, played by Georgina Haig, was both feisty and unfazed by being blood splattered, but then this show’s women are never shrinking violets.
But when the end came, it was all too soon, as I wanted it to continue for at least another 45 minutes or more.
So what didn’t work for me? I think, and this sounds dumb considering that it’s Fringe we’re talking about, but it got a little too fantastical in places. The speed with which Walter regained his cognitive skills was implausibly rapid, and their ability to be close to an anti-matter implosion without suffering ill-effects patently crazy. But I think the one aspect that bugged me most was the whole Amber guffin, where they had to use that stupid device to get them out. Why not loop a rope around them and pull? Or place the amber between two tables, and let gravity extract them? It was patently silly, and just a plot mechanism for removing a character they’d no further need of at the point they wanted him neutralised.
But that brings me to the real head-scratch moment, when they chose not to extract William Bell from his entombment. From Fringe lore, for what that’s worth these days, Bell is dead, and the alternate too through a car crash, so who is this? Or, is the hint that this is either yet another dimension, or was one side effect of the partial erasing of Peter that William lived? Confused? You should be.
They also credited Anna Torv at the start, and yet she never appeared, though I’ve noticed that Fringe has a habit of doing that.
In the end I was left wondering if the series would be extended by a couple of episodes, just to try and explain a small amount of what went on in this story. They also managed to pack in all manner of subtle and not-so-subtle science fiction references. From Walter’s salute to Star Wars, ‘these are not the droids you’re looking for’ to The Prisoner, ‘I am not a number, I am a free man!’, plus plenty of visual nods to odd science fiction movies, like the broken bridge and a room with circular wall lights that resembled the earliest TARDIS designs. I’m sure there are more that I’ve missed.
But, and I can’t really not comment on it, what about the final revelation? Well, it was rather telegraphed, as the actress was certainly picked because she has traits of both Peter and Olivia, and the character had ‘special abilities’. But the bigger question that her appearance provided was as to the fate or whereabouts of Agent Dunham, who wasn’t trapped in Amber with everyone else. Is the bullet necklace a clue? And where is Agent Lee, for that matter?
From a narrative perspective, we’ve all been taken to the top of this rollercoaster’s biggest descent and the end of the ride, for now, is three episodes away. It’s going to be a scary drop next, so I’d be careful to keep your hands and arms well inside the vehicle.