Fringe: “Bullet That Saved the World” & “Origin Story”

Posted on November 04, 2012

Fringe was never what you’d call a light-hearted romp, but this final season seems determined to bring its fans to the lowest state of depression possible while still keeping them engaged with the story. We think the creators are succeeding on that front, but we have to be honest here: it’s turning into a bit of a slog for us.

But here’s the thing: it’s meant to be a slog. It’s meant to be difficult for us to sit through some of this. The creators removed almost all of the elements that made the show engrossing in previous seasons and used that to illustrate the depression and hopelessness the characters are feeling in the new dystopia. There’s no way to make this story uplifting, at least not at the moment. We can’t imagine the series is going to end on a down note, so we’re all going to have to suffer through depressing episodes because we’re meant to feel what the characters are feeling. It’s a bold and smart choice on the part of the creators because really, the only people who are going to sit through such a depressing season are the hardcore fans of the show. No casual viewer is going to become invested in this storyline. So what we have is a story tailor-made for the superfans that refuses to give the superfans any of the elements that made them fans in the first place. That’s pretty ballsy.

In last week’s episode, Walter revealed to the Fringe team his own personal museum of Fringe case artifacts, a bittersweet moment that reminded us all of what these people have lost, just before the story dealt Peter and Olivia their biggest loss of all: the death of their daughter. We could feel a death coming, but we have to admit, we were surprised that it was Etta. We kinda figured the recently returned (and very much welcome, although his aging makeup was horrible) Broyles or the criminally under-utilized (especially this season) Astrid would be the first one to bite it. We’re glad neither of those characters were killed off (yet), because it would have been a cliche to kill off a black character so the white heroes can have a reason to fight on. And besides, no death would have had the emotional impact (for the characters, if not the audience) that Etta’s provided.

But even in darkness, there are sublime moments. Broyles’ clipped, but emotional “Agent Dunham,” and her surprisingly warm response of “Phillip” got us a bit choked up, we admit. We wish we could say the same about Etta’s death. They did a fairly good job of defining the character in a short period of time, but we can’t say we felt much when she sacrificed herself, and curiously, the rest of the Fringe team’s reactions seemed underplayed somehow, at least at first.

If it’s not clear by now, our reaction to these past two episodes are uneven and disjointed, much like the story itself.

Anyway, with this week’s episode, we got more of a sense of grief from the remaining characters. Olivia seems exhausted by hers and Peter is reminding us a bit too much of the crazed Walter who broke the universe out of grief over a lost child. This is engrossing stuff; especially because it once again doesn’t present the Olivia/Peter relationship as a perfect one. They both have demons and those demons have driven them apart more than kept them together. We know there was some sort of disagreement over Etta’s disappearance and abduction years ago, and now we’re seeing them deal with her death in very different ways.

We also got more of a sense of anger this episode, at least from Peter. That’s something the story sorely needed. Sure, Peter’s plan failed and he wound up doing something very stupid at the end of the episode, but his righteous fury was a welcome sight, even if it is a little disturbing.

As for Olivia, her arc this season seems to be about finding some for of peace for herself. The shot of her reacting to the “RESIST” posters featuring her daughter’s face was beautifully done. But we fear what’s going to happen to her and Peter down the line. Then again, isn’t that the whole point of telling a story like this? To get the audience to worry about the fate of the characters?

The upshot of this very disjointed review is this: It’s a depressing story, but it remains an engrossing one. It seems almost impossible, from where we are right now, that this story is going to end happily for everyone involved. Certainly, there’s a possibility that some or all of what’s going on right now can be reversed, but that would negate the growth these characters – especially Peter and Olivia – have experienced.

But boy, it sure would be nice if our heroes could accomplish one “Fuck yeah!” moment soon, if only to lift the heavy veil of sadness covering everything.

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  • WittyCism

    After watching the last episode, my husband asked me how I felt about the new season, whether I liked it or not.  I said “There is no ‘like’ in it.  It’s like reading Stephen King’s Gunslinger series:  He leads, I follow.  They show, I’ll take whatever I can get.”  Hats off to Peter’s line though, how he could be ten times more with that tech in his head.  I think I bolted upright from my couch potato slump with a loud “No….”

    • http://twitter.com/kle73 Kle Stevenson

      Actually reading those right now so I COMPLETELY understand what youre saying, here’s the thing though: I’ve gotten that feeling since season 2 of fringe.  Just let the writers take you on this journey, they havent done us wrong yet have they?

      • Kathy_Marlow

         I couldn’t agree more.  This is one of my favorite shows and I’m more than happy to just let it unfold.  (I also say that Walter Bishop is one of the best characters on TV ever..)

        • crocostimpy

          Have to agree with you. John Noble is more than half the reason I watch the show.

          • Kathy_Marlow

             He hosts a show on the science channel, I think, called Dark Science.  I always mean to watch it, but he probably only talks at the beginning/end.  It seems to be a “real world” version of Fringe or fringe science.

          • crocostimpy

            Yeah I’ve always meant to check it out too.

        • annieanne

          Couldn’t agree more. And his relationship with Astrid is adorable. I wish they’d use her more.

          • Kathy_Marlow

             Agreed!  They are so cute together and I love how he never gets her name right (only once that I recall that he did get it right)

      • crocostimpy

        Having read DT, let me just offer you a bit of spoiler-free advice: when you reach the end of the last book take the author’s advice.

  • Elisa_G

    Thank you TLo for covering this show. I’m a fan of good television and I wouldn’t be watching this season if it wasn’t for your reviews. And guess what? I just starting watching this season. I watched a couple of episodes of season 1 and wasn’t interested, even though I enjoy SciFi and liked the XFiles-like premise. Coming on board late is tricky, and I’m sure I am missing the callbacks to earlier story that provide more depth and complexity. That said, it’s a well-crafted show with an excellent cast; there’s a confidence to the writing and direction, and real momentum and intensity to the storyline. These qualities have allowed me to enjoy Fringe even as a latecomer. Now I need to go back and watch the earlier seasons. But thanks again, your coverage has pulled in a new fan! (And btw, I have been following you since your Project Rungay days, and it tickles me pink to see your success in expanding your blog to other topics and into the mainstream!)

  • formerlyAnon

    This episode sucked me right back in, despite my diletante-ish approach to Fringe. The draw is almost entirely Walter & the other characters’ relationships with Walter. He is singlehandedly compelling enough for the whole series.

    Though I can’t really say “enjoying” describes watching the show. Apprehension plays a bigger role than enjoyment.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1344922354 Eric Scheirer Stott

    I get a feeling that this is going to end up like X Files- locked into a story line so depressing that it wipes out any memory of the good episodes. 

    • editrixie

      Yeah. This. I keep saying, “I didn’t sign up for this.”

  • http://twitter.com/kle73 Kle Stevenson

    Two strong episodes, glad you didnt stop reviewing Tlo! I was worried!  At the end of both are huge game changers but I still have this feeling they could reset the timeline or something to get the observers out of there and that would in turn bring back/ undo all the wrongs done.  Hopefully this isnt but you heard it here first.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1344922354 Eric Scheirer Stott

       Yes- some sort of reset is not out of the question- even though the universe has already had one. I still can’t quite wrap myself around the chronology of the Fringe universe(s)

    • annieanne

      That would be such a huge — and obvious — letdown I can’t quite see JJ Abrams going there.

  • DesertDweller79

    This newest episode is the first time all season that I have felt engaged in the story.  Before this I was mostly uninterested.  It wasn’t the same show as I had loved.  The whole Observer dystopian future was so boring to me.  It felt very cliched, and I couldn’t see a connection to any of our characters.  It all felt very basic “us. vs. them”. 

    This new episode was very encouraging however.  Well, if one can call this alternately depressing and horrifying episode “encouraging”.  The stuff with Peter was played so wonderfully, with this mounting sense of dread and fear.  I could barely watch that last scene.  But I am so relieved that the Observer story now seems to have a connection to our three main characters, the way the Red Universe was strongly connected to Walter. 

    I am actually looking forward to next week’s episode.  For the first time all season.

  • MilaXX

    I had a different reaction to Etta’s death. I actually cried boo hoo tears at her death. There was a moment, I think it was at the end of the tree people ep., where they get into the car and Olivia reaches back and gently squeezes Etta’s leg. Perhaps it’s the romantic in me, but that one touch just said all the “I love yous” that Olivia missed out on telling Etta. For me it held the promise of them forging a new relationship. So when Etta ended up being killed, I was just sad for all the shoulda, coulda, woulda beens that would never happen. The other thing you see is the parallel between Walter and Peter. Ironically it’s Walter in trying to show Olivia the video of Etta’s birthday who seems to realize the potential for the type of grief he experienced with young Peter’s death. By the time Peter inserts the alien tech into himself, you see it coming as much as you are hoping he doesn’t do it. I can’t even begin to speculate on how this final season ends up, but I am know I have to stick around for the end.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1248212910 Jessie Melcher Brown

    IMO I don’t know if Etta is dead-dead yet.  The observers can blink in and out.  The observer with her saw the count down.  I think he could have blinked her out with him and they will have to rescue her from the lab with the head in the jar. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1344922354 Eric Scheirer Stott

       She could be in yet another universe

  • stoprobbers

    I loved this week’s callback to the last time Peter somewhat lost it, when he tracked down the Shapeshifter and killed it and dissected it to get the tech, and Olivia almost found out but then that whole plot got dropped because the machine and Peter winking out of existence. But when he went after the Observer, that’s the first place my mind went. Good work, show.

    I also spent a lot of the episode talking to my TV (as usual), saying, “No, Peter! Don’t be sad! Don’t be sad Peter, go hug Olivia, don’t be sad! Bad things happen when you’re– DAMMIT!!” This prompted my friend, who is visiting from out of town, to ask me if I do that even when alone. Which I do.

    In other news, I am already mourning the loss of the magnificent show. While good things can’t, and shouldn’t, go on forever, I still feel bitter about how poorly TV executives handle genre television, how little credit they give it, and how little respect they pay to the shows and their fans when they do things like give a show like Fringe — complex and so ensconced in its own universe — a measly half season to wrap up. I wish this was a full season. I wish it didn’t have to end. I’m really glad I own it on DVD. I will watch it over and over again forever.

    Finally: Props for shirtless Joshua Jackson. More of that, and badass!Olivia, please. 

    • MilaXX

       I hold out hope because there is usually at least one show like Fringe that somehow manages to hang on. Funny thing is I started watching this show because Lance Riddick was on it and I was so sad about The Wire ending, that I was willing to watch anything that the actors that were a part of that wonderful show were on.

  • SorayaS

    I love dystopian stories so even though it is dark, I’m thrilled with this season. I think it is incredibly brave to make the last season something special rather than just continuing with the Fringe Division.

  • http://twitter.com/cornekopia Shawn EH

    I was really happy that the show didn’t go the full out torture/interrogation scene route with the captive Observer … and then it did after all right at the end. But I am intrigued by the potential fallout of Peter’s stupid decision.

  • kimmeister

    I 100% agree that the aging makeup on Broyles was horrible.  The “furrows” in his brow looked more like carvings in wood than wrinkles on skin. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000404063906 Nebahat Çepçevre

    On one level I see why Peter’s decision is a stupid one, but on another, I can not help but understand why he took it. There is, in fact, little else to do for Peter, except seek a game changer to even the odds – which, are overwhelmingly in favor of the observers as we’ve seen this episode. In true science fiction tradition, Fringe takes this giant leap, which I think will lead to an exploration of Peter as the “other”, the inhuman, the monster, the man-machine, like Star Trek did so well with the Borg. How much of Peter will be gone, and how much will remain? 

    Indeed, what incentive does Peter have to remain himself? When the loss of their daughter and the possibility of her death had ruined his relationship with Olivia, what would the certainty of her demise do to each of them? For I don’t think characters in sci-fi have the solace we do of saying to ourselves, “Well, no one really dies in science fiction, after all.”

    I adore science fiction because it explores avenues of humanity in unconventional settings and situations. To me, Fringe has always done this wonderfully -and continues to do it on a subtle yet heart-wrenching way-, centered around Walter who loved his son enough to break two universes to get him back, after a fashion. The show is about family, among other things, which is why it hurt (well, it hurt me at least) to have Peter excluded from Walter-Olivia-Astrid at the start of last season. It is also why I loved starting this one with these four and the addition of Etta, who fit in so perfectly, to the exclusion of other characters from previous seasons (fauxlivia, Walternate, and even Lee -sorry). So yes, it was terribly depressing to witness the loss of Etta, to witness the desolation of losing a child in these characters in which I am so invested. That said, it really takes good television to convey such naked and honest sorrow to the viewer. 

    Thank you, Tom and Lorenzo, for remembering X-Files and the emotional distress they caused us. I have loved no TV series better, not have I suffered more at the hands of one. Year after year of sadness, melancholy, with only the far fetched truth at the end of the tunnel. Funerals, illnesses, loss of children, the stealing of ova by aliens with awful drills, the abductions… I expect much better from Fringe, which I see as a newer and better version of X-Files, it has the wonderful Walter Bishop after all.

  • Vodeeodoe

    Forget it T&L, it’s Fringetown.  Did you guys give up on reviewing any episodes after this one, or am I missing the rest of the posts? The network allowed them a final season mostly to get them into syndication, but also to allow them to bring some serious closure to the fans. You should at least check out the last two episodes. You will be fulfilled. Honest.

    • Vodeeodoe

      Also, I don’t think it’s a spoiler alert to say that, out of all of the things that could have caused me to get verklempt during this show, it was a conversation between Walter and Astrid.