Fringe review – 5×01: ‘Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11’

Courtesy of FOX

Fringe kicked off its final season jumping right back into the year 2036. With only 13 episodes left before the end of the series, did the fifth season premiere give us the confidence that a satisfying end is near?

Let’s bitch it out…

Fringe wastes no time as this week’s premiere takes place shortly after the events of last season’s ‘Letters of Transit’. Quick recap: Resistance fighter Etta (Georgina Haig) has successfully de-amberfied most of the fringe team, starting with Walter (John Noble) who helped her find Astrid (Jasika Nicole) as well as her father, Peter (Joshua Jackson) with whom she shared a tearful reunion. Our premiere opens with the quest to find the missing member of the team: Etta’s mother, Olivia (Anna Torv).

Olivia was last heard from when she was mid-conversation with Walter, adamant that she had to key to unlocking ‘the plan’ to defeat the Observers’ reign. She was abruptly cut off during the transmission. Etta strokes her bullet-shell necklace, wondering if her mother is still alive since the odds of that happening don’t appear to be in her favour. This didn’t exactly evoke the same kind of tension that it did in ‘Letters of Transit’; a quick glance at the S5 promotional material makes it clear that lead actress Torv is an integral part of this final season (As opposed to last year when the forbidding threat that Olivia would end up dead ‘in all possible futures’ hung over everything). Nevertheless, Peter’s attempt to quell Etta’s fears are a nice display of emotion that instantly reminds us of the relationship between these two. And it is the emotional beats that make this episode quite enjoyable.

Jumping ahead to 2036 glazes over many questions that the series has raised over the last four seasons. Instead the focus is on new struggles. This is an interesting tactic to employ for the farewell season and I’m not sure I buy into it 100%. Initially, I thought Fringe would go all Dollhouse S2 on us. That show, upon learning of its cancellation, barreled forward towards satisfying narrative resolutions. I figured this final season of Fringe would plow through storylines without much exposition; based off previous seasons I would have thought that the underlying assumption is that anyone watching the final season would already possess the requisite knowledge. This applies to the time-jump, as there’s very little explanation as to how we got to 2036 (even with the “previously on”), but after the confirmation that we’re back in the future, it’s not full-steam mythology ahead. In fact, the opposite effect results: a Fringe newbie could jump into this final season and would have just as much comprehension as a long-time viewer. It seems that any gaps in knowledge will be filled-in as we go.

The dystopian world and resistance plight seems appropriate for say, a four-episode arc, but I’m not certain I’m as interested seeing it monopolize the entire final season. There are more probing questions I would like to see answered: including clarification on the conception of multiple universes; what exactly happened in the timeline reboot we saw last year; and how the Observers came to be (just to name a few examples). That’s not to say we won’t still get these answers, but the focus of the series is clearly shifting to explore the world of 2036 and how the fringe team will overthrow the Observers’ totalitarian state rather than answering questions from the previous seasons. I’m not too concerned (we still got 12 episodes to go), so I’ll put my reservations in a jar for now and go with it, but I do hope for some answers/closure before the series finale.

Back to the strengths of this episode (as there are many): they lie primarily in the scenes that tug on our heartstrings. Olivia’s reunion with Etta is a prime example. This emotional scene tells me that a box of Kleenex is clearly going to be a pre-requisite for future episodes of this final season. I appreciated the time that both actresses took in being in that moment. Torv expresses a gamut of emotions just with her eyes, equally matched by Haig’s facial expressions. It’s just a moment or two of silence, but the emotion is so rich that I couldn’t help but tear up.

There’s an inherent awkwardness/suspension of disbelief in identifying two women who are so close in age as mother and daughter, but Anna Torv is equally up to task (just as Joshua Jackson was when he first met Etta in ‘Letters of Transit’). We believe that these are the true parents of Etta. I’ll admit, I was disappointed in how relatively easy and convenient it is for the team to find Olivia, as I was hoping for a something a bit more sophisticated than “she amberfied herself just a few blocks away”. The raw emotion expressed in Olivia and Etta’s reunion went a long way towards dismissing those disappointments.

And of course, John Noble is consistently fabulous as Walter, who really is at the heart of the entire series. Poor Walter gets his brain fried again in his interrogation with super Observer, Captain Windmark (Michael Kopsa) and it is truly heartbreaking to watch. During the tail end of “Letters in Transit” we see a Walter that breaks free from the quirky mad scientist that we’ve grown to love over the years, finally reaching his intellectual potential. What is so tragic about Walter’s second ‘lobotomy’ is not the predicament of his cognitive regression, but Walter’s awareness of the information being taken away him. The fact that he’s powerless to stop it no matter how hard he fights is agonizing.

This makes the final scene of the episode so poignant. With the “plan” lost and Walter unable to save the world, he wanders into the street (without his pants – naturally), mesmerized by the light reflecting off of hanging CDs. He places one in a nearby car stereo and sits despondently, hoping the music will take away his sorrow. He glances at a small dandelion that pokes through the sterile world incapable of creating new life, the tenacious weed symbolically serving as an endearing symbol of hope. It’s a beautiful image, punctuated by Walter’s expression of weary aspiration. There is a way and he knows it, but there’s a part of him that is exhausted at the restless journey. I truly appreciated the simplicity of the (dialogue-free) scene, which almost seems to serve as a love letter to Fringe’s devoted fan base: trust us with this final season. I have the hope that the series will deliver a worthy resolution for our beloved characters, despite the struggles it has had finding those elusive Nielsen ratings.

Other observations:

  • I’m not sure how I feel about Peter and Olivia’s heart to heart wherein we find out why they were separated before their respective amberfications. The dialogue is a bit too cliché for my liking, but it is interesting to see that Olivia chose to ‘fight the future’ for the greater good, while Peter was consumed solely with finding Etta (the toll of which resulted in their separation). It’s a nice callback to Walter’s persistence to find Peter on the other side from earlier seasons. Looks like the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
  • I couldn’t help but wonder where “Old Broyles” (Lance Reddick) is, and if he would continue to be a “foe” once he sees that Olivia is back into the mix.
  • Part of me wishes that Olivia would be “Old Olivia” hiding out somewhere in the city. But I guess all the makeup would have eaten up the entire production budget…(Editor’s Note: They likely need it for Blair Brown’s Nina, who sits this episode out)
  • Things that make me tear up: Earnestly stroking the sides of faces. Gets me every time (sniff).

What did you think Fringe fans? Are you liking the 2036 setting? Would you like to see more flashbacks as to how we got here? How will Nina and Broyles factor back in? Was Edward Markham’s (Clark Middleton) cameo just a way to include all of our favourites in the farewell season? Think Charlie (Kirk Acevedo) might drop by for a cameo, too? What about Sam Weiss (Kevin Corrigan)? Hit up the comments section and give us your theories!

Fringe airs at 9:00pm EST, Fridays on FOX.

About tvangie

Angie is a TV addict currently pursuing a PhD in media studies. A freelance researcher and writer on the side – she really misses talking about her favourite shows because none of her friends watch them. Help her out.

One thought on “Fringe review – 5×01: ‘Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11’

  1. Interesting season beginning for Fringe. Reminded me of Dollhouse and last few episodes of that show. I still can’t decide would I rather see Peter, Olivia and Walter return to 2012. or just kick some Observers in 2036. One thing is sure – Walter is still the best part of Fringe.