Fringe review – 5×03: ‘The Recordist’

Courtesy of FOX

The fringe team is off and running on their quest to find Walter’s (John Noble) hidden videotapes outlining September’s (Michael Cerveris) plan to quash the Invaders/Observers. So how does the first mission go?

Let’s bitch it out.

As much as I love Fringe, ‘The Recordist’ is one of the weakest episodes I’ve seen in a long time. Let’s begin by addressing what the episode does right:

1) Once again, stellar guest stars. Paul McGillion is simply brilliant as barked-skinned archivist, Edwin Massey. His portrayal has just the right amount of realistic inner conflict. He isn’t overly sentimental either, which – given the dialogue in his good-bye scene with son River (Connor Beardmore) – was a definite possibility. Even though we’ve only known Edwin for 40 minutes, his inevitable sacrifice for the good of the cause is heartbreaking, which is a testament to McGillion’s performance.

2) Anna Torv as Olivia can do no wrong. Olivia seems to be the only character who is conflicted about the events of the past. With regards to what’s going on in the present/future, Olivia views the past as very relevant . Her initial dismissal of Peter’s (Joshua Jackson) insistence that they go down memory lane is a bit predictable, but it pays off in her monologue to him later. Olivia’s propensity to blame herself for Etta’s (Georgina Haig) abduction is bang on. It falls directly in line with the struggles that have plagued this character since day one. Olivia grapples with the immense pressure of her bolstered reputation in the eyes of Etta with quiet, internal reservation. I mentioned this last week: even in this very foreign future, we continue to see Olivia develop as a character, while still staying true to who she was before the time jump, timeline reboot and the like.

Now for what doesn’t work.

Great emotional beats and performances aside, there are a lot of problems. Most of them boil down to issues with suspension of disbelief. Hey, this is Fringe – I’ve let tons of things slide during the years, but this week, I had a hard time not yelling “Oh, come on!” at the television. Here are my issues:

1) I was pretty peeved to see poor Astrid (Jasika Nicole) stuck at the Harvard lab. Perhaps there is some reasoning why she needs to stay behind and scrub the tape while the rest of the team gets all the action (as usual), but really? Couldn’t they have all stayed in the lab before impetuously going off to the forest? Aren’t five heads better than one? This just screams out “we didn’t have to budget to fly Ms. Nicole out on location…” Astrid is an integral part of the fringe team and it’s about high time she leaves her “lab rat” role. (Side Note: I suppose one could counter argue that it’s fitting Astrid stay behind since that’s essentially how it’s been since day one, to which I retort: ‘It’s the last frigin’ season EVER. Get that woman out of the lab!”)

2) Last week I was all excited about “the quest for the videotapes”, only to have my enthusiasm shot down in the first few seconds of this week’s episode. Apparently, one (or many…or ALL) of the tapes are lying around in Walter’s ambered lab. This is incredibly anti-climactic, and – if we’re being honest – a bit lazy. Looks like the “quest” is going to comprise of getting the items found on the tapes, not necessarily the tapes themselves. I suppose this has more potential (although the ‘red rock’ example this week clearly proves otherwise…) I just like the thought of finding the hidden tapes – it’s very ‘Dharma Initiative”-esque.

Courtesy of FOX

3) This is all over the blogosphere, and I’m jumping right on that bandwagon: Why the heck aren’t Peter and Olivia asking Etta more questions about what happened to her on Invasion Day? I’m getting increasingly frustrated with understanding the dynamic between this “second-chance” family. There is all this emotional gibble-gobble when they reunited (which I loved) and a certain amount of understandable trepidation about getting to know one another, but at this point, it feels drawn out and awkward. Although I appreciate Olivia’s revelation to Peter about not wanting to find Etta after her abduction, I find it puzzling that they continue to talk about her Here’s an idea: talk to her (she’s no more than a stone’s throw away!) Etta’s abduction consumed them and even split them up. I simply don’t understand why they don’t ask Etta what happened to her in order to reconcile this huge looming question that’s hanging over them.

4) I love Walter and I have no doubts about his abilities – but I find it incredibly hard to believe that he a) brought all the lab shizz with him to test the barkified corpse, and b) had even more shizz to start constructing a HAZMAT suit on the fly. Aren’t we in a dystopia here? Did the fringe team really have the foresight to bring all of that gear, especially when the tape hadn’t revealed exactly what they were looking for? It’s hard to believe that the bark-people would have this gear lying around, especially when all they do is write on glass cubes…

It pains me to be so nit-picky about Fringe, but honestly, so many elements of this episode feel arbitrarily or hastily thrown together, taking me out of the urgency of the mission and further away from the connections with the characters. Perhaps I’m being a bit too hard on the show, but it is in its last season so I’m far more likely to be disappointed if every episode isn’t a winner. The stakes are higher than ever before here!

What do you think viewers? Am I out to lunch? Do you think the emotional beats are enough to save the episode? Even with all my grouchiness, I couldn’t help but get misty-eyed when I saw that last cube of memories just for River. What do you think of this ‘Donald” character? Just another nobody caught in the crossfires of September vs. The Observers, or could he be a time traveler, planted to help the fringe team of 2036 find those red rocks? Doc Jensen over at EW has come up with some amazing possibilities for “Donald” – including the possibility that he is actually Charlie Francis or Lincoln Lee (!! Be still my heart). Might I throw in my pick: Sam Weiss, Olivia’s bowling sage. Let us know your theories in the comments section below.

Fringe is taking a few weeks off and returns on October 26, at 9pm EST 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.

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