Episode Title: "Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11"
Writer: J. H. Wyman
Directors: Jeannot Szwarc & Miguel Sapochnik
Previously on "Fringe":
For the people who watch, create and support “Fringe,” it’s never been an easy road. It took a lot to give this series a fifth and final season. Now it’s time to see what everything has been building towards, even if it takes a little getting used to.
Almost immediately out of the gate, "Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11" thrusts us back into the year 2036 last seen in “Letters of Transit.” The Observers have seized our world as their own, with our beloved Fringe team, Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble) and Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole) newly freed from amber after spending nearly two decades in suspended animation.
The team is joined by Etta (Georgina Haig), the grown daughter of Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) and her husband, Peter. In a dream flashback, we briefly see Peter and Olivia together as a couple watching Etta play in a park before the Observers begin their invasion. In the aftermath, Etta was gone and presumably taken by the Observers.
Olivia was notably absent in “Letters of Transit,” which is why the early part of this episode focused on the quest to find her. Walter also insisted that Olivia held a critical device that could unlock the secret plan to get rid of the Observers which September (Michael Ceveris) had placed within Walter’s mind.
“Fringe” has always reinvented itself after every season, by adding alternate universes and different timelines to the mix. The future setting may be the most jarring change to date for a simple reason: we are now almost entirely cut off from the “Fringe” setting that we knew. Prior to this, “Fringe” could navigate whatever insanity the writers threw at us because it still maintained strong ties to a world that we recognized while following characters whom we have come to care about.
We’ve still got the characters, but 2036 may prove to be a difficult adjustment for the fans. The idea of the Observers taking over our world is intriguing and there are already some cool details like the unexpected value of walnuts and “Amber Gypsies.” However, some of the best parts of the alternate universe was seeing how things had diverged because of changes to history. There isn’t the same sense of joy when looking at the future world under the heel of the Observers.
Speaking of “Amber Gypsies,” the Fringe team confirms that Olivia ambered herself to escape capture until she was recently carved out of the amber and sold to Edward Markham (Clark Middleton); who uses Olivia as his coffee table while professing his love for her.
In the new timeline introduced last season, Edward only appeared once and met Olivia again for the first time. But apparently Edward was immediately infatuated with her and wanted to possess her anyway that he could. It was funny, but I immediately thought that it would have been even more hilarious if Olivia’s buyer was an older Lincoln Lee (Seth Gabel) who would have greeted the team with… “Oh… this is awkward.” It would still be nice to see Lincoln and Fauxlivia again before the end, but that storyline appears to be gone for good.
I have a major question about the powers of the Observers. If they can transport themselves through space and time, why aren’t they constantly hounding the team? When an Observer suddenly appears in Edward’s apartment, it’s a very tense moment and it gaves the enemy a more threatening presence. Then they didn’t use the same trick again to prevent Peter and Etta from escaping with Olivia’s amber block.
Soon enough, Walter is Observer custody while Etta and Peter free Olivia from the amber. This was one of the stronger emotional beats of the episode, with good turns by Torv, Jackson and Haig. Etta is still a stranger to her parents and the audience, which is why it was nice touch that Etta was allowed a moment by herself back at Edward’s apartment to gaze down at the mother she barely knew. The Dunham-Bishop family reunion was a little awkward, but still moving.
Less effective was a later scene between Olivia and Peter as they talk out their differences after having grown apart after Etta’s disappearance. I can buy into the idea that their pain over losing Etta could drive them away from each other, but this felt less like a reconciliation and more an unwieldy exposition scene to fill the audience in on what happened. I am not always a fan of using “Lost” style flashbacks, but in this case it would probably have been more effective to actually see Olivia and Peter having marital problems instead of talking about the time that they had them. Even with that conversation, it’s hard to buy into the emotional gulf between Peter and Olivia. It just feels like that change was forced upon them in order to give Peter and Olivia an emotional arc this season.
Meanwhile, the Observer known as Captain Windmark (Michael Kopsa) was mercilessly using his powers to tear through Walter’s mind. Those sequences were a little evocative of the original Matrix film, but when isn’t John Noble fun to watch? With just a few gestures, Noble was able to make us believe that he was fighting for his sanity while protecting the secret plan laid out by September. Yet one of the things that slips through Walter’s thoughts is a brief glimpse of Etta, whom Windmark doesn’t initially seem to recognize.
Apparently Etta’s cover wasn’t blown by the events of “Letters of Transit,” but we do get a callback to that episode when an acquaintance of Etta’s mentions that her partner, Simon Foster (Henry Ian Cusick) and the infamous William Bell (Leonard Nimoy) were both found in amber. Hopefully that won’t be the last we hear or see about them.
Eventually, Etta and her parents break Walter out of custody, but he has apparently lost both his sanity and the memories of September’s plan due to Windmark’s harsh mental interrogation. This seems like a step back for Walter. “Letters of Transit” showed us a mentally sound version of Walter with an almost frightening level of competency as he left an impromptu anti-matter bomb behind to deal with their pursuers. Instead, Walter’s character has seemingly been reset to his most recognizable state of being.
Rescuing Walter appears to have destroyed Etta’s secret and Windmark now knows that she was the little girl in Walter’s memories. That means it’s crazy “Fringe” theory time! If the Observers can travel through time and Windmark now understands the importance of Etta, does this mean Windmark orchestrated her kidnapping in 2015 just so he would be able to manipulate her in the year 2036? So far, no one has even asked Etta who raised her or how she developed the ability to prevent the Observers from reading her thoughts. And perhaps someone should be asking those questions.
Into this sea of hopelessness, we do get a brief hint of light when Walter finds inspiration in a random song from a discarded CD and a dandelion growing the cracks of the road. The Observers tried to stamp out hope and music, but both are still alive. And the Fringe team is still fighting for the future.
For the most part, "Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11" was a pretty good episode, with a few flaws. In all honesty, this is not quite what I wanted to see in the final season of “Fringe” and I would very much like to revisit the world that this show previously inhabited for four seasons.
But the thing that we as an audience have to remember is that we aren’t the ones telling the story. Admittedly, it’s sometimes difficult to look at a plot point and not say “I would have done that differently.” But Wyman and the remaining “Fringe” writers have more than earned a measure of trust after four great seasons. If they want to take us down this wild futuristic road then let’s see where it goes.