For much of its imperfect fourth season, Fringe struggled with the position that it had placed its characters in. At times it almost felt as though the show had lost track of who these people are, but it remedied the emotional disconnect in the second half of the season by cohesively bringing the surrogate family back together.
In Season 5, the story leaps ahead to the future but the important themes remain. In the final thirteen episodes of the show, the team will have to work together to save a world that has already been lost and is now overtaken by the Observers.
Now set in the year 2036 that was first shown in ‘Letters of Transit’, Fringe fascinatingly depicts what happens when Fringe Division fail to save the world. Georgina Haig returns in her role as Peter and Olivia’s daughter Henrietta (shortened to Etta), fitting seamlessly into the dynamic with the other cast members.
‘Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11’ is a premiere that takes a steady approach to story, expertly pacing its revelations and not rushing anything. The initial aim of the characters is to rescue Olivia, but that soon develops into another rescue mission when Walter is captured by the Observers.
Unafraid to drop its audience in at the deep end, Fringe keeps the exposition to a minimum with only a few flashbacks to place some of the events of the past in context. This gives the show loads of time to simply have the characters talk and relate to one another. Seeing Peter and Olivia interact with the daughter they thought to be lost has a considerable emotional impact. The same can be said for the scene that shows Peter and Olivia talk about what happened in the aftermath of the Observers invading, revealing that Peter committed himself to finding Etta when she was lost and Olivia threw herself back into work.
Some of the best material of course goes to television’s most under-appreciated actor, John Noble. Walter’s interrogation is incredibly dark, with the Observer clinically treating his mind like a puzzle to be deciphered. In a brilliant action sequence, the team trick their way into the facility and save Walter but they are unable to get to him before irreparable damage has been done to his brain.
The episode ends on a positive note, though, with Walter noticing a flower growing through the tarmac, reminiscent of the Observer saying “nothing grows from scorched earth” earlier. (This idea also encapsulates the plight that lies ahead for this small resistance movement.)
Once again, Fringe has confidently created a new world with a very distinct atmosphere. It remains to be seen how successful this season will be as a conclusion to the show’s story, but this episode is a really tremendous start. It’s an unmistakably different Fringe, but it is one that remembers that just what makes the show so special is how it blends its craziness and action with real meaning and stakes for its characters.
Aired at 10pm on Wednesday 24 October 2012 on Sky1.
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