Fringe season premiere recap: Future Shock Blues

The war to rid the world of brutal bald men begins with a major setback for Walter Bishop and friends in 'Transilience...' 
Ep. 01 | Aired Sep 28, 2012

SCRAMBLED EGG: The already much-abused brain of Walter Bishop (John Noble) took a psychic beating in the season premiere of Fringe. Maybe Etta (Georgina Haig) could be a sweetie and give up her comfy bed to her addled grandpa instead of making him sleep on the couch. Who taught you about hospitality? Didn't your parents raise you right!? Oh, don't give me the 'my mommy and daddy were frozen in amber for most of my life" excuse! You had three years with them! You had PLENTY of time to learn some basic human decency, let alone proper respect for your elders. Next thing you know, you'll be trying to date your father. We saw those shiny eyes!  Creepy chick.

Liane Hentscher/Fox

Cut to: The apartment of our old friend Edward Markham, the former proprietor of Markham’s Used Books (the only place where one might find Walter Bishop’s one and only stab at writing science fiction, i.e. the ZFT manuscript) and Peter’s go-to guy for intel on the forbidden and esoteric. Markham was watching an old episode of Maverick – “Duel at Sundown,” guest-starring a young Clint Eastwood as “a mean killer” (so sez Wikipedia) – when Peter and company kicked down his door. They found Olivia amid the clutter of books and geeky knickknacks; her amber block served as Markham’s living room table. (Nice.) The Olivia-smitten gnome wasn’t too keen on parting with his carbonite-preserved princess. “I was supposed to be her savior,” he whined. “She was supposed to look over my height issue and realize that I’m really good for her and that I love her…” (Anyone get a good look at the Isaac Asimov books that Walter was admiring? My guess: The “Galactic Empire” novels, Pebble In The Sky in particular.)

As the heroes made plans to ferry ambered Olivia to safety and bust her out: Observer attack. Golden Earring had sold them out. A pair of teleporting baldies led a garrison of loyalist soldiers into Markham’s building. The heroes fought and fled – but Walter got captured. So commenced Part Two: The Rescue. Structuring the episode around urgent missions didn’t allow too much time for people to sit around and talk about their feelings. But there were some well-played pops of poignancy. The Bishop family reunion that followed Olivia’s liberation didn’t involve a lot of words, just a lot of intensely expressed non-verbals. Etta’s wide-eyed awe. Peter’s glassy-eyed relief. Olivia’s wild-eyed WTH?! Olivia was as awkward with her daughter as Peter. Yes, they were her parents. But they had missed 21 years of her life. She was a stranger. A stranger with whom they shared an innate connection – Olivia recognized her immediately – but a stranger, nonetheless. (The Peter/Olivia relationship to Etta – an ironic metaphor for the audience’s complex relationship to season 4 Rebootlandia, so familiar, yet so profoundly “other.” Debate!)

In another quiet moment later in the episode, Peter and Olivia processed their own troubled rapport. After The Observers invaded and Henrietta was taken from them, the couple went their separate ways. Peter wanted to focus on finding, saving their child. (Like father, like son. Think about it.) Olivia – the true superhero of the bunch – wanted to fight The Observers, save the world. Their different, competing activist approaches to a sucky-tragic-victimizing crisis had produced conflict, and I’m not going to judge them or take a side  -- although I’m seeing that other recappers are, either blasting Olivia for being a bad mom or Peter for being a bad husband. My only complaints are these: 1. It felt to me like Fringe was making more out of the matter than it should have, trying too hard to make some emotional drama, to give Anna Torv and Joshua Jackson something to play. 2. I struggled with factoring the collapse of their relationship into the historical context of season 5. The Observers invaded in 2015. The Fringe folk ambered up not long after – less than a year later, based on what we were told in “Letters of Transit” and “Transilience.” Or am I mistaken? (Tell me if I am.) The way Peter and Olivia talked, they made it sound like a profoundly painful amount of wounding estrangement had occurred –- maybe too much to be believed, given the brief interval between Observageddon and hard candy hibernation. This is all to say that while I appreciate Fringe’s constant commitment to tending to the internal lives of its characters and the relationships between them, I didn't totally buy the Olivia/Peter dissonance. Maybe this is moot: Given the gracious way the couple processed the past, perhaps the tension has been resolved. We shall see. [Addition at 4:00 PM Saturday. Allow to me to clarify: I'm NOT saying I don't buy the idea that grief over a lost child can complicate and subvert a marriage. This happens all the time; I've seen it happen. I accept Peter and Olivia would have experienced that drama, that struggle. But I also believe that Peter and Olivia are strong people, and that they are a strong couple. I think they would have weathered the stress -- or at the very least, I think the stress wouldn't have busted up a relationship that sturdy, that battle-tested, in the short, extraordinary time between when Etta disappeared and when they were ambered. I just wish the show had left it at 'we had different, competing approaches to handling the Etta/Observer thing, we were upset with each over that.' I buy/bought that.]

NEXT: A big theory about Captain Windmark

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