To do that, the team needed another “E-Cog” device. To get one, the team needed to infiltrate a Ministry of Science facility. No problem… except when Olivia, Peter and Walter got there, and found the correctly numbered box in a storeroom full of numbered boxes (numbers vs names = illustration of episode's impersonal vs. personal themes), they discovered that Captain Windmark was in the very next room, interrogating Nina’s associates, trying to ascertain her location, as he had finally figured out that she was in league with The Resistance. (I loved the moment earlier in the episode, when the Observers used that piece of tech to recover sound waves trapped – recorded -- in the glass of Nina’s office.) Olivia realized they needed to stop Windmark from psycho-torturing Mr. Hastings – sorry: Doctor Hastings – before the Walter Bishop fanboy spilled his guts. He didn’t need to: Nina gave away her location by making an ill-timed, ill-considered call to Olivia, and the Loyalists tracked the signal. Before they could be stopped, Windmark and his associates BAMFED! away to the black lab.
The subsequent scene between Captain Windmark and Nina was remarkable in the moment, but suffers in retrospect, for reasons I'll get to in the moment. The deceased lab rat Observers in the oversized tubes outraged Windmark. “Animals!” Worse, Anomaly XB-6783746 was apparently no longer on the premises, and Nina wasn’t talking. She also wasn’t about to let Windmark rape her brain, although she knew it was only a matter of time before he broke through the defenses that her ethically dubious research had acquired. Before Nina executed a final solution, Fringe gave her a juicy soliloquy. “Do you know why you tilt our head in that way? It's an involuntary reflex in your physiology. It changes the angle in which sound waves hit the eardrum, allowing you more stimuli. Like a lizard.” (Cut to: The most lizardy-looking actor Fringe cold have plucked from central casting to play an Observer, turning his head like a gecko.) “I studied them, too. Intriguing characters. Their brains have evolved over 320 million years. Yet for all their evolution, they form no bonds. Love does not exist for them. They are incapable of dreaming. Of contemplating beauty. Of knowing something greater than themselves. Not unlike your kind. The experiments we conducted right here in this lab yielded a surprising result. Because for all your years of evolution, you inadvertently redeveloped and honed primitive instincts that we moved beyond long ago. So in reality? You’re the animal.”
Then, before a most unpleased Captain Windmark could shred her mind, Nina Sharp bid adieu from the Fringe narrative for good by grabbing a Loyalist’s gun and blowing her brains out.
It was a stunning and sadly heroic exit, and I’m still sussing out how I feel about it. Nina’s presence has been so spotty and so odd over the past couple years – the reboot season ret-con that morphed William Bell’s shady lady aide de camp into Olivia’s mother; her unlikely role as head of the Ministry of Science in the Observer-controlled future – that I don’t know if I’d feel anything if not for the always compelling Blair Brown. So it goes. Adios, Ms. Sharp. Long may your gloved robo-hand wave and silver bangs sway. With the passing of this longtime stalwart character, it truly feels like the endgame of Fringe has officially begun.
What bothered me most about this sequence was learning that Michael had been there the whole time, hiding under the corpse of a lab rat Observer. Did the kid use superior psychic abilities to block the other Observers from detecting his presence? Oh, probably. I still think it’s ridiculous that they didn’t find him. Just like I think it was ridiculous that Captain Windmark didn't order this illicit Resistance facility to be locked down, and also left the deceased test subject Observers -- plus dead Nina -- behind. And so Olivia, Peter and Walter returned (why?!), found the boy (convenient!), and saw Nina… which, I admit, was effective and affecting. Michael of all people set the tone by shedding a magnificent tear for the woman who died to keep him safe, and I subsequently wondered if Nina’s heroism inspired Michael to reciprocate by making the brave, relational movement toward Walter – a scary man, in his eyes, a bigot who could barely acknowledge his humanity -- in the episode’s final moments. When Peter accessed the security camera footage and the trio realized what Nina had done to protect them, Olivia turned her back on the violence – either because she couldn’t deal, or out of respect, or both, or neither: Not seeing her face made her response all the more poignant. It was a very nice beat in an otherwise buggy scene.
Yet an episode I was ready to deem subpar was single-handedly saved by the very last scene, which brought together the episode’s themes in a subtle yet powerful way. The major revelation wasn’t so shocking – I think we’ve seen this coming for awhile – but what elevated the sequence was the way it was done, the trippy-poetic visual storytelling, and the implications, I think, for what Walter’s master plan might really be all about. It began in the lab, with Walter and Michael putting on their E-Cogs, about to execute Nina’s communication plan. Their heads looked like they were lit with Pentecostal flame. (Pentecost: the event that occurred Christ’s death, when the apostles received the Holy Spirit, in the form of “tongues of fire” on their forehead, which allowed them to speak and understand foreign language.) Walter established contact. He verbally asked Michael if he remembered meeting him and Donald, and Michael, in Walter’s head, responded in the affirmative. And then, the big question: “Do you know why I needed you for my plan?”
NEXT: Who’s Donald? Now we know!