Fringe recap: Back To The Future?

'Fringe' sets up its series finale with the promise (or threat) of death, time travel and another reboot in 'The Boy Must Live'
Ep. 11 | Aired Jan 11, 2013

Do you like me better with my hat and pasty pallor or my Ewan McGregor makeover? While we wouldn't want to rob Donald (Michael Cerveris) of his newfound humanity, we do prefer the classic September look.


Our heroes found Donald’s building, and they found Donald's apartment, and they found Donald. The man they once knew as September looked a little older and more haggard than the blissful homebody seen in Walter’s 21-year-old memory. Had he been waiting for them all the time? Had he spent years holed up in this location, waiting for this very moment to occur, per the demands of the master plan, and per knowledge of what needed to happen, knowledge acquired through years of time travel and parallel world exploration? If so, he acted otherwise. Walter! Peter! Olivia! What a complete and total surprise! And you brought The Observer Child, too! Wonderful!

Indeed, the second Donald saw the lad, he only had eyes for him. He kneeled, raised his hand, and they communed withs touched palms, cocked heads and lizard blinks. They were kindred: The Boy, we learned, had been engineered from September’s genetic material. Did you wonder if The Boy’s touch did something to Donald? Like, say, unlock some memories in his brain that Donald had hidden away for the sake of protecting the plan?

Donald's apartment was furnished with a large piano and photos of mid-century photographs, including "V-J Day In Times Square" (aka sailor kissing the nurse). Also conspicuous: A Bible. Had The Observer found religion during his Brooklyn wilderness exile? Donald had a little music box which he kept hidden in an old fashioned cigarette box. It  played a tune originally known as "Greensleeves," but perhaps more recognizable in modern times as“What Child Is This?”, the Christmas carol about the mystery of the Christ child. The Boy was enthralled by the music, and was one of two moments in the episodes in which we were shown how music has a unique, infectious affect on the Observers. Theory! In the series finale, Walter will invent a sonic-based device that rewires the Observers' brains -- for the better. (Other theories: "What Child Is This?" foreshadowed The Boy's future as (self-sacrificing) salvation hero. Or: The "Greensleeves" to "What Child Is This?" transformation -- a new song imprinted on another, older one -- is a metaphor for timeline reboot.)

In the epic catch-up that followed, September-Donald revealed the true origin of his kin, and explained how he went from a bald headed quantum leaping surveyor of the multiverse to a middle-aged Ewan McGregor living alone and lonely in Brooklyn, with his scripture and music and vintage photos -- expressions of a soul, creativity, passions, and other qualities that Observerkind would consider superfluous and unessential to optimum logical living. He said that on Feb. 20, 2167, a scientist in Norway found a way to expand the potential for human intelligence by rewiring the part of the brain that dealt with jealousy. Soon, mankind was machining out all emotions, and voila!  A new race of aggressively efficient hairless humans with flukeworm palor was born. Or rather, manufactured, in high tech Build-A-Baldie labs, as love and lust has been purged from humanity’s make-up, thus squelching the desire for sex, and necessitating new means for procreation. (Unspoken in the origin story: The sexism/misogyny of Observer World Order. Now we know why there are no female Observers: The Sexless Eggheads who rule the future just don’t make them. By choice.) September had become enamored with the 20th century, and more, oddly interested and deeply invested in the lives of Walter and company. Something about these people, something about their drama, and something about the Walter-Peter relationship stirred something in him -- something his customized kind had thought they had deleted like unwanted, obsolete apps. He wanted to create life. He wanted to be a father himself. He wanted a child to love. And so he secretly conspired to make a kid stewed from his own DNA.

But there was a problem. As The Boy began to quick-grow like an albino sea monkey, he began to develop traits that had been deemed undesirable -- all the emotional stuff – and his development was halted. Anomaly XB-6783746 was deemed a runty mutant, but he was actually exceptional: He represented a next gen Observer, a fully integrated transhuman who could be both super left brain and super right brain. September didn't see all of that in The Boy at first, but he knew the kid embodied something significant, and more, he loved him, like a son. And so September pulled a Walter: He abducted The Boy to save him (from certain junking), and hid him away in another time, another place – the past. (“The boy must live,” September told Walter when they first meet, decades earlier, after saving the Bishop boys at Reiden Lake. In what struck me as crafty bit of ret-con storytelling, we were told in this episode that the Observer was actually referring to his son, not Peter.)

When 27th century Observerkind decided to invade the 21st century, September was deemed suspicious due to his sympathies for us inferior human folk. As punishment, they removed the quantum powered sparkplug in his brain that gave him his teleportation, time traveling, and data crunching super powers, rendering him... well, much like us. “Truly, it wasn’t much of a punishment. I always held this era in the highest regard,” said September, adding that he took the name Donald as a nod to Donald O’Connor, who starred in the first movie Walter showed him: Singin' In The Rain. He and Bishop began working on a plan to save the world, as well as the future: They would travel to 22nd century Norway with The Observer Child and ask the geeky boneheads about to brew a Bald New World of sociopathic, hyper-bland, robo-toned albeit retro stylish he-virgins to reconsider their emotions-are-inhibiting-and-icky lunacy by showing them a better way, represented by a better model human, i.e., the anomaly now known as Michael. (Silly Frigid Future Norwegians! If they won’t listen to common sense and can’t be moved by an appeal to basic decency, maybe Walter could thaw them out with an Orgasmatron.) If the plan worked, the Doc Frankenweenies in Oslo would choose a different path for humanity, which in turn would reset history, as the Observers, as we know them, would no longer exist, and therefore no longer invade... you know, that whole headachy Back To The Future/Looper time travel logic thing. But before they could put any plan into motion, Walter went missing (he and Peter and Astrid went to amber, following an altercation with William Bell), Donald was taken into custody, and all seemed lost. Until now.

NEXT: Why what Olivia wants is wrong.

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