Fringe recap: Bullet Time

Tragedy roils the Fringe team in a stunning episode about master plans, living in the moment, and... time travel?
Ep. 04 | Aired Oct 26, 2012

FANTASTIC FOUR NO MORE. Peter (Josh Jackson), Walter (John Noble), Olivia (Anna Torv) and Etta (Georgina Haig) hold the plans to the future. Not all of them will see it...

Liane Hentscher/Fox

“The Bullet That Saved The World” spoke to those who grieve the Fringe that used to be, the fans that miss watching Olivia and Walter and Peter investigate freak-of-the-week cases at the behest of their boss, Phillip Broyles; the ones unsure that a heavily serialized crypto-thriller set within the bleak future seen in "Letters of Transit" is truly the best story Fringe could tell with its finale season. And yet, "Letters of Transit" was the story that earned Fringe one more (half) season, that has allowed the characters we love to live for 13 more episodes, that has given them and us a shot at satisfying closure. It was the bullet the saved Fringe. Such was the subtext that I saw in “The Bullet That Saved The World.” Everything else I saw was simply riveting. It was an armor-piercing round of emotional storytelling, a heartbreaker. I am shaken, and I am stirred, and I can't wait for next week, because I now feel more deeply invested in the season, thanks to a well-executed sucker-punch of tragedy. Rest in peace, Etta Bishop. Your surprisingly moving sacrifice was not in vain, for it was exactly what the swan song season of Fringe needed.

Also, I'm pretty sure this episode wanted to convince us that we're headed toward a time travel twist and a clever variation on Bootstrap Paradox shenanigans. More on this as we go.

The opening sequence has its own subliminal messages -- about the risky nature of serialized yarnspinning; about the risk we take as viewers when we choose to follow such serials, filled with nervous faith/anxious hope that all the mystery pellets will add up, that the story won't get lost, that the storytellers will bring it all home, so to speak. We began with Peter Bishop in downtown dystopia (i.e., Boston) in the dead of the night, alone and searching. The why and what-for was not immediately explained, and the lack of context lent the sequence an eeriness that was compelling. We didn’t know what was happening, or where we were going (and it was cool!), although we all probably trusted that eventually, Fringe would tell us what we needed to know. And it did! Peter, we would eventually learn, was looking to score gas for a vehicle that had run out of it. He found a derelict car and siphoned the tank. Then he spotted a storefront – the Thrifty Lion memorabilia/junk shop. He saw a cymbal-clanging monkey doing its thing next to an old camera. The toy made him smile, and reminded him of something-- a present -- he wanted to get for his daughter. Peter entered..

And before I tell you what happened next, let me first tell you that after I watched the episode, I did a Google search for “Thrifty Lion” and the first thing that came up was the Facebook page for a real-world Thrifty Lion resale store located in Hickory, North Carolina, run by… the Parent Teacher Association of Longview Elementary. With that in mind….

Peter the Parent entered the Thrifty Lion, and the first thing that caught his eye was a throw pillow embroidered with those famous words of wisdom about the folly of those who aspire to long-view master plans, given to us by that great teacher, Hickory Woody Allen: “If you want to make God laugh tell him your plans.” If true, then I suspect TV showrunners constantly keep the good lord in stitches…

Peter’s bemused interest in the pillow drew the interest of the Thrifty Lion’s proprietor. More wink-wink: “It’s been here for awhile,” he said. “I guess it hits a little close to home.” Peter then admired a relic from his ‘80s childhood – Milton Bradley’s high tech version of “Simon says,” called Simon, an electronic game of observation and memory skill. The slogan: Simon's a computer. Simon has a brain. You either do what Simon says or else go down the drain. So cold. So emotionless. So oppressively, intimidatingly ominous. Why, Simon almost sounds almost like…

“This is what you were looking for,” said an Observer, materializing behind Peter. In his hands, the fedora’d fascist held a necklace chain. Yes, it was exactly what Peter was shopping for – a replacement for the silver he took from Etta two episodes ago, to make the laser that the team needed to melt the amber in the Harvard lab. The Observer knew this because he was telepathic, and so Peter tried to build a mental firewall, comprised of thoughts of baseball, so the Observer couldn't probe more deeply and excavate the secrets in his head. But the Observer sensed that Peter was trying to block and baffle him. Peter tried to beat a hasty retreat by paying for the necklace with a greenback – so rare, it was something of a priceless antique, and worth more than the chain – but the Observer wasn’t going to let him go. On the street, the Observer commanded Loyalist soldiers to detain Peter, who responded by decking the bald baddie and sprinting away. He sought refuge by pulling a Harry Lime and descending into the drain pipes. You either do what Simon says or else go down the drain.

Peter cocked his gun and prepared for a fight. But The Loyalists had no intention of dropping into the underworld of Boston to hunt him. One of them was scared. The other one complained that the last time he went down the proverbial rabbit hole, he got bit by a rat. Instead, they dropped a grenade, which landed right at Peter’s feet. He ran. BOOM. There was a blinding flash of light, and Peter jumped, screaming "NOOOOOOO!" And we cut to the credits…

NEXT: And then Peter died, and everyone went to Heaven. The End.


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