Fringe recap: Once More, With Feeling

Olivia reminded us yet again what 'Fringe' is all about as she tried to save Peter's soul in 'The Human Kind'
Ep. 08 | Aired Dec 7, 2012

Olivia The Highwaymen Slayer. Also specializes in staking sentimental psychics. In the musical version of this episode, Olivia (Anna Torv) and Simone (Jill Scott) would have sung their "I'm An Anomaly"/"Mysteries of The Universe" debate, yes? 

Cate Cameron/FOX

Many are the ways you can rephrase and reformulate the thematic conflict that has fueled Fringe’s storytelling engine for five seasons. Emotion vs. reason. Faith vs. science. Determinism vs. Self-determination. The sci-fi saga has usually expressed and dramatized this philosophical clash with great intelligence, artfulness, and fairness to both sides of the divide, even if the show has routinely favored Romanticism over Rationality. “The Human Kind” worked these motifs anew, and worked them hard. Maybe too hard. The cool left brain stuff was chilly neat: Peter playing Adjustment Bureau with Captain Windmark’s life using the chutes and ladders of well placed coffee cups and broken elevators; Olivia going MacGyver to whip together a weapon and an escape from the highwaymen who wanted to sell the wanted woman for reward. But the mushy right brain stuff felt forced and stale. It was great to see singer/actress Jill Scott grace the Fringe world, but Simone the faithful, magical barter town scrapper, a big believer in “mysteries of the universe” mumbo jumbo, flirted with a trope that deserves to be sent to the junkyard.

But the ending was a significant piece of business. Olivia managed to talk Peter off the ledge of escalating dehumanization and convince him to pull the plug on his Observer makeover. I loved how this scene involved a ledge (okay, a balcony) and actual plug pulling (Peter yanking the Observer all-spark out of his skull). This was a smart move. While I’m sure Peter’s brief stint as a mechanical animal will have ramifications for episodes to come, I think Fringe gave us just enough of his Observer daze before it became too much. And to be honest, as much as I enjoyed the boldness of this turn, I didn’t like what it was doing for Walter (I haven’t been enjoying his whole “Peter-I-need-you-to-stop-your-madness-so-you-can-save-me-from-my-madness!” angle on the whole thing) or the group dynamics. Here, in these last episodes of Fringe, I really want to see this family work and play and suffer and squabble and struggle together, not separate and apart from each other. My only regret: We didn’t get to see Josh Jackson rock a bald cap. It should have happened in this episode. Dude! Where’s the commitment?

You Are Here. Peter enjoyed messing with Windmark, relished taking the almighty piss out of him. It wasn’t enough for Peter to just leverage his augmented physical and mental powers to set a deathtrap for the time traveling tyrant who murdered his daughter. Peter wanted Number 19 to know he had his number. He wanted Windmark to know he was actively gunning for him. He wanted the cruel control freak to know that he controlled him, not vise versa. I loved the sequence in which the Uber-Observer infiltrated Etta’s apartment and found the elaborate timeline Peter had created to track Windmark’s movements. Every day, every hour, every minute had been mapped – including that very moment. “5:42: YOU ARE HERE.” Observing The Observer from afar, Peter smirked coldly. I AM DRINKING YOUR MILKSHAKE!

Peter was conspiring to lure Windmark to a point in time in which it would be most advantageous to kill him.  But just when Peter thought he had cornered his prey, Windmark showed our misguided hero that for all his well executed rebelious rage, Peter was still a rat in a cage. During a surprise confrontation, Windmark said (claimed?) he'd been slyly countering all of Peter's clever moves. Their Matrix-flavored fight was fun to watch, an inventively choreographed/visualized series of super-powered punches and teleportation-assisted evasive maneuvers. Nasty Man Windmark got the better of Wonder Boy Peter, and more, shot him with a psychic mind bullet. He made Peter see the very last thought that passed through Etta's mind before she died:  The memory of that happy day in the park – the day that The Observers invaded.  Windmark assigned awful meaning to the recollection: It represented everything that made human beings weak – their sentimentality. In the moment, Peter couldn’t disagree. Still, he managed to escape, to lick his wounds and nurse his pride…

Back at the lab, Walter treated Peter’s injuries and tried to convince him to give up the Observer tech. Walter and Astrid had been doing experiments to study the plug-in's impact on the brain using The Porcupine Man’s pickled gray matter. They had little faith that their work would yield useful results (reasonable skepticism/hopeless pessimism being key themes in the episode) but miracle of miracles! They had success, and a diagnosis: Peter’s juiced cerebral cortex was blowing up; his jacked-up reason was smothering his emotions. In assessing the Observers’ dehumanizing approach to super-sizing themselves, Walter dropped the term “controlled evolution” – a concept that also neatly described Peter’s bid to wrangle Windmark’s fate and (I would argue) the entire videotape scavenger hunt storyline. (More on that in a minute.) Peter was keenly aware that his thinker was becoming a quantum computer. He also didn't care. Peter the dishonored gentleman insisted on having his satisfaction. Peter the faithless vigilante would get the justice he zealously believed he deserved. Peter Bishop: Avenging angel. Heaven help him.

Be Here Now. Another week, another hidden object to find to fulfill Walter’s mysterious master plan to purge the world of Observers. Once again, the experience gained and the character changes rendered during the course of the mission were more valuable than the object acquired, and probably entirely the point. Walter and Astrid had retrieved another videotape from amber. In this installment, 2015 Walter directed the viewer to travel to a scrapyard in Fitchburg, 46 miles north of Boston, and barter for a very large industrial electromagnet. Olivia took the assignment. She was “crawling out of her skin” with worry over Peter, from not knowing how to emotionally reach him. The distraction would do her good. And it did. As designed, I tell you! As designed!

NEXT: The Pick-Up Of Destiny

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