Fringe Season 5 Premiere Review: 'Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11'
Last night’s episode of Fringe picks up not where season 4 left off in May, with Olivia and Peter finding out that they’re going to be parents, but immediately following episode 4.19, “Letters of Transit.” In that no-longer standalone episode, we’re introduced to a 2036 that has seen 21 years of rule by the Observers: after poisoning the planet in their own future, they jumped back to 2015 to take the planet from present-day humans. Fringe Division initially put up a fight, but the best hope of resistance died when our team disappeared. Unsurprisingly, the team became something of a legend, with some believing that they might one day return. Enter Etta Bishop: Olivia and Peter’s adult daughter, now a Fringe Division agent, who is a member of the Resistance hell-bent on finding her family. “Letters of Transit” ended with Etta freeing Walter, Peter, and Astrid from a 20 year imprisonment in Amber, but left us wondering where Olivia could be.
Last night’s Fringe addressed the issue of Olivia’s whereabouts quite quickly: Walter had sent her on
a mission to New York to retrieve a device that is integral to Walter and September’s plan to defeat
the Observers. Walter explains that as he and September worked on their plan, the information was
scrambled in Walter’s mind as a precaution against being read by the Observers. The device Olivia was
to retrieve is the eponymous “Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11” and – when used on Walter – is
intended to cause the memories to coalesce. Unfortunately for everyone, Walter is captured by the
Observers before his thoughts can be unified, and the memories are lost, probably irretrievably, while
Walter is in custody.
One thing about which I’ve been immensely curious is the subject of Etta’s upbringing. In this interview from FOX with Georgina Haig (the actress who plays Etta), she reveals that Etta was brought up in foster care, and somehow learned the identities of her parents. We know from “Letters of Transit” that Nina Sharp knows Etta, is sympathetic to the resistance, and is trusted enough by Etta to know that the Observers cannot read her like they can most people. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Nina had continued to search for Etta after the team disappeared and, considering the resources of Massive Dynamic, was able to eventually find her. In this timeline, Nina raised Olivia and her sister following the death of their mother, so Etta would be like a granddaughter to Nina. It might also explain how Etta came to learn the truth about the identities of her parents.
I hope that we get an explanation as to why Etta is immune to the Observers. I’d make an educated
guess that it has something to do with a potential exposure to Cortexiphan before she was born. Even
minute exposure to a chemical in utero can have huge effects on a developing organism, so it wouldn’t
have taken much Cortexiphan to make an impact. It also makes me wonder whether Olivia is immune as
well: even without Cortexiphan in her system, the effects from being experimented on as a child should
One quibble I have with the information we’ve been given about the Observers is that Walter says, in “Letters of Transit”, that they came from 2609 AD, and September tells Peter in “The End of All Things” that the Observers are a further evolution of humans. But evolution takes millions of years, not 600. Although I’m more than willing to concede that something could theoretically force adaptations: we know the Observers come from a future with an atmosphere much lower in oxygen and higher in carbon monoxide. Environmental changes could have acted as an evolutionary pressure, perhaps helped along by advancing science involving genetic modifications.
Fringe has always had some absolutely stunning cinematography, and I loved the symmetry between the first and last scenes. We open the episode with little Etta blowing away a dandelion puff in the park, and end with Walter seeing a dandelion pushing its way through the rubble. Even though Walter’s memories have become as scattered as the dandelion seeds, hope still remains. There is still some potential for life to thrive in this new, terrible world.
This episode showcased two of my favorite scenes of the series so far: the reunion between Etta and Olivia, and the conversation between Peter and Olivia. The reunion was wonderfully subtle, yet still packed one hell of an emotional punch – Anna Torv and newcomer Georgina Haig portrayed the moment beautifully. The revelation that Olivia and Peter fell apart after losing their child is as understandable as it is heartbreaking. I liked the way Peter’s assertion that Olivia was stronger than him echoes William Bell’s words to Olivia from so long ago: she has always been the strongest.
Even amongst the intrigue of a strange new world, this episode of Fringe emphasizes the fact that, at the heart of it, it’s a show about family. Dysfunctional, broken, and pushed far beyond their limits, yet undeniably a family. These characters and the relationships between them are the core of this show: that it serves as a scaffold for wonderfully mind-boggling science fiction is just a bonus. It was rather bittersweet to watch this episode knowing that it marks the beginning of the final season, but by the looks of it we’re in for one hell of a ride. Grade: A