Episode Title: "An Origin Story"
Writer: J. H. Wyman
Director: P. J. Pesce
Previously on "Fringe":
As much as I liked Etta Bishop (Georgina Haig), her demise in the previous episode may have been just the thing that “Fringe” needed to kickstart the 2036 storyline. While the quest to overthrow the Observers had high stakes for humanity, the absence of Etta has given Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) and the Bishops an emotional spark that was missing in the first few episodes of the season. In their grief, our favorite characters feel alive and vibrant again.
They are also very prone to some very serious mistakes.
Full spoilers lie ahead for “An Origin Story,” so don’t finish this review if you haven’t seen the current episode of “Fringe.”
I don’t want to make this review of “Fringe” about bashing another show, but I feel the need to say that “Arrow” had me depressed about the state of genre TV. I believe that the writers of “Arrow” knowingly write ham-fisted and on-the-nose dialogue because they assume that the show’s audience can’t handle anything unless it is spoon-fed to them.
“An Origin Story” served as a shinning example that genre shows don’t have to be willfully bad. And the spoken words can actually resonate! Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble) had a great scene with Olivia in which he told her to watch a video tape of Etta’s first birthday as a way of confronting her grief with Peter. It’s a profound and even humorous look at how far Walter has come when he admits that hardening himself to emotions and literally breaking the universe weren’t substitutes for dealing with a broken heart.
It should go without saying that Noble and Torv were fantastic in that scene. And it’s possible that the dialogue wouldn’t have worked without their respective performances. But it did work and it made us care even more about the characters that we already love.
Etta may be gone, but her absence will be felt all the way through the end of the series. And in a great turn, Etta’s face now adorns human resistance posters in the back alleys of the city. Outside of the Bishop family, Etta is now a martyr to her cause and possibly even an ideal. That may make Etta even more dangerous to the Observers in death than she was in life.
As the child of Peter and Olivia and the granddaughter of Walter, Etta holds a unique place in this story. Each of our three leads reacts in different ways to their personal tragedy. Walter is reflective because he has lived through this pain before. He has also learned from his mistakes. Olivia is by her own admission, hanging on by a thread. She isn’t immediately ready to face what she’s lost and almost seems to be in denial about her grief until the sight of Etta’s face on those resistance posters sent her scrambling for any kind of emotional release.
Meanwhile, Peter could only deal with his grief through his barely contained anger for the Observers. And while the Observers have certainly earned Peter’s hatred, that emotion causes Peter to make some rash decisions that could end up harming everyone around him, including himself.
Early in the episode, we witness the Observers receiving a shipment of parts and supplies from their ruined future to finish their machine in New York that will poison the atmosphere for humans and drastically reduce their lifespans. One of Etta’s allies, Anil (Shaun Smyth) also reveals that they’ve captured an Observer (John Prosky) and one of the devices used to open a portal from the future.
At Peter’s urging, Walter concocts a plan to use the device as a weapon by sending a cache of antimatter through the portal and creating a black hole that will collapse the wormhole in the present and decimate the Observers’ home in the future and potentially cripple their plans. Peter also uses his observational skills to gauge the captive Observer’s reactions as he reassembles the device needed to “answer the call” from the future.
The plan doesn’t go off entirely without a hitch, as the Observers immediately realize that something went wrong and appear to attack Peter and Olivia. But Peter fires the antimatter into the portal and it collapses. Mission accomplished, right?
Except moments later, the shipment from the future proceeds without a hitch. And an even angrier Peter runs off to demand answers from his captive. The thing is, Peter and his allies don’t even consider the possibility that their plan worked and that it may have actually done everything that they had hoped it would in the Observers’ future. But when you’re dealing with time travel, “now” is irrelevant. Even if it took years for the Observers to rebuild their operation in the future, they could simply send another shipment right back to the moment that it was originally intended to arrive.
The captive Observer claims that Peter only saw what he wanted to see in his reactions and that he had never actually betrayed his knowledge through the movements of his pupils. The Observer even claims that humans are like ants to his people, even as Peter learns that much of what makes the Observers superhuman comes from technology implanted in their bodies.
As soon as Peter said that he would be ten times better than the Observers with their tech in his head, it was pretty obvious what he was going to do. But that didn’t make it any less horrifying when Peter roughly removed an implant from the Observer’s body and placed it into his own. There’s no telling what the immediate consequences of that move will be. It may give Peter the abilities of the Observers… or it may make him more like them in all ways.
It’s a great pivot for Peter, as it gives his character something extra to deal with on top of his anger and grief. By the end of the episode, Olivia is finally ready to confront her loss, but Olivia’s pleas for her husband to return to her and get through their grief together may have fallen on deaf ears. From what little we know about Etta’s abduction in the past, the loss of their child drove Peter and Olivia apart. While that may not have been convincingly portrayed in the fifth season opener, it was very evident here that history may be repeating itself.
On a side note for an otherwise terrific episode, it’s shameful that Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole) has even less to do this season than in the previous season. “An Origin Story” rightfully belonged to the Bishops and Olivia, but isn’t there something better for Astrid to do than being everyone’s errand girl? The other main characters all have their personal stakes in this story. What are Astrid’s stakes? Why is Astrid still here if the writers won’t give her anything meaningful to do?
Despite that, this was still by far one of the best episodes of the current “Fringe” season. A little emotion can go a long way and the final storyline has become exciting again.