The Fringe Files – Episode 3: “I had a prescription, it was medicinal”

Well this has been a long-time coming. Back in September, when I was figuring out what I wanted to blog about for the rest of the year, I came up with the idea for the “Fringe Files”. Fringe was entering its final season, so I wanted to write about every episode as it aired, like I did with Lost’s finale season. Only I stopped blogging and I stopped watching TV. Now that we’re in 2013, however, I’m getting back into the swing of things, and I’m finally starting the fifth and final season of Fringe, as the series finale airs later this week. So I thought that I may as well record my thoughts as I viewed, no matter how random and scattershot. So here we go. Spoilers, obviously, to follow.

Fringe 5×03 – “The Recordist”

“I had a prescription, it was medicinal.”

Well, all of my predictions have been thus far wrong. This episode did not start with an extended flashback of Etta as a child, nor did it start with any flashback. And this episode also didn’t feature anything familiar to long-time viewers of the show, disproving my cyclical theory, at least for this week. What we got instead was a journey out into northern Pennsylvania.

This journey was spurred by video tape #3, the first tape the Fringe team finds in Walter’s lab (he hid them out of order because of course he hid them out of order). I wonder, will all of the tapes be found in Walter’s lab? From what I can tell, he hasn’t really been giving them any clues as to the locations of the tapes. I think I’ll be disappointed if that ends up being the case, but considering each tape will contain a new piece of the puzzle, I suppose it would be too much to have the team searching for both the tapes and the components of the plan.

Speaking of components, the “crucial” item requested in tape #3 is a crystalline form of quartz, which will serve as a power source for whatever device Walter ends up constructing (it must be a device, right? If it needs a power source?). Apparently 21 years ago, Walter was supposed to meet a man named Donald at this mine to retrieve the crystals, only Donald was taken by the Observers. How much do you want to bet that this isn’t the last we’ll see of Donald? And was the “scientist from Boston” that he was waiting for really Walter, or Bell? Anyways, they show up at the coordinates identified on the tape, encounter a bunch of bark-face people led by a man named Edwin, who we find out have stationed themselves in the woods and are recording the history of humanities struggle with the Observers so that once humanity loses, there is a record of their struggle for those who come after. Walter describes the bark on their skin as a severe case of psoriasis. Apparently the air near the mine has become corrosive, due to high levels of CO2 introduced by the Observers (since they have trouble existing in our current atmosphere). They are affected this way because they are far enough away from the source to have this sort of reaction from their immune system. It honestly makes no sense to me. The entire “bark” thing is only in play to raise the stakes slightly for our team and to show the dedication of the “recordist” colony. It all serves to make Edwin’s sacrifice at the end that much more meaningful. Knowing that he can’t get the copper necessary for Walter’s suit and knowing that his son is upset that he won’t help the Fringe team, Edwin chooses to make history, rather than simply record it, sacrificing himself for the greater good by going into the mine and having his skin completely “bark over”. Yeah, it’s a bit weird.

Bark-faced Edwin
Bark-faced Edwin

The best part of the episode was Peter and Olivia’s discussion about the apple pie at Donovan’s. Olivia is upset because of how she is being viewed and treated as some kind of strong hero. Peter admires the courage it took for her to give up on Etta and continue fighting the good fight against the Observers. Etta admires her. Edwin’s son sees the Fringe team as heroes who fought the invasion of the Observers. Olivia, meanwhile, sees herself as a coward. She was so conflicted about being a mother to Etta that she felt that losing Etta was her punishment for not appreciating her daughter when she was around. Olivia believed that Etta was dead. She didn’t stop searching for Etta because she was strong, she left because she didn’t want to find the dead body of her daughter. Peter straightens her out, reminding her that the past is the past, what matters is the second chance they’ve been given with Etta, but this episode serves as an interesting look at the nature of heroism and cowardice, and how we view these things. As Edwin later explains to his son, the difference between cowardice and heroism is doing the right thing despite your fear. Olivia and Peter are both heroes in their own ways. Olivia’s fear of finding her daughter’s dead body doesn’t make her a coward because she instead channeled her energies into fighting the Observers. Likewise, Peter wasn’t a coward for ditching the resistance because he was looking for his daughter, knowing that he might not like what he finds.

This was an okay episode, but there wasn’t much of a narrative thrust to it. There wasn’t really any sort of conflict. Sure, the Observers discovered the Fringe team’s van and was coming after them, and they were being threatened by the bark-like growths that would come to infect them over time, but apart from these time constraints, there wasn’t much of an obstacle for the team to overcome.

I hope that the rest of Walter’s goose-chases have higher stakes. We’ve only got 10 episodes left.

Walter's the coolest
Walter’s the coolest

As the Fringe team rides off into a destroyed city (Scranton?), I can’t help but wonder how much more we’ll find out about what the Observer’s have been doing in the 21 years since their occupation.

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