Fringe 5.10 "Anomaly XB-6783746" TV REVIEW
IF YOU'RE YET TO SEE THE EPISODE, STOP READING NOW! SPOILERS LIE AHEAD
Director: Jeffrey Hunt
THE ONE WHERE Peter, Olivia and Walter try to unlock the secrets inside child Observer Michael's head in the hope of locating the enigmatic Donald. They enlist the help of Nina Sharp, who makes the ultimate sacrifice to keep "the plan" on track.
VERDICT There's now only two more episodes of Fringe (including a double, thankfully) left to wrap up the story, and we're still none the wiser as to Walter's grand plan for saving the world. On the plus side, at least we know that his accomplice was September, masquerading as the enigmatic Donald.
Getting hold of that particular nugget of information provides the narrative thrust of the episode, but as always with Fringe , it's really just an excuse for some of the best character drama on TV. It's Nina who takes centre stage – arguably for the first time in the show's history – using her expertise to help Olivia, Peter and Walter communicate with Michael, and revealing herself to be a key cog in the resistance movement. The extent of the experiments she and her team have carried out to take the fight to the Observers is huge – shame we didn't have access to her lab sooner.
Blair Brown makes the most of her (presumably) last ever Fringe episode in a couple of standout scenes for Nina. Once captured by Windmark, Nina proves every bit his equal in a vocal sparring match that completely confounds her opponent. Unable to read such a talented blocker, he's exasperated by Nina's eloquent explanation of the Observers' trademark head-tilt, and genuinely annoyed that, in some ways, they've become more animalistic than we supposedly primitive humans. So baffled, in fact, that he completely fails to spot her next move, as she turns a loyalist's gun on herself in an awesome moment of defiance. A powerful – if sad – departure for a character who's not always been well served by the writers, but ultimately proved crucial.
Elsewhere, John Noble gets more opportunities to explore "Dark Walter" – how many incarnations of Dr BIshop has he played now? – as his former self takes firmer hold on the scientist's brain. His hounding of Michael for information at the beginning of the episode is rather uncharacteristic for the usually tender Walter, and Noble does a great job expressing Walter's fear of the man he's becoming (again). With Nina gone, will anyone be prepared to perform that crucial brain surgery if/when the Observers are ousted? Either way, this plot line is clearly going to have a key role in Fringe 's denouement. As for how everything will play out? Your guess is as good as ours...
A SHARP EXIT The first of the show's original regulars to bite the big one (unless you count Olivia's temporary death at the end of season four ), the enigmatic Ms Sharp gets an end to die for – literally. Her motives have been kept mysterious throughout Fringe 's run, but her noble sacrifice to save "the plan" reveals she's very much on the side of the good guys. Walter seems particularly upset to have lost an ally – though of course, he may just be miffed that she won't be around to remove those pesky megalomaniac pieces of his brain. While Nina's the first regular to go, however, we get the feeling she won't be the last...
ETTA LIVES ON Another sighting of an Etta poster, this time on a haunting 9/11-echoing wall of missing people. The scene where Peter and Olivia share their feelings about seeing images of their daughter is rather moving.
SPECULATION In the flashbacks Michael implants in Walter's mind, we hear September saying "the boy is important. He has to live." We'd always assumed he was referring to Peter – but could he be talking about Michael?
SPECULATION 2 Who or what is Michael? Windmark says he's not an Observer child, but a "chromosomal anomaly" that the Observers failed to understand in their own time – and would have terminated had he not gone missing. Is Windmark lying or genuinely in the dark? Michael's obviously got some significance, but who worked out what it was? Presumably it was September/Donald.
OBSERVING THE OBSERVER He's back! Yep, our speculation was correct , Donald is indeed the friendliest Observer of them all. But how did he learn how to smile? Where did that fine head of hair come from? Maybe Walter found a way to remove his implant? Or perhaps actor Michael Cerveris just got bored of being bald.
NITPICK 1 A note to the makers of television programmes – if your episode features the long-awaited, surprise return of a key character, don't include their name in the list of guest stars at the start of the episode. Okay, there's probably some contractual issues, but it was a great big fat spoiler to know that Cerveris was coming back. And it's not the first time Fringe 's fifth season has done it – they made the same mistake with both Philip Broyles and Nina Sharp.
NITPICK 2 Peter finds Michael within minutes using the CCTV cameras in the lab, so why didn't Windmark and his cronies think to do similar? Do they have a snobbish aversion to using 21st century human tech? Speaking of which, why are the smartphones of 2036 more-or-less identical to the smartphones of 2013? Have Apple and Samsung already reached the pinnacle of telecommunications evolution?
NITPICK 3 Surely it shouldn't be quite so easy for Peter to hotwire the car. Even in the present, he'd be unlikely to find a new-ish car without an engine immobiliser – so what are the chances of stumbling on a suitable vehicle in 2036?
STAR TECH Okay, we know the Observers come from the future and have near-total mastery of technology. But how does the LQ7 unit (below) access sounds "stored" in glass? How can glass be a recording medium? This is perhaps a stretch of plausibility too far.
WHAT'S IN A NAME? This time Walter calls Astrid Acid – though she's in the episode so little that it's amazing he got a chance to speak to her. Maybe it's an in-joke among the writers to keep Astrid confined to the lab?
ER, HANG ON A SEC... Windmark describes Nina's team as "animals" for the experiments they've done on Observers. So how does he explain what happened to Simon (below) in episode 5.02 ? Even in the future, pots can call kettles black.
Walter [to Michael]: "Who is Donald? Where is he? Is he alive? I must find him! Tell me!"
Peter: "Hey, Walter, calm down."
Walter: "How can I calm down, Peter? We're running out of time. Don't you understand we've got a world to save?"
Fringe airs on Sky1 in the UK on Wednesday nights at 10pm, and on Fox in the US on Friday nights. The last ever episode of Fringe airs simultaneously in the US and the UK on Friday 18 January (technically the early hours of Saturday 19 January in Blighty).