Fringe 5.03 "The Recordist" TV REVIEW
Writer: Graham Roland
Director: Jeff T Thomas
THE ONE WHERE The Fringe team follow the first clue on Walter's Betamax tape odyssey, which leads them to an isolated community in Pennsyvania whose residents suffer from a bizarre skin condition and have an obsession with recording a human (rather than Observer) version of Earth history.
VERDICT It's a measure of the quality of Fringe 's final season that a four-star episode could feel like a disappointment. By all standard measures, "The Recordist" is a solid, intelligent piece of sci-fi TV, but after its near-flawless predecessors, this feels slightly off the pace and predictable. Just slightly, mind you.
The reasons for their arrival in a bizarre, remote community may be new – with Olivia and the team as fugitives rather than agents of the law – yet there's something rather old school about the nature of the mystery they discover. Indeed, Walter's in his element as he works out the reasons why a group of people have developed a rash that looks like tarmac. Of course, it's a mystery rather incidental to the grand scheme of things – saving the world is still the main order of the day – but it's a neat twist that their ailment is the result of the Observers meddling with the atmosphere. The Baldies' reach clearly extends far beyond the cities.
It doesn't take an intellect of Walter Bishop proportions to guess the character trajectory that lies in front of principal guest star Edwin Massey – as soon as he introduces his cute son, his name might as well be changed to "dead meat", with an act of self-sacrifice on the cards from the off. Nonetheless, his internal conflict as he tries to resolve the needs of the many (the world) against the needs of the few (his son) is subtly played, and neatly mirrors Olivia's own self doubt about her parenting abilities. It's a nice touch at the end when Olivia tenderly touches Etta's leg – it's a side of Olivia we rarely saw before season five, but the ever-versatile Anna Torv continues to prove how good an actress she is. Casting directors should be taking note that she'll be looking for a job in the new year.
It's also fun to see the original Fringe team, whose exploits were totally classified in their own time, revered as heroes in the wider world. Considering they're in entirely new territory, fighting an enemy unlike any they've encountered before, they're adapting rather well. A good job too – they're going to need all their genius if they're going to work out how the hell those crystals from the mine are going to help rid the world of the Observers. The Walter of 2015 has got a lot of explaining to do in those old Betamax tapes.
GUEST STAR Did you spot Stargate Atlantis 's Paul McGillion under the tarmac make-up as camp leader Edwin Massey?
ASTRO PHYSICS Even in the future, the writers have contrived to trap Astro (sorry, Astrid) in Walter's lab. Surely it's some kind of joke?
NITPICK With the world seemingly moving towards cloud computing, would 2036 historians really rely on "Datacubes"? They're way more cumbersome than USB sticks and less practical than connecting to a server by wifi. Maybe the archivists think they look pretty.
NITPICK 2 If it's so easy for Walter and Astrid to remove objects from amber using a DIY laser, why did the alternative universe Fringe team never rescue anybody? Presumably they didn't want to reopen fissures between universes.
OFF THE BROYLES Where is Philip Broyles? We know he's somewhere in 2036, but why hasn't he crossed Peter and Walter's paths since "Letters Of Transit". Has Windmark got him locked away? Come to think of it, Nina Sharp's been pretty quiet too.
Astrid: Walter, is there a mine where you are?
Walter: A mime? The only mime I know is Marcel Marceau. What's he got to do with any of this?
Fringe airs on Fox on the US on Friday nights. It returns to UK screens on Sky1 from Wednesday 24 October.