Fringe 5.09 "Black Blotter" TV REVIEW
IF YOU'RE YET TO SEE THE EPISODE, STOP READING NOW! SPOILERS LIE AHEAD
Writer: Kristin Cantrell
Director: Tommy Gormley
THE ONE WHERE Walter has a Monty Python-themed vision. AKA, the one where Walter tries to stop his dark side of his psyche taking control, while Peter and Olivia follow a mysterious radio signal to find the Observer child.
VERDICT Episode 19 had become the place for the traditional Fringe curveball story, but in this truncated final season, episode nine takes its freaky place. It's an odd decision on the part of the writers to take their foot off the narrative gas with just four more episodes to wrap up the show, and this meandering trip into the leftfield does occasionally leave you wishing they'd continued taking the fight to the Observers. As a calm-before-the-storm episode ahead of what we're assuming will be an action-packed finale, however, this is highly memorable stuff.
Of course, it'll go down in Fringe lore as the one where Walter wanders into a Monty Python animation, and fair enough – the ingenious sequence is one of the weirdest, funniest and downright brilliant things Fringe has ever done (see below). But there's much more to "Black Blotter" than a neat visual gag. Just when you thought John Noble couldn't get any better as Walter, the actor ups his game yet again. How he's yet to win an Emmy for his work on the show is a mystery.
The scientist's fears that he's turning back into his former cruel self are brilliantly manifested in a Gollum-style split personality, the two sides manifested by a green fairy/ Nina, and former lab assistant Carla. Watching him wrestle with himself makes for gripping TV, and the fact that old Walter might just turn up on the Observers' doorstep, eager to show off his towering intellect, adds an element of danger to a plot strand that had previously seemed inconsequential. Meanwhile, the final scene, where Walter plays back memories of the god complex that led him to tear a hole between universes is truly moving stuff. "There's only room for one god in this lab," former Walter tells his Christian lab assistant Carla, "and it's not yours." Chilling.
The B-plot about using the radio the team discovered in the pocket universe to track down the child Observer is really just a distraction from the main event, but with another piece of Walter's puzzle in place, Fringe 's endgame is apparently afoot...
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT... The Monty Python animation is the arguably the finest moment of the season so far – and one of the highlights of the show. Yes, it's random and utterly weird, but the attention to detail is staggering. Not only is it a note-perfect pastiche of Terry Gilliam's style,but the background touches are ingenious: appropriately cartoon Walter ride a cow (presumably Gene), and his companions on the journey are a frog and a seahorse – both "glyphs" in the Fringe credits. The only beat the writers missed was giving the giant hand trees Walter rides through five fingers – surely they should have six like the hand "glyph".
DID YOU SPOT The frog from the animation appears in the background when Walter and Astrid arrive at the boathouse (see below).
HAVEN'T WE SEEN YOU BEFORE The religious former lab assistant who appears as the devil on Walter's shoulder is Dr Carla Warren (below), played by Jenni Blong. She previously appeared in season two flashback episode "Peter" (2.16).
SPECULATION Why have we never seen any female Observers? Surely they must be out there – not least because the Observer child had to come from somewhere.
SPECULATION 2 Who the hell is Donald? The writers have built him into such an important figure now that he's got to have some serious significance in the remaining four episodes of the show. Could it be September? The Walternate?
SPECULATION 3 The child Observer is named Michael by his foster parents. Wonder if the writing team named him after Michael Cerveris, who played original Observer September in the first four seasons of the show.
TRIVIA This is the second Fringe episode named after a pharmaceutical concoction – season two's disappointing musical episode "Brown Betty" (2.20) also got its title from one of Walter's narcotic brews.
WHAT'S IN A NAME Tripping on acid is good for Walter in one respect – this is one of the few episodes where he gets Astrid's name right.
WEISS WORDS We haven't encountered Sam Weiss, Fringe's resident expert in both bowling and the First People, since season three. It's good to learn he was part of the resistance, but sad that he died protecting the radio signal. (These timeline shenanigans are getting rather complicated, though – if only Peter and Olivia can remember the timeline where they encountered Observer Boy and Samuel Weiss, how did Walter and Donald find them in this reality? Will this become important later on?)
Carla: "You've been him longer than you've been you."
Fringe airs on Sky1 in the UK on Wednesday nights at 10pm, and on Fox in the US on Friday nights.