Fringe 5.01 "Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11" TV REVIEW(opens in new tab)
Writer: JH Wyman
Directors: Jeannot Szwarc, Miguel Sapochnik
THE ONE WHERE We return to the Observer-run 2036 established in season four episode “ Letters Of Transit ”. With Peter, Walter and Astrid rescued from the amber by Henrietta, Peter and Olivia's daughter, the reunited 2012 Fringe team attempt to find Olivia. Hopefully she holds the key for unlocking the plan for saving the Earth hidden inside Walter’s noggin.
VERDICT Ever a show unfazed by evolution, every new season of Fringe has brought with it a radical change to the status quo. Compared to season five’s opening, however, previous gamechangers like swapped Olivias and the erasure of Peter were essentially business as usual – this feels like an entirely new show, albeit one populated by characters we’ve already come to know and love.
That the future-set “Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11” feels like a continuation of a story that (for us) ended with the thwarting of William Bell’s plans to become God 2 is a remarkable achievement. Of course, it helps that we’d already been introduced to the Observer dictatorship in “Letters Of Transit” – essentially a pilot for season five – but few other shows could make a new setting feel like home quite this quickly.
Picking up where “Letters Of Transit” left off, “Transilience…” takes us deeper into Fringe ’s dystopian future. It’s an episode heavy on exposition, but it never gets in the way of the story because it’s done with such a deft touch. The world building, for example, is minimal but incredibly effective, the Observers’ presence given away by derelict cars, propaganda posters and the occasional CGI backdrop – the concreted-over Central Park we saw in “Letters…” is a particular highlight. The episode also does a great job of explaining what the Fringe team did after the Observers took over, and how and why they ended up in amber. And despite having appeared in only two episodes, Henrietta (Georgina Haig) is also already feeling like a valuable addition to the team.
But (yet again) it’s John Noble’s Walter who’s the standout. With his brain restored in “Letters Of Transit”, Noble gets to play yet another incarnation of Dr Bishop – a driven genius who will not rest until the Observers have been sent packing. His torture scenes with lead Observer Windmark (already established as a chilling villain) are compelling stuff, and seeing Walter at the end of the episode as a broken husk of a man, wracked with guilt, is genuinely sad.
That shouldn’t be a surprise, of course, as the emotional stuff in Fringe is usually just as good as the sci-fi. Olivia’s first meeting with a grown-up daughter she hasn’t seen in 21 years is touchingly played, a totally plausible mix of joy, affection and confusion. Meanwhile, Peter and Olivia’s reunion is a melancholia-tinged glimpse of two people forced apart by the weirdest of circumstances – has there ever been a TV couple who’ve had to contend with so quite so many obstacles in the way of true love?
And in terms of laying down a marker for this fifth and final season, the episode couldn’t be better. Fringe may no longer be a show about investigating weird goings-on in the real-world, but this new incarnation – even more sci-fi than before – looks like it’s still going to be essential viewing. Can’t wait to see how it all plays out.
OBSERVING THE OBSERVERS This season we won’t be bothering to point out Observer sightings. If you can’t spot bald guys wearing trilbies in a world ruled by bald guys wearing trilbies, you’re probably watching the wrong show.
WHILE WE WERE AWAY A quick catch-up... The Observers invaded in 2015 – when they arrived, Henrietta went missing. Peter and Olivia handled the loss in different ways: Olivia moved to New York to take the fight to the Observers, but Peter refused to leave Boston. Riddled with guilt for losing his little girl, he became so obsessed with finding her that his relationship with Olivia was acceptable collateral damage. Walter apparently thinks that Peter abandoned them.
THE FUTURE AIN’T BRIGHT The Observers haven’t done much to make New York an attractive tourist destination. For starters, they’ve paved over Central Park and turned it into a giant facility for increasing the concentration of carbon monoxide in the atmosphere, making Earth more hospitable for the Observers. The side-effects? The process will become irreversible in a few years, and it’s reduced the average life expectancy of the planet’s human population to 45. That sucks.
SPECULATION 1 When did September and Walter have the meeting where they formulated the plan to get rid of the Observers? Was it in 2015, after the Observers arrived – and after Peter had rescued September from his banishment outside our universe. (That suggests September will be making a return this season). Or was it earlier in Fringe mythology – could it be as far back as 1985, when September rescued Walter and Peter from the frozen lake? (Some of the key info could have been hidden in the bits of Walter's brain William Bell removed.)
SPECULATION 2 If the Observers had to leave their future Earth because they’d made it uninhabitable with all the pollution, why are they pumping the atmosphere full of carbon monoxide? Surely they’ll have to find another new home again in a few hundred years when the CO concentration gets too high. And surely they’re creating a paradox for themselves by altering Earth history. (That said, if you’re dimension-hopping know-it-alls with a non-linear perception of time, you’ve probably already thought of that one – they've probably travelled back to an alternative timeline or something.)
OPENING CREDITS When they eventually come (that’s one long pre-credits sequence!) they’re in the Observer-focused style we first encountered on “Letters Of Transit”. Buzz phrases are Community, Joy, Individuality, Education, Imagination, Private Thought, Due Process, Ownership, Free Will and Freedom. There’s some nasty looking barbed wire in there too.
DID YOU SPOT? There’s a seahorse dangling from the rearview mirror of the derelict taxi where Walter listens to Yazoo. A seahorse (featuring a Fibonacci spiral – one for the science geeks there) is one of the “ glyphs ” that appear ahead of Fringe 's ad breaks.
TRIVIA The episode’s co-director Miguel Sapochnik was behind the camera for the Jude Law-starring 2010 thriller Repo Men . He also worked in the art department on Trainspotting .
BEST LINE Windmark: “You seem much more interesting as a human being than as a vegetable. But quite frankly, all things being equal, I don’t mind which one you end up. The choice is yours.”
Fringe airs on Fox on the US on Friday nights. It returns to UK screens on Sky1 from Wednesday 24 October.